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Having the last laugh

Works in eclectic Burbank art gallery make one squirm — and wonder.

November 14, 2009|By Melonie Magruder

A new exhibition, “Nicolas Caesar’s Grindhouse” — at what surely must be the most unique art gallery in Burbank, Hyaena — is billed as “a Celebration of Cinephelia and Trash Comics.”

That’s a pretty accurate description of the whole gallery visit, if you throw in a raft of artworks centered on imagery of death, a selection of CDs you won’t find featured on iTunes’ Top 10, like “Exploding Girls,” Zuni fetish dolls wielding bloody knives and 60-year-old micro-slides of sliced-up “human glands.”

If that sounds too Goth-centric, it’s not. It’s more a sly commentary on underground rebellion and the timeless pleasures afforded by B movies of the 1950s, a keen pursuit of the three-year-old gallery’s proprietor, Bill Shafer.

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Shafer, who spent 16 years in the music business before he “got tired of selling stuff I didn’t believe in,” said that he hopes people “get” the backward humor of his challenging collection.

“I love the scavenger mythology of hyaenas,” Shafer said (he uses the archaic spelling in tribute to 18th century woodcuts of the creatures). “They’re always portrayed as being the low end of the food chain. But when they work together in packs, they can take down the strongest beasts.”

The philosophy represents what Shafer is trying to display in the gallery, and he rotates his featured artists every two weeks, anchored by a booming iPod playlist that could be heavy metal or the soundtrack to “Grease.” It’s a funny, rubber-necking visit to a gallery you won’t soon forget.

Among the eclectic offerings are “Memento Mori,” a relic by Kevin Klemm of a skeletal torso embracing a photo of a woman laid out in a coffin; Eric de la Vega’s “Rotella’s Nun,” a portrait of a good sister viciously devouring a fish head; Jim Wirt’s X-rated, glam-rock “Coloringbook Land;” and Eddie Allen’s hilarious images on Lenticular paper — from one angle, you see a 19th-century couple soberly posed for a portrait; from another, the demure wife is strangling her startled husband.

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