Interior beast–Kate Javens at Schmidt/Dean

IMG_8339 Kate javens
Installation detail of Kate Javens’ exhibit, Father Ram and Green Darner at SchmidtDean Gallery. The large Father Ram on the right is 66 x 106 inches, oil on linen.

In paintings of powerful, ruminating rams, artist Kate Javens creates portraits of humans. Javens has long been a painter of man as beast and beast as man, and in her wonderful 11-painting exhibit, Father Ram and Green Darner, at SchmidtDean Gallery, she takes this work in a new direction.

The identity between humans and the rams is clear, even if Javens hadn’t inserted a portrait of her father as a young man in place of the ram’s face, in two of the five ram paintings. The portrait is androgynous and strange, looking inward as much as outward.

Father Ram, 12 x 12 inches, oil on linen
Father Ram, 12 x 12 inches, oil on linen

The focus on the texture of the fur and the horns, created by amazing brush control, is incredibly animal at the same time as it is painterly. That tactile quality places the human in the animal world and vice versa. The visages of rams have an aura of inscrutable knowing and animal dignity–that can also pass for thinking about the rumblings of their digestion. The father’s face, however, is less sanguine. And its lack of warmth or generosity makes it cool and impenetrable as well.

Javens at her best is unsettling, tilting the firm ground on which we stand. She pulls the rug out from under our notion of our own self-importance, and places us as bit players in the larger, dangerous universe, where every man and beast is focused on its own survival.

IMG_8341 Kate Javens
Father Ram, oil on muslin, 48 x 55 inches

I am reminded of Durer’s Young Hare. Yet Javens is working in paint, creating the references to Medieval etchings and early photographic work through the sepia tone and through a series of glazes and attention to line and texture. Like the hare, the ram has a hot, breathing aliveness and animality. And like Durer, Javens floats the otherwise heavy animal, isolated on a white background, to which she adds a painterly glow toward the center that shades toward the edges.

Also included in this exhibit are several paintings of darning needles and a cicada–work that seems like a bridge between her moth portraits (see post) and the Father Ram portraits. The rams were the ones that left me unsettled and amazed.

The exhibit runs to Dec. 5.