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The sweet hooked rug, gone bad: How artist Hannah Epstein gives a retro craft some bite

The sweet hooked rug, gone bad: How artist Hannah Epstein gives a retro craft some bite
Hannah Epstein's “Soft Teeth,” left, “The Hybrid Kid” and “Mouser” are all from 2017. (Don Lewis / Hannah Epstein and Steve Turner)

Hannah Epstein’s riotous exhibition at Steve Turner may bring back memories of hours spent with latch hook rug kits — those ready-to-assemble crafts that, strand by strand, formed a fuzzy image of a cheery rainbow, heart or “Sesame Street” character.

The Canadian artist’s hooked rugs, however, are the bad sister-in-laws of those anodyne projects. “Monster World” assembles shaggy, snarling, off-kilter beasts that have more to do with alternative comics, cartoons and Internet culture than they do with sweetness and light. Strewn across a wall, they are the underbelly of cute, the id of the home crafter.

There are, of course, cats. “Mouser” is a cat’s face, nearly 5 feet tall, hooked in a wild combination of yarns that manages to feel both colorful and dingy. The mouth is stretched into a gleeful, toothy grin, toeing the line between cheer and evil.

Nearby, in “Bad Mascot,” a smaller lion also bares its teeth: You can almost hear it hissing.

Hannah Epstein
Installation view of Hannah Epstein's “Monster World,” with a hissing lion in the lower left corner. Don Lewis / Hannah Epstein and Steve Turner

“The Hybrid Kid” depicts a humanoid creature with large, moth-like antennae and five eyes. Huddled in a protective posture, but grinning maniacally through its pain, one of its arms appears to be a snake, or perhaps it’s just wearing a sock puppet. It’s sweet; the monstrousness sneaks up on you.

Also cute is the multi-colored, griffin-like animal in “Eats Its Young” choking down a smaller version of itself. On its belly, as if in X-ray vision, we see a tiny, staring face. It’s not exactly an image of maternal solicitude.

Other works forgo cuteness altogether. There are images of Britney Spears with shaved head, a cartoon girl getting punched in the face and an anime-style woman being encircled and penetrated by brightly colored tentacles, each inscribed with the word “memes.” These are girls gone wrong, or girls done wrong.

Similarly, Epstein’s rugs are nice projects gone awry. Her use of the hooked rug invokes hours of repetitious labor spent following a pattern. Such activities may be fun and relaxing, but they’re also designed to keep girls’ hands busy. They accustom girls to drudgery.

In creating her own patterns, Epstein has twisted the hooked rug into something not only novel but also appealing — even joyful. It feels honest, capturing the craziness, the violence, the screaming fury of our day. Anger is held in tension with cuteness, sweetness, fuzziness. These are the hooked rugs we might have made had we the nerve to burst out of our skins.

Steve Turner, 6830 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. Through Feb. 10; closed Sundays and Mondays. (323) 460-6830, www.steveturner.la

 
Hannah Epstein, installation view of “Monster World” at Steve Turner Don Lewis / Hannah Epstein and Steve Turner

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

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