Grace, Wit, and Wisdom: Venus Envy, April 28 at Bucktown Center for the Arts Print
Art - Reviews
Written by Steve Banks   
Wednesday, 25 April 2007 02:21

Bekah Ash The third edition of the Venus Envy art exhibit - held as part of Saturday's larger celebration of women's creativity - certainly includes traditional feminist themes such as gender-role subjugation, objectification, and commodification. But the diverse show is not dogmatic, with works on women's health issues, goddess imagery, and the life-giving nature of women, with many pieces demonstrating grace, wit, and wisdom.

The show will be up from 6 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, at the Bucktown Center for the Arts, 225 East Second Street in downtown Davenport. More than 100 works from 50 visual artists will line the halls of Bucktown. Although the majority of artists are from the Quad Cities, others contribute from as a far away as Osage, Iowa, and Chicago.

Because Venus Envy is a one-night-only show this year - and it is typically a shoulder-to-shoulder event - I'll highlight some characteristic and must-see pieces.

Lori Biwer-StewartWhen I Shed This Skin is one of two high-contrast linocut prints by Lori Biwer-Stewart. On the left side of her crisp composition is a female figure in a nightgown, kneeling near a textured tree that has unleashed a swirling torrent of warm brown leaves. Spilling out from the figure is an ethereal series of seven partial figures, flowing to the right as the nightgown slowly melts away. All that keeps the final nude figure from floating away is a wave-like form gently holding on to her left foot.

The primary (leftmost) figure is black-and-white, while the processional forms have a slight powder-blue tone. The brown leaves - an indication of fall - and the three blackbird forms surrounding the nude figure point toward liberation by death. The floating-away-to-freedom motif in When I Shed This Skin recalls Edna Pontellier's drowning death/suicide in Kate Chopin's 1899 literary milestone The Awakening.

Monica Brown Gretchen Stabile's Wallpaper Mannequin is a conversation between function and metaphor. The visual action within this oil-on-canvas piece is divided between the dripping blue-green background dotted with avocado-green bird forms and the cadmium red outline of a dressmaker's mannequin filled with orange bird-forms against the lighter green of the background.

The repeated bird motif is reminiscent of both wallpaper and fabric patterns, which is emphasized by the mannequin - allusions to the traditional roles of women as homemakers and seamstresses. The playful color scheme and the ambiguity of the bird-like figures - which can also be read as flowers (a metaphor for life, rejuvenation, and vitality) - infuse this painting with a broader meaning. Stabile goes beyond the simple mantra of "women's work equals servitude" and explores the possibility of finding joy and purpose as well.

It is difficult to walk in Monica Brown's painting Tree Goddess II without tripping over references to the female aspects of nature. The image is dominated by a centrally placed curvaceous tree with its roots sensually flowing into the green earth and its powerful branches holding aloft a lush canopy. Clusters of vaginal flowers provide a natural proscenium for the interaction between the tree and the salmon-colored snake wrapped around "her" hips.

Billie Davids The snake is obviously a reference to the Garden of Eden but also taps into many cultures' mythology involving snakes as fertility symbols and metaphors for umbilical cords, the continuum of life, and immortality. One abnormally long specimen of vagina-flower, which grows precisely into position in front of the tree, provides additional anatomical accuracy. The decorative swirl patterns of the grass, flowers, and leaves whimsically contribute to the playful aspects of Tree Goddess II.

Brenda Ernzen's Soon There Will Be No Need for Pink Ribbons gives visible form to the all-too-common reality of breast cancer. This piece is a mesh purse-like form that is painted white toward the top and shifts to a rich pink bottom. The surface is populated with undulating rows of ribbons. Nestled inside the bottom of the purse is a pair of pink high-heeled shoes, and above them are newspaper clippings with visible headlines such as "Surviving Breast Cancer" and "Four Iowans Tell How They Beat the Odds."

Mindy Diaz Placing the newspaper clippings inside the purse - they serve as the reality of breast cancer - along with the shoes identifies cancer as an everyday item, not unlike lipstick or a billfold. The ribbons that express hope, determination, and awareness are part of the shell of the purse, which contains, or holds in check, the contents.

The textures, organic shapes, asymmetrical compositions, and lush colors of Rowen Schussheim-Anderson's Carolina Mornin add a robust surface experience and playful structure to the pantheon of landscape-inspired imagery. Schussheim-Anderson's mixed-media fabric constructions dynamically bridge the gender gap between the macho world of abstract expressionistic paintings - deemed "high art" - and weaving and handcrafts.

Olenka Gadzik Smarts, humor, and captivating visuals are in short supply in the dour art world, but Ellonyia Yenney conveys all three in These Are My High Heels - a pair of brown hiking boots that end in woven baskets - and Strong Girls Don't Come from These, a loose coil basket with doll-sized clothing and beauty supplies trapped in a resin disc. Both of these pieces make fun of stereotypes by eloquently using a stereotypical female medium - weaving - and juxtaposing it with found objects in a postmodern/social/political sensibility.

Kathleen Van Hyfte has recently been knocking out some joyously energetic yet slightly unsettling paintings - like circus clowns, simultaneously entertaining and frightening. Go Go Girl is one example. Her use of optical color-mixing techniques and aggressive brush strokes, while balancing dark areas against luminous passages, demands attention from the viewer.

Pamela Ohnemus Finally, if you missed experiencing the color-palette evolution seen in Corrine Smith's recent show at St. Ambrose University's Morrissey Gallery, now is your chance. She has three works in this show including the stunning Gateway.

Venus Envy is far more than an art-on-the-walls celebration. There will be an artist installation of photographs and audio by Kelly Pulford and a documentary on the creation of Venus Envy 2007 by Ange Glade. Laura Hopkins-Hiles will present Body & Soul, in which "the artist's body is used both as a canvas ... and as a vehicle that implies communication more powerful than words." If that doesn't seem like enough to take in, there will also be two stages with live music, poetry, and dancing.