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Review: Nothing boring in board game paintings

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 12, 2008 - Tim Liddy's "Stratagem" at the William Shearburn Gallery is the kind of thing only a painter of Liddy's caliber should ever take on.

Liddy -- known for making gargantuan, intelligent sign montages -- has begun making trompe l'oeil versions on copper of vintage board game boxes. The riskiness of this move is obvious: It might have turned into a kitsch-fest, or just another trip down pop-culture's memory lane.

Liddy has steered clear of all of this by selecting game boxes from the 1930s through the 1970s that sport amazing graphics and -- more importantly -- tell us a great deal about how national concerns and cultural obsessions get funneled into objects of play.

The money-themed "Circa 1936 (Bulls and Bears)" and "Circa 1961 (Broker)" remind us -- painfully, these days -- that the economy has always been seen essentially as a game. The baseball, football, and "test driver" games from the 1950s and 1960s promise to deliver the "excitement" of sports on a flat, static board (this will make no sense whatsoever to those of the Wii-generation).

Then there's Oy-Vey from 1979, "the game where you become a Jewish mother"; and "What Shall I Be?" from 1966, which is billed as "the exciting game of career girls" -- these sort of speak for themselves.

As you might have guessed, it's easy to get caught up in the strange nostalgia of the games and their conceits. But there's yet another dimension to all these works, and that's Liddy's slavish recording not just of the box designs, but also of their signs of wear and tear and handling.

In paint, he's reconstructed the tape used to hold them together, the stains, price tags, etc. The result is a series of loaded, melancholy simulacra that beautifully represent specific and general histories at once.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Ivy Cooper
Ivy Cooper is the Beacon visual arts reviewer and a professor of art at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.