The Animal in Contemporary Art II
The complexity of our relationship to animals has been explored in art for centuries. Animals may symbolize peace, freedom, evil, death or even the human condition. They are the ultimate expression of harmony and perfection in nature, and the antithesis of progress. They are our muses, our doppelgangers, our enemies and our friends.
Contemporary artists from around our region are showcasing their animal impressions in the Stremmel Gallery’s latest exhibition, The Animal in Contemporary Art II.
If Emily Dickinson was right that “hope is the thing with feathers,” Catherine Courtenaye’s work resounds with hope. Based on her early experiences with penmanship, Courtenaye, a Montana artist, merges raw, rough swoops of color with bird imagery created by fine lines reminiscent of calligraphy. The combination is a feminine, beautiful meditation that emphasizes the contrast between representational and abstract art.
Fine lines are a hallmark of painter Leonard Koscianski, a master of light whose entries in this show include oil on canvas and egg tempera, a precise, complicated method that captures intricacies like a lion’s whiskers or a macaw’s feathers in his small pieces. Meanwhile, Tom Uttech’s large-scale, representative landscape paintings in hand-painted and hand-carved frames depict wildlife in untamed settings.
In stark contrast are Gaylen Hansen’s primitive oil-on-canvas depictions of such western images as ravens, coyotes, horses and cowboys. The painter, now in his ’90s, is one of the most well-known and significant painters working in the Pacific Northwest. His representations of Washington’s Palouse landscape highlight a comical, fable-like, Native American narrative style.
Though University of Nevada, Reno alumnus Bill Braun’s playful work appears primitive at first glance, a closer look reveals that it’s masterful in its complexity. His trompe l’oeil (“trick the eye”) acrylic paintings appear, immediately, to have been produced by kindergartners; the three-dimensional collages seem to feature cut-out blocks of construction paper, sheet music or magazine photos, along with thumbtacks, staples and even old Dymo embossed labels. Even close examination of the pieces—which feature primary colors and woodland-type scenes that include birds, deer and insects—will reveal shadowing and folding effects so real you almost need to touch it to believe it was painted.
Tom Judd’s collages feature oil paintings of animals, such as elephants or horses, on unusual “canvasses” comprised of maps, dress patterns, handwritten recipes, even book bindings; the juxtaposition points out a contrast between the free-flowing elegance of animals against the manmade, precise elegance of charts and grids.
Brian Christiansen’s sculptural collages are deceptively simple in appearance. In fact, the work is remarkably complex. The UNR graduate repurposes discarded furniture—couches, box springs, mattresses—in order to construct sculptures of animals, primarily deer. By skinning the furniture and displaying it as “hides” in a sort of hunting trophy style, he commemorates his own untraditional “hunt” for cast-offs.
Other sculptors in the exhibit are Adelaide Paul, whose leather-encased sculptures depict abstract, often unsettling images of animals encased in “clothing”; Ken Little, whose trophy heads are made of clothing and accessories (shoes, belts, pants); and Brad Rude, who’s considered one of the top patina masters in the country. Rude, the foundry artist who created the 2002 Artown bighorn sheep, brings several small sculptures to this exhibit, all showcasing his unique “balancing act” style—a horse doing a handstand on an archway, a mountain lion perched on a stick and a wheel while holding a ball on its back.
“There’s huge diversity in the artists and the work,” says gallery director Turkey Stremmel, “but they’re all really strong works.”