Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lace in the Forest: the Art of Katy Horan


I first saw Katy Horan's art at her 2008 "Into the Deep Dark" show at Anno Domini and was immediately fascinated by her folkart-inspired paintings. True to the show's name, these paintings seemed to depict the women of some ancient, isolated society living in a deep, dark forest. The images so captivated me that to this day they come to mind when I walk in the woods.

The women in paintings such as Decoration and When the Horned Maidens Gather (below) are engaged in "womanly" crafts (quilting, sewing, crocheting, etc), but there is nothing delicate about these activities. They are in the woods, surrounded by animals. However, they are at ease, looking relaxed and comfortable in their warm, handmade garments as they go about their tasks. They are at one with nature and have nothing to fear from it.

When the Horned Maidens Gather

Which isn't to say these are gentle, pastoral scenes. The trees look foreboding. There are no green groves or fields of flowers. There are bears, skulls, and labor. A society of women, communing with animals, performing secret rituals - such an idea has long been a source of both fascination and fear for patriarchal societies, seen in ancient Greece's interest in all-female nature cults, the Puritanical terror of witch covens, and endless fantasies about Amazons. This "darker" femininity is especially evident in paintings like When the Moon Is Full, Feather Magic, Crystal Magic, and Blood (below). Here we have knives and nudity that doesn't care about the male gaze. Womanhood is not just about gentle crafts but blood and survival. That these works are on wood augments the feeling that these woman are hardy and natural.

Blood was my first "real" art purchase (and in other words...a large percentage of my art collection). It depicts two woman: one a young woman wearing a fox mask, the other a slightly older woman wearing a buffalo mask. They are at different stages of their lives, but united by the common blood of their womanhood.


While still exploring femininity and the intricate patterns she's become known for, Horan hasn't gotten stuck in a rut. Around 2009, she moved away from painting full scenes of ritual, instead focusing on single figures represented by synecdoche or otherwise abstracted, obscured by or composed of volumes of lace. The lace is delicate (and painted on paper instead of wood) and yet perhaps monstrous in how it seems to consume the figures. These works also show a slightly different color palette for her. In her earlier work, browns and taupe are the predominant colors, with brick red and pale yellows often seen in fire or the women's clothes. With its dusky blue, green, and salmon against the black and white, this lace is livelier than you'd expect. 


More recently, Horan has lessened the abstraction of her figures slightly and moved into grays and whites. These seem to be older women, closed off from the world. Their lace coverings hide bodies and keep secrets, but also express beauty and skill. A single lace veil or doily would be fragile and ephemeral, but with layers upon layers they form something substantial. The "spinsters" of this series might be alone, but they are also resilient. I definitely recommend looking at the larger pictures on Horan's website, because the detail in the Horan's painting of the lacework is stunning with its precise patterns and subtle white-on-white layers.

Spinster 3

It's been interesting to watch Horan's work mature. As different as the more recent paintings are from her paintings from just a few years ago, they all feel connected, as if part of a growing thesis on womanhood and an on-going self-challenge of skill. I'm eager to see what direction she'll take with her art next.

 Horan and her work at 2011's "Bloom & Gloom" show at Swarm Gallery.

Image Info:
Photographs of Blood and Bloom & Gloom show mine; all others from Katy Horan's website.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

That's Not an Archvillain, It's a Sassy Tween!

So I've spent the past week or so ignoring DC's sad texts and getting caught up on Marvel Comics' Journey Into Mystery. Well, not entirely caught up - it started in 1952 - but caught up on Kieron Gillen's current storyline, in which longtime villain Loki, after confusingly sacrificing himself to save Asgard (he was the one who put it in danger in the first place, as usual) is reincarnated as a precocious, gambling child with no memory of his former self. Oh, and Asgard's in Oklahoma now, long story.

Kids these days.

