Dennis McNett's Wolfbats Are Howling 

Dennis McNett's art doesn't usually stand still. Whether his prints are whizzing by on the deck of an Anti-Hero skateboard or his sculptures are rolling through city streets, McNett's works are, more often than not, on the move. With this element of action and dynamism in his oeuvre, there's definitely something lost when his creatures sit in a gallery, declawed and well-behaved.

But the works in Reaping Waves and Vital Vessels: The Passing of the Wolfbats weren't born this way. In fact, McNett's prints and sculptures roared into Joshua Liner Gallery on December 16, when he staged an opening procession through the streets of West Chelsea right up to the doors of the gallery. Now his woodcuts and sculptures hang silently on the gallery's walls (through January 22), casting shadows upon one another, but not much more. A snarling wildcat is wrapped in its own tail, a serpent stretches its jaws, and a winged, skull-faced figure with dreadlocks grins like some sort of stoned, hippie-fied Nike of Samothrace. In a corner nook, viewers can find the waves and vessels of the show's title. A giant paper swell sweeps up from the floor and curves toward the ceiling, dizzy with shapes and patterns. Viking ships sit atop artificial waves, their hulls emblazoned with skulls and runes and their flags branded with modern portraits of deceased friends. While the ships fall a little flat in the gallery setting—especially considering that they once rode the concrete waves of 28th Street—the intricacy of the patterns is still impressive and his subjects still playful.

While his prints and woodcuts are less conceptual than the art one is used to finding in Chelsea, the appeal of McNett's work isn't strictly formal. Aesthetically, his work references an “outsider art” tradition, influenced by punk rock and graphic design. But conceptually, his influences reach back much further; references to Norse mythology and mythical creatures abound. His animal subjects are primal and instinctual—not cerebral. But still, McNett's work is less about conceptual innovation than it is about galvanizing communities through action and events, much like the procession he hosted at the opening; the objects only tell half of the story. So if McNett's wolves seem toothless in the static environment of the gallery, close your eyes and imagine them out on the streets where they belong. Or better yet, join him the next time he invades New York City's streets.

(Images courtesy Joshua Liner Gallery, the artist.)

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