Ghouls gone wild
@ POP GALLERY
Dark, surreal, and mystically inspired work by an array of female artists is on view in Pop Femme Sugar Coated Strange 2015, opening at Pop Gallery on Friday, Oct. 30. Day of the Dead skeletons mingle with demons winged and horned, fantastical animals, and romantic women in red, as well as other wild imaginings from the minds of women who prefer the otherworldly. A portion of the proceeds from sales benefits Southwest CARE Center. On the cover is Kristen Margiotta’s Spideress (2015, oil on hardboard).
ever there were a perfect image for late October in New Mexico, it is Ana Rivera’s Homage to
Georgia O’Keeffe, in which the iconic artist is rendered in pencil as a Day of the Dead skeleton, dressed in a wide-brimmed black hat and black coat. Behind her is a silhouette of a cow skull partially filled with clouds, a hybrid of two major themes in O’Keeffe’s work. It’s a humorous piece; nonetheless, O’Keeffe’s gaze is eerily sad and penetrating, as though she would grab a brush between her finger bones and paint you if she weren’t well aware that the dead can’t paint. She is both a cartoon and a realistically drawn ghost or ghoul.
The piece is part of Santa Fe native Rivera’s Muerte series, selections from which are included in Pop Femme Sugar Coated Strange 2015, opening at Pop Gallery on Friday, Oct. 30. The show features an array of female artists — including Jenny Berry, Marie Sena, Tammi Otis, Phresha LeVandale, Kristen Margiotta, Kate Samuels, Brenda Dunn, June Valentine Ruppe, and Zoe Williams — whose work tends toward the dark, surreal, and mystical.
Rivera told Pasatiempo that most Day of the Dead artwork she sees tends to be brightly colored and fun, but she was interested in making serious portraits of historical figures from the art world using the big heads and eyes common to skeletons and sugar skulls created for the two-day Mexican holiday that celebrates ancestors and deceased loved ones and starts Nov. 1. She has drawn Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Gorey, René Magritte, and Salvador Dalí as well as several versions of Frida Kahlo. In Mi Amor, Mi Corazón,
Mi Diego, the bottom half of Kahlo’s skeleton is an ornate cage on wheels, inside which floats the head and heart of her husband, Diego Rivera. Many of the
Muerte drawings feature a quote from the subject, as in the words behind O’Keeffe, which read, in part, “I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me.” Rivera heard the quote in an interview with O’Keeffe that she found on YouTube and listened
to while she worked on the drawing. “I was never really too deep into O’Keeffe, but when I watched that, something just clicked. I really connected with that quote. I have it in my kitchen,” she said. Rivera is a self-taught artist who had trouble as a kid getting her elementary and high school art teachers to understand what she wanted to learn. “I wanted to get everything down on paper that I had a vision of, but a lot of them couldn’t help me.”
Berry ran into similar stumbling blocks in the 1980s when she was in art school, an era when painting had been declared dead. Her surreal, figurative work was so out of fashion that she went into commercial art until several years ago, when she noticed the emergence of New Brow, a sort of graffiti-, tattoo-, and street-art-inspired take on pop art sprinkled with social commentary. Berry paints in a variety of distinct styles, all of which are included in the Pop Gallery show. She recreates the works of old masters but adds a dark twist by turning the finely costumed subjects into animals. In The Plague Doctor, she has recreated Rembrandt’s Portrait of Maerten Soolmans as a wood stork — a bird that spends time on her
lawn in Florida. Instead of a glove, Berry’s beaked Soolmans holds a plague mask like the kind worn by doctors in the 17th century. The mask itself strongly resembles the face of the wood stork. Her other works in the show include Falling, To Have and to Hold, and
Kitsune, all of which feature a model in a somewhat sultry, feminine pose. In Kitsune, which takes its name from Japanese folklore about foxes that shape-shift into women, a model in Day of the Dead makeup and black lace tights perches at the edge of a chair. A fox rests next to her on a table, like a witch’s familiar. “A friend lent me the taxidermy fox, and it was stolen from my studio,” Berry said. “The disappearing fox, the woman — it reminded me of that mythology.”
Duende, by Sena, is a portrait of a woman in the traditional New Mexican style of Catholic iconography, except that the subject has a third eye in her forehead — which in some spiritual traditions, such as Hinduism, represents the ajna, or brow, chakra.
is a Spanish word that Sena explained means “kind of the ultimate pinnacle of finding an artistic sweet spot, or some kind of nirvana-like feeling, like when you’re listening to incredible music — this incredible crescendo of something artistic. When I was painting her, I thought the third eye is what we are all trying to find, our pathway to something beyond the veil, something we can’t see but that we have to tap into. Every once in a while we catch a glimpse, and that’s duende.”
Sena grew up in Santa Fe and began exhibiting at Spanish Market as a teenager. She now lives in Dallas and runs her own tattoo studio. Many of her tattoos seem inspired by old graphic design and advertising illustrations, and they have a depth of detail and richness of color that must take great patience both to create and to endure the creation of. She also works in medical illustration, often for surgical textbooks, and has been combining these two skills into tattoos for women who have had mastectomies — not fantastical images to cover scars but, for instance, realistic areolas on women who have had to have theirs removed. She also works in watercolor, gouache, and pen and ink; many of these works, included in the Pop show, are of demon figures and other dark religious imagery. She has always been steeped in an old-timey sensibility, whether or not she’s working on traditional pieces. “I’m not really interested in the new or gleamy and shining,” Sena said. “The precious things to me have been around for a long time. When I paint something, I don’t think it’s done unless it’s almost antiqued in a way. I want it to look like it’s been through years of sitting in someone’s library, like it’s seen some things.”
Zoe Williams: Tamandu, 2015, mixed-media fiber sculpture; left, Tammi Otis: The Sparrow
ybil, 2015, oil on gold-leaf panel; pposite page, left, Jenny Berry:
Betrothed, 2015, oil on panel; right, Ana Rivera: Homage to Georgia
O’Keeffe, 2015, graphite on paper
June Valentine-Ruppe: Quasimodo with Money, 2015, oil on panel