Animal stand-ins for humans – Kate Javens’ Euphoria at Schmidt Dean

It’s not surprising that Kate Javens chooses animals to represent humans. With their rich, symbolic meaning, animals allow Javens to convey qualities other than physical appearance.

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Kate Javens, “Euphoria, For the Rev, No. 2″, oil on canvas, 60″ x 72”, Courtesy of Schmidt Dean Gallery

Javens’ series of animal portraits, Euphoria, is a memorial to Harlem community organizer Reverend Linnette C. Williamson, who is portrayed by elephants in five of the show’s nine works. In “Euphoria, For the Rev, No. 1” and its mirror image No.2, painted in a cooler palette, an elephant is depicted with its mouth open and trunk flung in the air, expelling noise.  As a preacher and vocal advocate for her Harlem community, the image is a fitting portrait of the Reverend.

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Euphoria, For the Rev, No. 4, oil on wooden panel, 18″ x 24″, Courtesy of Schmidt Dean Gallery
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Kate Javens, “Euphoria, For the Rev, No. 3″, oil on wooden panel, 18″ x 24”, Courtesy of Schmidt Dean Gallery

Williamson appears contemplative and restful in painting “No. 3” and its mirror image “No.4,” painted in a warmer palette. The creases in the elephant’s skin suggest a weathered condition and the aging process. Wrinkles and age are seen as a sign of wisdom, a common, symbolic trait associated with elephants. “No.6” also shares a contemplative expression, but with the painting’s warm tone, the urgency and intensity of the Reverend’s thinking seems greater.

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Kate Javens, “Euphoria, For the Rev, No. 6″, oil on linen, 20″ x 16”, Courtesy of Schmidt Dean Gallery

The artist also uses dogs to represent Williamson. In “Euphoria, For the Rev, No. 5”, a small image of the Reverend is painted within the dog’s fur, making the connection between the two subjects visible. The dog is seen from a lower position, lending it and Williamson a respectfulness and dignity. The Reverend also appears as a pillar of strength with the painting’s vertical thrust.

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Kate Javens, “Euphoria, For the Rev, No. 9″, oil on wooden panel, 16″ x 12”, Courtesy of Schmidt Dean Gallery

Williamson is focused and determined as a watchful dog in painting “No. 9.”  In the mirror images “No. 7” and “No. 8” the dogs wear heavy collars that allude to a burden. In the Reverend’s case, this can be interpreted as the responsibility she feels to help her community and the difficulty of fully accomplishing this goal.

Through the series of portraits, Kate Javens is able to build a memorial to Reverend Linnette C. Williamson showcasing her wisdom, strength, and determination. More information about her life along with one of Javens’ portraits of her can be found on the Rev. Linnette C. Williamson Park Association website. “Euphoria” is on view at Schmidt Dean Gallery through November 24.