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An Invitation: Road Trip to the Fourth Dimension with Dennis Larkins

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The Laboratory of Controlled Decline (detail, painted three-dimensional relief on panel)
(image by Dennis Larkins)

Dennis Larkins' retro-kitsch mix of audacious archetypes and savvy satire propels the viewer into the 4th Dimension at his show, Road Trip to the Fourth Dimension, opening appropriately enough, on September Fourth.

The exhibit, in SoHo's Sacred Gallery NYC, is the largest show in Larkins' career, featuring 22 of his startling pop surrealist works. (The fact that "22" numerologically reduces to yet another four seems to be purely coincidental. Or meaningfully synchronistic, depending on your perspective.)

Grateful Dead Poster: Radio City Music Hall Illus. by Dennis Larkins by c. D. Larkins/P. Barsotti/GDP used with permission

If you're a Boomer, you probably already know Larkins' work -- if you can remember it through that purple haze. He is the artist who created the Grateful Dead poster for their legendary Radio City Music Hall concert in 1980, as well other notable pieces including their "Dead Set" album cover. He's also one of the movers and shakers in the Los Angeles' Lowbrow movement of the '80s and '90s, and he's been part of designing theme park rides and attractions at Disney World, Disneyland and Universal that you've likely taken your grand-kids to.

Dead Set Album Cover (front) designed by Dennis Larkins

Dead Set album art 1981 illus. by Dennis Larkins, c. GDP by Dennis Larkins

His current pop surrealist work is characterized by a unique combination of a low relief sculpted surface and an illustrational painting style. The startling effect not only simulates some variation on "altered states" but enhances the narrative intention contained in the layers of perception embedded in the content.

(image by Graphic by Meryl Ann Butler for opednews)

Larkins' Yippee! was inspired by an apparently quite innocent 1951 ad with a similarly posed, wholesome Roy Rogers atop a Pennsylvania Railroad train.

(image by Dennis Larkins)

Today, the knowledge base of the average viewer has changed, and Larkins plays with the image as it seems to erupt out of the Freudian world of "Phun with a Phallus" - from cacti to red rocks to rockets, oh, my -- as he pokes fun at a male-dominated fantasy world. He notes that the background for the painting was "straight out of 1950's visual vocabulary - it's a background inspired by the Wile E. Coyote cartoons by Chuck Jones."

In Larkins' hallmark style of pitting humor against horror, Yippee! also references the iconic scene at the end of the 1964 film, Dr. Strangelove, depicting Slim Pickens riding the bomb.

Slim Pickens as Major 'King' Kong riding a nuclear bomb to oblivion in the movie, 'Dr. Strangelove.'
(image by wiki (public domain))

Larkins' doesn't like to do too much 'splainin' about his paintings, noting that his intention is to "engage the viewer so it becomes their narrative, not mine." He says that his unique combination of images "come together as a process of images, context, and content emerging from a dream-like source -- the artist's role is to allow that to happen without judgement, without predefining what the image is or means. Once the painting is done it begs for definition, and I want to keep the narrative open-ended...of course, I generally discover something in the process that's important to me. But as the piece itself moves out into the world, like a child, it has its own life, and to the extent that people interact with it, it becomes their narrative, not mine."

(image by Graphic by Meryl Ann Butler for opednews)

His painting, The Laboratory of Controlled Decline includes the immortal aqua 1959 Cadillac convertible, one of this viewer's favorite nostalgic Larkins icons.

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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing for over 25 years. She studied art with Harold Ransom Stevenson in Sea Cliff NY for seven years before opening her own art school. Stevenson had (more...)

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