Fabulism and the Natural World
October 18 - November 23
Artists’ Reception: Gallery Night - Friday , October 18 5 - 9pm
Contemporary artists actively explore the possibilities of animal and naturalist imagery to fabulist ends. Whether these works serve as allegory, political commentary, imaginative world-building, or psychological metaphor, the results demonstrate a magical or fabulist resonance. Exhibiting Artists include Christina Bothwell, Mark Chatterley, El Gato Chimney, Laurie Hogin, Flora Langlois, Michael Noland, Anne Siems, Aniela Sobieski, Fred Stonehouse, Tom Uttech, and Robin Whiteman.
The exhibition focus is contemporary artists who actively explore the possibilities of animal and naturalist imagery to fabulist ends. These works may serve as allegory, political commentary, imaginative world building, or psychological metaphor, but whatever the means and intentions, the results demonstrate a magical or fabulist resonance.
The long history of animals in art ranges from a straightforward record, in the case of naturalist depictions, to the symbolic, as seen in religious art the world over, to the fantastic, as seen in a broad range of contemporary practice as well as in mythic images from the ancient world. The human impulse to anthropomorphize is especially evident when it comes to the animal kingdom. We project human traits onto animals in our art, in our literature and in our folklore. These projections are largely cultural, but in the west, for example, dogs represent loyalty, lions=bravery, owls=wisdom, the fox=cunning, etc.
The artists in this exhibition all trade in one or more aspects of the fabulist impulse in their treatment of animals and the natural world as subject. From the hallucinogenic color of Laurie Hogin’s allegorical paintings to the mythic mutations of Robin Whiteman, we are keenly aware that we’re not in Kansas anymore. Tom Uttech’s portrayals of the north are rooted in his many years of keen observation as an outdoorsman, but he paints the north of his imagination, where the flora is animated and the fauna is self-aware. Anne Siems, Christina Bothwell and Aniela Sobieski all portray an enchanted world where women have magical agency and are accompanied by their animal familiars. Michael Noland has always been inspired by the majesty of the natural world and the visionary possibilities it offers a painter in terms of form. The Italian artist, El Gato Chimney, depicts animals with the assured hand of a realist, but as they might exist in a world where natural laws have been bent in the direction of alchemy and ritual. And finally, Fred Stonehouse’s animals are thinly disguised surrogates for the psychological conditions of the self.
The thread connecting all of these artists is undeniable, but it is their differences and uniquely individual visions that are the strength of this group. Their common interest in the expressive and conceptual efficacy of animals as a subject links their works together, but the highly internalized content and the personal richness of their imaginations are evidence of the continued relevance of animals and the natural world as worthwhile territory for artists to explore.
-Fred Stonehouse, Professor of Art, University of Wisconsin