Above: Detail of “Gag Bags and Taco Girls” (Courtesy of Eric Wynen/The Current)

By Albert Nall, Staff Writer

“Who is Tom Hucks?” asked panelists at the opening of “Hopeless Americana,” an exhibition presented on October 17 at Gallery 210. The panel consisted of Richard S. Field, the Curator of Prints from Yale University; Sherry Leedy, the director of Sherry Leedy Contemporary in Kansas City; and artist Tom Huck, who works through Evil Prints of St. Louis. Terry Suhre, the director of Gallery 210, made an introductory statement before turning the microphone over to Elizabeth Wyckoff, curator of prints at the St. Louis Art Museum. Wyckoff moderated the discussion.

“Huck merges traditionalism, with sexual innuendo,” said Field. “What we see is the ‘edge of life’ people in difficult spaces of Christian culture, meaning, and American social conscience. There is vanity and pride on one side, and lust at the other end. Huck’s work is rough and smooth at the same time.”

Huck’s work is whimsical and silly, but also dark, sinister, and rooted in contentious themes of American culture. The first work that greets patrons is “Kosher City 1,” which is done in woodcut. One of the men in the etching grins like a scoundrel, while the man next to him wears a pilgrim hat and holds a bottle in his hand. The storefront is lined with crates and masks with tubs of teeth and flamboyant rings. The etching is a throwback to the days of the Pilgrims with a twist. Other works, such as “Lust,” “Bride,” and “$in” explore gender and femininity in a vaudeville theme. Themes of burlesque are marked by images of top hats, bouquets, and wooden animals. In “Lust,” a woman rides a poodle with a lock on his collar a baby in tow. The women depicted are sensual and unnerving, shown with whips in their hands.

One of the widely discussed works was “Tommy Peepers,” a set of woodblock prints depicting a frolicking, crowded party at a neighborhood swimming pool. The bathers are suspended under water in a marionette routine that is gaudy and unapologetically erotic.

Huck told the audience that he wanted to be an artist since the age of three. “I wanted to be a painter, wear a beret and a scarf, and talk about art theory and Paris. At SIU-Carbondale, I was required to enroll in printmaking to fulfill an elective. I knew what prints were from the time that I was 13,” Huck said. “However, it did not occur to me that printmaking was what I should do because that was a high mark to shoot for. At first, my reaction was like ‘Wow, this is the worst thing to do.’ Then I was able to figure it out. I pulled my first print out, and that was it. It was like finding my calling.”

Huck described being a printmaker as more than just carving and drawing in the studio. Part of his role included checking out books on the masters of the medium. “I had to be just as good as the masters, otherwise I saw myself as a failure. It is a lot of weight to carry around.” Huck proudly promotes his own works and does his own blocks.

“While it is the role of many artists to create new works, my goal is to make that parchment look old and beat up,” said Huck.

Tom Huck’s “Hopeless Americana” will run through December 9. For more information about Gallery 210, call 314-516-5976.