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The surreal world

Dreamworks by Corey Grayhorse at AS220
By GREG COOK  |  May 20, 2010

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Three styles dominate art photography these days. The most prominent is deadpan, posed, formal portraiture (and sometimes landscapes), usually shot head-on or in strict profile with the people drained of all emotion.

PHOTOS:Corey Grayhorse's pop-surreal dream photography at AS220
The second style offers intimate slice-of-life snapshot glimpses of debauched circles of friends and lovers — a la Nan Goldin. It is as involved, animated, and passionate as the deadpan stuff is detached, still, and cool.

Falling somewhere between is pop surreal dream photography. As done by a spectrum of artists from Cindy Sherman and Gregory Crewdson (at the fine art end) to Annie Leibovitz, Pierre et Gilles, and David LaChapelle (at the commercial fashion and celebrity photography end), its emotional temperature is hot like Goldin’s work, but the scenes are posed like deadpan photos, with more Hollywood flair. The costumes, sets, and stars sometimes approach Hollywood budgets, too.

Corey Grayhorse of Cranston, whose photographs are on view at AS220’s Main Gallery (115 Empire Street, Providence, through May 29), falls in the pop surreal style — at the bright, poppy, sordid LaChapelle end, though with a greater air of goth mystery and smaller production budgets. It’s a style of synthetic glitz that seems to channel our society’s plastic, superficial heart. “In my world,” Grayhorse writes on her website, “Japanese street culture collides with haute couture, and Hello Kitty courts Marie Antoinette.”

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Her photo Le Tigre is a portrait of a person wearing a shiny plastic tiger mask and a blue cabled cardigan sweater. Miss Piggy shows someone in a pig mask and a white eyelet dress with poufy sleeves. The images are a calculated, kitschy mix of seeming innocence and something uneasy that can inspire the sort of itchy feeling you get when you sense something creeping up on you.

Lavish Lush seems inspired by the sort of elaborate fashion fantasies Leibovitz shoots for Vogue. In a room set for a tea party, with cupcakes and a chilled bottle of champagne, a woman reclines lasciviously on a red sofa in an elaborate pink curly Marie Antoinette wig and a lacy satin mini-dress. The skirt is hiked up, revealing lacy tights and pink heels.

Other shots are even more narrative — though always with a crooked sense of humor. One seems to be a 1940s-ish scene of a woman in fur-collared blue coat, white miniskirt, red-and-white striped stockings, and red shoes seated on a couch gazing off into space. Her gray gloved hands hold a cigarette. A little alligator sits on the couch next to her. A little kid in a red velvet coat, fez, and boots stands next to her, like a personal valet. It’s like a scene from some cracked David Lynch noir.

Another series, shot as album art for Providence rapper Romem Rok, depicts a fellow in a white bunny mask and blue tuxedo jacket frying eggs in a kitchen with a woman in a blue floral dress, or the same pair embracing in a girly white bedroom over breakfast in bed and the newspaper sprawled across the blankets.

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