Mutant punks. Two simple words which probably evoke a very specific image that has been guided by popular counter-culture. Whether the irradiated ruffians at the Class of Nuke ‘Em High‘s heart or the gang of seemingly sub-humanoid scum from Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, “mutant punks” sound like the vile inhabitants of an apocalyptic, freakazoid nightmare. But when Rich Montanari Jr used those words as the subtitle for his fourth Black Sabbath exhibition, they became a proclamation of collaboration, for this year’s annual one-day-only showcase at the artist’s own Death’s Vault Gallery prominently featured the aesthetics of Montanari’s Mutant Vinyl Hardcore alias mingled with the iconic Aitsu character from Japan’s Punk Drunkers brand.

What is Punk Drunkers?

One of several “hip” Japanese apparel companies to emerge in the mid-’90s, Punk Drunkers was founded by Chikayoshi “Oyakata” Satomi in August of 1998. Built upon the motto “Dasai wa Kakkoii” (“Uncool is Cool”), this phrase has become synonymous with the brand’s “Aitsu” (“him” or “that guy”) character, an awkward-looking young man who can easily be seen as the salaryman‘s antithesis. Since his introduction, Aitsu’s visage has adorned countless wearables and lifestyle products as well as multiple “mascot toy” renditions, including a small quantity that Montanari had hand-painted in Death’s Vault’s signature red, black, and white coloration for December of 2017’s INCREDIBLE Sofubi Café event in Hong Kong. Almost two years after that night, Montanari and Punk Drunkers collaborate again, the Black Sabbath 4 exhibition featuring the official debut of Mutant Vinyl Hardcore’s sculptural Aitsu rendition.

Mutant Vinyl Hardcore’s Black Sabbath 4: Mutant Punks Exhibition

For 2017’s INCREDIBLE Sofubi Café event, Punk Drunkers offered a hand-painted Stay Sam Heinous DX Marshmallow Man edition, these Ghostbusters-inspired pieces executed upon a pumpkin-headed version Mutant Vinyl Hardcore’s DX Sludge Demon. This desiccated, demonic form appears repeatedly within Black Sabbath 4: as the cycloptic King Skull King with his spiked collar, as the folklore-based Krampus with its lolling tongue, and as the two-faced Demon Aitsu DX collaboration in its first painted renditions. With the face of Punk Drunkers’ Aitsu detailed through horrifically hyper-real musculature, Montanari crafted the sides and back of this head in his monstrous Mutant Vinyl Hardcore aesthetic, flowing these vinyl-cast craniums seamlessly into the skull-laden bodies they reside atop.

Vibrantly adorned in an array of crisp colors, Montanari’s hand-painted DX Sludge Demon bodied pieces are intermingled with a selection of the artist’s other original works. Of particular note are the decapitated Dokuro Head contributions, their carefully executed painted grayscale base given an added sense of richness in contrast to their manufactured “doll eyes” and synthetic doll hair parts. As an added benefit, the recurring appearance of these pieces with their factory-made eyes also draws attention to their hand-painted counterparts in the other sculptures, Montanari’s fluid applications being enticingly artistic in distinction from the faux perfection within these Dokuro Head pieces.
Perhaps the most visually dominating presence on any of the gallery shelves, Montanari also includes five uniquely hand-painted Creep Worm pieces. A creepy-crawly creature with two separate heads, a spike-like multitude of legs keep this massive beast aloft. Described as a parasitic worm pet for the artist’s Zug the Troll creation, the texturing and sensibility ingrained within these brutes are reminiscent of traditional Japanese monstrosities, subtly etched scale-like detailing emerging upon close inspection. And contrasting the larger-size of these behemoths, Montanari includes a colorful selection of one-of-a-kind Bernie pieces, each of their bipedal gremlinoid forms adorned with necklaces with cat-like collar bells, implying their presence to be similar to pets for the looming horrors surrounding them.
While the Black Sabbath 4: Mutant Punks exhibition amasses together various impressive pieces by Montanari, the introduction of the Demon Aitsu DX collaboration remains the true highlight. And of his uniquely hand-painted renditions of the Punk Drunkers character, one notable version has been created in the likeness of Osamu Tezuka‘s Astro Boy. With its red boots, black shorts, and red belt expressed with a punkish roughness, the unnaturally tainted hue of its flesh illuminates the sculptural depth of the form, especially for the sunken muscle folds surrounding its protruding eyeballs.
In addition to the previously shown hand-painted one-of-a-kind works, Montanari also offered a limited quantity of his Medicom-produced LASH VCD, or Vinyl Collectible Dolls, mascot figures alongside personally-painted editions of the Demon Aitsu DX, Bernie, and “regular” Aitsu forms. And to complete the forward-focused feel of this exhibit, Montanari displays the raw sculpts he created for an upcoming work: the MVH Fink. Inspired by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth‘s iconic Rat Fink hot rod character, especially recognizable with the four-eyed Grimey Bastard mouse-like head atop, alternate renditions will include the double-sided Mayhem head, the jack-o-lantern-based King Sam head, and the Frankenstein’s Monster-inspired Sparky head. Rounded out by the Attack Ollie omake sculpt, depicting Montanari’s well-known cyclops character viciously emerging from a sack bag, this piece feels representative of the artist’s exhibit as a whole: a reinvention, a visual breath of freshness, a progression towards a future that remembers the past.
Black Sabbath 4 was a one-day-only exhibition held on October 6th, 2019 at Death’s Vault Gallery’s physical location (315 Peck St., Building 5, Studio H, New Haven, CT 06512).

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