When you arrive at a gallery to see paintings by Bret Brown and Lena Rushing standing guard on opposite sides of the entrance, you know you’re in for something good.
Neal Breton, who curated the “VFA 3rd Annual Group Show,” kindly opens it up for me on a hot Sunday afternoon. Vale is an intimate space, and the pieces in the show are well chosen to fill it without feeling crowded.
Back to back with her painting in the front window hangs Lena Rushing’s shadowbox Off Spring. While Rushing’s “straight” paintings are always flawlessly executed, her shadowboxes offer an even greater pleasure. Opposite Off Spring hangs another signifier of the season. Edward Walton Wilcox’s Der Blue Hare’s title playfully recalls the Der Blaue Reiter painters’ group, and the smile on the hare’s face suggests that it is in on the joke.
As you may remember from my blurb of the show in our April 10 issue, I was impatiently awaiting the return of Breton’s trademark foxes, and I was not disappointed. Deathblow and Leathers hang side by side, their violent voluptuousness seeming poised for battle. The foxes’ fertile figures still work in perfect contrast to their hostile expressions and drawn blades, but their vivid, cartoon colors now have a sepia wash, adding pathos to their pop-art vibe.
But the scoop of the show is the debut of a new species of deity in the Breton pantheon: deer, purple-toned and quite clearly male. How Soon Is Now hangs just far enough away to avoid the battle, though these stags are nonetheless armed with bows and arrows suggestive of penetration. They’re an exciting addition to Breton’s repertoire—these ladies and gentlemen of the forest seem destined to appear in a canvas together.
Additional offerings from Rushing follow, including the complex Cardinal Apple, which recalls the raven haired Joan Vollmer, William Burroughs’ unlucky wife. The birds circling her head form a sort of halo—perhaps the one she earned following that ill-conceived game of William Tell. Next door, Christine’s cracks and fissures suggest an “old masters” oil painting, in contrast with the contemporary dress and punkish blue bob of the model. The anticipation of decay and the title offer an oblique nod to the iconic Andrew Wyeth painting Christina’s World, which is painted in egg tempera, a medium destined to degrade.
Opposite Breton’s brood is a cluster of birds and other little beasties collaged and painted onto wood by Walt Hall. If you liked his wistful Fly Away Cloud Birds in “Savages,” be prepared to spend some serious time visually parsing this complex collection of pieces. Our Last Parade, in which a handful of personified teeth gleefully strut next to a dentist and his young patient, is especially clever. The near-miniature All Dressed Up features a caterpillar in a top hat reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, and indeed the theme of the entire collection could be summed up as “we’re all mad here.”
Bret Brown’s The Sun Came Out in Portland is an endearing family portrait of Sendakian creatures—like the Wild Things, but less dysfunctional. In Brown’s world, there’s no pressure to separate the wilderness from the domestic sphere.
Los Osos artist Josh Talbott’s clever toy paintings juxtapose the high and the low by rendering Legos and doll heads in striking photorealism—their colors almost more real than real life. Wisely placed in the middle of the show, they offer a refreshing pause as the viewer pulls back layer after layer of humor. These paintings aren’t exactly laughing at us, but they’re definitely smiling. The psychedelia of Breton’s Fiasco Gallery partner Jeff Claassen answer Talbott’s work from across the room with their own colorful irreverence.
At the back of the gallery, Edward Walton Wilcox’s hare is followed up by several more neo-gothic paintings and sculptures that, at first glance, make the viewer wonder if someone’s been storyboarding Terry Gilliam’s Tideland. Wilcox’s Wandering Agnes recalls to my mind Rushing’s contribution to the “Savages” show, which also featured a dottore della peste beaked mask—is this a fine arts trend I don’t know about, or are masks with beaks just that cool?
The exquisite vintage paper collages of Hope Kroll finish off the show—a perfectly arranged dessert cart at the end of a hearty meal, they cleanse the palate. Her Absent but Dear, Waiting Game, and others deal in the intersection of machineries: human machinery both physical and psychological, the organic machinery of nature, and actual Rube Goldbergian gadgets.
The gallery wouldn’t normally be open today, but the signs of life attract a few passersby through the door, including a friendly middle-aged couple who don’t appear to have come to Paso on a sunny Sunday for the art.
“These are adorable,” says the woman, but I don’t catch whether she’s looking at Bret Brown’s charming wild things or Walt Hall’s forlorn feathered friends. “It’s different,” the woman concludes after she and her more reticent partner thank Breton on their way out.
So come to see something different—for the third year in a row. The difference is spreading.
Arts Editor Erin C. Messer gets stabby with the other lady foxes at email@example.com.