Eye-opening exhibit of gentle thought -- and gleeful mayhem

COLUMBIA, 1/14/12  (Revue) --  A diabolically dead-on rendering of a villain who makes Hannibal Lecter look like a lamb is sure to grab passers by the window of the Columbia Art League on Ninth Street. 

With a likeness to the actor Javier Bardem that jumps off the canvas, "Revenge, Call It" is Aimee Vance's colorfully-warped caricature of Anton Chigurh, the most malevolent maelstrom to storm across page and screen since Anthony Hopkins rattled Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs.  
Bardem won an Oscar playing Chigurh in the 2007 Coen Brothers film No Country for Old Men.   Based on Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same name, a hard-luck working stiff finds stolen loot and finds himself pursued across the Texas low country by Chigurh, a strangely-foreign mob repo man with a face like a tombstone and a teeth-clenching penchant for forcing his victims to "call" life or death on the toss of a coin.   
Oversized head capped by Bardem's memorably-disturbing pageboy haircut, and legs imagined small -- perhaps because they prove his undoing -- Vance's villainous vision shows the killer lingering with his weapon of choice -- a stealth, air-powered stun gun -- in an eerily-lit desert beneath a gas station sign that says simply "Coen."  
All raw, dysphoric irony, the painting is Coen Brothers all the way.
It's also part of an eye-opening new exhibit the Art League launched Thursday night to a standing room only crowd.  
"In gallery" until February 25, The Seven Deadly Sins (and the Seven Holy Virtues) is an exhibit Cormac McCarthy would appreciate:  Each piece demonstrates the struggle between virtue and vice, in Chigurh's case between a twisted code of honor -- and cold-blooded, for-hire murder. 
The show brings a startling new edginess to the Columbia visual art scene, along with a surprising number of gentle pieces nestled amidst the gleeful mayhem. 

More about that to follow. 

 -- Mike Martin for the Columbia Heart Beat