Art NotesArts & Culture

The Toilsome Search for Probity: James Greer’s Haunting Dream Illustrations

HEAVY DREAMING: Phantasmagoric, bizarre creatures inhabit the startling, surreal settings of James Greer’s black-and-white ink drawings. Currently on view at Flicker Theatre and Bar, “The Toilsome Search for Probity” is a collection of illustrations representing the dreams and innermost musings drawn from his subconscious mind and imagination.

“Since I was a child, I have been drawn to the shadowy side of things,” says Greer. “I was one of the ‘weird’ kids. It took many years for me to accept that this ‘dark’ nature is part of my identity, and that there is no reason to deny one’s true nature. I have always had a soft place in my heart for the outcast, the freaks, the misunderstood. For fear of sounding pretentious, I fancy myself an ambassador for them.” 

Rendered with excruciating precision—a meditative process in itself—Greer’s fine-point drawings are incredibly detailed, both in texture and dimension. They call to mind the subtly morose characters of Edward Gorey, the brazen inner turmoil of Nick Blinko and the fantasy landscapes of Jean Giraud.

“Most of my artistic inspiration comes from my dreams. I have always been a very vivid dreamer and remember almost all of my dreams nightly,” says Greer. “I keep a sketchbook by the bed, and if a dream is profoundly moving—be it because of plot, imagery or characters—I will wake myself, or be woken by the dream, and do a quick sketch. That locks the dream in my mind.”

Though some dreamers would likely shudder at these mental images and dismiss them as nightmares, Greer is more than comfortable with pulling these creatures to the surface of his subconscious, materializing them onto paper and fleshing them out in extraordinary detail. In “The Whispers,” bony twins ride through a starry, pointillist sky on the back of a giant beast with gnashing teeth and too many eyes for comfort. In “A Bitter Season for the Unwelcome,” (pictured) a group of wayward monsters finds solace in each other by a small fire in the barren woods.

“My drawings are very time-consuming, which forces me to be alone in my head to ponder these images while I reproduce them,” says Greer. “Why did I dream this? Is it subconscious collective memory? Is it a metaphor for some facet of the human condition? Or is it just an arbitrary narrative created in my dreaming imagination? Whichever the case may be, this rumination fleshes out the details of the drawing; I either consciously develop the narrative or expand upon the symbolism therein.”

An opening reception for “The Toilsome Search for Probity” will be held on Friday, Feb. 6 at 8 p.m. and will feature sets by both Shade and Chartreuse, the ambient drone project of Drew Smith, who has performed at all of Greer’s art shows so far. This particular set will reflect a collaborative effort, incorporating material from Greer’s defunct noise project, Holy Disintegration. 

“Chartreuse is the closest thing to a soundscape for my drawings I could hope for,” says Greer. “I gave him tape loops and field recordings I made, asked him to write music based on the the moods they invoked in him and incorporate them into the songs. I have no idea what he has come up with, but I have complete faith in his musical vision!”

In addition to various exhibitions, the self-taught artist, chef and musician’s artwork has appeared on T-shirts for Shade, Cheap Art and The Grit, album covers for Divorce and A Postwar Drama, as cover art for Charlie Clement’s book, Superhero Questions and the bodies of a handful of friends in the form of tattoos. His show at Flicker will remain on view through the end of February. 

HANDMADE LOVERS: The mother of all local artist markets, Indie South Fair, will host its third annual Handmade Lovers market outdoors at Creature Comforts on Saturday, Feb. 7 from 12–5 p.m. Over 30 vendors will set up shop to give everyone a head start on treating their sweethearts or themselves on Valentine’s Day. Gifts include artisan soaps, scrubs and body products from Suds & Lather, Truly Radiant and Coltman Farms; beautiful jewelry from Rhys May, The Copper Acorn and cameoko; and jellies and rubs from One Screw Loose and Piedmont Provisions. Unique items range from screenprinted cards by Double Dutch Press, meditation kits and aromatherapy by InnerTrinsix, and wood-burned crafts by Dana Bour Pyrography. In addition to handmade crafts, the market will offer plenty of vintage clothing and accessories from the likes of Strange Magick Vintage, The Pope on Prince, Margaret Vera and Ella Marie Clothing. Handmade Lovers will offer complimentary snacks, a photo booth and a station for creating origami flowers; Creature Comforts will be open for beer tastings and brewery tours.