As every crapshooter knows, sevens are not always fortuitous. Stepping up and throwing one is usually profitable. But when you’re deep into the game and you’ve got bets all over the table, a seven can wipe you out. Dice gamers quickly learn to respect and fear the seven: the weirdest and most capricious of the cardinal numerals, odd, indivisible, at once the number of the heavens and the deadly sins.
As it so happens, there’s a gallery in town where the weird, the capricious, the odd and the chancy are always welcomed. It’s just a coincidence (or is it??) that Deep Space (77 Cornelison) is observing birthday number seven this summer. Deep Space kept the dice rolling through the Trump Administration, the lockdown period of the pandemic, and the long, slow, agonizing reconstruction that has followed. They’ve gradually assembled a roster of risk-taking regulars — visual gamblers present to the vagaries of life in a place as unpredictable as Northern New Jersey. How many of these Deep Space artists showed up to celebrate the anniversary of the Gallery with a throw of the dice?
How about all of them? Well, almost. Nearly everyone who has mounted an exhibition at Deep Space over the past few years has contributed something to “777,” a show that, in eighty-plus pieces, channels the excitement, depravity, and pure terror of the casino floor. Since this is a thoroughly Jersey undertaking, the action spills out from the gambling house and on to the boardwalk: the fortune-teller booths, the convenience stores, the amusement parks and Turnpike speed runs. On a summer night in New Jersey, everything seems like a gamble, from the turn of a gypsy’s card to quarters in the pinball machine, with jackpots and wipeouts available in equal measure.
True gamester Macauley Norman, for instance, has contributed a spinnable wheel of fortune, festooned with golden waves and dispensing symbols and images of characters from comic strips. The player is free to decide if she’s a winner or a loser, but the stenciled word below the axle — “Abductor,” in all caps — feels like a statement about the intoxicating effect of chance itself. Amelia Shields, whose fantastic “Joy Ride” show at Deep Space gave way to “777,” stays at the table with “Awaiting Fortune,” a lively painted portrait in hot pink of sharp-eyed chip-stackers in front of a roulette wheel.
Many of the works in “777,” demonstrate knowledge of the dynamics of the casino that exceed the purely diagnostic. Joe Waks, for instance, reminds us of the crapshooter’s Runyonesque nicknames for various dice rolls in an oil-painted diagram clear enough to hang in a particularly debauched classroom. Leandro Comrie surrounds a pair of tumbling bones with a crowd of wired-awake harlequins in an unsettling acrylic; stars dance in the eyes of Cortney Herron’s ruminative gambler, Philly-based installation artist Lace in the Moon crochets a bashful card peeking out of a deck; spray-paint maestro Mustart juxtaposes crossed fingers with slot machine numbers, a loaded die, and a halo.
Most accurate of all is Ryan Bock‘s frenzied “77 Heaven,” a portrait in gouache of a determined man cranking a one-armed bandit right to the edge of delirium. He’s all angles and mousetrap-tension as the machine whirs above his head. The casino floor folds in on him, and he becomes a solitary rider, surfing the odds, fingers poised on the ball of the lever, thinking of nothing other than the readout of the next spin.
What will it be? Will he cash in or bottom out? There’s no way to know. To get a clue, or, perhaps, to drive yourself a little crazier, you might want to wander across the Boardwalk to the gypsy’s tent for reassurance, or damnation, or some delirious combination of the two. At Deep Space, Elliot Lobell confronts the mystic with a little light-up crystal ball, a makeshift coin slot, and a pumpkin-headed fortune teller’s customer with teeth gritted against the force of prognostication. Playful, amiable Molly Craig, one of our town’s most imaginative artists, teases us with a diorama centered on tiny Magic 8-Ball. She’s draped the little panel behind the oracle with a bead tapestry of an all-seeing eye and tucked toy furniture into a scene fit for the most clairvoyant Barbie.
Delilah Ray Miske, fashioner of a deck of fortune-telling cards and contributor to the Deep Space Tarot show, takes her mysticism straighter. On “333 (Luck & Good Fortune Series),” a set of constellations, some astrological and some purely fantastic, hover over the head of a penitent with a pineal crystal in the middle of his forehead. The sensitive Rebecca Johnson locates sigils on the palms of hands rendered in bright watercolor. Talismans are everywhere in the show: Joe Lotto’s plaintive painting of a black flag begging for a “Hot Streak,” Anne-Louise Ewen’s hopeful serigraph of a bluebird of good fortune (complete with instructions for use), Ekaterina Popova’s “Rainbow Over the Sea,” brilliant as a sudden burst of good news, disappearing into a tropical forest. There’s even a bowl of ceramic Lucky Charms, minted by Christopher Dane, that practically begs for a splash of milk. (Warning: do not munch.)
Much of the irreverence of “777” has the jaunty tone of a long, low whistle past the graveyard. If we’ve gotten a bit superstitious over the past few years — if we’re looking, hard, for signs that we might be favored by fate — it’s hard to blame us. It’s no exaggeration to say that waking up and moving through the world has become a heck of a gamble lately. That a spot as idiosyncratic as Deep Space has made it through seven years ought to be inspiring to all of us misfits. Nevertheless, the regulars would be the first to concede that there’s nothing particularly predictive about the gallery’s success. Tomorrow is another throw of the dice, and the future continues to be shrouded in boardwalk mist. On Sunday from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m., Deep Space will attempt to dance off the doubts at a midday barbecue, record sale, and nexus for divinations. It’s the sort of union of the earthly and the mystical that the gallery is known for. And if one particular Tarot card reader at the party looks quite a bit like your correspondent, well, don’t be too surprised. Just like you, I need all the luck I can get.