A swoony show of works by Emily Glass and Kristen T. Woodward is currently on view at Main Street Arts. Through their art, each answers the call of the wild differently, meditating and reflecting upon the fierce beauty that surrounds us. While stunning bits of nature are the active ingredient in both artists' work, it is our relationship to nature — the pleasure we take from it, our exploitation of it, the mysterious meaning we derive from beholding it — that is the key component uniting each disparate piece.
One wall in the first room is filled with Woodward's "Black Forest Plaques," tiny forest and fauna vignette paintings that include wistful vistas and natural minutiae such as pinecones, acorns, and eggs. This installation is anchored by "Deer Scape," a near-life-sized sculpture of a small doe. Her earth-toned, foam body is set off by scratchy texture and spangled with saturated pigment. Set into her side, window-like, is a mixed-media painting of a hunter stalking through a field.
In Woodward's "Doe Dreams," a pale buck's gentle face swims in a vibrant scene of color and motion. Characterized by both pastel hues and hot streams of color, the painting is a dreamy departure from the earthly hues of the forest, and envisions the inner experience of animals.
Close by, Woodward's "Snake in the Grass" has the nearly hidden reptile coiled like a secret within a riotous clash of color, the form resembling an unblinking eye in the terrain. Other tense works depict products in the human realm with animal origins, from rabbit's feet to piñatas.
Presiding over some of Woodward's larger works are "Overseers," long, sparse paintings centrally showcasing human faces. Ironically cropped below the eyes, they are dubiously god-like presences, honoring and exploring the unfathomable, alien-ness of the rest of "creation."
Woodward's work deals in the dichotomy regarding "the destructive and creative forces of animal welfare and environmental stewardship," she says. "As keepers of nature, ethics, and culture we are often faced with conflicting solutions to ethical problems. The result has been an influx of incongruent ideologies perpetuating violence and destruction, often motivated by profit."
She says she is struck by the number of children's games throughout history that "employ antagonist relationships with domestic animals. Woodward's piñata paintings are subtitled "Rewards for Violent Behavior." "These conflicted forces seemed to stand in for age old tensions," she says.
"Of course there are less sinister implications to animals in our games. The ancient game of Snakes and Ladders is the journey of life itself, wrought with unexpected turns toward virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes). There are plentiful examples of other animals illuminating our stories and embodying what would otherwise be difficult to make clear, so the subject is ripe with possibility."
Glass's work too explores our use of animal symbolism to consider our own experiences and journeys, and our tendency to project human traits and experience onto them. In the singular sketch, "Emotional Velveteen," she recalls that sweet, beloved tale of a stuffed animal bringing comfort to a sick boy, and its Pinocchio-like longing to become a real creature. The sweet creature is rendered here in a typical rabbit-y stance, with alert ears and a nose pointed to scent potential danger on the wind.
Glass injects some subtle humor into her breathtaking, large panoramic painting, "My Agent Says the Neighbors are Nice," which is the dominant work in the second room. The lush, two-panel scene is bookmarked by two gargantuan toads who seem about to confront one another amid varied bits of foliage. It's not until you draw nearer to examine the brushstrokes and glowing, complex fields of color that you notice the objects of the toads' focus: there, in the roughly textured tree trunk, is a line of ants going about their business.
There's a tension between predators and prey in Glass' work, between the unconscious, delectable portions of nature and other food-chain species that are aware of the watcher. In another lushly dark painting, "In Conclusion," a duo of rabbits tuck close to the invisible line between subject and viewer, almost perceptibly trembling and sniffing.
"The socially aware figures originate from the study of cadavers in biology departments, insects in university entomology museums and from local herd animals in paddock enclosures," Glass says. "The figures as well as their environment provide insight to the emotional space I construct. The cold labs, clean insect boxes and treeless fields of Kansas currently influence my chosen sparse landscape and allow the model to become the emphasized focal point."
Even Glass's seemingly straightforward paintings of plant parts are complicated explorations of our relationship to what we consume. Larger-than-life depictions of bundles of greens bear subtle social references (as in "The Radical Arugula of Our Current Culture"), and elegantly arranged remains ("Cherry Pits") make us reconsider the experience of the waste we leave, especially when we take into account our new understanding of the awareness of plants. Remember, this waste is also a pile of viable seeds.