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In the Realm of Innocents: An Exhibition of Mysticism and Lore, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts

A Guest Contributor Review by Helene Fischman

The artists in the current exhibit at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts approach mythological/ethereal/religious themes with both irony and sentimentality hidden in their works. “In the Realm of Innocents” takes us on a heterotopian journey through fairytale iconography. Each artist musters distinct painting techniques and passions one might expect only from an occult fanatic. While all the artists are worthy of mention, I will highlight two which lingered in my thoughts long after I left the building – Gina Litherland and Andrea Guzzeta.

Nether in Ether

Gina Litherland’s paintings are slick and elegant, your eyes slide across their smooth varnished surface. She captures moments, stopping the clock at pivotal watersheds as though she tore out an illustrated Gothic fantasy from her imagination. Litherland’s ornate and detailed strokes, hold a touch of Byzantine human awkwardness. Like Guido of Siena’s Enthroned Madonna, her two-dimensional beings struggle to fill out their three-dimensional destinies, perhaps only a day dream separates them. She creates tension in her piece with tight over-rendered brush strokes. Her persistent technique lays conspicuously visible as though she’s wrapping paint around the limbs of her subjects; their skin encasing them, a restrictive contraption attempting with futility to confine their energy.

Tea Leaf Reading exalts physical characteristics, her chosen archetype: thin and pale-complected. She poses two elegant, lean bodies next to one another. One woman looks over the other’s shoulder, both peeking into an oracular teacup.The posture of the primary figure appears physically strained, neck and wrist bent past human comfort, creating unease for an empathic viewer – I could feel my shoulders tense up when following that impossible curve with my eyes. Yet, behind the women, the air looks chemically fluid. It seems ready to spill and mix the background colors into an active wallpaper, a canvas for a bird in flight. Litherland’s visual composition reads as an extemporaneous chromatic explosion, betraying the painting’s initial stillness.

The perceptible intimacy shared between the women subjects of Tea Leaf Reading remains covert. In a cooperative gaze, they focus on the porcelain tea cup’s scattered leaf pattern, indicating their future. Their relationship seems intentional yet ambiguous. They have a strong likeness. Could they be sisters, perhaps mother and daughter?

My third thought is death. Their gaunt complexions can’t be separated from the possibility of an afterlife, or after-death. Are witnessing a doppelganger? They are, after all, doused in a bluish-purple haze which could serve as an allusion to post-mortem existence; the sighting of her twin, the doppelganger, possibly an omen of death? Perhaps we are seeing a woman foretelling her own demise. A goat accompanies the women, and a bird symbolizes a sacred unknown like a tarot card. The goat perhaps represents new beginnings, the bird… intuition?

In Litherland’s uncanny atmospheres, you are drawn into the environment in a true, haptic sense.  Her world begets authenticity, she lures you to suspend your disbelief – really go there – and then find yourself thrust back into your own life pondering the space between free-will and fantasy.

Bound in Angles

Andrea Guzzetta’s paintings send dizzying geometrical visual rhythms wrapped in a kaleidoscope of hues through your pupils. She works in allegory as though her canvas, beneath its top layer of gesso, hides a worn palimpsest scratched with medieval tales of life and death.

In Blood Nectar, a square-based angular pattern transforms into a swirling spirograph set in a palette of hot pink and bright teal. Paired flowers and skulls weave in an unlikely harmony. The eye cannot help but follow, in allegro. The highly saturated colors of the piece overstimulate.

Guzetta captures you, and tosses you into a cavernous hole at the center of Blood Nectar. She paints an porthole entryway, dotted with butterflies and surrounded by clouds, suggesting a threshold into another universe beyond the canvas. She paints with confidence that entices you to jump in and breathe her fluorescent air.

Her choices make pairs of object and color. Pink skulls, initially shock the viewer and seem dialectically opposed. Catching my breath, I found these concerns resolved in a new visual language, a neon lexicon. Guzzetta convinces you there is a beyond, and tasks you to envision the extension of this deceptively colorful world beyond the canvas edge.

Generally, her aggressive and well-executed surrealist drawing style creates a framework for the imagination, a launch-pad for curiosity, a yearning for the potential of things.  Gravity is turned on its head as the viewer is pulled outwards, perhaps upwards, into an unknown plane. Through this play on physics she insists we revisit old stand-by definitions. We can no longer rely on the tried and true. In a mixture of color which calls up memories of birthday cake frosting and little girls ribbons, rendering imagery of both bones and blossoms, her quandary between life and death lifts its head and roars a mighty roar.

In the Realm of Innocents: An Exhibition of Mysticism and Lore (curated by Michael Flanagan and Kimberly Storage) is on display at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, 839 South 5th Street Milwaukee, WI 53204, from January 30 – March 7, 2015. Other notable artists contributing to this exhibition are Jean Roberts Guequierre, Claire Stigliani, Kristen Ferrell, and Linnea Bergstrom.  For more information on the author of this article, visit: www.helenefischman.com.