Art in the orchard

Social issues and humor in Butcher Shop exhibits

Deception Dioramas at The Butcher Shop.

Deception Dioramas at The Butcher Shop.

Photo by Catherine Sullivan

Butcher Shop art shows, Sunday, Sept. 3, End of Normal.

Every Labor Day weekend for the past eight summers, Chico’s far-flung community of visual artists, musicians, thespians and writers converges—or congeals—at the end of Estes Road for the eclectic and ever-expanding celebration of all things creative known as The Butcher Shop.

What began 28 years ago as a backyard show has blossomed into one of the most popular community events of the year. And while the featured original play is still the thing that inspires and drives the event, the outdoor, orchard venue provides an expansive setting for art exhibitions, side-stage musical performances and an eclectic array of food and beverage vendors. As one friend remarked, the preshow entertainment and peripheral exhibitions have become as much of a draw as the actual play.

For last weekend’s show, the currently displaced 1078 Gallery organized a couple of displays of visual art: Seeing is Believing, featuring various interactive sculpture installations spread across the grounds, and Portraits of Desmond. The latter featured a selection of paintings by local artists depicting Desmond Phillips, a 25-year-old who was shot and killed in his home by Chico police officers after his father called for assistance during a mental health episode on March 17. The gallery’s statement reads: “The goal of this project is to raise awareness of this case and … to address the high incidence of fatal police encounters in our community, especially where mental health issues are involved.”

The images in the modest exhibit included straightforward portraits, such as Katherine Sherman’s realistic depiction of a dreadlocked young man with downcast eyes and an expression of melancholic silence on his lips. Equally expressive, Jonathan Green’s ink sketch over a cloudy background of blue and lavender stares from the paper with lips parted as if asking a question we can never answer.

Julia Murphy’s “Darkness Goes Down to Light” uses six panels to present a more abstract image, with a dark, somewhat splattered background figure seemingly contemplating the image of an innocent, naked baby floating in the foreground. Natalie Windt’s black-and-white collage, “Icarus,” is graphically and symbolically striking, using a woodcut image of the title figure surrounded by silhouettes of hands cut from pages of text juxtaposed with images of feathers and accented with what could be hair snipped from a frayed dreadlock. Presented tightly spaced on one large panel, the group of portraits—accompanied by Cory Hunt’s powerful poem, “Peace for Desmond,” which the writer also performed as a spoken-word piece during the preshow—makes a powerful case that art and social consciousness can and do make powerful allies.

Folded into the Seeing is Believing sculptural garden was another group exhibit, Deception Dioramas, linked with the theme of this year’s play, My Name Was Deception. It was created by students in Butte College’s summer art appreciation course who were instructed to create “layered dioramas expressing how they see deception in our world today,” and the pieces combined whimsy and humor with genuine self- and social-reflection. The arrangement of the identically sized pieces side-by-side atop a wall of matching cardboard boxes gave an impression of glimpsing into the imaginations and concerns of the artists, from Sara Thomas’ “Lies We Tell Ourselves” to Patty Thatford’s “Healthy Smoothie.”

Standing like a totem in the apex of the arc of the Deception Dioramas was another piece from the 1078’s sculpture exhibit. Bob Howard’s “Wanderer” used a charred wooden beam, colorful paint and sparkling marbles to create the evocative, larger-than-human figure of “Fred—King of Liars.” Weird, beautiful and perhaps a bit scary under the smoke-yellowed, near-full moon, the piece seemed to sum up the enigmatic but life-affirming humor that formed the essence of the whole event.