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Something Within: Casey Promise

by Joe Nolan

The best reason to go see Casey Promise’s new exhibit at Red Arrow is because looking at digital images online just doesn’t do justice to the artist’s work. When gallery curator Katie Shaw sent me the press release for the show, the images looked like 2D illustrations from a graphic novel aimed at young adult surrealists.

In person, the work is goofy, angsty, and trippy but also sculptural. Most of the pieces are assembled in collages of separate elements, bringing handmade charm to the cartoon-colored creations. Nowadays, many artists interested in collage use Photoshop—digital images in 2D. Promise reminds us of the felt pleasure that collage and assemblage might evoke, and the pieces are much more interesting as objects than as 2D images.

Two characters that recur in Promise’s narrative scenes are an angel and a demon who seem to be having a rough go at their trans-dimensional romance. In one piece the two are about to kiss as the angel draws a heart shape over the demon’s heart with a red magic marker—a serpent’s hissing face appears in the lower right corner. In another, both of them look dejected as they slump against each other back to back. It’s like they’ve just had a spat. The latter work is a 2D, colored-pencil drawing, but the former finds the angel’s wings made of pointy, cut-paper feathers that flutter up off the background. The whole drawing has been cut out and mounted onto a piece of what looks like cardboard.

There is roughness and imprecision here, but it’s clearly on purpose. The work feels impulsive in a good way, and one gets the sense that the street-art sensibility of some of these pieces wouldn’t have the same pop in a more pristine presentation. On the other hand, Promise can draw. Her lines bring these characters to life, and the most technically accomplished pieces in the show are her 2D pencil-on-paper affairs. One is a portrait of a person with a squirrel on their head. You need to see it in person.

Something Within: Casey Promise is open through June 14 at the Red Arrow Gallery, 1311 McGavock Pike. For more information visit www.theredarrowgallery.com.

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