Kyle Ranson's career is testament to an "encouraging hippie mother," as he puts it in his online bio. A painter since toddlerhood, the San Francisco artist has managed to maintain the chaotic color choices, purely sensual subject matter, and think-outside-the-box (or in many cases, frame) approach that characterizes art by precocious kids and inspired grownups thanks, in part, to a mom who let him make messes. Yay, moms! There's a little bit of Francis Bacon in Ranson's portraits of wild, sexualized men and women, along with a touch of outsider artist Henry Darger, although he betrays none of the misogyny often attributed to those artists. "Joyous Marriage," Ranson's current show, takes inspiration instead from that protohippie William Blake. Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell portrayed hell not as fire-and-brimstone punishment, but as a place of unchecked energy, while heaven is the stanchion of passivity. Ranson depicts these dualities in huge murals and altars. People made of leaves dance next to a grinning sun, their entrails snaking into its mouth. A tree of people rises out of an urn, while a king and a figure in a Daniel Boone hat float on clouds nearby. One wall of the gallery features a huge head bedecked in colorful geometric shapes. Behind the head, which juts out at an angle, an all-seeing eye casts beams in the form of string, which connect to other pieces. The show also serves as inauguration for a mural Ranson created with Chris Duncan, which can be seen in the alleyway behind the gallery. We can thank the hippies for keeping the visionary tradition alive in America, and Kyle Ranson's mom for dipping her son in its shimmering waters.
Jan. 31-March 20, 2009