She’s a super freak

Even if your ghoulish tendencies vanished werewolf-style once the clock struck Nov. 1, you won’t want to miss Monster, Patte Loper’s solo exhibition at the 1078 Gallery.

Continuing this week and closing Nov. 16, the Seattle-area artist’s paintings are based on a 16th-century text by philosopher and scholar Ambroise Pari titled On Monsters and Marvels, which documented and illustrated birth defects, diseases, illness, and sightings of monsters and unknown animals. Loper is interested in the scientific process that was used in the creation of this document. As the epitome of the field of science at the time, it is not only a product of empirical knowledge but also of alchemy, religion, and cultural bias.

The result is a body of work that depicts girls and women with missing or extra body parts, fur instead of youthful skin, or period decorative designs as patterned birthmarks. The portraits appropriate a lot from 16th-century northern European masters, having a dark-brown, ambiguous background and the illusion of light emanating from the figures, who are either nude or dressed in period attire and holding various props.

We are comfortable with this familiar form of decorative display, and the saccharine colors and decorative elements allow us to get close to the freakish combinations. Then the reality of the form snaps us back from the land of curiosity and wonder into slight discomfort and physical awareness.

With titles like “A Girl Born with Fur Because of the Imagination of Her Parents” and “Prolific Decoration Is a Characteristic of Primitive Races,” the works exhibited here exemplify the logic of science and human studies at the time. The latter depicts a nude woman classically posed and painted in an overstuffed chair with cloth draped across her truly porcelain skin—with Dutch blue and white decorative pattern swirls all over her body.

The work is exquisite—conceptually and visually one of the tightest exhibitions in recent memory.