Karon Davis’ “Pain Management” at Wilding Cran

Gabriel and Cry Baby, Karon Davis, Pain Management at Wilding Cran. Photo Courtesy Wilding Cran
Gabriel and Cry Baby, Karon Davis, Pain Management at Wilding Cran. Photo Courtesy Wilding Cran

Karon Davis’ “Pain Management” at Wilding Cran

by Genie Davis


There’s nothing painful about Karon Davis’ Pain Management, a beautiful solo exhibition that creates a world filled with weary-angel caregivers, supplicating patients, and a way to move beyond pain, and reach an inner sense of peace.

Physical and emotional pain is the theme in the artist’s recreation of a world inhabited by seven sculptures, shaped from plaster casts and shredded medical bills. The somewhat biographical works include three nurse figures attired in patterned scrubs, the exhausted angel, “Morphine”; “Ifosfamide” a frightening scarecrow; and “Nicotine,” a stoic, smoking nurse. These figures have the substantial quality of fully formed sculpture, made with paint, plaster, cloth, synthetic hair, and objects grounded in reality such as a coffee cup and shredded bills. The pieces include color in their depictions, the color of the caregivers’ skin, their attire, their hair.

Four other pieces depict children, or as Davis calls them, “Children of the Moon.” Representing a preservation of the spirit, health, and memories, and the fragility and perhaps fleeting nature of these ideals, they are ghostly and enigmatic, emblems of peace, purity, and an afterlife free of pain. As such, they are devoid of color, white and drifting, mute butterflies.

The artist is interested in the idea of mummification, and as such, these sculptures take on that role, of a being bound or contained, pinned; prepared perhaps for burial or reincarnation. Crafted of plaster, wire, plastic pipe, paper, and glass eyes, their shapes are incomplete, delicate, and seem to float. The openings in these casts present the idea that the spirits these children contain have already broken free of the bodies that bind them, or that bind older incarnations of the self. Each child has a name: “Oya” holds a scarab beetle, “Mary” catches the moon, “Mawu” holds a basket.

In the center of the gallery, a larger than life-size tissue box serves as a monument to the release of pain, a paean to the purification of tears. Titled “Cry, Baby,” the large scale of this work signifies the vastness of tearful release.

The work here is haunting, and somewhat surreal. Davis asks us to consider the possibility of transcending pain, or accepting it; of ways to alleviate it, from medication to healing to death.

Cry Baby, Karon Davis, Pain Management at Wilding Cran. Photo Courtesy Wilding Cran
Cry Baby, Karon Davis, Pain Management at Wilding Cran. Photo Courtesy Wilding Cran

It is a realm of angels and devils, fitful fever dreams, loss and redemption. Survival seems to be what is at stake here, not just the physical, but that of the soul. If Dylan Thomas once invoked the idea of not going gently into that good night, here Davis seems to be asking us to consider gentleness.

As startling and all-encompassing as a vision of an ambulance racing through a dark night, elements of performance art are considered in this exhibition as if that performance was frozen in time. The artist studied at USC’s film school, so the works seem to share theatrical and filmic elements.

In this exhibition, Karon Davis inspires viewers to transcend pain, to elevate the human experience.

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