The immediate takeaway from Steve Cup's Breaking Point, on view through May 13 at Waterloo Arts, is how easily he illustrates what many of us are feeling about the current state of affairs.
This is one of two shows signaling the return of the Maria Neal Art Project, liberated from its bricks and mortar by co-curators and owners John Farina and Adam Tully, after closing the storefront on Waterloo Road last year.
Cup's collection of linocuts and giclee prints dating from 2014 through 2018 are presented in what seem like editions or strips from a graphic novel. The prints are hung loose, unencumbered by frames, as if to further the feeling of fragility of a society on edge.
"I don't want to keep a secret that this is also my political bent," said Waterloo Arts Gallery director Amy Callahan, "but I feel like politics is part of our reaction to the world around us, and this is presented as this artist's political view and take on society right now. He's not shying away from anything."
Although the logical path to viewing the exhibition begins on the left side of the gallery, we couldn't help but go to the right, where we come face to face with three black and white linocuts. Starting on the left, "American Vision" is such a subtle and perfect analysis of the political clime in our country: a bald eagle, with horse blinders strapped around its feathery head, looks straight ahead, ignoring anything around it. The next print, "A Light Has Gone Out," depicts the Statue of Liberty's extinguished torch. This writer actually mistook it for a forked tongue at first, which may also be metaphorically accurate. Finally, "Not a Toy" exposes how we might all be puppets of war, perhaps manipulated by the same hand that makes the bomb dance.
Moving our way toward the back of the gallery, we are smacked in the face with an exquisite set of four prints. In "The Gun Debate," we stare down the barrel of a handgun where we are confronted with a disembodied mouth. "Land of the Gun" brilliantly presents the gun barrel as Uncle Sam's top hat. "BANG!" recreates a novelty gun that fires a flag, but the typical onomatopoeia is replaced by an image of Old Glory. "High Cost" presents an opened wallet, filled with cash, which has been shot through. We see the exit paths of two bullets.
Next in our journey is a seven-print series based on racism in America and the KKK. Our favorite piece is "Oops," wherein an implied red MAGA baseball cap has turned the Klansman's white hood the deep pink shade of embarrassment, as it belches out of the front-loaded washing machine. "Corrupt Symbols 01" is more understated in its delivery. The Confederate flag is presented here in what would seem to be just that. However, as we move in, we see little eyeholes peering from the stars, making them look like teeny Klansmen.
"I don't know if we would've gotten anyone who would disagree with the show; but I think it would be interesting to have that conversation also. We are in Cuyahoga County, and were in a bubble and we're in the art scene," says Callahan. "There was someone that was in here who volunteers for the organization and he's more conservative, and he thought the art was very good and that there were some pieces he liked because they were more subtle."
As we moved left, we came upon the current administration in three panels. "Free Press" reveals two boney hands, clenching the bars of a cell wherein the freedom of the press is being held prisoner in a dark chasm. "Tongue Tied" shows an orange-faced Trump being choked to death by his own forked tongue. Perhaps the most frighteningly accurate artwork shows the bluebird of social media as it incubates the threat of war in "Twitter Bomb."
"The political stuff, it's going to happen, I completely understand it.," said another gallery visitor. "The joke was when Trump made it into office, it was going to be a reboot of good art and good bands, hearkening back to the Reagan era."
Good art, indeed. Breaking Point is a must-see exhibition. Cup has us on edge and taking note.