Review: Mike Ferguson at Stay Gallery

DOWNEY – Stay Gallery’s current exhibit features Mike Ferguson, who lives in South Gate. His art is full of paradox: whimsical yet profound; down-to-earth yet spiritual; familiar yet completely unexpected; charming yet disturbing. His drawing is masterful and his color-sense flawless. He draws strange figures of robots, humanoid beings, and whimsical monsters. The mechanical and the human, the grotesque and the lovable are provocatively juxtaposed.

Backgrounds are filled with narrow stripes in nicely modulated colors; sometimes they include stylized clouds and trees. The monster drawings are like idiosyncratic versions of Hopi kachina spirit representations. They seem nightmarish at first, but accompanying poems let us know that they are protective and beneficent.

Ferguson has also begun reworking drawings in beautifully sewn applique textiles, and he’s begun adding poems to drawings side-by-side in a single frame. These wry and charming poems, along with their witty titles, reveal a verbal dimension behind his art, pointing the viewer to one way to read a drawing. But they do not foreclose the viewer’s own discovery of details, symbols, and meanings – perhaps even provoking a viewer to compose a poem of his or her own.  Ferguson’s sensibility seems akin to that of certain cartoonists – Gahan Wilson or, even closer,  Jerry van Amerongen, whose brilliant Ballard Street shows surreal moments intruding into the hum-drum lives of middle-aged suburbanites.

Ferguson’s virtuoso drawings go beyond the quick and fleeting gag of a cartoon and unquestionably enter the realm of serious art, whose central mission is to provide unexpected but illuminating views onto everyday experience. Art Spiegelman’s Maus showed how serious cartooning could be and exhibits at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the L.A. County Museum of Art of work by Tim Burton, creator of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Beetlejuice,” have transcended the opposition of cartooning to serious fine art.

Ferguson’s drawings and even the intricate textile pieces are surprisingly affordable, making it possible for practically anyone to become a collector and patron of the arts.  And if you can’t decide on just one, a book of nine drawings and poems titled Odd Botkins is available for a mere $30.

Mike Ferguson’s exhibit, “The Best Medicine,” is open until May 18. Stay Gallery at 11140 Downey Avenue (two doors north of Firestone) is open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.



Published: May 8, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 04