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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Swan Song

Art Review

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HotcakesGallery may be preparing to shut down in a couple of months, but the work currently on the walls doesn’t suggest it. This show, at minimum, is great fun for the viewer, who is treated to superb illustration and sculpture at the hands of Portland artists Meredith Dittmar and Betsy Walton. It’s a well-conceived show, with a sense of unity between the two artists, culminating in a collaborative piece that combines Dittmar’s polymer clay figures with Walton’s stoic faces. The works of both artists give a sense of whimsy crossed with melancholy; there’s a seriousness in the faces and poses of the figures both artists create that’s tempered by a sense of hope and joy.

Dittmar’s polymer clay pieces range from the simple narrative to the entertaining; sometimes, the viewer is invited into a mildly forlorn but unbearably cute figure’s “inner space,” as she calls it. Sometimes, it’s a petri dish filled with more cuteness (could germs be so adorable?) Often, the figures possess a goddess-like quality (they seem largely feminine) and suggest something larger than life. Always, these three-dimensional pieces are expertly crafted.

Walton, who studied at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, creates two-dimensional work in gouache that shares some of the same esthetic—her drawn figures, which sometimes lack bodies, have sad, almost expressionless faces, but they are placed in fantastic and childlike settings. The story in Walton’s work is less clear, but it seems underpinned by a feminine sense; are the themes of fashion, seen as fashion sketches or disembodied dresses, a nod to women’s crafts? Is the abundance of trees and leaves a comment on fertility? More likely, it’s just what you see: beautiful illustration by an able artist.

Overall, the Dittmar and Walton show is successful, and worth a look, albeit not groundbreaking or particularly thought-provoking. The mixed emotions present in the works may be magnified by Hotcakes impending demise, but it’s still a delightful show to see. We may not be hearing Hotcakes’ swan song just yet, but this solid show is a worthy prelude.

See the works of Meredith Dittmar and Betsy Walton at Hotcakes through March 22.