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Animal Imagery at Snyderman-Works Galleries


[Lauren enjoys a loosely themed show that plays with the bonds between human and pet, predator and prey, and animal instinct and training. — the Artblog editors]

Our relationship with animals is a little strange–we keep some of them in our houses and love them as children, and then we eat others. We go to great lengths to preserve the lives of some, and then we do whatever it takes to get rid of their alternatives. Animal Imagery at Snyderman-Works features five artists and their individual interpretations of their relationships with the animal kingdom.

There is a recurring, heavy use of prehistoric African influence throughout each of the works. The animal themes range from the staples of fairytales and magical powers to Jungian analysis of animal symbolism, and the treatments range from whimsical to worshipful.

Recasting the human-animal relationship

Drawing of rats on ceramic
“Rats Dating,” porcelain platter by Bernadette Curran.

Included in the show are porcelain artist Bernadette Curran, potter Ron Meyers, ceramicist Gretchen Ewert, and fiber artists Renee Harris and Susan Aaron-Taylor. Curran contributes an array of delicate and whimsical fairytales formed from an equally delicate and whimsical material: porcelain. “Dating Rats Platter” (that title is perfect, by the way) is one of her standout pieces–two (very cute, I have to add) rats appear to be strolling down some sort of painted porcelain promenade and (hopefully not) out of the platter. The rats are painted in a style vaguely reminiscent of Chagall’s animal illustrations. The rats also present a sort of narrative, something straight out of Aesops Fables or a child’s storybook. It’s a comical thought, though: people go to great lengths to keep rats as far away from their food as possible, and Curran brings the rat right to the plate–Curran’s rendition of “Ratatouille,” perhaps?

Bird sculptures
“Waterbird Extravaganza,” ceramic urn by Gretchen Ewert.

For the more grown-up taste is Gretchen Ewert, whose sophisticated urns look as if they were stolen straight from a pharaoh’s palace. Ewert’s one-of-a-kind works are influenced by primitive religious artifacts. “Waterbird Extravaganza” is a precious bowl suspended by three cranes (and a little bird friend on the back of one of the cranes) drinking from its gilded interior. The exterior of the piece is painted in matte hues, the wings of the cranes decorated in a simple line motif, and the exterior of the bowl painted similarly to the outside of an abalone shell. The inside of the bowl is coated with 22-karat gold for an effect nothing short of stunning. The birds, and the bowl, feel precious and ephemeral.

Bird close-up
“Waterbird Extravaganza,” ceramic bowl by Gretchen Ewert.

A light take on a heavy jug

Ron Meyer’s “Bottle with Multiple Images” is a piece that looks as if it were taken out of a Paleolithic cave. The 22” tall earthenware creation has a wide, circular body and tapers into a skinny spout at the top. It’s festooned with mildly menacing animal faces–the angry mugs on a bear, owl, frog, wildcat, and rabbit (they can be frightening) peek out from one another on the front of the bottle in natural hues of burnt sienna, burnt umber, and black, painted in a sketchy, rough translation. The bottle almost appears to be a cave itself; all of the creatures are peeking out from the depths and it makes the viewer wonder–are we afraid of the creatures in the cave, or are they more afraid of us?

Animal drawings on ceramic
“Bottle with Multiple Images,” earthenware bottle by Ron Meyers.

Also included in the show are delicate and minimalist paperworks by Renee Harris and the impressive taxidermy-esque fiber works of Susan Aaron-Taylor. All in all, Snyderman-Works Galleries presents a refreshing take on a theme that verges on “been there, done that”. The carefully curated works by the artists curated by the gallery into the exhibit portray an elegant, complex picture of human’s relationship to animal and provides an opportunity to have the animal in our home without pet insurance.

Animal Imagery is on display at Snyderman-Works Galleries,303 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19106, from Dec. 5, 2014 – Jan. 31, 2015.