“Animals in Transition,” a show featuring mother and daughter artists Linna Dolph and Scout Dunbar, is a rarity: a local show in which two diverse, individually compelling sensibilities conjoin to form something beyond the sum of its parts. Dunbar’s drawing and printmaking have influenced the animal imagery that Dolph is using in some of her recent work as a stained glass artist. And the flattened and faceted appearance of some of Dunbar’s creatures appear themselves to draw from stained glass aesthetics.
The show fills the CAP ArtSpace this month and is one of the most striking exhibits currently on view in downtown Ithaca.
Dunbar is currently based in New York City but is continuing her streak of memorable local exhibitions: notably last year with a two-person show at the State of the Art Gallery in the summer (with her friend Rachel Gorman) and a solo show at the Ink Shop (where she was the 2012-2013 Kahn Fellow) in the fall.
One of Ithaca’s most interesting artists, her sensibility is informed by classic modern art. Based on abstracted animal forms—and seemingly humanoid ones—her work here echoes the early twentieth-century approaches of figures like Klee, Miró, and Picasso as well as the mid-century artists such as Jean Dubuffet and the European CoBrA artists. They have a vitality that allows them to transcend what could easily fall into mere sophisticated pastiche.
Done using a transfer process that results in blotchy black and white surfaces (they recall similar work by Klee using the technique), her numerous untitled pieces have been developed with colored pencil—characteristic of her voracious sensibility with mixed media. The combination of texture and linearity is particularly engrossing.
Their presentation is interesting as well. The small sheets have been stitched to larger, untouched white sheets, which have themselves been attached directly the wall using the nail-and-magnet method that has become ubiquitous in local displays of art on paper.
Most of Dolph’s pieces here are presented in an installation, City, which spreads across a long table placed in the middle of the gallery. The tableau evokes something like a fanciful Manhattan, featuring recognizable lead and glass skyscrapers as well as fanciful Dunbar-esque beings: a turtle, birds, horses, a Picasso-esque Jump Roping Girl—some perched on the buildings. Tiny toy cars, people, and horses decorate the cityscape. The installation rest on a lightbox, mostly covered by sheet metal but selectively cut so as to light the buildings from inside. The installation is conceived as whole piece and indeed the city as a whole is more interesting than the buildings taken individually, as well crafted as they are.
Dolph’s background as a stained glass artist informs her recent assays into sculpture (she has also worked with found objects) and aside from the buildings, most her pieces here have a flat, frontal character rather than being fully in-the-round. (Typically their support bases are the most emphatically three-dimensional part.) It would be interesting to see her develop the more specifically sculptural aspect of these works.
Dolph is also showing small pieces in the gallery’s glass display case, shunted to a corner of the room. Her most compelling piece in the show is City on a Hill, a large richly colored two-dimensional piece based on a childhood drawing by her daughter: a jumble of windowed buildings fills the picture space.
Two small freestanding pieces atop the case are compelling as well: Whale with Warrior and Warrior Girl—the latter in particular has a loopy, dynamic linearity which sucks the eye in a manner similar to Dunbar’s work here. (The against-the-wall presentation is generally more flattering to Dolph’s individual pieces.)
Humor in contemporary art is often a matter of glibness and contrived irony. It is refreshing to see work with a genuine playfulness and sense of life. •