The Zarrow Center for Art & Education, nestled in Tulsa’s downtown Brady District, has had on display for some weeks now a morbidly amusing art exhibition: fifty-two selected works of Charles “Chas” Addams, a renowned mid-20th century cartoonist whose recurring themes were macabre and inspired the creation of The Addams Family television series and movies.
The “Family and Friends” exhibit, open until September 27, showcases the multitude of somewhat grisly yet charming characters Addams molded throughout his career.
Death and destruction seem to be the real overarching themes in his pieces. Skeletons, undead figures, witches, murder plots, and Halloween decor all appear in the collection alongside the familiar whimsically ghoulish “Addams Family” characters.
One of my personal favorite series in the exhibit was a display of three cartoons, each depicting a husband and wife and their malintentions for each other. “He’s In The Garden” portrays the wife happily talking on the phone; in the backyard, a shovel sticks out of a freshly-dug grave. “Coliseum” shows the husband imagining his wife being chased by a lion as they both overlook the Roman amphitheater.
“Double Murder” has the husband and wife in separate rooms with a closed door between them; both appear calm and content. However, they have each staged pulley setups (one attached to a weight, one to a shotgun) to kill the other upon walking through the door. Each is merely sitting, waiting for the other to do so, ensuring neither will die so long as they’re stubborn.
A few pieces poked fun at societal constructs. Addams painted a courtroom of “imposter” Santas on trial for impersonating each other, in his take on the idea of having an abundance of fake Santas around Christmas. Another piece, featuring a hitchhiking Abraham Lincoln with a sign reading “Gettysburg,” addresses the issues that may arise when words with multiple meanings (like “address”) become mixed-up.
In addition to Chas Addams’ works, the Tulsa Girls Art School dominated a portion of the gallery. Called “Through A Child’s Eye,” it presented a glimpse at amateur artists’ impressions of dismal subject matter.
The students’ paintings were inspired by Addams’ style and contained such grim elements as dead mermaids, ominous skies, and dark-clothed skeletal figures. Watercolor and charcoal were the main media utilized, resulting in a soft, shadowy aesthetic.
Various events have been held at the Zarrow Center while the exhibition has been out. This past Thursday, a University of Tulsa event for high school and college counselors and administrators was hosted at the gallery. While appetizers and drinks were available for consumption, so was the art, and some of the professionals found themselves drifting away from the crowd, absorbed by Addams’ “Family and Friends.”
The most popular of the characters are, of course, those that bear his namesake: the Addams Family (*snap* *snap*). Scattered throughout the exhibit, sometimes appearing in series, are a couple dozen portraits of members of the closely-knit, loving, bizarre family blissfully engaging in macabre activities.
Morticia carries the panels with sharp (sometimes deadly) wit, while daughter Wednesday mirrors her; husband Gomez and son Pugsley bring gusto; Uncle Lester, Cousin Itt, and Grandma Frump provide blunders.
Charles Addams’ artistic worth lies in his ability to captivate the viewer with bleak, clever scenes that appear to be views into an imaginary world. At closer inspection, however, they are witty explorations of the underbelly of our everyday lives. Each glance at the enthusiastically morbid personalities portrayed in his work reveals a sense of hope embedded within dark situations—or at least humor in dealing with (or creating) them.