In The Battle of Make Believe, adult responsibility overrides juvenile impulse

We all know the story of Peter Pan — the boy who refuses to grow up, and spends his days cavorting with his chums on the island of Never Land. The Latin term, puer aeternus, refers to this child-god archetype, which has taken form in countless legends — from the Greek god Pan, to Gunter Grass’s antagonist in “The Tin Drum.” This month 11 local artists take on a broader aspect of this archetype in The Battle of Make-Believe, now on display at Satellite Gallery.

To produce the exhibit, curator/artist Gabriel Shaffer rounded up artists he admired or had worked with in the past, and asked them to interpret the dialogue between childhood fantasy and adult obligations, “At some point or another we’ve all done battle with the urge to refuse to accept adulthood,” says Shaffer.

It isn’t everyday that one is asked to show at a gallery like Satellite, which, for the most part reserves its walls for a specific calibre of artist. The artists here have risen to the occasion; the work is well groomed and thoughtful. Indeed the artists have fulfilled their adult responsibilities, perhaps even a little too well.

I found the saucier works of the show refreshing like Anna Thompson’s installation of inflated “teepees.” Here Thompson transports the viewer to the child’s mind where simple plastic bags filled with air become a magical kingdom. The larger-than-life conical forms are both playful and sensual. My only wish is that could be displayed more prominently in the gallery to enable viewer interaction, but come to think of it, their awkward detention to the front window might actually contribute to the whole concept of the piece.

The narrative paintings of Anna Jensen also grabbed me with their provocative imagery and irreverent titles. I appreciate the candor of Jensen’s work, and her use of color and paint is seriously awe-inspiring. I stared at her painting, “If I Could Make Myself Stop Myself” for a very long time — the detailed pineapple-patterned wallpaper, the acid green cheetah print unitard worn by a girl who precariously straddles a staircase, the reddened eyes of Jensen’s own steely image — unbelievable.

Also notable are Hannah Dansie’s stylized dioramic paintings on wood that appear to be sweet and slightly psychedelic with their oversized confectionary perfection. ”Childhood Knees” actually made my body hurt as Dansie renders the bruised flesh on an innocent’s legs with simple precision.

Nicole McConville’s encaustic series of children lends a nostalgic element to the show, as do her assemblage pieces of found materials and organic elements. Her collaboration with R. Brooke Priddy, “Becoming,” reveals a fragile clay dress encased in an elaborate exoskeleton of hardware and glass. This isn’t the first time Priddy and McConville have collaborated, and it’s always great to see a union of these two inspired minds.

Andy Herod’s giant rendering of a smiling beard is pretty funny, and makes me question the role the beard plays in today’s world: a sign of of adulthood? A cultural symbol? A mask? Herod also exhibits a small diorama of a girl flying a boy like a kite. It’s just so sweet and pastoral and intimate; it’s hard to not be charmed by it in spite of its connotations.

It nice to see photography thrown into the mix of these group shows and Chuck Franklin’s photos of a man in a kayak, weighted down by a cold concrete floor are intentionally distressing to look at. The kayaker is attempting to row his inert boat while a TV nearby casts an eerie glow. He seems to be confined within the tomb of the kayak, and an endless stream of commercial drivel.

I’m only scratching the surface with these descriptions. There’s a lot more to see, and while I think the concept of the show might have been explored with more abandonment, the integrity of the work is still valuable.

The Battle of Make Believe is on display at Satellite Gallery located at 55 Broadway through mid-September. Open Tuesday-Sunday. Call 505-2225 for more info.





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