Currently on display at the Fulcrum Gallery – Tacoma’s treasure on the Hilltop – is a show entitled “Visions of the Other Side (Surrealistic Portraits, a Group Show).” The four-person show consists of work by Larkin Cypher, Keith Carter, Kelsi Finney and Jeremy Gregory. What unites the four is that each of the artists is trafficking in various varmints and curious creatures that are sometimes dressed up in human garb.
In the hands of a classically trained painter like Cypher, this effect of animal-in-human-clothing is striking. “Saint Gus and Pilot,” for example, depicts an amber-eyed dinosaur dressed in a Victorian suit. Shown from the chest up, the reptile stands with a cute, black and white bunny perched atop his head. Said bunny dangles a golden key in front of the dinosaur’s nose. Done on an oval surface, the painting brings to mind the “mother and father” portraits that might have graced the parlor walls of a Victorian-era home. The Victorian theme is reinforced by a frame made of braided fibers that are reminiscent of decorative crafts done with human hair. Once upon a time such decorative hair-art was thought charming, whereas now they seem just plain creepy.
Cypher also covers surfaces in human and animal faces that sprout tentacles, tendrils and tongues that intertwine like invasive ivy. A self confessed “mad scientist,” Cypher states that his mission is the exploration of “the relationship between organic forms and the spectrum of human emotion.”
Like Cypher, Carter also gives us a well-dressed, fuzzy-faced creature – a wolverine – that is dressed to the nines in suit and tie. Carter’s creatures, however, are less eerie and more warm and cozy than those of Cypher. They come across like characters out of storybooks like the Micheal Hagues illustrated version of Kenneth Graham’s “The Wind in the Willows.”
Carter’s “Wise Bear” seems to exude softness and safety. The bear is a pyramid composed of rounded volumes of fur-covered flesh that are set with a pair of warm and tender eyes.
Where Carter gives us the warmth of the den and burrow, Kelsi Finney provides the mellow yellow of springtime sunshine. “Mr. Golightly (deer with horns)” is Finney’s contribution to the suit-wearing animal theme. Here, a deer with an impressive pair of antlers is dressed in a velvety, dun-colored suit and striped necktie. Three other portraits feature humans (two are self portraits of Finney). These figures sprout lyrical vegetation such as dandelions and water plants. “Wild Thoughts” is a fun guy: a man with mushrooms sprouting from his noggin. He is like some calm and pleasant Rip Van Winkle, who has awakened refreshed from a long rest on a forest floor in company with nurse logs.
Gregory’s paintings are accompanied by the results of his recent excursions into the realm of puppetry. He presents several vignettes involving his well-crafted, little figures. There is “Cowpie” the drunken rodeo clown and “Victor” the predatory owl. Most amusing is the “Creepy In-Love Couple,” a pair of gnarled, toothy little goblins with their arms wrapped around each other as they sit strapped into an old, metal roller skate.
Of the four paintings that Gregory has in the show, the most striking is “Tobododo,” which originally appeared in the “Dodo Show” at the Mat Hat Tea Company. The picture shows Mad Hat proprietor Tobin Ropes hunkered in a chair wearing nothing but a Dodo mask. He is hugging a wine bottle and has a tea bag tied to a toe so that he can dangle it into a teacup on the floor. In “We Have to Keep Moving,” Gregory depicts a ghostly group of hippies who are blundering headlong into a swamp as a host of alien ships – dangling tentacles like jellyfish – hover in the sky. Gregory’s colorful media applied to surfaces coated in black gesso gives his work a distinctive style.
The back room of the Fulcrum Gallery contains a photo installation by Sharon Styer called “Nightwatchman.” Each print is lit by its own LED light. The space is dark and mysterious and viewers must get close to look at the photographs of various Tacoma locations shown at night. Nighttime Tacoma is revealed as a mysterious, quiet and haunting otherworld that few of us ever venture into despite that it is there for the taking.
“Visions of the Other Side” and “Nightwatchman” run through July 14. For further information, visit www.fulcrumtacoma.com