All Creatures Great and Small

Filed in Past Exhibitions by on September 3, 2016

Arnold Blanch, Woman with Birds, c. 1953, oil on board Gift of Doris Lee, 1974-33-01

September 3 – December 31, 2016
Curated by Janice La Motta

The representation of animals in art goes back over 20,000 years to the cave paintings of Lascaux. Of the over 2,000 figures illustrated on the walls, more than 900 are animals including horses, stags, bison, cattle, bears, and cats. The Egyptians perceived animals as representations of the divine. Throughout the Middle Ages, animals were integrated into decorative motifs used in jewelry and illustrated manuscripts, and used symbolically as vehicles for religious allegory and moral instruction. Throughout history artists have depicted animals figuratively and literally and the fascination with the natural world and man’s relationship to it, has been an enduring source of inspiration.

All Creatures Great and Small celebrates the marvelous range of animals and creatures depicted in works from the WAAM’s Permanent Collection. A period of seventy-five years is represented in the thirty-eight works presented in the exhibition. Among the earliest work is Grace Mott Johnson’s, bronze frieze, Chimpanzees, 1912, which was exhibited in the New York Armory Show of 1913. The relief recalls the rhythms and sequencing of Muybridge’s animal locomotion studies of the late 1800s. James Turnbull’s, The Long-Horned Goat examines motion in another manner. In Turnbull’s playful sculpture, a slight touch of the goat’s head sets the sculpture into gracefully animated movement. It’s said that a gift of origami papers given to the artist inspired his move away from painting and led him to pursue mobiles and constructions with moveable parts.

The element of play is found in many of the works in this exhibition, as in Herman Cherry’s whimsical, Untitled, which recycles a piece of driftwood, waxed twine, a metal fork, and found objects into a collective arrangement that suggest the horned head of an animal. Arnold Blanch’s painting, Woman with Birds, c. 1953, is a delightful painting in which the shapes of the birds circling above the head of a woman are carved out from the various layers of paint, creating a joyful interplay between the abstracted figures of the birds in flight and the patterning in the woman’s clothing.

Several works in the exhibition reveal the love of animals as dear pets and companions and the intimacy of their presence in one’s lives. This is exemplified most in Arnold Blanch’s pencil drawing, Interior Scene with Lucile at Piano, of the 1920s. The viewer is given entry into the domestic tableau of the artist’s wife at the piano on what looks to be a cold winter night and we are drawn into the simple and sweet interior sensing not just the warmth of the stove but the warmth of the companionship of the family cat and dog. One also senses in the drawings of cats by Peggy Bacon and Rosella Hartman the familiarity of a beloved pet. In these delicate drawings the iconic pose of a sleeping feline is observed and depicted with care and tenderness.

As the exhibition title offers, selections include “creatures” and some seem to defy identification or certainly exaggerate identification, as in Arthur Zaidenberg’s mixed media drawing entitled A Bird, where an owl seems to emerge from a deep mixture of liquid browns and scratches. Similarly, in Edward Millman’s painting The Bug and the Rock, and lithograph, Laughing Bug, we find the suggestion of a multi-legged bug emerge from a frenzied tangle of lines and loops.

All Creatures Great and Small includes the “great” beasts of the jungle as depicted in Rosella Hartman’s magnificent painting of Big Cats. The painting is reminiscent of Henri Rousseau’s more stylized versions of similar jungle scenes. As with Rousseau, it is unlikely that Hartman went on safari but she brings the same sense of wonderment to her subject and in her own way creates a similar dreamlike quality to the scene. The great animals of the jungle relegated as circus performers are captured in a behind-the-scenes tableau in the beautiful pastel by Floyd Wilson, Zebras and Friend. In an unusual and sophisticated composition three zebras appear to the left side of the page tethered to a post and two massive elephants loom to the right with just a sliver of the second elephant revealed through the presence of an eye and trunk.

All Creatures Great and Small is presented in partnership with our education program. We offer a separate interactive art card for families and youth to engage with the exhibition. Special Family Days will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition, offering family friendly hands-on activities designed in response to the works presented in the exhibition.

Janice La Motta
Executive Director
Curator of the Permanent Collection

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