John Casey’s Talent Pool

A collaborative affair at Swarm Gallery.

Oaklander John Casey, the owner-operator of a fertile imagination, has sought a little help from his friends for Tall Tales, a pair of collaborative projects that constitute a theme park for connoisseurs of the weird and funny. In Call & Response, Casey and his wife, writer Mary Kalin-Casey, combine pencil drawings on panel and text on paper: the initial “call,” whether pictorial or literary, is presented at left, with the “response” shown at right. In “Superhero,” Kalin-Casey muses: “If I could pick one superpower, I’d choose the ability to communicate in any language. But there would have to be safeguards or one could go crazy. You can’t have every living creature cluttering one’s mind up with chatter …. Birds and bees? No. Cats and dogs? Maybe.”

Casey (like many of us, a maritally designated clutterer/clutteree) responds with a weird putto — a floating head with hands instead of wings, and a beard composed of clown mouths — superimposed on a target-like pattern of concentric ripples. In “Blowing Smoke,” Casey’s drawing of various aspects of the cigarette ritual (posture, hand positions, smoke erupting from a volcanic neck) elicits this response from Kalin-Casey: “Most of my vices don’t affect others. Who cares if I watch TV? But that knuckle [popping] noise, I admit that one’s bad. I admit a loss of control.” (Call & Response is available as a book; I look forward to watching the TV series while cracking my knuckles and smoking.)

Installed catty-corner is an array of 63 pin-clipped drawings on paper by Casey and 40 friends (including many names familiar to local artniks). The droll title, Hands & Pants, would seem to limit the number of possible permutations, but the artists have responded with comic brilliance; One-Percenter political subtext, anyone? Two solo drawings by Casey are also on view, one of them, “Blacklight,” a view of seaside cliffs at night. Each is crowned with its own lighthouse, beckoning to a lighthouse-equipped sailing ship below, accompanied by a sculpture, “Black Light Boat.” The video of Casey drawing himself into a kind of clown pumpkin has a nice seasonal topicality.

Don’t miss Jake Watling’s installation, “4 Directions: International Boulevard,” a video study of East Oakland’s usually unexamined streetscape, culture mix, and everyday people. The artist intersperses brief chats with locals possessing various claims to fame with road shots from his car-mounted camera: Google Earth meets The Family of Man. Through November 6 at Swarm Gallery (560 2nd St., Oakland). 510-839-2787 or


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