Alex Kuno’s fractured fairy tales out of the gallery walls and into three dimensions for “The Children’s Crusade”

Arts / Article

“The Children’s Crusade” (detail). Courtesy of Alex Kuno

Alex Kuno’s body of work hits the same sweet spot for me as the Grimm’s fairy tales I was drawn to as a kid. You know: the sort where happy endings are few and far between, where unlucky children are served up for dinner and eaten with relish, and the consequences of villainy (or even just poor judgment) are madly inventive and bloodthirsty.

Kuno’s “Miscreants of Tiny Town” series has the illustrative charm of those classic children’s books, torqued just so by dark fancy and mordant humor. The world he’s created is populated by childlike figures visiting all manner of evil on one another, in variously distressing situations: bound and captured, stabbed, disfigured and bereft of help. The landscape of Tiny Town is at once romantic and stark: leafless trees and exposed rock; scrubby moors and steep cliffs to fall (or be pushed) from. His palette is muted, subtle – the colors of fall and winter, turned earth, decaying greenery and sallow flesh. His big-eyed, Victorian-garbed kids-turned-critters are adorable gone rotten. (Twin Cities Daily Planet’s arts editor, Jay Gabler, memorably likened Kuno’s Tiny Town to some hybrid of “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Lord of the Flies.”)

The more deeply Kuno’s recurring cast of “miscreants” have been ensnared in the purgatorial scenes of Tiny Town, the more warped they’ve become from panel to panel, exhibition to exhibition. Visibly marked by their various misdeeds and off-kilter environs, his characters take on quasi-bestial forms at once whimsical and grotesque. The artist has been elaborating the entangled stories and characters of this world for years now – first with oil and acrylic on canvas, and then on hand-cut board. And now, with the assistance of the artists of Rage to Order, he’s taking the “Miscreants of Tiny Town” off the wall and into three dimensions. Kuno is building two loosely connected, site-specific installations of sculpture and paintings, and it’s set to open with this weekend’s Saint Paul Art Crawl.

"The Children&squot;s Crusade" (detail). Courtesy of Alex Kuno.

“The Children’s Crusade” (detail). Courtesy of Alex Kuno

“The Children’s Crusade” will reside in the buildings of both the 262 Studios and Bedlam Lowertown: landscapes and vignettes will literally emerge from the walls, Kuno says. And the denizens of Tiny Town will take form in the real world too – molded from polymer clay and painted with the acrylic and oils used in his 2D work, his dark children will be as if paintings come to life, peering at visitors from around the corner, hidden in the rafters or peeking from behind the model-railroad foliage of his ornate scenes.

This is an ambitious and important departure for Kuno. He says, “Themes of evolution and mutation, the figures and landscapes coming out of and off of the wall – all this is a reflection of where my life is right now, too, the changing ways I’m drawn to work. I feel like there’s so much promise in this way of realizing these figures, like I’ve been building up to this for years.”

"The Children&squot;s Crusade" (detail). Courtesy of Alex Kuno.

“The Children’s Crusade” (detail). Courtesy of Alex Kuno

He goes on, “When I held one of those first figures for this installation, the plastic form still warm from the oven, radiating something like body heat – that’s when it really hit me. The characters needed to be realized in this way. It’s a natural evolution for this mythology, I think – to extend the landscape and characters into real space. I’m really excited to see where this new way of working out these stories goes from here.”

“The Children’s Crusade” will be on view at Bedlam Theater in Lowertown and in 262 Studios for the duration of this weekend’s Saint Paul Art Crawl, October 4, 5 and 6. (The artist’s original plan was to spread the work over three solo shows in three locations – including a site at the Tilsner Building gallery – but in recent days, Kuno says, he has decided to streamline the installation to the two sites noted above.) The artist will talk a bit about the new shows at the art crawl launch party, followed by the first of three walking tours for visitors through “The Children’s Crusade” installations. For more information, visit the show’s page on Facebook, www.facebook.com/childrenscrusade.