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Todd's Tattoo

By Steve Ramos · October 15th, 2003 · Arts Beat
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The best performance from conceptual artist Todd Pavlisko involves his regular visits to the venerable Northside tattoo parlor Designs by Dana. It's a weekday morning, and Pavlisko has the shop to himself. He removes his shirt and stretches across the examination table. The buzz and whirl of the tattoo needle fills the room as Dana, the shop's owner, aims for the lone spot of bare skin located on Pavlisko's lower back. In a matter of minutes, the skin is covered by the latest addition to Pavlisko's body artwork. What's left is for Dana to fill in the spiral lines with various colors. Pavlisko grins, clenches his teeth to the discomfort and continues to talk. Before the tattoo session is over, one thing becomes clear. He and his artwork are one and the same in an intimate, physical manner.

Pavlisko, 29, has presented numerous performance pieces over the past seven years. He's interacted with viewers through media, street basketball and traveling galleries.

For Mr. Machine (Cattle) Bordering on Conflict, a 1997 Gallery Green performance he staged near Miami University while an undergraduate, Pavlisko slowly disrobed in front of an audience while temporary walls closed around them. The intent, he says, was to see how long it would take people to act independently and leave the performance before the walls clamped together.

Pavlisko has never invited audiences to Designs by Dana to watch his tattooing, but he should. The experience exemplifies the joyful spirit of his work: Beautiful art is everywhere. In his case, art seeps from the very pores of his skin.

In terms of playfulness, the best piece in Pavlisko's current show at Linda Schwartz Gallery, Transmogriaesthetics, is "Fountain," a standard stainless steel drinking fountain attached near the front of the gallery. The fountain dispenses wine instead of water, a nod to gallery openings and the refreshments they serve.

At eye level, the fountain is exactly what it should be -- a water fountain. The creativity emerges from the viewer and individual interaction with the work. Encouraged by the prospect of endless free wine, it's difficult not to laugh enthusiastically.

On the opposite wall, there is sublime beauty in the ink jet reproductions of the museum membership forms Pavlisko has blown up to large canvases.

"Didactics" is the most soulful of Pavlisko's works, a series of color photos and discarded Carnegie Art Museum signage mounted on canvas and wrapped under a layer of glycene paper. He takes old museum signs, objects that were going to be discarded, and treats them like the beautiful artifacts they deserve to be.

Recently, Pavlisko invited gallery visitors who bought memberships to his show for a Saturday afternoon gallery talk. It's a playful tweak on the perks museums offer their members.

Talking to the Saturday afternoon visitors, Pavlisko refers to Andy Warhol enthusiastically, and his "Auto Set-Up" series is a welcome addition to the Warhol oeuvre. Pavlisko collects products from one-hour photo machines, places them under glass and surrounds them by white matting and simple wooden frames.

The theme to the show is this: Trash becomes art through creativity. The other realization is that Pavlisko is the one Cincinnati artist who embraces conceptual themes passionately.

The simplicity and the scale of his "Auto Set-Up" series match perfectly with the individual viewer. The quality of the craftsmanship in Pavlisko's work is clear.

There is seldom a crowd at the gallery, and Pavlisko's work thrives in the quiet. He understands the commercial challenges behind his work. Yet every piece tells a story, more than most traditional portraits. "Auto Set-Up" is subtle, philosophical and beautiful.

The artwork that covers Pavlisko's body sums up his spirit clearly: He's part of a community of experimental artists who could transform Cincinnati if given the chance, and I say give them the key to the city.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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