11 Jun


Jennifer Karch Verzè

Exhibition at the Koffler Gallery, North York, Ontario

February 5 – March 12, 1986

Anima – n. (anima), a living being

Anima – from the latin – the breath of life: the vital principle; the soul

“…. I am because my little dog knows me.”  Gertrude Stein, “Identity”

Anima(l) presents the work of three women artists – Janet Jones, Landon Mackenzie and Cynthia Short and examines their use of the animal image. The common train shapes by these artists is the need and essentiality of this image in their work. The environment and feeling created by it is rendered more complex by the presence of a female image. Whether the image of the animal follows the animist view or represents an aspect of the artist’s unconscious mind, it is always at the focus of the meaning and the essence of the work.

               The work, though very personal, has a universal character. A psychological and visual exchange occurs between the viewer and the art, as the universal subject allows an understanding on many levels. It expresses the “anima” that belongs to everyone and is the common patrimony f humanity and animals.

               The interest of the viewer is immediately awakened by the familiar yet intriguing and powerful image of the animal. The viewer is reminded of the symbolic, mystical and religious purposes of the animal in past and present cultures.

               It is interesting therefore, to investigate the emergence of animal as symbol, subject of metaphor, allegory and as extension of self, shared in the paintings of Janet Jones and Landon Mackenzie and  the sculptures of Cynthia Short. The discourse on the duality of human existence with animals and earth, provides the foundation for the works of these artists. The allusive connection between the artists and the “other” self, as represented by the animal image, is through a personal search, private dialogue or the unconscious mind. The animal image can also be seen as a metaphor for human behavior, a conveyance for moral, spiritual and political revelation.

               Even though analogies can be drawn amongst the artists, each artist approaches their art from diverse concerns and the inclusion of all three provides stimulating forum for discussion.

               Janet Jones reflects on the crumbling of our civilization in light of the historical past, while Landon Mackenzie contemplates the tradition of the Canadian wilderness as a source of content. Mackenzie also presents a metaphorical autobiography of felt experiences, told in a combination of figurative and abstract images, while Cynthia Short creates a private dialogue where her sculptures are allegorical self-portraits of inner states.

               Janet Jones uses the historical technique of gold leaf to give her paintings a timeless quality of universal symbols. The animals portrayed – birds, lion, snake, shell, dog all function on different levels and symbolically relate to the female or androgynous figure and consciousness. In Messengers there is an ambiguous quality of universal cleansing of the soul and an awareness of social and political concerns, as portrayed by the birds flying into the distance. In The Warning Call, the female figure is a prisoner of civilization. Wrapped in the blue garb of history, she is aware of the snake that will bring her to a higher level of consciousness. The dog-like shape in Watchdog  protects the female figure and the shadow figure, which can be seen as another protector for woman – namely man. Her imagery examines male and female relationships and seeks to clarify an understanding of women’s new role in society.

               Landon Mackenzie’s paintings reveal a silent dialogue about human animals through self-referential experiences. The non-specific four-legged animals are perceived as the mythic animal and are unconsciously felt rather than intellectually thought out. The paint comes alive through continuous layering as working and reworking of the images comes after a considerable period of attachment. Mackenzie’s printmaking past is evident in this layering effect that gives a deep, seductive and vibrant quality to the paint.

               In Gestation N. 2 and The Cluny Series of 1983, named for her son born of that year, the works are about birth, motherhood and parenting and re consequently more autobiographical. Yet, she presents this in a symbolic manner, as each animal changes is “animality” and reflects the movement away from total autobiography to a more universal notion. Cluny n. 2, n. 2 and n. 4 each symbiotically portray the different aspects of the emotional upheaval and acquired understanding that come from the universal experience of giving birth and the parenting that follows. In this sense, the work creates a universal vocabulary, reached through the strength of the mother animal, creating a symbol of permanence and eternity.

               Cynthia Short treats her subjects with intimacy and alludes to the multi-formity of nature and in particular, the ambiguous form of marine life in Medusa.  The Man-of-War or “Medusa” trails its hair-like tendrils into an androgynous figure that can be seen as a woman underwater, with her vulnerable Achilles tendon evolving into the tentacles of an octopus.

               Short’s animate symbolism is highly charged personal imagery. There is a sense of ambiguity and fluctuating opposites between the animal and earth world an our human connection as in Medusa and Echo. In Echo,  a child is holding onto the snail-like eyes of a dog. From the dog’s gaping mouth, a child emerges with arms reaching out. A rebirth is taking place, a coming to terms with self, of giving birth to oneself and rediscovery. Instead of being perceived as a tensional gathering piece by distancing he animal from the child, the flesh covered wax creates a more intense relationship and the child appears as an extension of the animal and a reflection of itself. This birth of a heightened consciousness of identity is also expressed in the baptismal image of Medusa.

               Miss Briar Season is an allegorical self-portrait in slate. This sensitive dreamscape is again a question of duality of human existence. The denseness, solidity and permanence of the green slate are cut into the dimensions of Short’s body and contrasted with the three touching narratives of animals in undergrowth and forest life.

               Whether the works in this exhibition are intensely personal or more openly ambiguous in their references, whether they are spare of detail or filled with information, the artists deal with aspects of life common to all the success  of their communication lies with the viewer.

lost river series


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