"Totally mangled" is how Tim Sharman describes the depictions of human sexuality that he and Walter Robinson executed together as Tag Team. Throughout their remarkably fruitful ten-year artistic partnership — currently the subject of a retrospective, Exhumed, at Studio Quercus — the duo drew and painted hundreds of scenes scattered with pop-culture and historical art references, populated by an indelible cast of sexed-up cartoon characters. Tumescent, ballooning, and sometimes endowed with animal characteristics (snouts, hooves, etc.), they strike exhibitionist poses and treat each other to a variety of unorthodox maneuvers. Too hilarious and absurd to retain any pornographic charge, the works reimagine sex with an adolescent sensibility for wonder and mischievous delight.
As one might guess, Robinson and Sharman both possess highly developed senses of ironic humor. In their individual practices, they delight in uprooting culturally codified images from their usual places, dismembering and then recombining them in mutant form. These days, Robinson is busy producing glossy sculptures that, among other things, equip giant worn-down pencils with erasers in the shape of John F. Kennedy's head (Civics Lesson, 2008). Sharman, meanwhile, continues to develop his Doof Museum of Culture and History, a collection of articles and artifacts ostensibly unearthing a Pynchonesque cultural mythos surrounding a 1920s cartoon dog character.
These two well-matched sensibilities first collided in 1996, when Robinson bought one of Sharman's prints at a gallery show and the latter suggested they draw together. Their sessions began by mail: One would send the other a drawing and, as in the Surrealist practice of cadavre exquis (meaning "exquisite corpse"), the recipient would in turn make a contribution and send it back.
"The rules," Sharman said, "were it didn't matter what you drew or painted, and it didn't matter whether you obliterated something that was already drawn, or added to it, or tore up the drawing. When it was in your possession, you had control over it."
In their first exchange, Sharman, not knowing where to begin, sent Robinson a drawing of a shore bird — neutral, innocuous, open. Days later, Sharman received Robinson's response: a bizarre, ecstatic four-legged animal mounting the bird from behind. With this irreverent gesture, a dare to artistic disinhibition, the rhythm of the relationship was set. "It was like two thirteen-year-old boys getting together to watch TV," Sharman said. "You kind of feed off one another. I started to look forward to seeing what he would do so I could react to it, like, 'Can you top this?'"
Tag Team dissolved ten years ago as Robinson and Sharman shifted their focus to their individual careers. Exhumed has been its only resurrection to date. In showcasing everything from Tag Team's initial Postal Art exhibition to its Neurotica series of dirty drawings and faux frescoes, the retrospective unearths an artistic entity more than merely the sum of its two parts.
Exhumed runs through August 18 at Studio Quercus (385 26th St., Oakland). 510-452-4670 or StudioQuercus.com