Curator David Klarén’s invitational exhibition Animal | Totem, is now on display in the Art Association’s Loft Gallery, downtown Jackson.
Klarén gathered a group of practicing contemporary artists, whose work he finds “fresh and interesting,” to explore the idea of totems in ways that appealed to them in “fun and thoughtful ways.” The results, Klarén felt, would stand slightly apart from each artist’s particular path and allow them to utilize materials and processes differently than what they are accustomed to.
None of the artists participating in the show are Native; but as a society we now freely use terms like “totem” or “spirit animal,” “animal medicine” and “fetish.” In his description of the show, Klarén includes a fuller history of the use of animals as symbol and subject in art, noting the earliest known cave drawings and our personal affiliations with animal spirits.
“Shields, flags and other heraldry are emblazoned with lions, wolves, eagles and other animals, including fantastical beasts such as dragons, gryphons or thunderbirds,” notes Klarén. “We use animals every day to convey the spirit of what we make, sell or do: the swiftness of the impala, the wild strength of the mustang or the quiet elegance of the jaguar.”
First Nations of the Northwest created the earliest known totem poles. Carvings depict animals and spirit beings, members of families and illustrate the rights and stature of family members. Today, automobile manufacturers and sports teams regularly align themselves with wildlife or Native culture. It’s important to correct our tendancy to name anything after people, places or things associated with Native culture unless we’re Native—but animals are a different story. We associate with animals. They are messengers, reminders; they balance the Earth’s well-being, they don’t set out to destroy themselves. We dream about animals, and here in Teton County, in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, home to one of the greatest migratory paths in the world, we put wildlife first. At least that’s what we say. Any reminder that nature is crucial to protect is more than warranted—it’s critical. And we identify with animals because we are animals ourselves.
Klarén encouraged work based on any or all realities and myths, the fantastic– even humor. Sam Dowd’s “Dangerous Animals” is a clay vessel encircled with sharp-toothed mammal hieroglyphs. A spectral human figure in bad-guy clothing is aggressively postured, gun in hand. He squeezes off a round of bullets into a dinosaur. The vessel’s primary image is a pointed weapon.
Margaret Haydon’s “Totem IV” takes a lighter approach. Breaking away from her usual ceramic medium, Haydon’s totem towers include spring-colored (bright blues, a “Florida” green) ceramic birds atop two glass and brass candlesticks. Can we assume Haydon views birds as nature’s most important living creature? Or are they simply being birds, perky and singing, in the branches above? Will birds, if we don’t do more to protect the environment, have nowhere to perch but our furniture?
Haydon’s use of glass gives her sculpture a fresh, inviting quality; but she sees through us. Her full body of work is exquisite, museum-quality art; she is a professor of ceramics at the University of Wyoming. In 2019 her intricate Sturgeon Song, 2016, crafted of cast porcelain, was included in 2019’s Wyoming Arts Council Biennial Fellowship Exhibition.
On her home page, Haydon writes: I work with image elements from the natural world, and am attentive to changes in habitat and animal narratives. Through this investigation I have grown increasingly interested in the broader environmental predicament. Each day brings a new story highlighting the exploitation of various species from sturgeon and shark, to bee and golden frog. The more we become tangled up in technology, the greater the distance grows between society and the natural environment.
There’s much food for thought in this exhibiton. In addition to those mentioned here, “Totem” participating Wyoming artists include Christopher Amend, Richard Burke, Jenny Dowd, Holland Dutton, Camellia El-Antably, Lea Hardy, Favian Hernandez, Eric Lee, Lyndsay McCandless, Charm McLellan, Bronwyn Minton, Mae Orm, Mark Ritchie, Robin Sruoginis, Mark Vinich and, from Brooklyn, New York, Jun Ishida.
“Totem” remains on exhibiotion at the Art Association Loft Gallery through mid-March. All works are for sale. www.artassociation.org
Speaking of manotaurs, Pinedale artist Sue Sommers is putting together a solo show of new paintings, drawings, and woodblock prints at Mystery Print Gallery, March 4 – April 30th, 2020. An opening reception takes place Thursday, March 12, 5-8:00 pm at the gallery in Pinedale.
“Manotaurs,” says Sommers, “are my inquiry into humanimal behavior, the shadowy space in which people act according to the mandates of their bodies rather than their minds. Manotaurs walk the fenceline between genetic survival and social survival, between technology and morality.” View all Sommers’ latest manotaurs at www.suesommers.com.
Jackson Hole artists definitely have their fingers on the pulse of change in Teton County. Development is an engine that can’t seem to get enough combustible fuel around here. Nature is always at risk; so are the old buildings and customs….close to completely erased….of the Town of Jackson. It ain’t what it used to be, and now one of Jackson’s most iconic buildings and resorts, The Virginian, is up for sale for a whopping $60,000,000.
Where the resort’s classic sign will end up is anybody’s guess. But the artist capturing it for posterity, bathing it in full neon, is Jason Borbet, aka Borbay. Take a look at his latest painting, a crisp rendition of the hotel’s sign. Check out the painting’s progress from concept to reality here. Say you saw it on the Jackson Hole Art Blog!
And finally, congratulations to all the Jackson area artists with work accepted to the Governor’s Capitol Art Exhibition in Cheyenne! They are Laurie Thal and Dan Altwies, Kathy Wipfler, Kay Stratman, Mona K. Monroe and Jenny Dowd! Read the Jackson Hole News & Guide announcement here.