The human relationship with the natural world is a complex one that doesn’t seem to untangle anytime soon. With animal life increasingly being abused and habitats encroached upon anxiety is understandably mounting. Artist Chris Musina address these issues in painting and also sculpture. Musina depicts the uglier side of the human/animal relationship. Rather than highlight idyllic scenes of nature, he draws gruesome imagery of animal mistreatment to the forefront. Animal carcasses are often kept as trophies, dead souvenirs of a once living creature. Painting’s tradition of depicting killed animals is extensive – the fox hunt alone, for example, an entire genre. Appropriately, then, Musina’s animal carcasses are not there to be admired but act as animals condemning the viewer. They seem to be holding an accounting for their present condition in the painting as well as in a larger abstract sense. They act as a tool to deconstruct disassociation. Musina further explains his use of painting in addressing ecological and animal issues:
“Dealing directly with our increasingly volatile and uneasy relationship to the natural world, I draw from contemporary animal thought and a deep phylogeny of cultural cues. My work dismantles how we look at animals via “nature morte” painters, philosophy, hunting, museum dioramas, and the like. Manifested in life size compositions full of dark humor and bright color, I am addressing the animal as neither symbol nor object, but as subject, a subject aware of his or her own powerful symbolic nature. Painting represents the bulk of my practice precisely due to its place in the forefront of a history of representing animals. My paintings are populated with animal protagonists who stare back at the viewer in an uneasy gaze; aware of that place in our cultural history– asking for compassion, mercy, or simply to be put out of their misery.”
Designer Armin Blasbichler‘s work is often jarring. His series ORSON, I’m Home strikes a special chord, though. The series is composed of three “dining sculptures” created primarily from the bodies of various farm animals. While we may be more accustomed to farm animals adorning plates on the furniture, seeing them as taxidermy furniture makes for a surreal juxtaposition. The furniture confronts its users with the consumption it usually facilitates. Interestingly, for the series Blasbichler features a quote from professor and writer Don Slater: “In talking of modern society as a consumer culture, people are not referring simply to a particular pattern of needs and objects […] but to a culture of consumption.”
Emma Kisiel‘s series of photographs At Rest is as intriguing as it is simple. Kisiel happens upon animals that have died, typically roadkill, and sparsely decorates the site. Simply by placing stones and flowers around the carcass, Kisiel draws attention and returns a certain dignity to each animal. Typically these animals are only seen from inside a car as it momentarily passes. Kisiel says of her interaction with the animals in the series:
“They are happened upon, visited with, remembered, and left to return to nature.” [via]
In his latest series of drawings, Anthony Coicolea poetically engages with the term “pathetic fallacy” or our own egocentric inclination to prescribe human characteristics or qualities to all living things. His imagery, done beautifully with simple graphite on layered mylar, allows worlds to overflow with new pattens of transcendence despite an archaic old world order.
Of this series, the artist statement suggests, “In a new hybridized world of man and nature, nothing is permanent and nothing is safe. Humans, plants and animals have cross-pollinated; they have merged, evolved and adopted different features from each other. Objects acquire pathos and empathy while the decomposition of material things reflects the world in flux.
Whether it’s hand painted, collaged, and/or sewn together, Jenny Toth imaginatively entwines colorful drawings of the animal kingdom to meditate on a sometimes humorous, and always surreal study of the female condition.
Of her work, Toth states, “For many years I have been intrigued by the way women artists choose to depict themselves. Like many other artists, my view dramatically differs from a historical approach to the female model. I choose to include elements not traditionally viewed as beautiful—for example, a deformed toe, hairy legs, unkempt hair. However I have no interest in shocking the viewer, but seek to share my honest, uncensored observations. I have always been allergic to pretense and slickness.”
Much of the work of Brandon Vickerd carries an uneasy quality about it. They often feel as if a situation is suddenly shifting from normal to worst-case-scenario. Vickerd’s work reveals the death and disaster hidden beneath the mundane we take for granted. For these pieces, The Passenger and The Passenger II, Vickerd creates life like sculpture from previously living material. Taxidermied animals appear to make up the body of a person that is otherwise waiting. The sculptures were installed in public areas wearing normal clothing.
The paper cut pieces of Wendy Wallin Malinow reveal the deeper goings-on of animals. Malinow’s pieces are cut to expose an x-ray type view of various forest and ocean animals. In addition to the bone structure, a meal is visible inside each animal. While playful, there is also a sad quality to her work. Malinow’s work reveals the nourishment and effort to needed to survive as well as the violence at times inherent in that. A squirrel has ingested some acorn’s while a wolf seems to be filled with the ghost of a red riding hood.
The paintings of artist Charlotte Caron explores both the ancient tendency to humanize animals and the dreams of humans to transform into animals. Caron’s acrylic paintings of animal faces are set on the photographed portraits of people as if they were masks. The people of the photographs not only assume the appearance of the animals, but nearly seem to exude corresponding personalities. The hawk seems harsh, the fox mischievous the deer gentle. The literal anthropomorphizing of animals in the paintings emphasizes how this figuratively takes place. Caron also underscores the contrast between human and animal, and perhaps by extension civilized and animalistic, by also contrasting photography and painting.