“Fantastic Feminist Figuration” at Groundspace Project
by Jennifer Susan Jones
“Fantastic Feminist Figuration” (FFF) features the work of seven Southern California female artists: Jodi Bonassi, Bibi Davidson, Enzia Farrell, Laura Larson, Deirdre Sullivan-Beeman, Tslil Tsemet, and Lauren YS. The show opened September 17 and is curated by Betty Ann Brown and Wendy Sherman. The Exhibition is on view at Groundspace Project through October 8, 2016 with a Curator’s Talk/Closing Reception on Saturday, October 8 from 4-6 pm.
In her curatorial statement, Betty Ann Brown states that the “FFF women recognize that the human and animal worlds are indelibly interwoven, and we gain personal power through our intimate interactions with four-legged companions.” Animals indeed have magical properties, whether it is the lap therapy delivered by a soft and purring house cat or the majesty and awe we feel when engaged in a Planet Earth documentary about the big cats of Africa. The artists in this exhibit not only capture what Brown describes as “the special relationships between women and their animal familiars,” but they also illustrate the diverse, creative, and powerful ways that women are representing the feminine in their artwork.
In Jodi Bonassi’s painting, “Edge of the World,” the animal/human occupation of space is blurred to an extent in which subjects exist both as parts of the landscape and as ethereal beings dipping in and out of recognition. This is how dreams look in the heads of dreamers: the forms we see and know dance with fragmented patterns which appear as if they’ve been lifted from a kaleidoscope. The other featured Bonassi paintings portray artists with body parts and clothes that have morphed into the mediums in which they work. For example, Chenhung Chen, who often works with wires and cords, has hair that has partially become her medium, and artist Susan Feldman-Tucker, who works with found wood, is shown in “Woman in the Trees” standing before a web of wood, her dress a solid continuous mass of tree trunk and flowing roots.
Enzia Ferrel’s work is the visual representation of an Edgar Allan Poe story written in a field of gnarled trees dusted with swirling Japanese maple leaves and powder pink cherry blossoms. The standout is “Dog Heaven” which immediately sparked the lyrics of Jason Lytle’s “Ghost of My Old Dog:” ‘I’m only talkin, I’m only laughin, with the ghost of my old dog. But they’re all gone now, to an earthen bed.’ The fluidity in the piece enraptures – the black hair of the woman meshing with the movement of the tree branches – in a surreal swoop that speaks of the slow surges that would exist in a realm that behaves as if it’s underwater. The piece is both hopeful and sad: we know our dogs have moved on to a sacred new place but neither the dogs shown here (nor their empty-eyed owner) will ever be the same.
Israeli mixed media painter Bibi Davidson’s bold, brave, and brightly-colored self-portrait figures look you in the face with a powerful stare emanating from both their eyes and their nipples. The subjects exist in contexts of heartbreak, death, and anger, with titles such as “Shoot me before I die” and “I dare you to kiss me.” Some are bathed in raining floods of blue tears and red blood. In her mixed media piece “Don’t even think about it,” the artist has painted herself in a red dress on a blue couch next to a tempty-eyed rabbit “other self,” both figures bearing fresh and dressed wounds. An owl perched behind them, as well as more rabbits and a school of red fish all watch them in suspense wondering if the artist will eventually succumb to temptation, whereby likely subjecting herself to further wounds.
Dierdre Sullivan-Beeman uses her personal dream journal to provoke her artwork. Her dreamy, antiqued, and visually soft-sueded drawings and paintings contribute a romantic subtlety to the show with the expertly rendered graphite and egg tempura works showing the marriage of human and animal combos like “Octopus Girl” and “Zebra Girl,” and the portrayal of death as a clown who is sending a young pensive girl away to the next world using the metaphor of a helium balloon slowly drifting up and away.
Painter, sculptor, and tattoo artist Tslil Tsemet’s “blurs the line between kitsch and sacrament” with work that illustrates the pleasure/pain relationship via the portrayal of both animals and humans receiving varying degrees of each. Snakes bite and tickle nipples in one painting, while a male tabby cat is shown mounting and biting the scruff of its mate in another. The tabbies crouch at the feet of a topless woman who is holding a baby doll to her breast as she sits in an ornate wooden throne. In another work, a pristine calico cat with a furry white chest is painted with a giant visible heart, a crown of thorns, and holy bursting sun rays emanating from its center, collectively giving the feline a holy Jesus status.
Laura Larson channels a bronze and somber Beatrix Potter with her detailed anthropomorphic “Mourners” which pray, look to heaven, and fold their hands in quiet solace in a miniaturized and completely believable funeral service in which we are left wondering if perhaps their favorite human – maybe a kindly woman – has passed on.
Stylistically similar to Camille Rose Garcia, Bay Area artist Lauren YS uses watercolor, ink, and acrylic to “create and populate a misfit wonderland” in which juicy and fluid female figures can be found engaging in dark practices and gluttonous gorging. One figure is a greedy strawberry sucker, while two others tote skeletons. In “Evil Girl” the subject, a vicious girl bully dressed in typical teen attire, sports a skeleton “backpack,” its intestines intertwined and spilling forth to her nasty grasp and outstretched tongue.
We have instincts within us that are powerful and primal, and within that space we feel a warm, mysterious connection to the animals we admire and love. When we become aware of that connection we can begin to explore the vast capacities in which a woman can be both fierce and feminine.