Birds are everywhere in Lynette Krehe’s Butte College exhibit
Busy birds, strings that sing and make gangly creatures dance, faces with hair whipping in an imaginary wind—almost everywhere is movement in Listening Eyes, an exhibit by Chico artist Lynette Krehe. It is a curious show seemingly plucked right out of the artist’s stream of consciousness, featuring 18 mixed-media creations in the Coyote Gallery on the Butte College campus.
In “Third Bird Awakening,” finely honed male figures clad in bird-beak hat/masks preen in a dance, their muscular profiles framed in three arched doorways. Chickens race around their feet with other ghostly images—cars, house paint brushes and vases rendered in stabilio pencil, water soluble crayons or stamped with hand-carved block prints and rubber stamps—they’re all caught in a surrealistic whirl. Painted on a plastered background sanded, then washed again and again with color, the total effect is vibrant, a mysterious Mardi Gras dreamscape.
In other pieces, Krehe’s penchant for music comes to the fore. Using recycled wooden wine boxes, she creates mini-theaters laced with old guitar strings that she calls “twang.” Here too, she plasters, sands and paints to mimic antiquity, layers of years and patina.
In this show the artist actually encourages viewers to interact with her pieces, to strum the strings and make music, an unusual request since typically touching artwork is highly discouraged. But Krehe confesses in her artist’s statement that she created the theater boxes purely for “self-amusement” and evidently wanted to share the fun by making these interactive pieces user friendly.
“Bird Dance”, almost a companion piece to “Third Bird Awakening,” features a luscious red- and rich eggplant-hued background for three little paper-and-wire, two-faced bird-man figures. A gentle stroke of the five strings generates music for them to perform like happy little marionettes, as if dancing inside a guitar.
“Red Wheels” offers an intricately decorated, Middle-Eastern-flavored tile adorning the weathered back wall, a contrast with the casual stance of one of Krehe’s signature creatures christened “Herme” (short for hermaphrabird). With a bird beak, a Herme is always long limbed, fashioned of plaster and wire, to dance at the slightest movement. This Herme dances happily when the three “twang” are stroked. The shiny crimson wheels replacing his feet add a humorous twist to his moves.
On another stop in Krehe’s stream of consciousness, an acrylic on plaster painting, “Orchards Ago,” reaches back to her Yuba City roots. As stylized red houses grow more prominent in hue and stature, the bare stark skeletons of wintering walnut trees ghost away in charcoal. Too bad this piece reflects 21st-century reality as the encroaching hand of development grows ever encompassing over precious farmland in this fertile valley.
Another wall features a series of four masks fashioned of a fibrous, almost translucent paper, soaked in polymer then stretched over copper wire—the same material Krehe used to form the bird men. Titled “Treis,” the masks offer a tribal flavor to the show. Krehe has infused a dynamic rhythm in them, with wild, Medusa-like hair flailing above those eerily freeze-framed and contorted facial expressions. Amusingly, the artist contends “their strands of hair can be shaped into different styles.”
She also shares her sketchbook at the gallery entrance. That’s where you can find out that the paper she uses for the masks is kinwasi paper and the fiber lending the organic, tactile quality is really hemp. It’s where viewers can really get inside Krehe’s head and read about her creative visions and see her preliminary drawn ideas before they end up in their various incarnations on the gallery walls.