Skeletal Systems

Michael Paulus, Stumptown on Belmont, 34th & Belmont, through December

We've all grown up with cartoons--celebrating Thanksgiving with Charlie Brown, watching the Flintstones fight on TV while our parents fight in the other room, mapping a universe of evil with Marvin the Martian. But they've also been hiding something from us, something personal, something that keeps them standing and protects their fragile, ink-pumping hearts: their skeletal structures.

Thanks to Michael Paulus' show at the Stumptown on Belmont Street, Skeletal Systems, the bony supports of your childhood friends are a secret no more. According to Paulus' artist statement, he wanted to "take a select few of these popular characters and render their skeletal systems as [he] imagined they might look if one truly had eye sockets half the size of its head, or fingerless hands, or feet comprising 60% of it's body mass." To accomplish this, Paulus has placed each character on a translucent, hinged panel. When the panel is lifted, an ink drawing of the skeletal system is revealed in the same pose--a lumbering Little Lotta, a ubiquitous Hello Kitty.

The result is comical and, from what I witnessed, universally fascinating. While drinking coffee, I watched the small drawings catch the eye of just about every visitor. A little girl whispered "Pikachu," while her mother lifted the panel, uncovering a knobby skull and skinny lightning-bolt tailbone. A grown man looked around nervously before checking out Betty Boop's calcium frame. The line to the register stalled and sputtered as people forgot about coffee when faced with bigger questions, like why is Shmoo's ass so huge?

Cartoon figures infiltrated art a long time ago; maybe they've always been art. But Paulus takes a fresh approach, going beyond simply appropriating them as symbols of pop culture and stripping them down to a fictional essence. Maybe I should stop before I use the word simulacra. Maybe Paulus just executed an interesting, quirky idea. Maybe these are just some fun drawings with a magnetic power to attract the interest of caffeine-deprived consumers while they wait in line. Still, Tweety's vacant bird skull has any eerie visual gravity; although it doesn't answer the larger question of Tweety's gender. What? Like you know.