Credit: courtesy Extase/Patrick Wilkins

You could call Patrick Wilkins’s solo exhibition at Extase a sausage party—but his punny ceramic wieners are just a taste of this show’s irreverent joy. “Indiscriminate Sincerity” includes 16 hot dog sculptures divided into two sets of eight that flank both sides of a converted closet in the Humboldt Park apartment gallery. Each is painted brick red (save for two that are unpredictably gold) and features a unique face with an exaggerated expression: one threatening the viewer with kisses from elastic lips, for example; another with eyes bulging like a cartoon wolf and an open mouth revealing two tiny rows of teeth. It’s work that reminds us of what sustains while playing with taboos.

After all, “sausages” are food—but they’re also dicks. Both speak to needs that ensure human survival (physical sustenance and reproduction), but they’re also the stuff of desire and somatic pleasure. Devil’s food cake is “sinfully delicious,” right? Whether it’s God-given or bought on Amazon, I don’t need to tell you what a good dick does. But buying sausages—the edible ones or the toys—is impersonal; they come from a factory hermetically sealed in branded packaging. Wilkins’s wieners are one-of-a-kind, and the grooves of their surfaces remind us they started in someone’s hands. They’re intimate and fun like a good meal or a great one-night stand—little one-offs that celebrate humanity’s simplest pleasures.

Like the rest of Wilkins’s work, they’re also absurd. In addition to the hot dogs, “Indiscriminate Sincerity” presents four large paintings and six small mixed-media works, all resplendent with faces that reach comical heights through their features and expressions. The wiener silhouette echoes in noses and tongues. Take Projection, which shows a naked ass wearing a black version of the mask Alex sports in A Clockwork Orange—you know, that clown disguise that definitely has a penis nose. From the floor, a bald red head emerges. It’s staring at the butt, mouth agape, tongue dangling, and eyes popping from behind a similar black mask. What is this head so excited about? A naked behind? Maybe the hole hidden by the mask? Or are they recognizing themselves in the butt through the mask? Is their excitement sexual? Perhaps they’ve been looking for such a specific validation, they’re going overboard expressing enthusiasm about encountering a hint of sameness. Wow, talk about a rear window!

Credit: courtesy Extase/Patrick Wilkins

If art is a journey into the creator’s psyche, Wilkins’s work proves a tour of midwestern decadence—the kind only a man who’s raised in the cornfields of Indiana and worked the meat counter of Whole Foods could provide. In broader public imagination, this region is treated as something between homogenous and bereft, especially the smaller the city gets. The American Midwest explains: “Midwesterners were distinguished by their lack of distinguishing characteristics. Anything but flamboyant, they supposedly had no discernible accent or clothing or customs. Their culture, like their history and their landscape, was linear and straightforward . . . Midwesterners by definition were not introspective, at least not publicly. They were nice people who produced without being conspicuous . . .” Naturally, the cliché that a midwesterner has to go elsewhere to be creative—say, Hollywood or New York—is partially rooted in this.

Wilkins came to Chicago from Elkhart, Indiana, in 2015 to pursue his MFA at the School of the Art Institute. His work is saturated with the midwestern warmth of welcoming a neighbor with a pyrex pan of hot dish. Simultaneously, it challenges that sense of repressive austerity the region is known for. His colors are bold—a palette straight from Sesame Street—and he enjoys a liberal use of patterns: checkers, stripes, grids. While some of his paintings feel more overtly naughty—for instance, Comfort, which shows a flat-chested figure haloed by flower petals tweaking its own nipple—even the most neutral pieces, like the paint lids nailed to boards and outfitted with dramatic faces, ooze something cheeky. Why is that?

Maybe because he gets at something human in a fun but aggressive way. For most of “Indiscriminate Sincerity,” there’s nothing overtly sexual, and yet something about the way Wilkins turns the volume up on emotion in the faces he renders reads pleasantly perverse. Like we were not meant to find so much ecstasy in being happy, amused, or afraid. That we were not supposed to reveal so much about how our bodies experience living in communion with one another, from feeding each other to fucking. Can you still be a nice midwesterner if you produce conspicuously? “Indiscriminate Sincerity” insists, yes.   v