What: Strike Everywhere Exhibition by artist Ravi Zupa
Where: Black Book Gallery, 304 Elati St., Denver
When: March 19-April 19, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.–2 p.m.
There is a sense of irony in the works of Denver-based artist Ravi Zupa, a feeling that leaves you wanting to smirk. Through his varied techniques in mixed media—including colored pencil, traffic cones and repurposed pieces of typewriters—he expertly creates images that contradict and offer fodder for conversation, or debate. Some of his influences may be Tarot cards, history books and propaganda posters, while others are taken from the sociocultural climate of the present, like police brutality and our relationship with animals. You won’t want to miss this.
Black Book Gallery, welcoming Zupa back for an annual exhibition, will be displaying four of his series, separate—and separated into different areas of the gallery— though sharing similar themes. When entering the space the first series to the right is the Opposable Thumb series, an ongoing group of art that centers on the question, “what do we do with opposable thumbs?” and portraying the answers with animals that are only changed by the substitution of human hands.
Next are the guns. Yes, the guns. Zupa is perhaps most recognized for his Mightier Than series, a collection of guns that appear very real until upon closer inspection you discover they are made from bits and pieces of typewriters and other antique items. The title of the series, which is a large influence of the art itself, comes from the adage, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” a fitting idea when you are staring at the roller from a typewriter acting as the barrel of a gun. In an interview with Corey Jones of Colorado Public Radio, Zupa explained, “I do genuinely think that words are far more powerful than guns are, both in the kinds of damage that words can do and the kinds of positive improvement words can do.”
Step up into a small alcove to the left and you will find the Age of Enlightenment series, two groupings of drawings that portray images rich with symbolism and detail, as well as quotes like “from when the earth was made, from when the sky was built.” These could be a new set of Tarot cards, an unusual deck portraying histrionic figures engaged in activities that are either slightly disturbing or slightly mundane. It is also impressive that this series behaves as a collection of antique prints while in actuality they are ink on paper, a delightful illusion that only supplements Zupa’s ironic tastes.
In the hallway is the Strike Everywhere series, the group the show is named for. It is a collaboration with another talented Denver-based artist, Arna Miller. Together Miller and Zupa take inspiration from early matchbox art and Mexico’s Jose Posada to create one-of-a-kind stamped matchboxes (matches included.) The stamps that create the images on the matchboxes are carved from traffic cones—which are hanging nearby—and then printed on an antique printing press with letters added later. This collection, although focusing on some touchy topics like police brutality and the corruption of Big Oil, intercalates humor by using skeletons, a symbol both human and inhuman at the same time. Miller is a wonderful collaborator for this project, being a screen printer and printmaking aficionado, and her style in separate work from Zupa is complimentary to his other series.
“I see a lot of great art, but as an artist with an astounding command of a broad range of techniques and aesthetics, Ravi Zupa is a rare find.”
Altogether these series display the fortitude of Zupa, his desire to stir the pot in a beautiful, well-executed and sometimes humorous way. Even if the message is not your style, his ability to work in many mediums with finesse and expertise will incubate a deep respect for him. Take it from Shepard Fairey, the renowned street artist who displayed some of Zupa’s work in his own gallery in 2013: “I see a lot of great art, but as an artist with an astounding command of a broad range of techniques and aesthetics, Ravi Zupa is a rare find.”
Photographs by Black Book Gallery and Ravi Zupa