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Detroit artist's show uses matchbooks, dark humor to skewer capitalism, social media


Detroit artist Ryan Standfest insists he isn't a dark, cynical person. Honest.

His art, however, is a darkly funny look at the world around us. It takes aim at nearly everything, from social media and capitalism to marketing and Jeff Bezos. But by pushing viewers to their moral edge, he hopes they'll understand the satire.

Standfest's show at Hamtramck's Hatch Art gallery, "There's nothing so bad 

that it can't grow worse," which runs through Saturday, is his latest skewering  commentary on life amid COVID-19. It features paintings and prints, including 50 "matchbook" paintings, all with Standfest's signature dark humor.

"They were kind of, for me, a daily dispatch," said Standfest, who originally created 70 matchbook cover paintings but narrowed it down to 50 for the show. "...I think with a lot of what I do, and you can see this, there's a certain affront in these. 'Are you OK with this?' But hopefully the satire is understood."

His "matchbooks" are reminiscent of the matchbooks so prevalent in the 1950s. Standfest, who was raised in St. Clair Shores and now lives with his partner in Detroit, said he actually had just started some of his pieces featured in the show when the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol happened last year. 

Standfest, who also teaches painting and drawing at Oakland University, said someone once asked him if he was cynical. He said by channeling his cynicism into his work, it's a "way for me to maintain some idealism in my life."

Aside from matchbook covers, the show also features several prints and large paintings, including two that carry out the matchbook theme. Some of the prints are so satirical, one even has a disclaimer nothing that it is, in fact, satire.

"It's the first time I've ever had to do that," said Standfest with a laugh. 

One print takes aim at Steve Dicto, the artist and co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. A conservative, Dicto wanted to start putting his views into the comics until his co-creator Stan Lee stopped him. Dicto eventually left Marvel.

"When he left, he made a character called Mr. A," said Standfest, who took the character one step further, calling him an expletive that starts with "a." A print featuring Standfest's version of Mr. A is in the show.

With his matchbook covers, which feature both watercolors and casein, a milk-based paint to give them some depth, Standfest said the text comes first. The image on each one has to fit the tone of the text.

And while his work may be one thing, "there's an idealist burrowed deep inside," he said.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

'There's nothing so bad it can't grow worse'

featuring paintings and prints by Ryan Standfest

At Hatch Art, 3456 Evaline St. in Hamtramck

Show closes Saturday.

Go to http://www.hatchart.org/ for hours.