Start Gallery's Triple Feature celebrates cartoons, kaiju, and more 

Pop culture on parade

Three artists have work up in Triple Feature, a new show at the Start Gallery. While none of them have ever met each other, the work together makes up a vibrant, colorful, and not-too-serious show thematically linked by each artist's influence of childhood pop culture.

The impetus for the show was Philip "Fresh" Simpson, 31, of Detroit's Osborn neighborhood, who pitched a simple idea to Start Gallery's Jason Reed: "I have a passion for sneakers and cartoons," Simpson says. "I used to watch a lot of cartoons as a kid, and growing up I used to ask my mother for sneakers. Those are some of the two things I loved as a child ... that's the concept!"

By day, Simpson works at TechTown Detroit, whose goal is to get resources to small businesses in Detroit's disadvantaged neighborhoods, like Osborn, in the form of grants and other sorts of financial assistance. He also has an apparel company called the Smile Brand.

For the show, Simpson paired a favorite cartoon character with a specific pair of sneakers he thought fit their personality. Family Guy's Stewie rocks a pair of "Red October" Yeezies. The Jetsons' Elroy reps some Jeremy Scott Adidas. Sonic the Hedgehog trades in his trademark red-and-white shoes for "Raging Bull" Jordans, while Spongebob Squarepants, naturally, dons a pair of "Aqua 8" Jordans.

It's oddly specific, but that's because Simpson is a mild sneakerhead. He shuns the term somewhat, though. "In today's terms, sneakerhead, to qualify it, you've got to have like over 100 pairs of shoes," says Simpson, who admits he probably wouldn't be considered a sneakerhead. "I have a little bit of knowledge of them. I don't know which designers did what," he says.

"Some of these guys seriously have rooms full of shoes," he explains. "If I walked in with a pair of Jordans, they know what year they came out, they know who the designer is, they know if it's fake or not."

Simpson thinks for that crowd, shoes are an important part of someone's personality. "You can tell a lot about someone from their shoes," he says. But even if you're not a sneakerhead, Simpson thinks plenty of people will be able to relate to the cartoon characters he chose, and appreciate the comedic effect achieved by mashing up an old cartoon character with a modern sneaker.

To round out the show, Reed selected two other artists to complement Simpson's style. Pauly M. Everett, 25, of Flint, and Pete Coe, 43, ("But I act like I'm 12. Forever," he explains) of Ferndale round out the show, with a similarly bright color palette and penchant for childhood pop culture references.

Everett's work isn't all comic book characters and cartoons — but a lot of it is. Dr. Doom, the Ghostbusters, Porky Pig, Galactus, and Ren & Stimpy appear in his paintings, alongside more tribal-looking colorful designs. A lot of them are made using "up-cycled" materials, or repurposed wood and other materials.

Everett is used to working cheaply. "I don't clock in anywhere," he says. "I sleep, wake up, walk like six feet, and go in the other little room and paint. Then I get stir crazy, and I have to get out and talk to people."

Like Simpson, Everett is somewhat of a collector. "I'm kind of a pack rat when it comes to art supplies," he says. "I've got no wheels, maybe a couple dollars to my name. I can't really afford paint half the time." He does make a point to collect vinyl records, though, as he also spins as a DJ.

"I used to do it every weekend up here, with an underground group of people," he says, and describes his music as a "jazzy, experimental, hip-hop type of deal." "I actually lost a crate of my records, and one my turntables in a friend's truck. His whole truck got stolen, along with my gear," he says. "So I got downsized a little bit."

Coe is unabashed in his love of pop culture, though. "I grew up as a kid seeing Godzilla and Ultraman on TV," Coe says of his love of kaiju, or the distinctly Japanese art form of giant monsters attacking cities. "As a kid, I wasn't thinking about it being something foreign. It was just something I was watching on TV."

Also an avid collector, Coe speaks to us by phone from a room that he says is filled with Star Wars, Star Trek, Godzilla, and Ultraman toys. "I'm not afraid to play with them," Coe says. "Some [collectors] are like, 'You can't touch that!' I bought them because I want to play with the darn things. Lucky for me, my wife really enjoys these things too."

Coe's day gig is operating a laser tracker, a device used for inspecting automotive and aircraft machinery and even nuclear reactor spheres. "That helps me buy a lot of paint," he says. He also works in an art collective called Hand Group, which goes back to his days at the College for Creative Studies.

While collecting Godzilla figurines, Coe got an idea to create monsters of his own design, and have them invading Detroit. Of course, much of Detroit already looks the aftermath of a kaiju battle.

"I wanted to avoid ruin porn," Coe says. "Just because we have things in the city that are falling apart, we don't need to exploit it." Coe says his paintings are more about fantasy and escapism than a statement on blight. "If I had an artistic statement, the monsters and the sky are being done in a really bright, vibrant colors," he says. "All the city images are done in black-and-white," creating a contrast between reality and fantasy.

"I've never been about trash-talking the city," Coe says, who grew up on Detroit's east side." It's frustrating that things are the way they are, but I've never been one to sit and [complain]. It would be really easy to have these trashed houses and just put monsters on 'em. That's not what I wanted to do."

A favorite of Coe's is the "One Eyed, One Horned Flying Purple People Mover Surfer." Another favorite is a squidlike "Oegopsor." "My wife has other names for them," he says. "'Oegopsor' to her is 'Mr. Hugs and Kisses.'"

"I think it's going to be a really fun show, between the three of us, and all the different aspects of pop culture that we're bringing," Coe says. "All three of us are all bringing a different angle, and it's all angles that we enjoy. It's a slice of all the different pop culture representations."

Triple Feature opens at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 16 at Start Gallery; 206 E. Grand River, Detroit; 313-909-2845; check out facebook.com/startgallery for more information; free.

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