Beasts of burden

Christina Mullen
Christina Mullen, “Love and Luck,” graphite and watercolor on nautical paper.

There couldn’t be a better time to drive to Penland. If you can keep from looking at the ridiculously pretentious McMansions under construction on the mountainsides around Weaverville and focus on the brilliant swaths of color provided by the purple stocks and white daisies along the highway, you will enjoy the trip.

In the craft school’s gallery, an exhibit called Beasties is providing its own local color. The multimedia show features approaches to its subject matter that are as varied as the material — we get humor, simple appreciation and deadly seriousness.

Holly Roberts
Holly Roberts, “Elk Man,” mixed-media.

Ronan Peterson had great fun with the concept. He created his “Once Living Shelf of Fame for Insect Incentives” from clay, building a trophy case with an elaborate top, painted and incised with a studied pattern. Atop the shelf are four memorial tumblers reading “World’s Greatest Ant,” “Spelling Bee Champ,” “Earthworm of the Month,” and, delightfully, “Weevil Most Likely to Suck Seed.”

At first glance, Lisa Clague’s sock monkeys are also funny — but a sharper view reveals something ominous emanating from these classic kids’ toys. Made by dipping actual sock monkeys into slip (a thinned-down clay), Clague’s subjects have the big red lips of the originals, and sport pointed hats made of tin. But her “Tattooed Monkeys” I and II have bodies completely covered with images: human body parts, faces of all kinds, cartoons, scissors, and various plants are drawn on tissue paper and applied to the clay.

Lisa Clague
Lisa Clague, “Creature Comforts,” earthenware and decoupage.

The monkeys wear expressions of extreme self-satisfaction. In the artist’s “Creature Comforts,” a soft-looking pink bunny struggles to free himself from the determined grasp of his simian predator. The bunny’s body is covered with drawings of chicks and rabbits that might have been illustrations from a children’s book. “Let Me Go” is even scarier: A pale, emaciated woman with bad teeth and partially amputated fingers (wearing — why not? — Mickey Mouse ears) strains to escape the arms of a fiercely snarling monkey.

Holly Roberts’ elks are as coyly obscured as the monkeys, but with quieter intent. In “Elk Man,” a photo which may or may not have been of an elk is almost totally covered with a simple but sophisticated painting of the same animal. It stands, stiffly, facing left, while an incised line drawn inside the neck describes the head and torso of a man looking in the opposite direction. The painting’s childlike quality is reinforced by two pine trees standing sentinel on either side.

“Sweet Peaceful Woes” is the title of a lovely drawing by Christina Mullen. Beautifully composed on vintage papers, her works reveal a rare sensitivity. “Woes” has tack holes in the upper corners and is flecked with spots of mildew and a thin line of something looking like old-fashioned school glue down one edge. Seen from the back, a tiny bunny sits alone at the top of the page.

Emilio Santini
Emilio Santini, “Spider,” flameworked glass.

Other fine works dot the exhibit, but perhaps none is more compelling than Emilio Santini’s “Spider.” The opposite of Louise Bourgeois’ hulking metal creatures, this grandaddy-long-legs-as-life-sized-glass-lamp, fragile as can be, is safely enclosed beneath a heavy, blown glass dome. Except you don’t feel so safe.

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer. Her work can be seen at the Meadows Museum in Shreveport, La.]

Editor’s Note: An editing slip gives the erroneous impression that Emilio Santini’s “Spider” is a lamp; rather, Santini’s sculpture is made of lamp-worked glass.


Beasties: Animals in Translation runs at Penland Gallery (at Penland School of Crafts, near Burnsville) through Sunday, June 4. Call (828) 765-2359 or see penland.org for directions and more information.

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