Joseph Sinness' cross-hatched pileups of vegetation, bouquets of felines and swaths of lace converge with Erika Olson's cascades of organic material to reinterpret the pastoral and the prosaic in "Garden Variety," the Armoury Gallery's fourth exhibition.
Olson's gouache and graphite works on paper conflate the palette and restraint of Suzuki Harunobu's feminine woodcuts with the sensitive, stylized surfaces characteristic of Ert's fashion illustrations. Olson arranges and repeats small objects, choreographing gusts of jewel-like, faceted pinecones, seed pods or larvae across the page. The dramatic tension resides in the implied motion of these sweeping gestures across the tundra of empty space. Symbolically, the elements that comprise Olson's work are the fruits of successful reproduction among plants, by way of spontaneous intimacies with wind or the promiscuity of bees on stamens, but the intended sexual tension is countered by Olson's process. Executed by a precise and controlled hand, natural elements are synthesized into pure geometric forms.
In addition to the two-dimensional work, Olson has included Feigned Growth, a hibiscus-hued soft sculpture. While the flatness and sterility of the marks subdue any sexual undertones in Olson's works on paper, the sensual and tactile qualities are unmistakable in commingled stacks of fuchsia and orange felt cutouts beneath the fertile, overstuffed pods of Feigned Growth.
Sinness' Apocalyptical Dolly is a postmodern deity, though Parton's celebrity status, tacky theme park empire and silicone-enhanced proportions will likely outlive the butterflies and swallows roosting in her halo of curls in Sinness' homage. Another Parton-inspired piece, Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' Like That? mimics the two shot composition of Apocalyptical Dolly, replacing the benevolent country diva with a fanged, grotesque gorgon chasing a rabbit off the page.
Sinness repeats rabbits and piles kittens; these feral breeders scamper throughout much of his work represented in "Garden Variety." The absence of these totem creatures in his figural drawings allows the viewer to set aside decoding what Sinness' describes as "new queer kitsch iconography." In the disturbing vignette I'm Doing This for Your Sake, an older woman watches intently as a young woman with protruding front teeth reluctantly drops a pill on her tongue. Sinness renders the pair with a realism he reserves for mortals. Every surface crawls with texture: lips curl, curls tumble, cloth buckles and creases.
Tucked in the back of the gallery, a series of local photographer River Bullock's untitled medium-format images more literally interpret the show's theme, with a portion of her garden plot transplanted among them. Bullock's photographs faithfully document nature, preserving patterns of leaves under the natural blue cast of daylight.
While classical themes of man against nature and man against his own nature permeate the microcosmic dramas and subversive, beautifully rendered tchotchkes of "Garden Variety," Sinness' and Olson's organic elements are anything but commonplace.
With few exceptions, negative space dominates the exhibit; it disembodies and decontextualizes the bric-a-brac iconography in Sinness' disjointed narrative and insulates Olson's delicately limned ephemera. These ample expanses of white space point not to a lack of substance, but to the fecundity of raw, potential space.
"Garden Variety" is on view at the Armoury Gallery (1718 N. 1st St.) through Oct. 4.