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Printmaker Tom Huck Returns To Missouri Roots

Artist Tom Huck’s work has drawn comparisons to the detail of 15th-century German printmaker Albrecht Durer and the dark humor of comic book artist Robert Crumb. In a new series of linoleum prints, Huck returns to the subject of his rural Missouri roots.

This time, it’s a hillbilly twist on the Kama Sutra.

Satire and Small Town Life

At Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art in the Crossroads, Tom Huck stands in a small room. He's dressed all in black, with a shaved head, glasses and ropy arms covered with tattoos. Huck gestures to the small black-and-white prints lining the walls.

"I kind of want two things to happen," says Huck. "I want you to be horrified and shocked, but drawn back in because of the beauty."

He adds, "I try to make bad things beautiful."

The St. Louis-based artist's works – often large-scale intricate black-inked woodcuts – are full of humor. Some contain outright graphic accounts of small town life, like his hometown of Potosi, Missouri (population: just under 3000).

Huck’s father was the town’s chiropractor and a storyteller. "When I started making work about myself, those were part of me, those stories," he says.

The printmaker explored the stories and fables of Missouri life in his 1998 series of woodcuts called Two Weeks in August: 14 Rural Absurdities. These works of social satire touched on issues of racism, violence; they also dealt with the abuse of authority.

A Horrifyingly Funny Set of Prints

Huck turns to his rural roots again in his new series of linoleum prints called The Hillbilly Kama Sutra.

"I had been wanting to do a really strong, grab you by the throat, dramatic set of prints that are horrifying and funny at the same time," said Huck who was inspired by the work of early printmakers, like Hans Holbein’s series called Dance of Death.

First published in 1537, Dance of Death is considered a masterpiece of the macabre. Death steps in at moments of everyday life.

"Death is coming no matter who you are, no matter your social status, no matter if you're the Pope or a beggar," says Huck. "Death is always on the horizon, it's a common thing that's going to happen to us.

"Well, sex does, too. Everybody does it. So I saw that link there. Sex is going to be there no matter what."

R. Crumb as Early Inspiration

It’s not surprising that Huck also credits underground comic book artist Robert Crumb, as an early inspiration. But Huck’s quick to point out that his new series is not pornography. He says that viewers won't see the action; it’s more about the settings as the acts are happening.

In the print called "The Squeexxx," a couple appears to be, as Huck describes, "doing it on a bed, but the springs are exploding out of the bed...there’s a cat cleaning itself on the bed."

He adds, "You focus on the composition more."

After spending the last 2 1/2 years on The Hillbilly Kama Sutra, Huck plans to continue his series of large tryptics called Booger Stew. The first in that series was called “The Transformation of Brandy Baghead”; it explored the lengths some go to for 15 minutes of fame through plastic surgery.

With the next 25 years mapped out - the series of 4 ft by 8 ft panels in Booger Stew titled, named, planned, just not completed - Huck says he's ready to get back to work.

The Artists in Their Own Words series is sponsored by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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