Current exhibition "It's a Sign!" featured in The Star

Eye-popping artworks mine Christian themesBY ELISABETH KIRSCHSpecial to The StarMarch 20, 2013mortimerdylan-2 (1)In the past, Dylan Mortimer has plunked down artfully designed, plastic Bible-dispensing machines in such places as Westport. He has installed Prayer Booths with knee pads throughout the New York City park system; he has placed road signs that read “Prayer Allowed for 40 Yards” around the country.He has designed hip-hop jewelry, with enough bling to blind you, which includes sayings such as “God hooks my ass up!” in reference to the 23rd Psalm. Mortimer graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 2002 and received a master’s in fine arts from the School of the Visual Arts in New York in 2006. His art has been shown around the country, including at Columbia and the David Zwirner Gallery in NYC. He has been profiled in the New York Times and on National Public Radio.“Religion,” he noted then, “is just one of those topics you don’t bring up at the dinner table. My hope and dream would be that there will be a respectful way to engage in dialogue.”In his current show “It’s a Sign!” with its mix of religiosity and Vegas-style billboards, Mortimer once again produces eye-popping artworks that even Andy Warhol, the art world’s P.T. Barnum, would support. Nine sculptures and wall works dealing with the Christian themes of halos and Jesus’ crown of thorns, complete with blood splatters, adorn the walls and hang from the ceiling of The Studios Inc exhibition space.“Pneuma” and “Ruach,” two wall works of arrows moving in multiple directions, are made from aluminum with neon lights. Their inspiration, Mortimer said in a recent interview, comes from a quote in John, chapter 3: “The wind blows where it will. You hear its sound but you can’t tell where it is coming from or where it is going. So it is with those born of the spirit.” Pneuma is the Greek word for wind and spirit; ruach is Hebrew for the same. Four monster halo sculptures, suspended from the ceiling, require the visitor to stand underneath them to activate the motion sensors that light the blinking bulbs attached to the arched halo forms. As Mortimer explains: “The Halo needs you to be in it in order to light up; you don’t have to go there, but it’s there if you want it.” As for the “Blood Drip” and “Blood Splatter” wall pieces, Mortimer says that he wanted them to have “the heaviness of a crucifix but with the approachability of a Times Square sign.” “I want to take something difficult and have beauty come out of that; I want to transform it, to recontextualize it. Jesus’ murder was a bad thing, but look what came out of that.”This show is personal for Mortimer, who has a chronic illness. “I would love to give people what I’ve learned from being ill, because even when inflicted with suffering you can look at the crown of thorns and know you don’t have to get bogged down by it. There is beauty and joy even if the glass is half full.”He is also a pastor whose talks include “God is Green” and “How to Argue With God.” Mortimer used professional sign makers and raised funds from Kickstarter to help assemble this show, which is a technical tour de force. It is also one of the most provocative, beautiful exhibits you are going to see in Kansas City or anywhere else this year.Dylan Mortimer: It’s a Sign! continues at The Studios Inc exhibition space, 1708 Campbell St, Kansas City MO 64108 through April 19. Hours are 10 AM to 4 PM, Tuesday through Friday and noon to 4 PM Saturday. For more information, call 816.994.7134