NeckFace's "Devil's Disciple" at O.H.W.O.W. turns heads and stomachs
NeckFace, the graffiti ghoul who has earned international street cred as the budding Rembrandt of the repulsive and ribald, has brought his nightmarish vision to the Big Mango for a Halloween bash to wrack the spine with a chilly frisson of dread.
Since this August, the soft-spoken, unassuming 25-year-old street artist has been working on his first solo Miami show, "Devil's Disciple," at O.H.W.O.W., where the reclusive renegade has quietly tickled the turds out of the gallery's terrified neighbors.
He's even prompted one of them to place a Bible outside the building in hopes of keeping the demons at bay. Well, it hasn't worked. Not even scripture, some might argue, can save those venturing into NeckFace's inferno of blood-puking babies, decapitated heads, knife-wielding zombies, blood-squirting amputees, splattered intestines, and raunchy catalogue of other unimaginable horrors spawned from the diabolically fertile mind of the impish artist lurking inside.
The first thing he did to serve local denizens notice when he arrived was place in a window a bloody dummy whose bashed-in face was covered in the artist's shed hair he has collected in a pillowcase over the years. The act quickly landed NeckFace on the 6 p.m. local news.
But for those who dare to cross this punk pagan's hellish threshold, the blood-curdling rewards will coat your throat with corrosive bile while busting your ribs with giggles and screams.
For the past two months, NeckFace has been creating a haunted house to go along with his creepy drawings and bristling, fierce metal masks. He has also built a skate ramp and invited California skate rat friends to amp up the vibe during the show's opening October 31.
It's a recent fall day when New Times catches up with the serial disturber of peaceful dreams. Gone is the bandanna or mask he typically uses to cover his face and guard his anonymity during gallery openings or public appearances, adding to his image of a barrio bandit on the lam from the law.
In one of the gallery's rooms, NeckFace has covered adjacent walls floor to ceiling with two full-color, tractor-trailer-size photo murals of men with their heads blasted to shreds or crushed to pulp in a car wreck. The images are typical of the crime or accident scene snaps that appear in Mexico's prensa roja tabloids. One of the photos depicts a man splattered over his kitchen table after his jealous wife shotgunned him in the gob. The other portrays a drunk driver who totaled his vehicle and spilled his brains through the passenger door. NeckFace is using the lurid pictures as a backdrop for his iconic watercolor drawings of hairy creatures acting out outrageous scenes of violence.
If you're wondering where the artist finds inspiration for his grisly gallows humor, he quickly mentions his late grandma, Rosalva, whom he often visited in Mexicali in Baja California while growing up. "She had this wicked collection of Alerta! crime magazines that we used to look through and laugh at together," NeckFace recalls. "There were lots of pictures of brutal murders in there with lots of funny headlines that would make us crack up."
The artist — who made his bones on the streets of San Francisco and later New York City scrawling his moniker like a dripping urban curse — began scribbling his macabre images while he was in grade school. "I was drawing these scary, funny creatures that would make everyone laugh," he says. "For me, I've been around this shit all my life. If I were to come across a car crash where someone was shredded up, it probably wouldn't faze me at all."
Trading paper for concrete, he began painting huge graffiti murals of hairy, fanged creatures that covered walls in San Francisco, New York, and Tokyo. By the time NeckFace turned 18, his dreadful doodles had landed him gallery shows and magazine spreads.
Deftly executed, his raw and scratchy imagery evokes everything from Big Daddy Ed Roth (the creator of Rat Fink) and a doodle-addled Hieronymus Bosch, to a young Tim Burton and even the hellfire-and-brimstone images often found in the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. Fueled by the stir that the menacing chupacabra, or sinister batman, left on the imagination when it first appeared in public, his drawings frequently sold out during one-man shows across the globe. "So far, I've had exhibits in Tokyo, London, Sydney, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, and New York," he says. "I've been lucky."
During his Halloween opening, guests will be forced to enter the exhibit through his family's haunted house. Near the entrance, NeckFace's oldest brother, who wishes to remain anonymous and has been in town working alongside the artist, has erected a giant pumpkin-headed scarecrow with outstretched arms on which a row of ravens and crows perch. Across from it, a mummy crawls at eye level on a wall while a corpse bride flies overhead.
Nearby, a group of workers is busy building a skate ramp for the artist's friends from out West. "Andrew Reynolds from Baker Skateboards and Erik Ellington from Deathwish are flying in to do a demo and support my show," NeckFace says.
Yet another room in the haunted house part of the exhibit has been set up like a circus freak sideshow. One character, who looks like Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, wears a trench coat while cradling a monkey in his arms. Another figure resembles a two-headed Uncle Fester, and the carnival barker is a dead ringer for Beetlejuice. Next to him, a vampire draped in a white nightgown has what appears to be a fence post rammed through her chest.
"Some people like to decorate their homes with Christmas lights," NeckFace says. "My family gets more excited about pumpkins and severed heads."
At the opposite end of the gallery, NeckFace turns into the Marquis de Sod while overseeing a team of grunting contractors organizing his display of masks. In a corner, workers shovel a huge mound of topsoil and cover it with life-size black caskets set off by red backlighting against a garish orange wall.
The artist's eerie, pointy-toothed metal masks gleam like apparitions atop the tarry dirt. They exude a weird African mask or Mexican wrestling mask vibe.
"The masks are inspired by medieval torture implements; Ned Kelly, the Australian bandit who made his own armor; pop-up books; or even a cheese grater," he laughs. "I like to listen to King Diamond, Slayer, and Ozzy when I'm banging on the steel," he says. "This time, I dipped the masks in chrome for a new effect."
Around the corner, an arresting watercolor drawing depicts a hairy woman throttling her husband while her four rug rats watch in horror. Another piece depicts a pregnant, prickly-haired, putrid-green señorita dangling by her chained arms. An orange zombie detonates a bomb strapped to the woman's belly. In the background of the composition, a ghoul does his best Hanley Ramirez impersonation, catching the flying fetus in his baseball mitt not unlike the Marlins' shortstop snagging a line drive.
Exiting the gallery, NeckFace stops with some final words. "I stuffed all my dummies with copies of New Times, so you guys are in my show too," the subversive wag titters with a sangfroid smile.
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