Surreal ... So Real Exhibition Featured in Shepherd Express

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Unveiling the Unconscious

By Selena Milewski

Apr. 19, 2016

The Tory Folliard Gallery’s latest exhibition, “surreal…so real,” features 28 modern artists united by their ties to surrealism. The 20th-century avant-garde movement was pioneered by Salvador Dalí and concerned with giving expression to the unconscious mind. The roots of the movement, however, run as deep as Hieronymus Bosch’s psychedelic 13th-century depictions of hell. The artists represented here tap both the movement’s history and its universal themes.

Clearly referencing the past are Bill Reid and Laurie Hogin. The former’s painted steel sculpture Heronymouse Bosch is a conglomerate of long-legged beasties and stalky plant forms—a clever 3D extrapolation of its namesake’s works. Hogin’s oil on panel Biker’s Prayer I and II include books, neon-furred monkeys and painted human skulls, all rendered in crisp detail, calling to mind the memento mori and vanitas paintings of the Dutch Masters.

The thematic meat of modern surrealism—dreaming and the unconscious mind—figures prominently in several works, notably those by Flora Langlois. Her acrylic On Wings of Mind shows a woman in a white dress with her eyes closed. An aura surrounds her body while fantastical human-animal hybrids, fairies and forest creatures gambol in the woodland glade of her mind.

Another surrealist thematic preoccupation, gender and sexuality, can be found in works such as John Wilde’s A Cat, A Dagger and an Open Door, a striking oil painting featuring a nude woman reclining near the body of a bisected dog and a living cat while a man in a white suit and a disembodied face look on. The piece hits home for its excellent balance—both compositionally and in the sensed power play between the sexes. Jessica Calderwood’s series of small and large china and felt sculptures are likewise incisive forays into gender politics. Her works depict lower bodies (mostly female) with bare legs that terminate, not in torsos, but fecund fruit tree canopies. Calling to mind both 1960s “leg lamps” and the story of Adam and Eve, the piece hints at the limiting sexualization and objectification of women.

Finally, childhood—that time most associated with imagination and a thin veil between inner and outer life—runs as a theme in several works, including Anne Siems’ acrylic Flowers and Insects, whose subject is a small boy floating slightly above the ground, wearing a translucent suit, and surrounded by hovering insects and plants. The work whispers of the imaginative fecundity of childhood but also its ephemerality and the invisibility of children in adult society. Robert Bender’s cut glass sculpture Pure seems to carry an even darker message. A liquor bottle has sprouted the legs and arms of an infant but sits, solid and white, without a head. We get out what we put in.

This could be said of all works in Tory Folliard’s provocative and sensitively curated exhibition. Enter with an open mind, drink in the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate images and see what springs out of your own subconscious.