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Brown shoes make it at Clay Hickson’s solo show

The artist takes Johalla Projects back in time to the 1970s.

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There are those particular places—in my case, the house belonging to my grandmother—that in many ways have never left the 70s. When you step into this sort of place, your feet might sink into a beige shag carpet. You find yourself in a kind of alternate universe, pristine if somewhat dusty. This universe is not quite hermetically sealed—there weren't televisions glowing with DVR'd episodes of Oprah's Super Soul Sunday in the 70s—but what matters is that it is sealed enough. A plush, globular Ziggy and his plush, globular nose lay limply on the mantelpiece. A wood laminate bookshelf leans against a pale stucco wall with the look of cottage cheese. The bookshelf holds nothing but the complete set of the 1968 World Book Encyclopedia. Sometimes, while sipping milk from a Snoopy frosted glass, you flip through their yellowed pages permeated with a faint but distinct smell; there, you might find a photo of girls sitting in a patch of grass, in pageboy haircuts, each brandishing their own rag doll. "Playing with dolls," the caption might read, "encourages children to use their imagination."

Illustrator Clay Hickson knows this world well. Sure, the floors of his solo exhibition at Johalla Projects, "It Took A Village," aren't lined with a beige shag carpet. But they might as well be. (Not for nothing did the Reader tap Hickson to lend his stoney aesthetic to the Marijuana Issue last April.) The works displayed are all a particular rusted brown—the brown of your father's Thunderbird, or perhaps a once-beloved leisure suit. Watercolor daisies, poppies, and polka-dot butterflies overlap pasted photographs of contemplative men and women in flared pants and turtlenecks. The photographs all come from the Fairburn System books, a revered reference guide for artists and illustrators in the 70s. All of the photographs, that is, save the couple that were cut out from the reference guide Naked Yoga.

Accompanying the exhibition is a publication printed by Hickson's Tan & Loose Press. The spiral-bound publication is just as happily brown, and feels less like something sold at an art gallery and more like something buried deep in an antique store, abandoned in the dusty drawer of a creaking secretary's desk. Hickson wanted to evoke the untrained confidence and looseness of certain hippie collectives that restlessly created pamphlets and booklets with titles like How to Live in a Commune. For his own publication, he has created a character of an author, one who finds as much delight in a diner Belgian waffle adorned with a blueberry-and-whipped-cream smile as he finds depth in the French phrase chacun à son goût, or "to each his own taste."

Hickson captures this weird, liminal world just as defined by suburban domesticity as it is by the hippie proclivity to roll in the grass, look for the grinning spiders, and find some sort of oneness with the universe.  v

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