Beautifully executed artwork simmers with aggression at Whitespace

Ann-Marie Manker’s solo show at Whitespace Gallery is a Southwestern psychosexual brew of muscle-bound roosters toting weapons and sporting scorpion tattoos, draped in snakes and spiders and wearing belts of hot peppers.

The centerpiece of Manker’s show “El Gallo” (Spanish for rooster) is a demonic, spaghetti Western-style chicken mercenary strutting his machismo with a killer gleam in his eye. The bare-chested roosters geared up for battle that Manker draws in delicate watercolor, colored pencil and ink are the exhibition’s dark core. These unruly, hell-bent antagonists’ only moment of humility comes in a drawing titled “Queen of the Night” in which a hooded woman gripping an ax with her other hand circling a flailing rooster’s neck suggests a comeuppance for that strutting, devilish rooster.

Manker’s drawings of killer man-roosters are outrageously detailed, their skin patterned like cactuses or laced with reptilian scales and their faces filled with a tangible sense of threat and sentience. Manker’s technique suggests a mixture of devotion and terror: She draws as if her hand is compelled to capture her darkest fears in exquisite, accurate detail. As a result, “El Gallo” is a sublime combination of strong content, laced with dangerous undertones and fastidious execution. It may also be Manker’s strongest show to date.

Those serve as the monstrous, figurative representation of the equally dangerous potential in Manker’s other “El Gallo” works, which feature bandanna-wearing boys shaving with razor blades and roughhousing as a preamble to some unnamed, implied act of violence.

In “Homies,” two dudes wearing backward baseball caps are shown in profile as they touch cigarettes, ostensibly to share a light, though the gesture — and their expressions of eyes-closed bro ecstasy — looks very much like a kiss. A heady brew of male bonding and aggression underlies such works.

Manker’s show feels like the fever dream of a woman contemplating a world of male aggression in terms that veer from the utterly fantastic to the bracingly realist. In several of Manker’s works, her male subjects don bandannas to hide their identities, geared up for some kind of mischief — or worse — goading one another with a mix of beer, peer pressure and affection to action.

In case you missed that the show is about a certain stripe of masculinity, several works spell out the terms of “El Gallo” in bright Mexican serape colors and phrases that speak to male privilege and bravado, with words Lady Killer, Buck, Homeslice, Homie, Hombre and Don Juan written on their fiesta-colored surfaces.

The off-the-charts machismo of “El Gallo” is a departure for an artist more likely to revel in imagery in which women rule the roost. Manker’s sensibility has often put female figures front and center in a world where rainbows, pretty pastel colors and baby animals coexist with a degree of rock ‘n’ roll aggression and attitude.

“El Gallo” is work of a very different stripe with a far stronger sensibility that makes this show feel like some of the artist’s most cohesive and emotionally developed work to date. “El Gallo” is the stuff of nightmares, with enough violence and trauma lurking at its margins to inspire a profound anxiety, at how quickly scenes of beer-clutching bonhomie can turn ugly.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.