I want to bottle Mary Anne Carter's laugh and release it into the rooms of the clinically depressed. It's wild and smoky. It pulls you into the world of wit and glitter that she's built for herself out of gallons of gold paint, googly eyes, and hours of steadfast work screen-printing T-shirts and designing Tinder Bro plush dolls. (As the product description says: "The best part is, he can't speak or type.")
For more than a year, she's sold her work through her website Jesus Mary Anne Joseph (tagline: "This bitch face does not rest"). But now she and her "enabler and producer" Adj McColl are bringing this kind of humor into the tangible universe of an art gallery called Party Hat—and they want to bring as many other artists as they can along with them. The idea is to create a gallery and shop that's funny and accessible enough to change the art world. And the world-world.
"Humor is a digestif for the left and an aperitif for the right," Carter said over a gin and tonic. "It reduces your inhibitions and increases your capacity to listen."
We'd been talking about the relationship between humor and politics in her work. One of her T-shirts has "This bitch face does not rest" printed across the mirrors of an open compact. The hand that holds the mirror is flipping off the viewer. According to Carter, even the self-described non-feminists from her home state of North Carolina read that shirt and said stuff like "I love that! Wait, you're right, my husband isn't told to smile. Is it feminist for me to feel like I should control my own body?"
Still, she's under no illusion that the wide proliferation of her tank tops (one of which is a pentagram with hot dogs, pizza slices, and David Bowie's face in it) will cure the United States of its communicating-with-people-who-are-not-like-you problem.
"You need dialogue, and you need harrowing statistics, and you need representations of the atrocities that are occurring, but you also need a respite. I think we're good at providing the respite," Carter said.
But don't confuse Party Hat's mode as some shade of Fremont quirk. "Adjectives I hate: quirky, funky, zany, eccentric," Carter said. "I would describe us as unpredictable, faggy, experiential, and hilarious."
This ethos and aesthetic was evident in the gallery's inaugural show on September 7, Prize Inside the Box, with new works by Tara Thomas. The exhibition of paintings was billed as an exploration of the artist's "three-year relationship with Franzia."
The person in one of Thomas's paintings appears to love this cheap but comically bougie brand of wine so much that she holds the distinctive five-liter box in her lap as if it were a cat. Another painting depicts a toaster colored like a bag of Wonder Bread that reads "Franzia: Classic White" on its label, an act of absurdist brand mixing that humorously critiques Franzia's transparent appeal to white-bread Americans. Crudely scrawled pedestrian phrases you might overhear at a bar, such as "I almost came" and "You can always make new friends," were tacked to the gallery walls and wove the paintings together to complete the portrait of the artist as an excitable depressive with a very idiosyncratic and yet completely understandable alcohol problem.
To cool the approximately 20 boxes of Franzia they bought for the opening, curators Carter and McColl made gem-shaped Franzia ice cubes in a deep freezer they found on the side of the road. To complement the paintings, Carter and McColl worked with Thomas to create a series of broadsides that form a zodiac from 12 of Franzia's 19 wine flavors. Chillable Red, for instance, is a playful, dynamic wine that clearly embodies two conflicting ideas. So of course it's a Gemini.
That's the other innovation: Carter and McColl collaborate with each artist they represent at Party Hat on one piece of limited-edition merchandise to sell in quantities of 50 to 100. The items are sold at each show, but if they don't all sell they become part of the Jesus Mary Anne Joseph shop (which is housed within Party Hat but is distinguishable from the gallery by its dusky gold floor).
Carter's background with screen printing and plastic salvage has allowed her to create affordable products that sustain her own production of fine art and installations, and she and McColl want to pass along those production skills in the hopes that their collaborating artists will be able to do the same.
"If fine art cannot be accessed by a wide range of people, from both an intellectual and a physical point of view, then it loses some of its potential," Carter said. "If your work costs $6,000, not very many people are going to become art owners."
"Graphic tees aren't really my passion," she added. "My passion is getting messages out in the world. But if I don't contribute to the noise of graphic tees, then they're controlled by companies. And I feel like the idea of making limited-edition merchandise is just giving people options."
Party Hat (312 S Washington St; ring the Jesus Mary Anne Joseph doorbell and a witchy finger with a lightning bolt will guide the way) will be open Friday through Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. and by appointment. (Always check availability beforehand on Facebook.) During that time, visitors will have the opportunity to view the current art, shop Jesus Mary Anne Joseph's permanent store, and observe the mechanics of the printmaking studio.
"People who want to use screen printing as a medium so they can produce more of their own works for causes are welcome to come talk to us," McColl said.
For their next event, a group show scheduled for October 5, Party Hat has an open call out. The theme is "party hat," and they're looking for art about celebration and absurdity. They've already secured the first piece for the show. Seattle tattoo artist Albie will ink up Carter and McColl with matching Party Hat tats. The artists vow to show off the body art all evening long.