April 11 2006 12:00 AM

“I thought, 'What if I turned this drawing upside down and had some people riding in his nose, on his mouth?' Now these people are riding in a head,” he says in a low chuckle.

Head rides are Preston's stock in trade. Usually, his imagination is fettered by the need for to conform to some commercial or physical reality, but that's not the case in “The Whoa Show,” his new exhibition at Gone Wired Café.

{mosimage}This is the most unfiltered Preston show ever, a grotesque id romp that changes the viewer's perception of many things, from grudges to big toes.

Sometimes Preston's thought process is unfathomable, even after he explains it. Take his drawing of an uneasy couple trying to ignore the hallux from hell — a huge, sentient toe. “I started with the guy, his hair,” Preston says.

“Then I thought maybe I should make It look like he's trying to ignore this big ugly toe. And I love it! The toe is sayin, 'Hi, how's it goin'?'”

Anyone who crosses Preston's path may end up in his ever-growing pile of sketchbooks, wrestling with a funky monster or sprouting a second head, with a face like a pile of bicycle tires and doorknobs. “I'm inspired by people,” he says. “These are people I've seen walking through a parking lot, lots of places.”

As a people-watcher and caricaturist, Preston, who drew this week's City Pulse cover, doesn't blink at emphasizing ethnic or racial characteristics. Once, he recalls, a magazine aimed at a black audience interviewed him for a job. “The man said, 'You're not afraid to let loose on us, are you?'” Preston says. “I was drawing the noses and the lips big, and he liked that. All the other artists were drawing white people with black skin.”

Preston's roots as a '60s rock-poster artist shine through in a couple of the “Whoa Show” works, including a depiction of “Stairway to Heaven” that is anything but.

There's actually a touch of class in this grossout cavalcade, if you know where to look. One whole subset of pictures follows the footsteps of 19th-century masters who built visual puzzles by hiding faces within faces. The lips and teeth of a face, for example, form a second face, with another face inside that. Hidden mouths and eyes are strewn throughout Preston's work.

“Out of all the art I do, this is what I like to do best,” Preston says. “I don't have a boss. I'm doodling, letting my mind go.”

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