Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010 | 2:46 p.m.
The Dobermen MC is a group show with a vision that begins with the open road. Imagine the sun on your face and the wind at your back. You are one with your machine, guiding two growling wheels along the yellow rippling ribbon of a lilting highway. Wild and free, you answer to no one, following only the leather-and-chrome code of the clan of fearless riders mobilized at your side.
But where is the heart of the biker? Is he a lone wolf or a pack animal? For the fantasy riders of the Dobermen Motorcycle Club, the moto-spirit is more about the man and his tribe than the man and his ride. It's as American as apple pie: The Wild One, Easy Rider, CHiPs ... there is the man, there is his bike and then there are his motorcycle buddies.
Currently taking names at the CSN Fine Arts Gallery, The Dobermen MC is the brainchild of artist and curator Sean Russell. Russell invited a number of mostly local artists to take a motorcycle class, form a biker gang and make art about the experience. The resulting exhibition is thematically compact: a precise, funny, creative and smartly orchestrated curatorial effort that provides a welcome relief from the recent catch-all group shows around town.
The crux of the show is the rider, not the bike, which works out well considering that only one artist in this gang actually owns a motorcycle.
Russell's "Dobermen Club-house Wall, Transplanted" looms large. As if taken from the walls of the Dobermen clubhouse, the 12-foot-by-8-foot acrylic painting is pure bravado — a bright kaleidoscope of swirling cartoon arrows, exhaust-pipe smoke and engine parts. Imagine a fistfight between Peter Saul, Max Beckmann and the Tasmanian Devil.
Christopher Tsouras' "Ranging: Reconciling the Great Uncomformity" is far more compelling than its tongue-twisting title. The artist has assembled a collection of autobiographical components: Polaroids, digital prints and a motorbike trophy from 1977. The combined elements trace an obsession come full circle, perhaps most beautifully articulated by two prints that abstract the arcing lines of a motorcycle track bulging and buckling on a lonely parking lot.
The Dobermen MC are not a lazy crew. Chad Brown, known primarily as a painter, takes a successful stab at sculpture with "Mech Hound 451." Brown's Doberman leaps expertly through space, mechanically 3-D, a perfect machine you'll swear is brushed aluminum, until a closer look reveals meticulously fabricated balsa wood.
Those familiar with Eric Pawloski's formidable skill for mixing iconically masculine materials and medium to potent effect will not be disappointed. In "Daddy's Breath," one half of a cast-aluminum diptych features the chest of a man's shirt with bulging cigarette pack; the other, a flannel-covered panel with a badge-like profile of a Doberman dog. Initially benign, the implications of the swollen chest prove intimidating — you can almost smell the stale smoke.
Gabe Toci and Chris Bauder take a more playful approach to tough-guy clichés. Dry and matter of fact, Toci's "Rubber Knuckles" drains the fear factor out of a signature old-school weapon. With skill and wicked humor Bauder invokes the four horsemen in his "Doberman of the Apocalypse (1,2,3,4)." A cast layer of pale-pink latex housepaint stretches across each of four objects, obscuring identification. Bauder seems to ask, "What does it take to be a badass Doberman?" A study of outlines suggests faith, heart and a decent-sized package, at the very least.
As with any group show, some work misses the mark. Max Rain's "Tenderloin," a ceramic relief painted in shoe polish that inexplicably features a fine meal of fish and pasta with mole rats, seems better suited to a bad seafood restaurant on a salty pier than to CSN's gallery.
Overall, Dobermen successfully lives up to its curatorial ambitions. It has some good work by a wide range of talented local artists who embraced the biker-gang conceit with gusto. With the likes of Emily Kennerk, Mike Ogilvie, Melissa Russell, Ginger Bruner, Rachel Sparrow, Joan Adams and Erin Stellmon counted among its ranks, this "club" is a force to be reckoned with. Just don't be fooled by the artist facade: If you meet a Doberman in a dark alley, I highly suggest you run for it.