Beasts Of The Inner Wild

From The Garden of Eden to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, animals appear as allegory in countless stories throughout history.​ Bestiary, the new group exhibition at Smart Clothes Gallery, tells the modern day versions of these classic tales. Curated by the delightful Paul Bridgewater, Bestiary explores the symbolic significance of animals as envisioned by seven artists. 

Beauty In The Beast

Emotion and power flow through the sculptures of Wendy Klemperer and Al Wadzinski.  Klemperer’s Stalking Cheetah and Startled Deer embody pure adrenalin and terror through rusted rebar and industrial debris, while her wax and resin sculptures present conquest in various forms.  In False Idols, Wadzinski creates idols out of human detritus: cowboy boots, ropes, zippers and baseball mitts dedicated to our “worship of consumption.”       

"False Idols" by Al Wadzinski. Photo: Marisa Office

Animals symbolize the human psyche in the work of San Francisco-based artist Michael McConnell. On first glance, McConnell’s sculptures depict whimsical imagery of teddy bears lapping up honey and frolicking on logs.  A closer look reveals that the bears are made from the pelts of discarded stuffed animals resewn over taxidermy forms.  Reconstructed and scarred, the animals are trophies of childhood memories survived, if not conquered. 

Dressed-to-impress Sandra Long and a friend become engaged in the work of Sara Tanderø & Tine Isachsen. Photo: Marisa Office

Norwegian artists Sara Tanderø and Tine Isachsen also explore the animalistic side of man in three photographs from their ongoing Play Hide and Seek project.  Inspired by Nordic myths, each image portrays “female archetypes that embody sinister qualities no longer accepted in modern society.” The trappings of modern civilization: fur coats, fine clothing and elegant masks, all fail to conceal the naked bodies and blood-stained lips representing the subjects’ true nature. 

Photographer Valerie Shaff next to her work. Photo: Marisa Office

Whereas McConnell, Tanderø and Isachsen present the animal nature in man, photographer Valerie Shaff focuses on the human nature in animals.  Her stirring portraits of crocodile, rhino, zebra, ibex and snake evoke utterly familiar expressions in these so-called exotic creatures, raising the question of whether the subjects are reflections or merely projections of the human experience. 

Tucker Robbins (L) and Gene DeBartolo enjoying the show. Photo: Marisa Office

Gene DeBartolo also invites contemplation with his minimalist images of the animal form: elegant studies of negative and positive space.  A former oil painter, DeBartolo now works with ink-on-rice paper and photograms. The simplicity and economy of these media, he explained, show how little one needs to be creative—a statement both political and artistic.

Line Drive: wall-mounted horse bust made of baseball mitts by Al Wadzinski. Photo: Marisa Office

Although the stories told by Bestiary are disparate by design, there is one unifying current running through the show:  the absence of artifice. The materials are real, the methods are organic and the artist's hand is very much present in each piece. In the often sterile world of heavy production and technological manipulation, Bestiary feels alive.

Article by Marisa Office