ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: Dream comes true, literally, in Ben Roosevelt’s “Blue Flame” — and reignites creativity

Review: Dream comes true, literally, in Ben Roosevelt’s “Blue Flame” — and reignites creativity

Ben Roosevelt: "The Blue Flame"
"The Blue Flame," Ben Roosevelt's installation at Get This!

A wood-paneled dive bar called the Blue Flame is the unlikely venue for art in Ben Roosevelt’s intriguing installation at Get This! gallery through April 28, an environment that evokes the jarring temporal disjunctions and hokey nostalgia of a “Twin Peaks” episode. 

Ben Roosevelt: "Coleridge's Hairdos"

If the neon Pabst Blue Ribbon sign — maniac Frank Booth’s beer of choice in “Blue Velvet” — reinforces the David Lynchian vibe, the strange imagery of the drawings on the walls does its part as well. One surreal suite features disembodied versions of Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s wiggy hairdos, artist Joseph Beuys’ eyes and Italian poet Dante’s nose, which float in multiples on their respective sheets of paper.

The vertical triptych “The Three Beasts” introduces Iggy Pop, another key character here. Wearing a jacket emblazoned with a leopard, the rock musician looks over his back in a pose based on a promotional photograph for his 1973 album “Raw Power.” A drawing re-creating an iconic ancient Assyrian relief of a dying lion is in the middle. At the bottom, a wolf seems to head straight toward the viewer.

For those who know Roosevelt’s past work, the excellent draftsmanship and intimate scale of many of the drawings will be familiar, as will the aura of enigma. But he has taken his art to a rich new level here, bringing different aspects of his life — artist, English teacher, music fan — together in an intriguing, multivalent whole.

The catalyst was a dream in which the artist visited a roadhouse called the Blue Flame, where he found Iggy Pop, who was stuck there and couldn’t leave. Roosevelt, apparently a good Freudian, made the connection between the stymied pop star’s up-and-down history and his feelings about the state of his own artistic practice.

More connections followed: Coleridge’s description of a “thin blue flame” fluttering in a fireplace in his poem “Frost at Midnight”; Dante lost in a “Dark Wood” in his epic “The Divine Comedy.” Roosevelt noted their common ages: “Dante was 35 at the start of ‘The Divine Comedy,’ ” he wrote. “Iggy was 35 in the early ’80s when his career had come to another low point. I was 35 when I had the dream.”

Ben Roosevelt: "The Blue Flame"

The dream is the basis of this body of work, which includes drawings of the exterior of the Blue Flame, an interpretation of an illustration of the Dark Wood and mini-marquees featuring “performers” Beuys, et al. The dream liberated Roosevelt from his artist’s block, nudging him down paths to imagery that was part of his psyche all along.

The Three Beasts” is a playground for associations. Dante’s “Inferno” famously begins “Halfway along our life’s path,” with the poet lost in a dark wood and assailed by a lion, a leopard and a she-wolf. Iggy Pop emotionally crashed in the early 1970s, only to be revitalized with the help of David Bowie. Beuys — who famously “performed” in America in 1974 with another beast, a coyote — literally crashed over the Crimea during World War II as a pilot in the German Luftwaffe, only to remake himself as a shaman-artist and kind of cultural rock star. Like Iggy Pop, who was born James Newell Osterberg, Coleridge took a pseudonym, and both were addicted to opiates.

These themes of reinvention, transformation and resurrection pervade the show, which, however, does not require literary knowledge to enjoy. One can even head to the Blue Flame for a drink on the evening of April 14 and for music as well at the April 28 closing.

Kudos to Get This! owner Lloyd Benjamin., who is open to ideas, such as turning his white gallery cube into a wood-paneled dive, and willing to invest in them, even when they might not contribute to his bottom line. His supportiveness and eye for interesting artists make Get This! one of Atlanta’s rising galleries.

Artist’s talk: noon-1 p.m. Saturday, April 21.

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