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Originally published Friday, March 2, 2012 at 5:37 AM

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Art review

Primal meets parody in Tim Roda photo show at Greg Kucera

Photographer Tim Roda mixes the mythic with the makeshift in his dramatic photographs, now on display at Seattle's Greg Kucera Gallery.

Seattle Times arts writer

EXHIBITION review

Tim Roda: 'Small Photographs'

10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday through March 31, Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle; free (206-624-0770 or www.gregkucera.com). Roda will discuss his work, following painter Ben Waterman's talk at noon on Saturday about his exhibit, "Midnight Lullaby" (also on view at Kucera through March 31).
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Photographer Tim Roda specializes in dramas that, in the most felicitous way, don't add up.

They're playful yet ominous, both satirical and primal and, in their elaborate technique, simultaneously makeshift and sophisticated.

The maverick mix of those elements makes Roda's new Greg Kucera Gallery show, "Small Photographs," heady with complex pleasures.

Roda, now based in New York, got his MFA at the University of Washington in 2004, creating memorable work while here (see www.timrodaart.com). Whether he's having fun with classical myth or parodying get-rich-quick desperation, he produces images with so much going on in them they make you giddy. What's more, they're a family affair. Roda, his wife and his children (especially his eldest son, Ethan) are his chief models, and the elaborate staging of the shots appears all to be done in Roda's unfinished basement.

"The Centaur," one of eight black-and-white photographs on fiber matte paper in the show, is a perfect example. The front end of the creature, head turned toward the viewer with a bold and soulful gaze, is portrayed by young Ethan, armed with a javelin and other weaponry. The equine posterior, however, is unmistakably an adult human male (presumably Roda).

The composition is so powerful that its mythic force is all you register at first. Peer closer, though, and the slapdash nature of its "classical" backdrop becomes apparent. Those patterned tiles behind the centaur — aren't they actually Xeroxes of vaguely Greco-Roman images and designs, stapled or Scotch-taped to the wall? The turbulent ground on which the four-legged creature stands — isn't it just a rumpled comforter or bedspread?

"David and Goliath" is another bargain-basement epic. A bare-chested Roda, with a snarky grimace on his face, clearly doesn't know what he's up against as his young enemy (Ethan again) approaches him, slingshot in hand. The cellar setting, far from detracting from the power of the narrative, seems to enhance it, as though the whole scene had sprung from some subterranean region of the mind.

Other photographs are busier and more complex, with one detail after another popping out at you. In most of them, the cheapness of the materials used (Roda does all the construction himself) is in continual contrast to the intricate effects produced.

"The Butcher's Block" is a veritable bacchanalia, with meat and fruits being offered up by kneeling Roda and a bunch of grapes being consumed by an exuberant Ethan. The "meats" are actually Roda's own ceramic creations, while the pseudo-Renaissance-style drawings in the background, portraying the rest of the family, are also by him (and reveal him as a master draughtsman).

"Small Photographs," unusually for Roda, includes two color archival inkjet prints. One of them, "Stable," doesn't pack quite the punch of its companions. But "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " — a self- portrait that isn't "small" at all — is a tongue-in-cheek knockout. Taking a cue from Cindy Sherman, Roda puts together a cheesily vulgar image of himself getting all gussied up for success. His hair is in gaudy-colored curlers, his teeth have been silver-plated (or is that aluminum foil?), and in his arms he holds a ceramic piggy bank ready for all the cash he hopes will soon come his way.

Two unusual elements are at play in the presentation of the show. All the photographs are out-of-frame and mounted with Velcro on the wall. And the ceramic props featured in several shots — a pig, a horse's head, sheep — are arranged around the gallery as a kind of window dressing. The casual feel of the arrangement is in keeping with the do-it-yourself brashness of the art itself.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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