All Beasts Are Not Created Equal
Mark Miller Gallery
“There is the great lesson of 'Beauty and the Beast', that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.” This G.K. Chesterton quote depicts both the creators’ and the viewers’ experience at “Beasticon,” now at Mark Miller Gallery until January 23. Curated by Lori Nelson and Antony Zito, the wicked and ungroomed beasts and what they shed lie in the heart of this Lower East Side gallery. A mixed media exhibit featuring 28 artists, “Beasticon” takes an ancient theme and provides a stage for each artist to navigate through and show off their own fantasies.
“Beasticon” is in the eye of the protagonist, the viewer. What one may deem as sinister, another may find humorous, allowing the audience to develop their own narrative. Childhood fancies are surrealistically brought to life through classic methods and also with more of a DIY approach, such as paper mache, plaster, scrap metal, sugar, zip ties and more. No two pieces are alike, yet they all exist in the same land of misfits. Red glass beads intertwine with a dead bird (Jill Marleah Bell), depicting prickling beauty and a lust for the dead. “Secret Self” (Lori Nelson) -- a monster made of 25 Fresh Direct cardboard boxes with flowers at its feet -- sits in the window facing Orchard Street, emoting the power of its grandeur. Mark Miller Gallery has turned into a paradise for well-crafted, grotesque outsiders.
Photo by Ashley Mathus.
But these characters are not really scaring anyone. Instead, the monsters share a tongue-in-cheek approach and become a wicked attraction. Not surprisingly, “Beasticon” is luring children inside. “The kids are bringing their parents in,” said Lori Nelson. This is a harmonious junction. Imagine a child’s perspective of seeing beasts up close -- something they typically experience via movie and television screens. “Beasticon” allows their imaginations to run wilder than the Wild Things.
Members of 4heads, the group that organizes and curates Governors Island Art Fair, Nelson and Zito are accustomed to odd pairings. “When Zito invited me to work with him on a show, I knew it would be hilarious and weird,” said Nelson.
Noting her favorite real-life beasts as her teenagers and her mutt dog, Nelson pairs the women in her art with danger, or an “other.” “In these pairings, the woman's sensibility gets thrown into question and the beast's dangerousness gets peeled back a little.” We know this dichotomy all too well, and, maybe more importantly, we keep coming back to it. Her frozen unease is picturesque.
Image courtesy of Joanna Mulder.
While some of the artists created new pieces for “Beasticon”, others have mixed and matched from previous bodies of work. Joanna Mulder (Joannarchy) is showcasing a few paintings from a previous solo show, "I Feel Yucky-The Candy Colored Nightmare" (Gitana Rosa Gallery). Ms. Mulder’s “Dead Duck,” hand-painted with fluorescent pigments, is stark and hallucinogenic-inspired. Her duck is creepily happy. Mulder says of the exhibit, “I knew that it most likely wouldn't be a mundane zoo crawl through lovingly-rendered watercolors of elephants or chainsaw sculptures of grizzly bears hewn from fallen trees, but instead a peek into a much weirder world of creatures you only regret dreaming about.”
Image courtesy of George Ferrandi.
George Ferrandi has incorporated some of her work that’s part of a series she’s been cultivating for the last year. “i really think this is going better this time what no seriously hey wait where are you going” is a sculpture based on a stingray photobomb meme from 2013. “It's easy to fall in love online,” says Ferrandi. “Monkeys carrying dogs, twin baby platypuses, goats standing in trees, shaved sloths wearing pajamas…how can we not swoon?” Ferrandi’s beast is the meme, and the meme is her beast. It’s a perfect romance.
“Beasticon” does an excellent job at giving the viewer a lingering feeling. You’ll turn your head to make sure everything is where you left it because each idea flourishes beyond the medium, the loneliness in a scene when the fairytale is over or the harshness of an animal’s fate carries through to the next body of work. A powerful protagonist of her own story, Monica Rose Song’s self portrait glares at the viewer, a serene blend of sexuality and whimsy. “Beasticon” dives deeper into lore where creatures are plush, comical and abstract, spirits of something large, ominous and confident. A DIY dreamscape, “Beasticon” is an immersive display of our fears and other-worldly cravings that must be seen before they dive back into our subconscious.
By: Ashley Mathus