Michael May put a lot of effort into creating his muse. The exhibition on view in the Ohio Art League Gallery until May 25th, Hambone’s Solution to Problems, takes its inspiration from a man named Samuel Hambone, a completely made-up person with a schizoid personality disorder. If you come to the gallery, you can even read the DSM-IV Evaluation Forms and Progress Notes from his psychiatrist (probably written with help from May’s brother, a real psychiatrist).
If he inspired these paintings, it is clear that Samuel Hambone sees the world differently from what is expected. Each painting of May’s features an invention that solves a problem in the world—like finding out if people are witches, the extinction of bananas, the Goldenbach Conjecture, and preventing WWII. People who don’t perceive the world like Samuel Hambone can see that absolutely none of them are going to work. May’s use of Samuel Hambone forces the viewer to consider different ways of viewing the world.
If you would like to learn more about Samuel Hambone, you can watch an interview with Hambone and May and flip through the booklet “Meet Samuel Hambone” and the art book Noble Intentions of a Misunderstood Man in the gallery. Products of two of Hambone’s inventions are actually viewable as sculptural works in the gallery corresponding to the paintings “Alchemy” and “Banana Preservation,” although “Banana Preservation” is starting to look a little rough.
Painting is an interesting choice for this subject matter. Viewers are supposed to think (at least pretend) that these experiments actually happened, yet paintings don’t provide us with any real proof that they did, except for the fact that they are painted in an extremely realistic style. On some level, I want to believe that there is a Samuel Hambone out working on absurd experiments, but the medium of the artworks, at least for me, grounds this exhibition in the imagination. The things that provide glimmers of potential reality are the use of two real, 3D objects from the experiments, as well as the interview and medical records.
May’s painting Banana Preservation addresses the very upsetting fact that it is predicted that bananas are eventually going to go extinct. The invention “Hambone” came up with to solve this involves preserving them in denatured alcohol, which renders the bananas inedible anyway. I learned this by flipping through Noble Intentions of a Misunderstood Man, but it’s one of the inventions that is easier to figure out from the painting—there’s an article about how bananas might go extinct taped on the back wall, there’s a bottle of denatured alcohol, and a jar in which to put the bananas. This painting, like the rest of the paintings in the gallery, has a greyish-whitish background, giving the all of the works some uniformity (maybe Hambone has a specific workspace?). I’m also fascinated by the use of shadows in the paintings—it gives the depictions of these nonsense inventions a sense of importance. These experiments might not be important in the world at large, but they hold importance for one made-up man and the artist who uses him as his muse.
Written by Raybecca Elder