Jack O. Summers isn't a fan of religion – but he is a fan of making fun of it. The local artist, who will have his work exhibited at The Dirty Show from Feb. 12-20 at the Russell Industrial Complex in Detroit, laughs, "I like to mix religious and nonreligious elements, and I'm not religious at all, so sometimes I have to make fun of religion… I like to mix the profane and the religious."
The Dirty Show, Detroit's annual erotic art show, is known for this kind of debauchery – from tastefully done pieces to the sort of work that leaves guests praying a rosary in penance. Though, as Summers attests of the show, "The quantity (of art) is pretty good and there's a nice variety, and there's tons of it. People really go out for that show."
Summers' own contribution to this year's event?
"What I did this year is I made a form in the shape of a religious icon, like in medieval times," he describes. "It's about 11 inches tall and 7 wide and about an inch deep. It's a relief. And what I did was make this iconic form, but instead of Jesus in the middle… I have a big penis. The whole thing is gold like an icon would be. Then I have jewels studded around it."
He laughs. "So as you can see, it's not terribly serious."
Summers, who specializes in collage work, photography and mandalas, doesn't limit his artistic juxtaposition to just tongue-in-cheek works aimed at religion.
"I have a ton of comic books that I cut up and use in my work," he explains. "There's a lot of humor in my work, underlying one way or the other. I had a book of Roman sculptures, the heads of them, and I tore out all the pages of the books and I had saved monster eyes and stuff, and I turned these Roman heads into comic characters. I've been posting one a day on Instagram and Facebook. I did about 40 of them – people are reacting kind of positively to them.
"I like to make fun of history and all kinds of things. It's fun to make dirty work, but once you show it there, where else are you going to show it? I can't show these things any place else."
Summers has found some unexpected success with his X-rated pieces, though. They've been featured at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City, "one of the biggest, oldest gay galleries in the country," he says.
Summers' self-described fun art includes some self insertion, as well.
"I do put my face in and on a lot of things," he says, laughing. "Right now I'm using my collages for my Facebook page. I take a lot of things, like the Sphinx, and put my face on it."
Other humorous works include his "Bah Humbug" series of Christmas cards he puts out yearly. "I've had a successful run with Christmas cards, and I have torturous kinds of things like with Santa Claus – like with his head cut off," he says. "I make about 20 new ones a year, and I've got them in about three different categories, and they've sold well. I've sold them at the Detroit Artist Market, the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Grosse Pointe Art Center, and I'm going to see if I can do the DIA and the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Association this year."
Between his Christmas works and the Dirty Show, they may be some of the few places fans can get their hands on Summers' art. "I don't sell stuff online," he admits. "I usually don't. I've sold a few pieces out of Affirmations where I had a one person show a few years ago.
"Right now I'm doing a series on the alphabet, and I'm making them in cigar boxes – I'm using the tops and bottoms of wooden cigar boxes. I'm putting objects in there for each letter, and oh my – the end of the alphabet is pretty difficult!
"I'm going to try and have a one-man show this September in Ferndale City Hall. I don't have an exact date, but it is September. All the work in that show is going to be about Detroit – I use a lot of found things, like wood, and I've been making a lot of collages and mandalas with photography and Detroit imagery."
For those hoping to see the artist's work this month at the Dirty Show, Summers offers this tip: "I find if you go to the opening night, it's OK, and then Sunday is kind of quiet. Otherwise it's mobbed – sometimes (the Dirty Show) can't even let people in because of the limits. The Russell Industrial Complex is a really nice, big space. It's a very good venue for it because of the size. It's all very, very popular."
Summers, who has watched the show evolve over the years, does note, "There's not much gay work."
"I've tried to encourage some other artists to think of making work for it," he says. "It's mostly heterosexual work. But the quality is quite good – some people really extend themselves. Not all of the work is explicit, but last year's had explicit pieces – but I'm not that interested in heterosexual work! Maybe I don't concentrate on it. Very little gay art in there."
But for those going in blind, they can keep an eye out for Summers' entry this year.
"I love the beauty of the icons and I love to work from them, and," he says, laughing, "I thought, 'I'll make just the icon instead of Jesus!'"