Matt Furie

GOLDIES 2008 winner: Endangered species to champagne-and-SpaghettiOs

There is no emoticon that captures how it feels to look at Matt Furie's art. But if anyone could create one, it would be Furie. Funny, frightening, disgusting, and endearing all at once, his drawings and paintings and comic books are both direct and unpredictable.

This past year brought a number of new shows by the self-described "Lord of Moldovia," who has brought space-hopping creativity to Bay Area art over the last five years. "Nature Freak" at Jack Fischer Gallery blasted the 49 Geary first-Thursday crowds with sexually graphic and seriously morbid imagery — but in a good-natured way. Vine-veined creatures cradled infant-size mates. A cadaverous Mother Nature and a two-legged beast with a beaked asshole for a head took a doggy-style page from The Joy of Sex. "I researched the Black Plague, and thought about the whole modern dilemma," Furie explains with typical low-key candor, as we sit outside a Russian Hill café and watch people yammer into cell phones on their way to the gym. ("This is an SF Weekly neighborhood, people here don't read the Guardian," he jokes.)

No Bay Area art show this year matched the uncanny pleasure of Furie's show "Heads," at Adobe Books Backroom Gallery. He crammed the small space with hundreds of drawn or painted heads, solo and in groups: a scrappy chick (as in female bird) with a sideways ponytail and a heart-shaped pendant; frogs and gators with mirrored shades; a triple-scoop ice cream cone sporting a bereft expression; a tough and pissed-off hot dog with an ear-piercing; hamburger-bun eyes. An installation that crammed stuffed animals beneath a giant fan evoked Mike Kelley, but Furie's deeper passions run from Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel ("He's the master") to R. Crumb and Charles Schulz. Beneath the comic imagery — and within his talent for rendering personality — lurks truly imaginative social commentary. "There's a balance between having fun and being conscious of the views I have," Furie says. "I'm concerned with ecology and animal welfare. It comes out, but I don't want to do it with a heavy hand. I want it to sneak up on you."

Attention readers: Also in 2008, Buenaventura Press published boy's club and boy's club #2, where the artist (who appreciates the absurdity of the Geico gecko and of Mystery from VH1's The Pick Up Artist) uses a Sesame Street palette to render the antics of a Furie-ous four: easygoing and smart-assed Andy, stylin' and energetic Bret, prankish and party-ready Landwolf, and everyman-with-a-frog-face Pepe. Unlike the unnamed characters of "Heads" -- an acid-spiked Kool Aid mass portrait of San Francisco hipsterdom with perhaps more breadth and wamth than the subject deserves -- the comic-book bros of boy's club are drawn from aspects of Furie's personality. "I'm going back to a time in my life when I didn't think about factory farming," he says. "Growing up in Ohio, I did a lot of goofing off indoors."

From the growing number of endangered species to the perils of a champagne-and-SpaghettiOs diet, you can count on Matt Furie to get it all down on paper. "It's better than working in a slaughterhouse," he admits. "Or being a politician."

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