Playing With Fire

Wince and Volker explore hot topics at Asterisk

1-2 Punch: New Works by Charles Wince and Paul Volker Through February 6 Asterisk Gallery 2393 Professor Ave. 330.304.8528

Charles Wince's tightly executed oil-on-canvas works seem to flicker. The effect — in works like his searing two-panel composition "Terminal Apocalypse" — comes from expressive, at times downright psychedelic, color combinations and the fact that the Columbus-based artist often uses a field of pointy, zig-zagging flame-like shapes to energize his depictions. Long ago categorized as an "outsider" artist ("whatever that means," remarks the laconic Wince, now a mellow 54), it's no surprise that his artistic journey began with a gasoline fire, caused by playing with matches in his boyhood hometown in central Ohio. The 11-year-old Wince was lucky to be alive, with burns over 84 percent of his body. It took him about a year to recover physically, but the mental scars persisted.

1-2 Punch at Asterisk Gallery is a two-man exhibit of new and older works by Wince and his longtime friend, Columbus writer, gallerist and painter Paul Volker. Volker, also known as a cartoonist, produces images that are by turns whimsical, satirical and forlorn. Twelve smaller Volkers are titled "How to look like an artist" at the top, with a line of explanatory text at the bottom; each shows a pair of hands, stretching into the picture plane to frame a scene or object. In one, a hat, a toaster, a screw, a cup of coffee and other objects float in mid-air, and the text explains, "Technically, the big bang is still happening and protective clothing is recommended." A larger painting shows a man reading a newspaper at a table, looking depressed. A sparkly unicorn grins winsomely next to him. Will the man notice the unicorn? We hope so.

Not nearly as user-friendly, some of Wince's paintings from the 1980s spell out their message also, with words inscribed right in the middle of the action. "I heard the prophet/and he hit the floor real hard" states a large orange-and-red work from 1984, depicting an assassination intersected by a receding stream of identical TV sets, all tuned to the same talking head.

Wince's most ambitious painting, in process since 1994, is the 12-foot-by-six-foot "Mother Russia Meltdown." When it's not being toted around to galleries, the huge oil on canvas is housed in Wince's bedroom ("It's the only room large enough to hold it"), where the temptation to fine-tune its tangled web of images is ever present. The work is a fantasia on the theme of the former Soviet Union's collapse and an unmistakable, no-holds-barred masterpiece. Designed something like folding money from another planet, it blends hundreds of images in a punkadelic Sistine vision of imploding one-world culture, hovering around a central image of a baby with Medusa hair. Somebody should really offer Wince enough money to buy it, so he can have some room to sleep. 

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