Loki's still very much chaos-loving god of mischief Loki, but without all the family baggage and world domination goals he's pretty much the happiest, liveliest little teen one could hope for (if only he'd stop with the damn tights). Like any other kid he loves texting on his phone (produced by Stark Industries, natch), hopes to get his driver's permit (again, Oklahoma), and adores milkshakes and puppies. Alas, no one in, well, the universe is willing to trust this "new" Loki. Except, of course, for Thor, who is more than willing to give Simon Tam a run for the coveted "most insanely devoted big brother" award. Thor is delighted to have his brother back, and is sure that in time the rest of Asgard will be just as taken with Loki as he is. In the meantime, however, assaults ranging from mild bullying to full-on assassination attempts are common, and Thor enlists his friends the Warriors Three to help protect his little brother. They do this very, very grudgingly, although Volstagg, a father himself, seems to be warming up to him.

This certainly doesn't mean that Loki's angelic. He's still crafty and tends to bite off more than he can chew, often solving problems by creating a whole new set of problems. All too often, he keeps his teammates in the dark about what the real plan is. Because of this, the All-Mother (his former? current? adopted mother) has leverage to blackmail him into doing her bidding. Also on the parent front, Odin is MIA at the moment (another long story), but wasn't thrilled about Loki's return. However, he's told Heimdall that despite everything, he always considered "old" Loki  to be his true son and would never harm or exile this newcomer.

Leah and Loki aren't actually this lovey-dovey...yet.

Loki has a few allies besides Thor, although they're a motley crew. There's Ikol, the spirit of his old self in the form of a magpie, who might be helpful or malevolent.  Leah, handmaid of the goddess Hela, has also been sent from the underworld to help Loki. Leah's great - she's got all of Loki's snark but none of his enthusiasm. She's a tough cookie. It's exciting to see a strong female character who isn't, uh, a "strong female character." Loki and Leah also end up with an utterly unadoptable hell-hound puppy. Thori (yes, Loki names it Thori) is red-eyed, fire-breathing, and runs around shouting things like "murder!!!", but Loki loves him and hopes to raise him to be a good dog just as Thor hopes to raise Loki to be a good man.

A boy and his dog.

Journey Into Mystery succeeds so well due to its writing. Kieron Gillen's mixture of humor and heart gives us characters to care about, and his fun, thoughtful plots give these characters plenty to do. Good comic writers probably get tired of being compared to Neil Gaiman, but honestly, Sandman is what Journey Into Mystery feels most similar to (and was that un petit hommage in the Terrorism Myth sequence?). Gillen's an artist and craftsman, and Marvel best keep letting him do what he's doing. 

For fans of the Avengers movie who want to get into the comics but aren't sure where to start (it is pretty overwhelming), I definitely suggest Journey Into Mystery. Issues 622-626 have been collected in the Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself hardcover, and issues 627-631 are in the Journey Into Mystery: Fear Itself Fallout hardcover. The current story (issue 640 is out today) has Loki (with Leah in tow, of course) on a strictly under-the-table diplomatic mission to England's otherworld to help King Arthur & co. in a battle against industrialization. Publication schedule can be seen here. I'm hoping this story goes on for a long time (kid Loki's a character for the ages!), although Gillen's words here sound ominous. :(

No Sleipnir jokes; he's a kid.

Image Info:
Loki on cellphone: panel from Journey Into Mystery 622, illustrated by Doug Braithwaite 
Loki & Leah cover: Journey Into Mystery 625
Thori & Loki: panel from Journey Into Mystery 632, illustrated by Mitch Breitweiser
Horsie cover: Journey Into Mystery 640

Monday, June 11, 2012

Tales Told of GOB and Michael: Favorite Fictional Siblings

The Bluth brothers' battles produce considerably less structural damage.

