Race, history and righteous anger on view in solo show

Horace Imhotep's "H107 Lions, Tigers, Bears and A DRACO" (2018) in acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of The Gallery by Wish
Horace Imhotep's "H107 Lions, Tigers, Bears and A DRACO" (2018) in acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of The Gallery by Wish

Credit: Horace Imhotep

Credit: Horace Imhotep

Artist Horace Imhotep mixes substance and style with uneven results.

Artists can have a tendency to show you everything they’ve got in a solo show; they’re like whisky-emboldened card players laying out the best hand they think they’ve ever had.

They work all the angles, trotting out every technique, anxious to prove their skill set. Atlanta-based artist Horace Imhotep in his exhibition “Lion, Tigers, Bears and a Draco” at The Gallery by Wish sometimes sacrifices a locked-and-loaded focus to instead show us his artistic chops and grapple with a whole raft of social ills. And he, admittedly, has the chops, along with an occasionally ferocious bite. You take the flaws and the flamboyant skillset in equal measure in this up and down but worthwhile show.

Atlanta-based artist Horace Imhotep is featured in a solo show at the Little Five Points' art gallery WISH ATL, "Lion, Tigers, Bears and A DRACO." His work  
"H1011 Prison 1/ No. 22843 52" (2019) is shown here.
Courtesy of The Gallery by Wish
Atlanta-based artist Horace Imhotep is featured in a solo show at the Little Five Points' art gallery WISH ATL, "Lion, Tigers, Bears and A DRACO." His work "H1011 Prison 1/ No. 22843 52" (2019) is shown here. Courtesy of The Gallery by Wish

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

On the positive side, this artist doesn’t lack for things to say, even if the aforementioned focus can be an issue. “Lion, Tigers, Bears and a Draco” is a show full of righteous anger and justifiably beholden to America’s troubled history, steeped in issues of race and injustice and the things we should all be grappling with right now as a country.

Maybe you’ll forgive Imhotep for the feeling the exhibition can leave, of an artist spreading himself so thin — because so few artists in the city seem interested in so explicitly and confrontationally exploring issue-based art. His paintings are a mad whirl of references to slavery, the corruptive forces of capitalism, BMW and Mercedes logos, the iconic wild child of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book “Where the Wild Things Are,” the American West, inner-city gangs, loss of innocence, Harriet Tubman, the mammy and the au courant semiautomatic Romanian pistol often referenced in hip hop, the Draco.

"H1020 Reparations Variant"  (2020) by Horace Imhotep.
Courtesy of The Gallery by Wish
"H1020 Reparations Variant" (2020) by Horace Imhotep. Courtesy of The Gallery by Wish

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Trained as a graphic artist who currently also works as a fashion designer, Imhotep is good at stark attention-grabbing imagery that instantly telegraphs his intent. It makes perfect sense in an exhibition space connected to next-door street wear shop Wish and that fashion genre’s identification with youth, rebellion, hard truths and its frequent collaborations with art world voices like Virgil Abloh or KAWS.

Some of Imhotep’s best works are the neat, square acrylic on canvas pictogram-style images that mix the lexicon of Sue Coe, Pennsylvania Dutch, Laylah Ali, James Rosenquist and a crisp, colorful look whose visual seduction is hard to ignore. Imhotep has a special gift for rendering young Black men in a striking, graphic way that manages to collide tragedy and rage; their faces etched with shadows, their despair evident. The young African American cowboy surrounded by Roadrunner cartoon-style black and white cacti in “HI013 The Cowboy variant” (2020) is a prime example of the best of that breed. That work, featuring that glowering figure in an enormous yellow hat with a bullet through it speaks to how the fundamental American spirit of rugged individualism, outlaw behavior and iconoclasm have been elevated to myth when practiced by white Americans, but amounts to villainy when African Americans exercise the same prerogative.

"H1014 The Flying Lady Variant" (2020)
Courtesy of The Gallery by Wish
"H1014 The Flying Lady Variant" (2020) Courtesy of The Gallery by Wish

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Combining arresting graphics with a skin-crawling undertow, his image “HI016 Gang Gang Sandlewood Variant” (2019) turns nightmare into pattern. The work references the famous 1788 historical illustration of the Brookes British slave ship’s human cargo arranged in a ship’s hull, translating that same horrific overview into a kind of scarf or bandana pattern, embedding history in design.

There is raw energy and a thumbed-nose spirit in “Lion” that blends indignation, attitude and some very valid pop culture gripes. With more focus and perhaps a tighter exhibition style, this is an artist who could take the city by storm if he wanted to.

VISUAL ARTS PREVIEW

“Lion, Tigers, Bears and a Draco”

Through Sept. 13. By appointment only. Free. The Gallery by Wish, 453 Moreland Ave. NE, Atlanta. 404-880-0402, www.wishatlgallery.com.

Bottom Line: This is a supremely talented artist with a lot to say who needs to focus and deliver a streamlined message.