By Lauren C. Ostberg
Pets inspire their owners to do any number of things: build a fence, buy a pint-sized tutu, even paint a portrait. The “Little Critters” exhibit in Somerville’s Nave Gallery showcases the human expression of these co-species bonds.
Most pieces were more complex than the “I Haz Cute Cat!” that you might expect from pet-inspired art. Curator V Van Sant hoped that this exhibit would display a reverence for animals, an attention to the creatures with which we spend our lives. Devotion and death were recurring themes.
Melissa Glick, for instance, made a quilt dedicated to her dachshund, Gretel (1966-1978). The loss of her childhood pet was her first experience with death, and even the dog pictured on the quilt is not Gretel, but “the substitute of that era.” Marcella Stasa, of Upton, also has trouble letting go of pets. She incorporates the whiskers, claws, and even the bones of her deceased pets into her sculptures.
Stasa acknowledges that it sounds morbid, but it is in keeping with her emphasis on natural materials and expressive of a desire to keep these companions in her life. “They are such generous little beings,” she said. Stasa’s piece incorporated clippings from her cat’s latest claw trimmings, and her team of ducks produced the deviled eggs served on the exhibit’s opening night.
Bren Bataclan couldn’t take the object of his fascination home with him. He encountered the endangered four-inch tall Tarsier monkeys in the Philippines and has been putting it in his designs since then. The image of this animal has brought him a great deal of attention – currently, he’s sporting it on T-shirts – and his enthusiasm for the wide-eyed, nocturnal animal has not abated.
Other artists, like Barb and Scott Withers, took the human-animal bond to a new level. The duo’s video project depicts Ginger, their golden retriever, donning a bathrobe and using “her” human arms to prepare breakfast or handle sushi. Joann Bindi poses her animal in human clothing, noting in her artist’s statement that “the camera is catnip” to her pet.
A few pieces – Lindsay Florence’s purple cow, Van Sant’s funerary jars – underline the sanctity of animals, while others gave them human foibles.
“Many of my creatures rely on alcohol, or they become social smokers,” notes Zehra Kahn, the artist behind “The Bestiary.” Her large pen-and-ink piece is intended to depict “the vulnerable experience of humans searching for companionship and fulfillment.”
Likewise, “Shiska with Machine Gun” pushes anthropomorphisization of animals to the next level by adding a violent twist to man’s fondness for posed animals.
Pieces pulled oddly at the viewers attention — a lovely, but high-hung, hooked rug, an (unintentionally?) eerie filming of a sleeping dog – but the overall experience was well-organized. Artists who were unabashed about their fondness for their animals were as prominent as those exploring broader philosophical issues.
“I thought it was time to do a portrait of my Ruca, since, to me, she was as important as any person,” wrote Lindsay Florence.
Mary McGlynn Swigart, likewise, began painting to show the expressiveness of her rescue dog. “She brought me to it,” Swigart says, shameless in her anthropomorphization. She has branched out since then, but every time she becomes frustrated, she paints her dog’s portrait. “I know her . She grounds me,” she said.
“Little Critters” will be on display at the Nave Gallery, 155 Powderhouse Blvd. in Somerville from August 6-29, 2010. Donations to “Pets In Need,” a volunteer-run cat adoption shelter, are accepted on-site.
MARCELLA STATSA WITH TOBY