Beate Rodewald, associate professor of English at Palm Beach Atlantic, and I talked about symbolism on our way to the Red Dot Fair during Art Basel week in Miami (Dec. 4-9). It’s not just cut and dried — one size fits all, she said. About snakes, for example, although they are associated with evil in Christian culture, other cultures think of them differently depending on the context. In ancient Egypt, the snake was revered; In India, the snake is still worshiped as a god; In ancient Greece, the snake was a symbol for the healer; In Native American mythology, it symbolizes male energy.
In that vein, Adriane Arleo’s “Brambles” at Jane Sauer, a gallery (Santa Fe), caught our attention.
With snakey Medusa-like hair, this lady, though, has deer growing out of her head. “For over two decades, I have been creating sculpture that combines human and animal imagery in a variety of ways,” Arleo says in her artist statement. “Some of these works allude to a relationship of understanding or connection between the human and animal realms. In others, the human figures possess animal faces, limbs or other features in a way that reveals something hidden about the character of primal nature of the person.”
Jenny Keith loves animals and nature. Her works often have a narrative quality, into which she occasionally incorporates text. In addition, she also creates large-scale abstract works influenced by microscopic cellular imagery. She showed both styles at Feral Fine Art Gallery (Edmonton Alberta, Canada).
Below, her beeswax work,”Lioness Regrets,” shows a “lioness who ate birds. She lets them out, but she’s upset about it. She’s apologizing begrudgingly,” Keith said.
To create her pieces, she builds up layers of melted beeswax with some of the colors under the layers of wax, and others on top of the wax to give depth, she said. A multi-sensory piece, it does has an interesting texture, kind of like polished marble, but soft and it smells good, too, Rodewald noted.
At Kips Gallery (New York City), works of animals by Korean artist Park Kwang-ill are featured. They look sort of soft and pillowy. What kind of animal? Not sure. Maybe more of a fish and kind of cute, in a Pokemon sort of way.
Skipping over to the fruit, vegetables and the insect world, Bonnie Seeman’s work was shown at Duane Reed Gallery (St. Louis).
Here’s what she says about what she does in her artist statement: “I am very interested in the utilitarian object and how it can be used as a means of narration. My work blends the macabre with the beautiful, which acts as a metaphor for the fragility and resiliency of life.
“By using my interest in morphology and anatomy, I present the viewer with a detailed examination of the living structures of the natural world. The juxtaposition of the botanical and the anatomical elements can simultaneously be jarring, disquieting, and beautiful. This dichotomy also enhances the tactile quality of the work, enticing personal interaction with the viewer.
“While producing my work, these elements weigh on my mind until a peace reaches its fruition.”
Below is a piece by Randall Mooers, shown at George Billis Gallery (Los Angeles). It’s called “Mountaineers,” and it is an oil-on-panel. Imbued with personality, on a soft white background, I like the red and yellow against the white and I wonder about the symbolism of that Oreo.
Each artist does seem to have created his or her own dictionary of personal metaphors. How is it that a squash got to be a mountain?
And then there’s “Biography,” which really seems to be an autobiography. This sculpture is by Neil Goodman and was shown at Perimeter Gallery (Chicago).
He works with forms out of wood, which are then cast. Each piece resembles an earlier larger work, and represents a letter in his alphabet.
Strung together, they tell the story of his works as a whole.
Above is a work by Nahila Campos called “Agnes’ Room,” and is what she calls an imaginary scenery. For this piece, she had found objects, including a photo of her Aunt Agnes, among her father’s belongings and bits and scraps from her own personal collection of “stuff.” A woman of the 1920s, Agnes appealed to Campos. “I tried to imagine the scenery of that time and recreate that space,” she said.
The photo is spliced in above doors that “could go anywhere,” and have “Do not disturb” signs. They have keyholes with people placed inside them, because others like to know what’s going on inside and like to peak, Campos noted. The chandelier is central to the work, and there are stairs that don’t go anywhere in particular. Campos has a studio in Wyndwood.
There’s whimsy; there’s heavy. Below are two pieces that are weighty.
To the left is Renzo’s “The New Prophet,” a bronze sculpture shown at Simard Bilodeau Gallery (Montreal), and to the right is Conor Walton’s “Still Life with Judgement” shown at CK Contemporary (San Francisco) .
From Renzo’s artist statement: “As the father of Lucid Realism, an artistic style that draws heavily on his experiences with the indigenous cultures of Australia, Costa Rica, and Mexico as it expresses the commonality of the human experience through symbolic, abstract and figurative expressionism, he encourages the viewer to perceive the cohesion between reality and dream.”
Conor Walton’s artist statement reads: “Everything I do in still life is done tactically, strategically, self-consciously. I end up trying to treat the painting as a miniature drama, a microcosm. I use objects that have meaning for me and try to get the whole painting to make a statement, to express an attitude. And because still life is an art of objects, attitudes like objectivity, materialism, fatalism, nihilism, are easily accessible through the genre. It’s a battleground for me, a way of waging small-scale war against modernity.”
“Inheritance Renaissance Art” by Kevin Grass is about saying no to alcoholism, with visual “echos” of Renaissance art, noted Rodewald: “Art got him out from under it. The image reminds me of Masaccio’s fresco, “The Holy Trinity” in the Santa Maria Novella. In Masaccio’s work, you see Christ on the cross and the skeleton underneath. It reminds you of mortality.
“Grass has reversed the order. He’s on the bottom with his father, grandfather, and the skeleton above him. The Past is sitting on top of him, weighing him down and difficult to crawl out from under. He has a book in his arms and the spine reads, “Renaissance Art.”
“Thinking back to “Biography,” you see how these artists make sense of their past.” Grass has a studio in Tarpon Springs.
On a lighter side (sort of), Jane Seymour was at Red Dot with her new series, Open Heart Family, with artwork and a new book.
“It’s all about how we connect with people,” she said. “My mother was in a concentration camp during World War II. She could have escaped, but her best friend was pregnant, so she stayed with her.
“They promised each other that if they had families, they would be families with one another, so I grew up with these Dutch kids. Always, I try to live my life to accept challenge, to open my heart and reach out. That gives you love in your life,” she said. Her gallery is in Los Angeles.
And, finally, here’s one last artist, Ray Neubert, whose studio is in West Palm Beach.
Below is his work, “Twins.”
“I was in McDonald’s in Cleveland and this man was just somebody who came in. I sketched him, and he ended up with a blue face, which I liked. I didn’t know what the symbol was on his shirt, but when I looked it up, I found out it was from the Batman movie.
‘Twins’ has nothing to do with the picture. It’s just the way I put things together. ‘Twins’ is part of my tryptic on tension, drama and conflict.”