For “Room in the Margins,” Delta Axis @ Marshall Arts’ current exhibition, curator Christine Conley has gathered some unique artworks. As the exhibit title suggests, these artists are not coloring within the lines. These works go beyond nice, safe boundaries.
Kathryn Johnson’s anxious figures live in a hostile world controlled by unseen forces. Johnson intensifies the sense of dread by drawing her acrylic and graphite images on dilapidated scraps of wood. The shape of the wood scraps and placement of the figures also increase the tension.
Johnson’s Pitch is a thin, vertical work. At the bottom, a youth crouches in a cave, which is outlined by charred wood. She looks up, her mouth gaping with fear. She appears to be looking at another youth whose neck and lower jaw are bound in a metal device. In Cheap Unpleasant Desires, a woman with prosthetic legs has no head. In its place is a knothole surrounded by silver acrylic. In Damnum Absque Injuria (Latin for “injuries that have no legal remedy”), a gaping hole oozes red resin next to a woman with disheveled hair and an addled face. In these works, Johnson seems to bring these wounds to the surface to understand them.
Ed Rainey’s Domesticated Horse drawings are exquisitely rendered and very sad. Within the motley coat of one horse, there is another complex but discernible pattern: the piercing eyes and raised wings of two large seabirds. Rainey’s acrylic-and-ink drawing on an old Audubon print is a tour de force of intricacy. It’s also a moving reminder that all animals, domesticated or not, have a beast within.
Monochromatic Strip Drawings, 2, 4, and 6 allow us to follow Rainey’s mind as one idea, memory, and image leads to another. There is one martini with olive and one soft shoe (1950s-style), scientific illustrations of large and small intestines, and a meticulously rendered black crow. Surrealist painter Rene Magritte’s famous pipe and provocative statement “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” are also included. Rainey’s references to a mischievous bird and Magritte’s explorations of language and reality convince us there is more “afoot” in these drawings than “digestion” and skillful rendering of the “real” world.
Emily Walls’ The Think Machine (acrylic and ink on paper) depicts an electric toaster with padded insides. Attached to the padding is an unshaded light bulb that shines above a floor pad. Outside of this no-frills hot box, the artist records visions of Gummi Bear-like characters roaming among piles of broken machinery like survivors from a plane crash.
One of Walls’ most telling creatures is a faceless, handless, amorphous little torso in a dress (detail from You Love Broken Things). She’s on her knees, her back to articles of discarded clothing and broken machinery parts. Except for her brand-new, patent-leather shoes, she is drawn with one fluid outline. Wall’s expressive worlds lie somewhere between disaffected modernity and a girl’s Southern childhood where there was little emphasis on personal power but lots of praise for her shiny shoes.
A good look is needed for Cedar Lorca Nordbye’s blocks of wood strewn on a table along with his crayons. Printed with deceptively childlike images and with words and phrases, this artist’s “Thought-Blocks” deconstruct and reconstruct some of the sacrosanct ideas and stories we tell ourselves.
These raw blocks of wood are arranged on top of and vertically, horizontally, and diagonally to one another. They can be grouped and read in several ways. For example, blocks whose words express gratitude and relaxation in Thank God I’m Still become a judgment when they are placed next to a block printed with the word “Moral.”
Also on view are eight of Nordbye’s sketchbooks with references to Kosovo, Columbine, and quotes from social scientists and spiritual leaders. One quote is from Pope John Paul II: “The sick, the elderly, the handicapped, and the dying teach us that weakness and suffering can be embraced with no loss of dignity.”
This could be an all-purpose statement for “Room in the Margins.” There is an all-embracing fearlessness in the wounded women and broken worlds of Johnson and Walls and the free-flowing ideas of Rainey and Nordbye. On wooden scraps and old prints, in junk piles and corners of sketchbooks, these artists find room in margins as well as in their hearts and minds.