Drawn Underground

Recently I stumbled upon something called folksonomy (from “folk taxonomy”) — a kind social tagging for art. It’s a program that gives any member of the public access to look at various museums’ online collections and label each image with as many descriptive tags as they like. Say for Marcel Duchamp you could tag the work with “readymade,” “Rrose Sélavy” or “pisser.” With the emergence of an e-version for everything, wouldn’t it be nice to see something just as provoking in . . . reality?

Since their debut this past April, Freud’s Bathhouse and Diner dishes out their fifth show “I Know What My Weaknesses Are, Probably Better Than You Do.” This presentation leads you on a journey to contemplate reoccurring themes of reality, beauty and decay.

The cozy gallery in the heart of the Exchange District showed its experimental bent by mounting captivating alternative art from four artists, both local and abroad. Managing to fit a dense amount of work into the space, the detailed line drawings and zine photocopies are displayed in a clustered salon style around the room. Including a zine expo of local publications, micro press publications, handmade books, indie comics and pamphlets in a variety of styles, it’s just the type of “reality” that the anti-folksonomy doctor ordered.

Local artist Ryan Trudeau’s work — many of which are untitled — speak with their crisp line work and intricate attention to detail in pattern. Empty untagged faces emanate from one particularly captivating untitled work. The faceless drawing has voids placed in the headspaces of the figures and the diner scene is reminiscent of the small restaurants strewn amongst our city. Another illustration, which depicts an outdoor cityscape, has what one may tag as an “eerily Winnipeg vibe”; it includes an open garage door stationed next to a parking sign that ironically speaks volumes about our urban-prairie existence through contradiction.

Also utilizing blank faces in a number of her pieces, Toronto artist Beth Fry contrasts cool and warm colours in her spacious, delicate illustrations. Tiny-eyed, expressionless characters emerge from naturesque scenes, where birds are restrained by rope as though they were balloons and figures embrace, cooking merrily upon open flame. The characters are like Precious Moments figurines with spears; everything seems to be caught up in a whimsically dangerous entanglement.

With a large collection of symbolically rich drawings and Xeroxed zines, Rhode Island-based artist William Schaff steals the show. Schaff, who has created art for bands like Okkervil River and Godspeed You! Black Emperor shines with his exploration into human suffering and the disquiet of urban life.

The dark detailing in the series “Monday Morning, Going to Work: Subjective Observations of Dreams, Reality & Love,” speaks to the tension of the urban environment and the cubicle confinement many of us students are too familiar with during these summer months. Some copies of the hardbound book are on display including handmade, signed and numbered dust jackets.

Exploring themes of iconic religious suffering and incorporating Biblical references, Schaff alters them in an intriguing, dark and graphic fashion. Flowers protrude from eyes and mouths galore, while miniature corpses and script alike stream out of the mouths of the figures; it seems that Jeff Magnum and Schaff should be in touch.

Hailing from Chicago, Ramsey Beyer provides a strong voice for America DIY culture with her distinctive and friendly style. In her collection of drawings, show fliers and comic panels, she offers us cute black and white scenes where an escape from reality is a mere balloon ride away. In scenes that could be described as “darling,” Beyer’s work is a pleasant divergence from some of the grimmer imagery presented elsewhere in the exhibition. Pieces titled “The Great Paper Creator” and “The Human Disney Dictionary” demonstrate contemporary nostalgia mingling with a rooted reverie. Copies of her popular zine, List, currently in its 14th issue, are available at Freud’s along with the vast collection of independently created publications from various other artists.

So, at the risk of sounding taxonomic, I’d tag this exhibition “worthy of checking out.”

“I Know What My Weaknesses Are, Probably Better Than You Do” runs until Aug. 29, 2010.