Alcove's gallery attendance straddles an impressive age demographic. Apparently, "hip" and "young" are not mutually exclusive... (Photo by Kristin Quackenbush)
War and Peace: an exhibition of four artists named, perhaps fittingly, after a 2,000+ page novel. Although there was nothing overly cerebral about Alcove Gallery's latest show, it certainly upped the ante - both visually and conceptually.
Canteen by Sid Watters. (Courtesy of Alcove Gallery)
Influx by Leslie Ditto.
In the main exhibition room, Sid Watters' vaguely Civil and World War-themed still lifes were directly juxtaposed with Leslie Ditto's aggressively stylized allegories. It seemed like an unusual choice, considering the understated "quiet" of Watters' canteens, rifles, and cavalry sabers – armaments of warfare rendered in the style of Caravaggio and presented with the pungent silence of grandfather’s closet. It gave the show an unexpectedly traditional twist.
Helmet by Sid Watters.
Watters' entries to the show are much more subdued than his previous work... The images on Alcove's website look like action-packed scenes from a graphic novel, reminiscent of the recent adaptation of The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.
(Though to me, Watters' paintings - by fine art standards and by comic book standards - are superior to anything I've seen in The Dark Tower so far... If you click the fifth thumbnail from the top, there's a painting of some kind of robot Jedi. Riding horseback. Wow.)
But compared to the art seen at Alcove over the past year or two, it was a refreshing change of pace. At a gallery that throws an annual event called Cartoon Madness, the repeated saccharine of happy-go-lucky can potentially overwhelm. Pairing Ditto with Watters seemed like an appropriate curatorial move (see gallery image above); the contrast really worked.
Humiliating End by Benji Williams.
I am Western Imperialism....Or maybe not.
I am the Oil-devouring Cthulhu!
Run you little bastards! Run!!
I am the Oil-devouring Cthulhu!
Run you little bastards! Run!!
I'm not too familiar with Benji Williams' work, but it certainly benefits from a slightly political upgrade. Although there's nothing terribly wrong with fun, whimsical art, I don't find paintings of cartoon scientists or costumed dogcatchers to be very compelling.
(Please forgive my ignorance; I've obviously taken these works out of context without regard to their purpose. I'm sure they were commissions of some sort.) On the other hand, I believe Williams' somewhat psychedelic triptych of schoolgirls "riding the snake" is still hanging up at Alcove.
And his war allegories are an excellent follow-up: Nazi platoons marching with smiley faces on their shoulders, maniacal commanders, and tanks laid to ruin by the serpentine "arms" of Nature (above). I especially liked his use of botanical forms - abstracted in varying degrees of flatness - in works like Life in Death.
Freed by Leslie Ditto.
Leslie Ditto's work uses an eclectic iconography. Although her paintings appropriate from fairly recognizable pop culture and art historical sources, she understands how to own her symbolism.
In Freed (above), an homage to Salvador Dali's melting clocks dangles from the outstretched hand of a fiery warrior woman. She's dressed, although minimally so, in the garb of a modern soldier, while her hair billows in voluptuous waves and curls reminiscent of Botticelli's Birth of Venus. You can imagine a gust of scorching air blowing from what appears to be a ravine of hellfire in the background.1
The fire, the melting pocket watch, and the ashes of our heroine's dying cigarette occupy the same conceptual plane. The combined message - something to the effect of "at edge of apocalypse" - is completed yet complicated by that pathetic paper crane floating above the heroine's palm. It's made of newspaper. The "apocalypse" is caused, at least in part, by disinformation.
I'm probably putting words in the artist's mouth, but to me, the suggestion doubles the irony of Dali's title - The Persistence of Memory. War and peace? History? Why do we forget so easily?
The origami crane also sympathizes with Ditto's other War and Peace submissions, particularly the ones that meditate on the regretful legacy of the Pacific War and the development of the nuclear bomb. I wasn't able to find any good images, but she entered two other pieces named Little Boy and The Fat Man. Playful yet wholly demented, they were cartoon personifications of the devices that detonated, respectively, over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Take this piece for instance. Similar Sorrows - in terms of scale and tight execution - was certainly one of the most impressive pieces of the show. I don't think I can completely "unwrap" this painting at the moment, and really, I don't think it's necessary. Through what appears to be a very calculated balance of symbolism, coupled with a healthy dose of "psychotic" imagination, Ditto achieves a very potent visual metaphor.
There's a lot going on here: yin and yang expressed in human flesh, complimented by the flags of former enemies, and united by some bizarre industrial specter reminiscent of H.R. Giger. Emotions collide, rolling from sympathy (enjoined arms) to apocalyptic dread (melting skin and bone), a sense of erotic "invasion" and the vulnerability thereto, and, of course, mourning and regret. The woman on the left clenches a set of military dog tags.
Asian diptych by Leslie Ditto
When I think of Ditto's earlier works... it all makes sense in retrospect, but I wouldn't have expected this turn of direction a year ago. Here, the details - other than the attention paid to the texture of silk and the attempt to capture the feel of Japanese ghost stories - aren't too concerned with accurate, "ethnic" features.
Compare with the female lead of Lady Snowblood, an early yakuza classic, or with Takashi Miike's disturbingly beautiful Audition. Neither the left nor the right side of the diptych completely fulfills what you'd call a "true to life" representation. But it's clear that each woman is a mirror reflection of the other. The paintings, as in Similar Sorrows, are abstractions dealing with themes of womanhood and the alienation of self and other.
So maybe now it makes sense why these images
Little Secrets, from 2007.
register as a logical leap from works like Little Secrets, painted only last year. Ditto is based in Alabama, and although she's certainly no "greenhorn," her career in Atlanta began in earnest only recently. In just a year's time, she's demonstrated a surprising vigor and range of subject matter.
When I first saw her work, with her very feminine yet morbid themes and her intentional or accidental use of vanitas symbolism (fruit, open flowers juxtaposed with death), I immediately
Wheel of Fortune by Audrey Flack.
thought of Audrey Flack. Very exciting stuff. But when I asked Leslie about her influences, the first two artists she cited were Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo. You know, the guy who
Poster illustration by Boris Vallejo.
did all those Amazon chicks on the covers of old fantasy novels. You can read Ditto's artist statement here. Not at all what I expected.
Damn... It seems my intellect has failed yet again. Oh well.
* Unfortunately, I couldn't acquire images by the fourth artist of War and Peace - Cynthia Tollefsrud. Here's a link to her website. Her work was fairly fanciful, and it generally seemed to center on a message of peace and tranquility. Sorry.
1 Although this is probably a far tangent, the red-haired figure in Ditto's Freed also reminds me of the legend of Mad Meg, as painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. The folklore described her as a girl of superhuman size who was so fierce she led an invasion into the Hell itself. Perhaps a proto-feminist even...