Art Review: Contemporary fun at Kortman

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-116543542330434.jpg’, ‘Image of artwork shown here in black and white.’, ‘“Loser” painting by Kristine Allen McMahon, part of “The Peaceable Kingdom” exhibit at Kortman Gallery.’);

This holiday season, Kortman Gallery presents a thoroughly contemporary exhibition curated by Robert, Marlene and Robin McCauley, titled “The Peaceable Kingdom: Animals in Art.” The McCauleys note that animals are such a part of our culture, marketing and entertainment scene that they have become anthropomorphized. “Animals become us, and we become animals,” the artists wrote. Yet, they also note there are few animals in art history, or even in contemporary art. This exhibition, in its small way, undertakes to reverse this trend.

All that is fun and definitively contemporary is represented in this show—from visual jokes and political statements, to unusual materials combined with the traditional. For instance, Molly Carter presents us with a fairy princess in a complicated powdered wig. This princess is attended by large moths in the extreme foreground. The basic artwork is in pen and ink, with a slight wash, but this girly image is really created by “drawing” the princess and her attendants with stitching on a sewing machine.

“Suddenly the Game Turned Cruel” is an outstanding example of humor in art. Kristine Allen McMahon seems to promote animal rights when she paints a realistic deer with a full rack of antlers. But the game she is presenting is not one of hunter and hunted, but of (drum roll) cat’s cradle. The buck has bright blue twine wrapped around his antlers in this childhood game that I had loved but forgotten about. It is definitely cruel to expect a hoofed animal to play cat’s cradle.

Probably the most difficult work in the show is the most puzzling and, therefore, compelling. Cherri Rittenhouse’s “Urchin” is surreal with a touch of Jasper Johns in the lower left corner where a face, with a twinkle in its eye, peeks in from the side. What is she looking at? A figure in pencil with a blank face and a loooooong arm studies an urchin with spots, fins and very much alive eyes on a platter. Up the side of the work is a stripe of crayfish and a polka dotted and bent fork. The piece is in pale gouache and pencil, and the pencil’s early tracings are visible under the paint, showing the early thoughts of its creator. This artist may be playing with the art critic’s mind, but I sure enjoyed the fun.

Amanda M. McGough’s piece “Painting in Tongues” is a visual rendition of speaking in tongues. Two realistically painted tongues, one human and one not, lap down from the top of this small white work. There are three light pencil marks under the human tongue. Is it trying to talk or wiggle itself at the viewer?

Colored pencil is showing up more and more in the art world. Here, Matt Vincent works with detailed, realistic drawings of a bird, leaves, a frog, newts and fish. How do you take drawings like these and morph them into a unified, but contemporary, statement? He plays three (or more) drawings against each other by cutting the piece with the bird image into an arched shape and joining his disparate pieces together with colored grommets and string. The title cinches “Yellow Rumped Warblers Never Sit Still.”

Lyn Fischer has a not-so-subtle statement to make, “Dogs Don’t Lie, They Don’t Have an Agenda.” This ceramic dog is about a foot high. Made with red clay, its fur is suggested by scratching hairs through a mat-finish, white glaze to show the red clay beneath. This is no ordinary dog, though. It is wearing a removable mask of red clay and wire. The mask is a human face with Pinocchio’s nose.

There are many other wonderful pieces in this show. I have run out of space, but not admiration and enthusiasm, for artists’ work not mentioned here. See them for yourselves at Kortman Gallery, upstairs from J.R. Kortman Center for Design, 107 N. Main St., downtown Rockford. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday-Saturday.

Susan Webb Tregay is an artist and author living in Rockford. She has just returned from filming a DVD in England to accompany her book, due in March.

From the Dec. 6 – Dec. 12, 2006, issue

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