What's New from Mike Foley Art

Believe in your elf - review by Chris Fox

'Believe In Your Elf'

by Chris Fox
Special to Go Triad
Published: December 13, 2007 11:01 am

What: A collection of refurbished cigar boxes and handmade carpenter boxes built and decorated by Mike Foley
Where: The Liberty Place sales model, 533 N. Liberty St., Winston-Salem
When: On view through Dec. 28
Admission: Free
Information: Call 462-2143 to arrange an appointment
Etc.: www.mikefoleyart.com; www.randomcookie.com

The work of Winston-Salem artist Mike Foley has been compared to gonzo illustrator Ralph Steadman, but in its rawness and humor it also conjures up the stripped-down, character-based approach of pop surrealists such as Gary Baseman and Tim Biskup.

The demented, yet lovable, cartoon characters who infest Foley's tiny canvases are like hitchhikers picked up in the course of a cross-country, bad-acid road trip. No sooner are these acrylic demons ensconced behind the viewer's retinas than they proceed to backseat-drive our gaze with scrawled commands like "Watch Me Cry."

"They want to be your friend," Foley said. "While they might not go, they'd love to be asked to the prom."

"Believe in Your Elf," Foley's most recent show, tackles the Christmas holiday with the manic subversiveness of Joe Dante's "Gremlins" or Foley's earlier "Santa Christ" series, which found the artist super-imposing Santa's features over thrift-store portraits of Christ.

Foley had originally planned to take a break from painting following his laborious "Halloween Dreams" show in October, but was persuaded to show again after meeting a "wonderful art enthusiast" named Jessica Siu . Siu, who is the project manager for Liberty Place, a new condo development in Winston-Salem, had been wanting to display Foley's work for a long time and found a unique venue in the Liberty Place sales model in downtown Winston-Salem. Foley describes the space as "more like someone's cozy house than a gallery space."

"We talked about doing something that was scaled to a home environment and came up with this idea to create boxes that could be mounted on walls or placed on shelves or tables," Foley said. "And since it's December, why not give them an elf theme?"

The resulting work is a collection of refurbished cigar boxes and handmade carpenter boxes that Foley built himself. Some of these boxes will frame a print from the "Santa Christ" show, while the others will feature elves rendered in Foley's characteristic style.

Since moving from New York City to Winston-Salem in 1995, Foley has had no problem finding suitors for his creative work. On the professional side, he has designed ad campaigns and television spots for Hanes, Lowes Foods, Horizon Eye Care and several other local businesses.

He also created signage for the Winston-Salem Millennium Center and did billboard work for Moses Cone Hospital. In late May, Foley launched a line of custom-made greeting cards called Random Cookie, which he describes as a "unique, new way to say 'Hey' or 'Happy Birthday.'"

"Long before I got into advertising, even before I had a car, I was riding around on my bike selling a line of greeting cards to anyone who would buy them," said Foley, a native of Milwaukee.

"Now that I'm living in Winston-Salem, this magic place known for cotton and tobacco, I thought, 'Why not a new line of greeting cards?' Because if you're in your underwear having a cigarette, you might just want a random cookie, too, you know?"

The logic of greeting cards informs the various series of paintings Foley has shown at such venues as The Garage, Chelsee's Coffee Shop and Artists on Liberty . These paintings are usually small, vibrant and portable like greeting cards and celebrate events such as the birth of a child, Valentine's Day and Halloween.

Earlier this year, Foley and photographer Brian Snipes collaborated on a billboard design that became one of the winners in the Art in the Air billboard design contest sponsored by Fairway Outdoor Advertising and the Triad's three arts councils.

Foley has no plans to halt his eclectic output anytime soon. His answer to "Why make art?" reveals the urgency and irreverence that drives his work:

"Why make lunch? We need deeply to be nourished."

Chris Fox is Go Triad's Visual Arts columnist. His column appears every other week in Go Triad. Contact him at foxedelica@gmail.com.