Tag Archives: Contemporary Art Toledo

Thinking with Animals

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Reintroduction II (Grey Wolf) by Emily White

Animals. They share our beds, our homes, our back yards.  We love them, as friends and as dinner.  And in some ways our relationship with them reflects a confused and self-contradictory understanding of our place in nature, a place that is being reassessed in the early 21st century as we confront climate change, animal cruelty and mass extinction.

Our fraught  relationship with animals forms the premise of Thinking with Animals, a thoughtful collection of  exquisite artworks currently on view at River House Arts in Toledo. Artists Jessica Tenbusch and Morgan Barrie have curated this exceptionally beautiful show, and share the gallery walls with the work of fellow artists  Julie Bahn, Emily White and Breanne Sherwood.

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Artifacts/Ecofacts (detail) by Jessica Tenbusch

Jessica Tenbusch employs silver and bronze casts of natural objects such as animal bones, insect exoskeletons and bits of plants in dialog with highly refined manmade materials to create a series of lapidary landscapes displayed in a grid pattern.  The overall effect is one of beauty and order that invites close looking.  Each single component of her piece Artifacts/Ecofacts is a complete work of art but together they constitute a world of minute perception.

Morgan Barrie’s two large photo collages riff humorously on the well known Netherlandish Unicorn in Captivity  tapestry owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She adapts the decorative plants from the original tapestry by introducing  plants native to the upper Midwest, such as purple coneflowers, black-eyed susans and joe pye weed, digitally collaged on a dark background. nature-9-dogIn the center of the composition formerly occupied by the mythical unicorn are life-size domestic companion animals, the dog  and the cat, surrounded by what appears to be modern storm fencing of the type available at Lowe’s or Home Depot. The dog in Tapestry is a handsome boxer and, as it happens, her own family dog . Though chained, he seems to be comfortable in his confinement, while the feral-looking cat in Captivity lurks within the fence, scheming to  escape.

Fiber artist Breanne Sherwood is clearly in love with the substance of nature. She shows a particular  affinity for the decorative qualities of bird plumage in Relics of Santiam, embellishing  disembodied avian wings with carefully embroidered and appliqued threads and tulle. They retain their anatomical identity but the delicacy of the artist’s handling imparts reverence to these relics of departed creatures. Sherwood’s more ambitiously scaled One Yard, One Bird applies human organization and emotional tenderness to a fatal event.

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One Yard, One Bird by Breanne Sherwood

The intimidatingly-sized and accomplished paintings of wild animals native to North America  in Emily White’s two artworks Reintroduction II (Grey Wolf) and Velvet (a truly disturbing  life-size rendering of a moose shedding the velvet  skin of its antlers)  dominate the gallery.  They  look as if they could easily grace the walls of a natural history museum.  The landscapes in which the animals stand are surrounded by highly finished birch plywood, framing the wilderness in civilization. Easily missed in the paintings are the artist’s sly additions of human technology into the natural environment.

Julie Bahn’s work is the most directly political of the group.  She addresses human consumption of animals for food  and consumerism in One Hundred Twenty Eight Days of Protein.  A silver plate is piled high with the broken bones of consumed animals, embellished and be-dazzled by Swarovski crystals, ready to be re-cycled and re-consumed as art.  Her soft sculpture Hug Me, is a tantalizing visual enigma. The large vinyl fish with strangely human eyes hangs limply from the gallery ceiling, a glittering tag around its neck, inviting us to engage with it as a fellow creature, not just as dinner.

Artists, always the shock troops of changing cultural attitudes, are thinking hard about the way forward in our relationship with nature, and in the process creating art that resonates, questions and inspires with its beauty. The work in Thinking With Animals ably addresses the complexity and ambivalence of our evolving thoughts about animals, humans and our place in the environment.  

For more about Thinking with Animals and River House Arts, go here .  If you’d like to read more about animals and art, go here.

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One Hundred and Twenty Eight Days of Protein by Julie Bahn
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Quiet Glass in Toledo

 

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Static Puddle by Jessica Jane Julius

When someone says “art glass” do you think immediately of the colorful, often whimsical and crowd-pleasing objects that are staples of  art fairs and craft festivals? Well, think again.

HUSH.ex, a  group show of four artists from Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art, on view until November 4 at River House Gallery in Toledo, will re-order your preconceptions of what glass as art can be and do.

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Tall Vase with Thorny Vine by Amber Cowen

Working within a narrow range of colors and a broad array of glass types, Megan Biddle, Amber Cowan, Jessica Jane Julius and Sharyn O’Mara have filled the gallery with a collection of visually and conceptually challenging work that refuses the flashy over-stimulation of the digital age. The easy appeal, saturated colors and fluid shapes of conventional art glass have been replaced by a more austere vision that is expressive of solitude and silence. The artworks are predominately black, white and shades in between;  the types of glass include production milk glass, airport grade glass reflector beads,  found and second-life glass and more.  The artists heat, crack, fuse, burn and pour their way to artworks that push the medium of art glass well beyond its previous aesthetic borders.

Jessica Jane Julius’s Static Puddles are made by pouring black matte glass over shards of canework. The story of their production is evident in the jagged centers of black and white surrounded by the  gloppy shape of each piece, but that is secondary to the lyrical appeal of these weightless black blooms.  In another instance of prosaic material transcended by the poetic, Julius has applied airport grade glass reflector beads suspended in paint on four panels to create a wavy, translucent river that flows across the wall of the gallery. The title of the piece is Absorption.

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Milk Glass Installation by Amber Cowan

 

Recycled, up-cycled and second-life glass provides the raw material for the works of Amber Cowan.  Her installation of commonly recognizable milk glass objects, heated and deformed, transforms these everyday vessels into ghostly memorials to their humble use. In Tall Vase with Thorny Vines, Cowan has heated a production vase, pierced it and collaged ceramic plants into it, shaping it into a matte white still life that is both familiar and surreal.

The work of Megan Biddle focuses on process-driven work  that emphasizes the unique qualities of materials and their response to outside forces such as time, growth, erosion, breakage. (In addition to her glass work, she produces installation, sculpture, drawing and video.)  Her Further for Now  series examines the way that layers of cracked glass can create a kind of line drawing on a hazy, semi-transparent field.

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Further for Now 1-4 by Megan Biddle

 

Dog hair, optical fiber and typewriter tape are the eccentric components that characterize the work of Sharyn O’Mara.   Particularly prominent in this exhibit are her carbon burn-out “drawings” on glass.  These hair-on-glass process pieces are abstract, yet often seem to reference seed pods or plants.  They have an ethereal quality, as if they might disappear into thin air, blown away by fugitive winds.

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Botanical IV by Sharyn O’Mara

 

The glass art that is featured in HUSH.ex is neither easy nor pretty nor decorative, but satisfies on a deeper level.  These four artists demonstrate that there are many unexplored avenues for discovery in this medium that is so central to the regional aesthetic. They point the way to a creative trajectory in art glass that is cerebral, experimental and conceptually rigorous.

HUSH.ex is the second in a series of museum-quality exhibits organized by Contemporary Art Toledo, a collaborative partnership of gallerist Paula Baldoni of River House Gallery with Brian Carpenter, Gallery Director at the University of Toledo.  (Their first exhibit was Beautiful Pig). The goal of CA+ is to  provide a showcase in the Toledo area for provocative and groundbreaking  contemporary artwork by nationally known and regional artists.

For more information about HUSH.ex and River House Gallery hours go here