Myths and mythologies

Cupid and Psyche, charcoal on paper, Barbara Fox

Cupid and Psyche, charcoal on paper, Barbara Fox

On the heels of my visit to New York to see contemporary interpretations of Medusa and Pandora at Danese Corey, I recently toured Oxford Gallery’s Myth’s and Mythologies. The invitation to this themed group show went out half a year ago and the results are thought-provoking, rewarding, and occasionally stunning, built around various interpretations of mythological figures as well as modern “myths” begging to be busted—the glory of motherhood, in one case, and “trickle-down economics” in another. In other words, there’s a little something for everyone. It ranges from an astonishingly beautiful example of classical sculpture in cararra marble from Italy to a minimalist abstraction painted on a metal panel. A small figure of Daphne, carved by Dario Tazzioli at his studio in Italy, has already been sold—the highest priced piece in the exhibit. It’s easy to see why: astonishingly well done, the female figure seeming to reach up and dissolve into a filigree of roots and branches around her head so delicate that it’s hard to imagine how the sculptor did it. It’s a rare example of centuries-old artistry done by someone trained in Renaissance techniques, using the kind of marble Michelangelo used and a bow drill—reason alone to visit the show. At the other end of the spectrum is Ryan Schroeder’s “Trickle Down Economics,” a large, vigorously executed oil showing the half-demolished interior of an abandoned building, with what appears to be a sinkhole almost underfoot—overall a sardonic reflection on how one man’s ceiling is another one’s floor, economically speaking.

Most of the work relies on traditional mythology. Icarus gets a lot of attention here, as does Persephone, as well as a crew of other Greek or Roman figures: Medusa, Pluto, Neptune, Pandora, Romulus and Remus, Cupid and Psyche, and Pegasus. But the subjects are wide-ranging and the artists find clever ways to put a mythical spin on something otherwise typical of that artist’s work. Helen Bryce Ely’s “Angel of Lock 32” offers a cascade of water rushing through an Erie Canal lock in the shape of wings. And Matt Klos’s painting of his own basement studio, a favorite subject of his, is appropriately presented as an alchemist’s workshop. It’s a small canvas that has a distinctly spiritual aura, a single window shedding light into the dim interior work space that seems to become more distinct and summery as your eyes adjust. It put me in mind of another myth, though. It’s as if, from the back of Plato’s cave, you were to look over our shoulder at the light of day behind you—toward where you’ve been and where you’re headed, if you let the artist take you there.

Amy McLaren offers another of her glimpses into the craziness of parenting in the ironically titled “I Am Atlas” where it’s impossible to discern who is the puppet in this mother and child duo entangled in a sort of cat’s cradle of improvised climber’s rope. Bill Santelli’s “All Things Are Buddha Things” offers a glimpse into a multi-dimensional space that feels enormous even though it’s on a fairly small scale, compared to many of his abstractions. It’s almost a psychological hall of mirrors, combining script, silhouettes of figures that seem caught in motion, and the profile of the foreground face, the one witnessing it all. Tom Insalaco’s large figure of a triumphant horse in an Italian piazza with fireworks exploding in the distance refers to the Festa del Redentore, a celebration of the end of the plague, a tradition that began in 1576 in Venice. Though the canvas is dark, as is most of his current work, it’s a stubborn assertion of endurance and survival, an affirmation of life and art both—and a bit of a self-portrait, maybe. It hinted to me of a rebirth for the dying horse in Picasso’s Guernica, now with a backdrop of harmless bombs bursting in air.  And Bill Stephens offered one of his improvisational drawings, part of a series he’s been doing for months now, as finely delineated as etchings, mysterious and evocative, a dreamlike depiction of the creation that looks more Gnostic than Hebrew.

The sculpture in this show, including Tazzioli’s “Daphne”, in many ways quietly upstaged the paintings and drawings. Most of the three-dimensional work is modestly sized, but magnetic: Wayne Williams contributed two versions of Icarus, and one of them captures the chaotic fall of a human body through space perfectly, with two wings outstetched toward the upward-hurtling ground, the feathers frantically contracted into cylinders, so that they look as if their weight is actually pulling him down—hubris in nutshell. And John Lombari’s “Winged Figure” sits like a mystical marble cairn, its detail reduced to minimal forms, with wings of smooth, hard rock. Leonda Finke’s “Expulsion of Eve” reminded me of a figure study by Rodin, the woman caught in mid-flight, full of shame and fear, like a notorious celebrity fleeing the paparazzi, but in her case far worse: naked, vulnerable and lost.  It’s achingly human, full of pathos.

It’s impossible to do justice to all the great work on view here. I expect to see new things to love when I head down to see if for a third time on Saturday evening.

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