The Dog-and-Pony (and Cat-and-Hawk) Show at Magoski Arts Colony
I'm a cat guy, owner of two rescued tabbies, one from a supermarket dumpster in which her mother had given birth, the other from an animal shelter. I've had Claudia since I could hold her in the palm of my hand; underweight runt of the litter, she would fall asleep perched on my chest. Still with me 15 years later, she's now a little rickety with age, having difficulty jumping up on the bed—kitty stairs are in her future. The other, Smudge, is the most vocal cat I've ever had. As I walked into OC Animal Care, she made immediate eye contact with me, held it and meowed her way into my life. She had been abandoned on the street, so she's periodically scratchy/feral; it took some time before we came to the mutual understanding that her pissing on my leather couch is unacceptable.
As a result, I'm an easy mark for the Egan Gallery's "Rescue Me" exhibition at the Magoski Arts Colony. Not that I don't have quibbles, but unlike other Art With an Agenda shows I've seen, overt politics takes a back seat to the art itself: If you haven't been privy to a post card or read a press release, you wouldn't know that if you buy the art, some of the proceeds goes to rescue animals targeted for euthanasia.
Small Miracle, Craig Barker's oil-and-mixed-media portrait of a headless, tattooed human tethered to her tiny Chihuahua, starts things off: a joy of understatement, the leash is a nifty metaphor for our umbilical bonding. Kelly Castillo's tongue-in-cheek You Don't Choose the Pug Life takes it up a mystical notch, her subject's head tilted back, eyes blank and faded Greek-statue white, eight psychedelic visions of pug splendor arrayed about her head as though a Buddhist halo. John Sollom's Black Poodle is also the center of the universe, painted into the middle of a gold automotive fan, suggesting a majestic sunburst. Cars have a tendency to separate owners from their pets, so the commemorative-grave-plaque subtext also works. The yin/yang of love/loss is further represented by Sollom's Brianna and Found Ocaso, small, ingenious paintings of ads pleading for lost (and found) animals.
Symbiosis is the overriding theme of much of the work, especially Nick Baxter's Invocation of Trust, with its image of an animal claw wrapped around a human thumb, the title of this oil painting on a wood panel saying everything. Likewise with Valerie Lewis' two loving, evocative canvases, Heaven Holds a Place and Familiars. In the former, a dog watches alertly as it lays beside the feet of its owner, the two of them at rest in a bevy of flowering ivy tendrils, the latter a young woman holding a dog in her lap, surrounded by dark smudges of black and blue, their love a protection from the bruising darkness of the world around them. Fanciful imagery by way of cartoons and sketches are also abundant, the most notable being Michelle Orozco's tiny acrylic-ink-on-paper foursome, The Adventures of Peach and Snidely. Underpriced to my eye, the delightful illustrations are a feminist take on Adventure Time—with a young girl and her cat replacing Jake the Dog and Finn the Human—with Orozco's duo diving for sunken treasure, hanging out in a jungle, playing Indians or hot-air ballooning amid seagulls.
The handful of missteps in the intimate gallery are all captivating in their own way—but they are pieces that make one wonder why they're included, considering the context of the show. Most obviously, Chantal Menard's Seventh Son is an attractive, mournful assemblage, its cherubic portrait of a young boy on a green Russian ammo box surrounded by gold-painted fake flowers, a decapitated crocodilian head and the severed leg of a goat. At any other time, I'd be a big booster for this powerful, mesmerizing work, but using body parts in a show dedicated to the caring of animals seems more thoughtlessly ironic than thoughtful. I'm equally confused by what I was supposed to come away with from Gene Guynn's Wiccan soft porn, Nymph & Satyr, with its bare-breasted Goth girl eye-fucking the viewer as she hovers above the disembodied, possibly severed head of a goat.
With "Rescue Me" focused almost exclusively on the sentimental and affectionate, the inclusion of these darker images seems more accidental than an attempt at a balancing act, but it's important to stress that the point of view in art doesn't have to be about representing both the dark and the light sides of the equation. (I, for one, don't need Sarah McLachlan to be singing over pictures of the emaciated and abandoned to make me give a damn.) What curator Cody Raiza and her fine collection succeeds in doing is reminding us of the love missing from the lives of so many animals, giving us a nudge in the right direction, and then quietly trusting we'll do what we can to correct the situation.
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