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The Fine Art of Demoneating: Christopher Ulrich at Lang Design Group Gallery

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Detail of "Demoneater" by Christopher Ulrich courtesy of www.christopherulrich.comA few weeks back I was at Bergamot Station Arts Center killing a few minutes before a closing reception. I thought I’d already hit all of the open galleries, when turning down a secluded byway; a trail of innocent looking balloons beckoned me towards an open door. I fully intended to walk on by (after a quick peek) but instead, was transfixed by a glimpse of lurid color and otherworldly figures. For a second there, I thought I heard Clive Barker’s Pinhead saying: “We have such sights to show you.,” but I’m sure it was just my imagination.

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Once over the threshold, I was both dazzled and delighted. A host of large, surrealistic panel paintings dominated the gallery, depicting demon-like beings and conglomerate creatures a la Bosch. If that weren’t enough to blow my mind, the walls themselves were covered with arcane imagery, verbiage and sigils. What a contrast between outer and inner space! Had I wandered into the center of a magick circle (again?) or into the pages of Lucifer’s larger-than-life photo album or perhaps, Pandora’s box prior to its opening? Hmm, ever feel like a kid in an “eye candy” store?

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Giddy with excitement, I bounced from portrait to portrait. Each was inundated with dark and mysterious symbolism: a flayed man with a vagina dentata where his belly should be; a goggle eyed crone who resembled a Sci Fi Baba Yaga; a black knight with the head of a bulldog; a saggy titted, be-wigged alligator lady (no lie); a menacing demon lord, his spinal cord exposed. A crazy quilt of occult, mythological, religious, philosophic, psychological and uniquely personal symbolism spread out before me, just begging to be decoded. And me with only minutes to spare—Arrgggh! (See what an MA in Art History does to a person.) My eyes ping-ponged from one curious detail to the next. Was that a rabid chipmunk? A brain candle? What was that red pullet saying about Hermeticism? Then I fixed upon the brilliant blueness of Kali Ma as cosmic vamp and nearly did a jig. I’m funny that way.

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I burbled my glee at the very gracious gallery rep, who invited me to the back of the studio to look at more murals, preliminary sketches and studies. She explained that the artist, Christopher Ulrich, who works on custom murals and such for the Lang Design Group, had spent two months preparing the space and that regrettably, the walls would be painted over once the show closed—which is reason enough for you all to drop whatever you’re doing and get over there! We climbed up steps named after the 7 Deadly Sins discussing Ulrich’s creative process and the nifty limited edition book of the Demoneater paintings and then suddenly, I found myself standing on the head of a bulbous green squid (another mural). Cthulhu hath risen! I think I actually did dance at that point

Now don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to take a crash course in Jungian Psychology at Satan’s School for Girls to appreciate this stuff. Ulrich’s paintings are accessible to anyone raised on science fiction, fantasy and horror or who appreciates high-end graphic novels, Surrealism or Lowbrow art. If you come in informed, the allusions to esoteric knowledge and forbidden wisdom will tantalize you. However, if you just dig wicked cool-looking, phantasmagorical imagery, you’ll be more than satisfied.

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And if you think it’s just about the iconography, you’re wrong. Ulrich has clearly mastered the figurative, employing all the High Renaissance magicks at his disposal to produce truly sumptuous pieces. This is the kind of attention to detail and old world technique that you just don’t see enough of in the post-post-post modern art world (where the ability to draw is but an afterthought).

Before I was forced to tear myself away, I got to briefly meet the alchemist—I mean, artist. Christopher Ulrich is a soft-spoken fellow who seems too young to be so talented and accomplished. Damn him! I suppressed the urge to ask what he really thought about unbridled female sexuality, considering we were standing a few feet away from an image of a bat-faced yoni. (You’ll just have to see it for yourself.) Instead, I inquired about his use of mystical and archetypal symbolism. He intimated that the iconography had been less consciously informed by such knowledge, than it had manifested out of the creative (and no doubt cathartic) process. I wonder if he’s a water sign?

Somewhere in all of this I realized that many of the paintings were self-portraits and that the title of the show, Demoneater, refers in part to the artist’s transformative journey into the depths of his psyche. Ulrich has figuratively torn off his own skin to expose the gods and monsters within and we all get to vicariously tag along on his dark path to enlightenment or at least, the next threshold. Did I mention that this is only the first in a series? I can’t wait to see what sights he’ll have to show us next.

Other photos by Lori Nyx for Laist with permission of Dan Lang Design Group and Gallery. My inferior snaps don't do the richness of these paintings any justice. Go to Christopher's site or better yet, see them for yourself. You just might find something to hang in your sanctum sanctorum or to display on your coffee table. The Demoneater Series One book is only $55! I'm still accepting those late solstice gifts, people!

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Christopher Ulrich
Demoneater Series One

through the first week of February at
Lang Design Group Gallery
Ste. T1b, Bergamot Station Arts Center
2525 Michigan Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90404.

Gallery hours: Dec. 29th, 10am-6pm. Jan. 2nd-18th: Mon.-Fri., 1-6pm & Sat., 10am-6pm.
From Jan. 22nd on: Tues., 1:30-5pm; Wed., Fri. & Sat., 10am-6pm. It's always a good idea to check with galleries before your visit, as hours are subject to change.
For more info. call (310) 828-4213 or go to the artist's website.