My project for the summer was to read comic books. Well, really, my project was to go back through my old comic books and reread the ones that were the most important to me. I figured this would be a fun project: trying to re-find the thing about those books that quickened inside me. As the summer progressed, I began to experience again the sense of awe that filled me as a young boy. I remembered what it was like to see “art” for the first time. (I use the word “art” because comics are about possibility.) They were the first images I ever tried to copy. They were the first drawings I really cared about. They were important because I realized that by drawing I would not be limited to entering the comics simply as a reader, but that I was able to enter them as a participant. I could become a part of this world of newfound wonder.
For the six artists in G Gobbled It, Peeped Into It, T Took It, recapturing this childhood impulse has become studio practice. Their work draws from the artists’ individual and common histories to create work that at first appears benign, but then like children maturing, there is a deviation from the path of innocence.
Emily Walls’ additions to the show are abstracted, puffalump sculptures. The smaller pieces employ a combination of Sculpey colors ranging from the fleshiest pink to the most obnoxious magenta, while her stuffed sculpture mixes vinyl, fabric and fake fur. The quietly disturbing objects titillate the viewer while playing on the moment of recognition. The pieces beg the question: when does an object stop being a lump and start to become a bunny, a mitten, or an ear? Her pieces in the show seem at first glance to be sweet and innocent, but upon further consideration they are quite twisted. The viewer’s “oh” of recognition changes slowly to an “uh oh,” as in “something’s not as it seems.”
April Joy Baker’s thick, encaustic paintings serve as the artist’s playhouse. Baker’s paintings talk about how play enters into the child’s life, and how through playing with dolls, children come to understand or misunderstand relationships. The paintings reflect how “ideal” relationships are born in the magical world of the child. Baker draws from the layout of Pennsylvania Dutch Fraktur paintings, as well as children’s paper dolls her paintings’ construction. The artist uses the malleability of her paper cut out characters to twist the imagery, taking it from the world we know to that of a child’s imagination. Her paired down images feature only the essential parts and the relationship between the parts. How the players interact becomes the thrust of the paintings.
Similar to Baker’s paintings, the characters in Dan Schimmel’s watercolor pieces seem to be about communication and reaction. Schimmel’s little monsters inhabit a stripped down and sometimes blurry world. The artist’s monsters are more of the Grover variety than of the nightmare variety; hence, they possess vulnerability and naiveté. Their wide eyes take in their surroundings, pointing in wonder, recognition, or accusation. Sometimes they point to each other or to things beyond the picture’s edge, which acts as the boundary for the monsters’ world. The artist uses a range of water media to create a dream world of shifting focus, sometimes allowing the ink to bleed, and other times, allowing the crispest edge to define the figure. More often than not, the quirky lightness in the drawings gives way to a glimpse of something a bit more grave.
TL Solien’s drawings bring grit to the show. His work is a brutal juggling act of sorts. His pieces balance not only a staggering array of materials (pastels, graphite, ink, gouache and collage on paper) but mix visual elements that can only happen in the studio (or laboratory) and should not, absolutely could not, exist in the real world. His portrait format paintings mix borrowed images from comics and coloring books with other body fragments held in check somehow by a stylized helmet of hair. The collaboration of images lends itself to form a narrative: the struggle of the torn and melting images addresses the struggles of the child gripped with the realization that the world isn’t all Archie and Jughead.
Corrie Beth Hogg’s eight part series is a juggling act of another sort. Her tender paintings mix a variety of stylized imagery, materials, and painting techniques in an effort to retell the children’s lullaby Rock-a-bye Baby. Hogg’s delicate pencil renderings mix wonderfully with the artist’s savvy color palette and intricate paint handling. Drawing from the rich tradition of twisted children’s stories (Little Bunny Foo Foo, Hansel and Gretel, etc.) Hogg blends traditional imagery with personaliconography to create a new take on a strange, old tale.
Alex Wiesenfeld’s contribution to the show is a large wall installation of found science experiment cards altered with a mix of magic marker, acrylic paint, and collage. The cards originally outlined and illustrated children performing rudimentary science experiments. The cards, now transformed, are presented in a grid format, which creates a narrative with pigs and bunnies acting as the players. Wiesenfeld creates a world inhabited by stuffed pigs and bunnies rather than children. Some of the players still have children’s bodies only now with oversized bunny heads. In some frames, the bunnies and pigs switch from being those acting to being those acted upon. In other scenes the animals seem overstuffed, pushing at the edge of the drawing’s frame, while in others the players are frozen in erotic positions, trapped in a playful, but bizarre experiment.
In gathering the six artists in G Gobbled It, P Peeped Into It, T Took It, I am trying to tap into the source of earliest wonder. Although each artist employs his/her personal visual language, they share a motivation that draws from aspects of their childhood. Whether that source is cartoons, dolls or children’s stories, these artists are part of a community with a shared history.
– Hamlett Dobbins, Curator
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