Art NotesArts & Culture

Jeff T. Owens’ Baffle Medusa Uses Contemporary Tech for a Nostalgic Throwback

Game On: Drawing inspiration from cartoons, comics, sci-fi album art and British glam-rock of the 1970s, multi-talented artist Jeff T. Owens creates works that represent an experimental venture into contemporary manufacturing technologies. His latest exhibit, “Baffle Medusa,” currently on display at Ciné through mid-December, features a row of seven eight-foot-tall carved panels and several sculptures. Each of the panels—which alternate between light pink and golden yellow—depict towering, topsy-turvy arcade machines haphazardly constructed with wooden boards and loose nails and covered in cartoonish critters, square skulls and joysticks.

“‘Baffle Medusa’ is a sort of accidental combination of Baffle Ball, an early form of pinball, and Géricault’s ‘The Raft of the Medusa,’” says Owens. “I love pinball and arcade game cabinets and the art surrounding them. I was drawing things based on the basic forms of those cabinets. I was also drawing a lot of dilapidated ‘shack’ structures, things that show up in old cartoons a lot and actually are everywhere in real life in the deep South where I grew up. Both types of structures are vessels of nostalgia and memories. I just stuck them together.”

During his 17 years living in Athens, Owens earned his MFA in painting and drawing from the Lamar Dodd School of Art, taught a while there and continued cranking out artwork to exhibit at places around town. A few years ago, after transitioning into digital design and illustration, he accepted a job creating graphics at T-shirt company Thread Pit Inc., in Gainesville, FL. 

“This work is kind of a meditation of two phases of artistic output in my life. I grew up around construction and carpentry. My dad and grandfather were carpenters, and it was my day job most of my life—and my primary day job in Athens—so I always used discarded lumber and building materials and house paint for my art,” Owens says. “Then I jumped to purely digital. All of that work is made in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. When I got access to the CNC router, a tremendous technology that cuts and shapes raw building materials into finished pieces driven by computers and digital files, the two phases were joined.”

After the Computer Numerical Control router carves Owens’ designs into the 4’ x 8’ sheets, he spray paints the carved lines black, rolls a light color onto the surface to create contrast, then hand-paints the details. His sculptures are created in a similar fashion, first designing each surface, then tacking the pieces together with a nail gun.Though “Baffle Medusa” takes advantage of contemporary machinery to create stunningly executed, large-scale works, the exhibit also serves as a nostalgic homage to the best visuals from childhood through its unpredictable collages of quirky characters.

Long Live Tofu Baby: A round of applause goes out to artist Missy Kulik, who is celebrating her 10-year anniversary of creating comics for Flagpole as well as the 400th comic of “Tofu Baby,” who was born in 2006. “Tofu Baby was inspired by a figurine my pen pal sent to me,” says Kulik. “It is from the 1970s, and the character has big, sad eyes and has a sign that reads ‘I wuv you.’ It sort of grew from there, ‘cause I wanted a character that was cute… I like having a character that can do anything she wants!” 

After a year of operating Mini Gallery, Kulik and partner Raoul de la Cruz have officially closed the town’s tiniest art nook. The cozy 7’ x 7’  boutique once located within Low Yo Yo Stuff and Get Rad! Skate Shop hosted a half-dozen wonderfully curated, small-scale shows during its run but has come to an end with some positive news: Kulik recently accepted a new job designing stationery, cards, craft supplies and craft kits with Anna Griffin Inc. in Atlanta. But don’t sweat—she’ll still be cooking up a “Tofu Baby” for us each week.

Speaking of Us: The Grit has graciously lent its walls to the staff of Flagpole for an art exhibit. In the restaurant’s main room, you’ll find spinning wooden creatures suspended in air as well as two large shadow-box puppets, all created by Cindy Jerrell. In the room to the left hang paintings by Larry Tenner, David Mack, Kelly Hart and Pete McCommons; mixed media by Jessica Pritchard Mangum, illustrations by Missy Kulik, Stephanie Rivers and Lee Gatlin and marbled paper collages by Jessica Smith (that’s me!).  If you’ve ever wondered what we do while we’re not in the office, here’s an idea. All works are currently on display through Sunday, Dec. 7.