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Portraiture, not analysis, is Robbie Conal's strong suit. Reared during the 60s, he made his reputation as a guerrilla poster artist in the Reagan years, then scored a regular art column with the LA Weekly in the late 90s. In the recently released Artburn, a bong-table book named after his Weekly page, his gruesome, fleshy caricatures are accompanied by brief essays that betray his tendency toward glib mockery (he thinks calling Al Gore "Gore the Bore" is funny) and the undigested horror of authority that leads the American left to continually blow off its own feet. Nonetheless, Conal's technique shines as he skewers subjects not through the traditional "dig-that-schnoz" exaggeration of features but by detailing folds of facial skin, as though he sketches from photographs and finishes up using microscope slides. The resulting hyperrealism undermines the comforting notion that the acts of "monsters" like Bush II aren't related to the normal range of human impulses. Tastes Like Chicken/The Other White Meat, a fan favorite, is representative: a class portrait of the '00 presidential finals, drawn during the race. The caption, insisting that Al Gore and George W. Bush are indistinguishable, replicates the "republicrat" attitude that arguably siphoned votes from Gore and helped land Bush in the White House. Conal may have wanted his graphic Bore to resemble the arrogant mechanoid he seemed to be in the spotlight, but his idees fixes are trumped and redeemed by his artist's eye--the dry humor Gore displays when in his element, as when hosting Saturday Night Live, can be read between the charcoal lines. Conal will discuss and sign copies of Artburn at 7:30 on Thursday, November 13, at Barnes & Noble, 1441 W. Webster, 773-871-3610. At 7 on Friday, November 14, he'll appear at Quimby's, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910.

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