Frank Hansen paints on old pieces of wood, covering the surfaces of the boards with wildly imagined figures with large heads and distended arms, layers of paint and scrawled in text like “Don’t Touch The Elf, Or He’ll Lose His Magic” -- words that become the title of the piece.
Some of the paintings are very small, others large. Some are funny, some are commentaries, some are just strangely compelling and surreal.
Together, they make up “Postmark Shenanigans,” the Des Moines, Iowa, artist’s Iron Tail Gallery exhibition that is his first major show outside his hometown.
Appropriately, Hansen sent a spinning contraption made of wood that looks like a small room to Iron Tail through the mail -- sans box. But the show isn’t a postal mailings exhibition.
“This show exists because of the close relationship I have with a dead guy,” Hansen writes in his artist’s statement. “Mark Kneeskern that is.”
Kneeskern, who died in 2014, was Hansen’s art partner and best friend, with whom he sometimes communicated by mail.
“Since his passing, the only way to honor such a man is to celebrate his life and continue with POST MARK SHENANIGANS (MAIL WEIRD S**T TO IRON TAIL,” Hansen wrote.
Next month, Iron Tail will show work by Kneeskern. His book, “The Last American Hitchhiker,” is now available at the gallery.
There are no pieces in the show that overtly address Kneeskern’s passing. But he very likely inspired some of Hansen’s hijinks that create some biting laughs.
Those include “M-I-C-K-E-Y Jesus-Wuzza-Jew” (sing it to “The Mickey Mouse Club” theme song). It’s got three characters, named Jesus, Wuzza and Jew wearing mouse ears and a box that contains the word "Walt.” But it didn’t start out joking. It, too, was inspired a loss, then morphed into the painting.
Other instant eyecatchers include “Das Komboverr,” a twisted portrait of a man with a comb over gone very wrong -- the man being Adolf Hitler; “Bunny’s Drive Home,” in which a pair of large white rabbit heads are joined by a roadway; “Karma Free Fall,” a woman with three eyes and an eye in the palm of her hand falling through writing-covered space and “The Kybo Lofts,” an architectural study amidst layered white paint.
Hansen’s vibrant, original art is rooted in his childhood, growing up on a small farm near Des Moines.
“The rusty old junk he was surrounded by made him realize that art didn’t have to be pretty, and maybe the best wasn’t. He took that approach to college and eventually created his own style of art he calls Emotionalism,” reads a statement on his Des Moines gallery’s website. “Using childhood memories, world topics, inside jokes and absurd imagery mixed with unorthodox mediums felt just right, especially when they are all used together.”
That combination is strikingly found in “Abacuss F.U.,” a collaged piece that has patterned circles of color floating above a horizontal two-bar “abacus” made up of blocks and tiny heads. Another collaged work, which has an unprintable rhyming title, incorporates a roll of toilet paper and doorbells into what is a very funny piece.
Hansen, who is a plumber by trade, is a classic emerging artist, with his work, which has been used in a Slipknot video, now going into private collections where it’s been seen by the likes of Mick Jagger.
There’s good reason for that. The work in “Postmark Shenanigans” is distinctive and fresh as its melds old and new, surreal imagery and real emotion and, of course, fun.