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If a picture really is worth 1,000 words, then Dirk Hooper's gothic photography tells forbidden tales to rival the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and the Marquis de Sade. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Hooper's interest in art began at age 6 when he saw the original release of Star Wars.

"Most people wanted to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. I wanted to be George Lucas," Hooper said. "I knew someone had created this entire world and I knew that if someone else had done it, I could, too."

Since that defining moment, Hooper has worked in artistic disciplines from pen and ink sketches to photography, in all cases giving particular attention to the stark contrast of light and dark, both in technique and content.

"I'm very visually oriented," Hooper said, "and I particularly like something with an edge or fantasy element to it, something escapist."

The "Toxic Goddess" project marks the seven-year culmination of Hooper's photographic exploration of gothic fantasy and fetish portraiture. The project consists of some 30 images which Hooper has compiled as examples of his evolution as an artist, producing a variety of scenes conjured from the artist's mind.

"I'm not trying to duplicate reality," Hooper is quick to point out. "I'm trying very hard to create something fantasy-inspired and removed from reality."

In one image featuring model Cameron, the scene depicts a woman adorned in red and black vinyl lounging on a couch. In another, a dark angel with raven plumage sits curled, concealing herself beneath black wings. In all cases, the photography has a theatricality that makes it more performance art than pinup. Ominous and alluring, each gives a glimpse of dark happenings for which the viewer must then create a story.

"I always consider the viewing the final stage of my work," the artist said. "It is for the audience to decide what they're seeing." Quoting from film director Terry Gilliam, which the artist cites as a great source of inspiration, Hooper said, "It is the artist's job to ask questions, not answer them."

While the sexual elements of "Toxic Goddess" can't and shouldn't be ignored, Hooper resists the notion of his art being purely for titillation or arousal.

As for his aspirations after "Toxic Goddess," Hooper is emphatic about opening a local private studio within five years time.

"I am an Oklahoman artist," Hooper said frankly. "This is something I really want to get across to people. There's more going on here than what you find at the arts festival, more than flowers and outhouses." And with his work seeming to take flight on leathery wings, Hooper thinks the time ripe for change. "Nothing against Toby Keith or Kristin Chenowith, but they're the face of Oklahoma, and I would very much like to be an ambassador for the people who are not being heard in this state."

"Toxic Goddess" will be open July 16 and exhibit through July 22 at Electric Chair Gallery, located behind Book Beat at 6409 S. Western Ave. Opening night festivities will begin at 8 p.m. and feature live music, models and a silent auction to benefit the National Coalition of Sexual Freedom.

For more information about "Toxic Goddess," visit www.dirkhooper.com.

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