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Review: Chris Bodily gives life and energy to ordinary figures with unique countouring marks

“I just start drawing, and whatever I start to form out of the line work is what I start doing,” explains Salt Lake City artist Chris Bodily about his exhibit HatRobot, on display at 303 North Studio. A play on the term for “a machine that makes things for your head” — rather than a reference to wearable head accessories — HatRobot offers plenty that will indeed feed your mind.

Bodily’s organic contour lines crawl, swoop and buzz in clouds, forming automatist musings on urban dreams and nightmares. We encounter a mixture of terrors massing above the head of a young boy covering his eyes in the work “A Heavy Heart.” The fearful forms range from more generalized anxieties — a barking dog’s choppers, a variety of toothy ghouls, the sickle of the Grim Reaper — to more cerebral concerns such as the unfortunate salesman-turned-beetle from Franz Kafka’s tale, Metamorphosis. ­Heavily layered with symbols and nuanced forms, the dense line work rewards close scrutiny.

The drawings and graphic designs are a mix of urban grit, anime and life drawing. Figure studies that would otherwise be stale and academic are re-energized, sharing space with intuitive scribbling, random objects, even a bug-eyed zombie. “Practice Sketch” meditates upon the disciplined act of drawing as it collides with the mischief of creativity.

Nearby, “Elliot, Chocolate, Wormwood” depicts a dense overlay of portraits spiced with birds, stars and vicious beasties. The seemingly random words from the title appear in elegant scripted text in the piece, and originated from a recent family dinner conversation. “Just words my nephew was using at dinner one night,” Bodily says. “Every piece I do is like a psychological self-portrait.” The piece plays a game of word association and doubles as cocktail-napkin reveries of a past meal.

Scrawled fragments of text playfully weave in and out of many of the works, offering pieces of thought trailing off into incoherent doodles, curls and French arabesques. A cut-away in the piece “All You Can Handle” reveals the pink corkscrew brain of a whimsical, startled balloon cat articulating the following: “chaos,” “love,” “there are many,” “I write these words with the hand of my hand …” The phrases devolve into swirls and clusters of line, rendering it impossible to decipher every word and leaving viewers with a poetically bubbling subconscious.

A couple of HatRobot works present simple portraits of classic literary figures, such as Edgar Allen Poe and Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab. Looking like illustration proposals for children’s books, these works lack the invigorated, intuitive line work and feel flat and out of place with the rest of the exhibit. However, these curatorial inconsistencies are easily set aside, as most of the attention is pulled in by the graceful, fluid lines and playful, imaginative forms elsewhere.

HATROBOT 303 North Studio, 107 E. Charleston Blvd. Suite 115,