Photo Gallery: John Waters’ Wonderfully Warped World

John Waters is a serious artist with a wicked sense of humor. Although he’s best known as a filmmaker of cult classics, he has had nearly 50 solo art exhibitions at some of the best museums and galleries around the world, including New York’s New Museum, Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris, and the LA branch of Gagosian. Back for his fourth one-man show at San Francisco’s Rena Bransten Gallery, Waters offers offbeat sculptures of enlarged Combat Roach Killers, La Mer Moisturizing Cream, and Rush Liquid Incense — a.k.a. poppers — and continues his series of satirical, sequential photos of movie star legends.

Film stills of Hollywood stars projected on real-life and media appropriated butts pokes fun at the film technique of “rear projection”; the gay, black singer Johnny Mathis is immortalized by a series of headshots in Idol #2; and a vicious canine is ironically-titled Pet. Some of the most twisted photographs in the show have been digitally manipulated. Hickies outrageously cover Audrey Hepburn’s neck in A Passion for Audrey and Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, Andy Warhol, and other celebs sport harelips in Hollywood Smile Train. Meanwhile, Lezzie slyly presents a hand and pen slowly writing out the campy label, which had originally been the name Lizzie.

Other comical pieces on view include a sculpture of Ike Turner manipulating a puppet of a sassy Tina Turner; Neurotic, a black and white photograph of hands holding signs that read sorrow, anxiety, suffering, and disappointment; and The Rope Collection, which captures artworks hanging in the backgrounds of scenes from Alfred Hitchcock’s experimental film classic, Rope.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, Waters shows a new series of photographs, Pecker Still Lives. Shot during the filming of director’s amusing movie (Pecker) about a young Baltimore photographer that becomes a darling of the New York art world overnight, the pictures present props, supplies, and equipment from the sets. Not as witty as Waters’ photomontages, they do, however, reveal an artist willing to go beyond his recognizable realm.

John Waters: Rush remains on view at Rena Bransten Gallery through July 1o. Also noteworthy is Outsider Porn: The Photographs of David Hurles (NSFW), curated by John Waters and Dian Hanson at New York’s Marianne Boesky Gallery, through June 25.

John Waters, Hollywood Smile Train, 2009. C-prints, edition of 5, 26 3/4 x 20 3/4 inches framed. Courtesy of Rena Bransten Gallery, San Francisco, CA