On paper, Marcel Dzama wouldn't seem to possess the makings of an art star. An artist working in rural Winnipeg, making wispy, fairy-tale line drawings with diluted root beer syrup as ink stands no chance in the sophisticated world of contemporary art, right? But it turns out that Dzama's spare, facile approach to drawing belies the complex emotional content he packs into works about cowboys, military nurses, swooping bats, and tree people. His use of familiar and nostalgic storybook forms to communicate feelings that tread far beyond the territory of childhood have won him quite an audience. He's exhibited practically everywhere, designed record covers for Beck and fellow Canadians the Weakerthans, and regularly contributes illustrations to McSweeney's. Not to mention that he has, more or less, single-handedly triggered a tidal wave of young artists who use the directness of stark line drawings to project intimacy and vulnerability, a kind of adolescent handling of grown-up feelings.
This month, Augen Gallery presents The Cabin of Count Dracula, a highly limited-edition series of 20 hand-drawn, black-and-white lithographs—packaged in a Lincoln Log cabin and issued with a nine-inch LP of Dzama's music. The lithographs offer a typical view into Dzama's world, where a rogue's gallery of characters cavort in woodland settings or, just as often, an undefined backdrop of white space. In one, Dracula stands, bald and Spock-eared like Klaus Kinski, with a group of children and a nurse cradling a little bat baby in a pose for a family portrait. Has Dracula given up his bloodlust for the domestic life? Are the children, who fidget and seem reluctant to pose, captives of the cabin—or is their ageless father just a big softie? Elsewhere, Dzama's Suite offers other confounding imagery, as a smoking woman in a bear costume is held up by two cowboy bandits; soldiers weep; and children march, hoisting flags that bear bats. In all, it is a bizarre juxtaposition of domestic posturing and imperceptible conflict, which might be Dzama's commentary on the dynamics of family: a space in which allegiances and roles are assigned, not elected, and an incompatible cast of characters squeeze into a single frame.