I finally saw The Avengers a few weekends ago and became an obsessed fangirl, so I had to watch Thor. In Thor, Loki, already dealing with Scar/Mufasa jealousy issues with his brother, is even more shaken by the revelation that he's adopted, which basically goes like this: "Your birth father is our lifelong enemy and I actually stole you as a baby in case I needed you for diplomatic reasons in the future. You probably have some questions, but I'm going into comatose state now." Loki handles this news really, really badly (scheming to win his adopted father's love by killing his birth father and also genocide, attempting suicide, getting in way over his head with brutal alien species the Chitari, trying to subjugate all of humanity, etc) but despite everything, you kinda hope brothers-turned-enemies Thor and Loki can work it out. Maybe they can have a sit-down with King Arthur and Sir Kay, although Loki reeeeeally does not seem interested in the Sir Kay "know what I'll just ride on my adopted brother's coattails and provide comic relief" route right now.

Really this is just an excuse for me to ramble about my favorite fake siblings, from the inseparable to the murderous.

Arrested Development - the Bluth children

GOB, Michael, Lindsay, and Buster.

He may be the patriarch of a douchey Orange County family and not the king of Asgard, but George Bluth, Sr. definitely one-ups Odin. Not only does he encourage sibling rivalry between enthusiastic but not terribly bright or adored firstborn George Bluth, Jr. (a.k.a. GOB) and perennially exasperated, sole competent sibling Michael, but he turns their forced childhood fights into a successful line of underground videos. The lone sister is vain, shallow Lindsay, who, just like Margot Tenenbaum of The Royal Tenenbaums, is blonde, adopted (spoiler), and marries a much older crunchy doctor-type to rebel (I guess that's just what you do when you're the blonde only daughter of a dysfunctional wealthy family). Youngest child Buster is the indulged baby of the family, despite being well into his thirties. Even with all their differences and clashes involving telenovela stars and loose seals, they share a bond that can only be forged by the shared childhood terror of your father repeatedly throwing a prosthetic arm at you. 

Pride and Prejudice - Jane and Elizabeth Bennet

Keira Knightley & Rosamund Pike in the 2005 film.

Poor Michael Bluth has no confidant for dealing with his crazy siblings, but at least eldest Bennet sisters Elizabeth and Jane have each other to help weather the storm that is their frantic, marriage-obsessed household. They're the responsible, intelligent counterpart to their two youngest sisters: the boy-crazy, impulsive Lydia and Kitty. (No1curr about middle child Mary.) Although Jane is the eldest, her kindness and shyness make her vulnerable, and Elizabeth is just as protective of her as Mr. Darcy is of his guileless BFF Mr. Bingley. Darcy's and Elizabeth's desires to protect their own halves of the adorable baby bunny coupling that is Bingley and Jane end up putting them even more at odds than they were before. Fortunately, after some pride/prejudice/oops-forgot-to-tell-you-that-one-guy's-a-pederast stumbles, Darcy and Elizabeth come to an understanding, the BFFs become brothers-in-law, and the eldest Misses Bennet get to leave crazytown.

The Virgin Suicides - the Lisbon sisters

The sisters in the Sophia Coppola film.

The doomed, dreamy Lisbon sisters linger in the minds of their unnamed admirers long after their deaths (spoiler alert?), just as they linger in the minds of readers of Jeffrey Eugenides's debut novel long after the book is finished. Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux, and Cecilia are all different in temperament and interests, but form one sisterly mass. While the girls' bond comes in part from the shared social isolation imposed by their awkward, conservative parents, even when out of the house the sisters show little desire to separate themselves. Among the upheaval of the 70s and the repression of their home life, the sisters have created their own little world.

After Dark - Mari and Eri Asai

Younger sister Mari is the serious student. Older sister Eri is the beautiful model. But now Eri, depressed and addicted to pills, has fallen into a stupor and rarely leaves her bed. To escape the stifling atmosphere at home, Mari spends her nights drinking coffee and reading at a Tokyo Denny's. On one of these nights, she encounters an acquaintance from her and her sister's past, and is soon pulled into an all-night adventure involving a retired female wrestler and a human trafficking ring. But the most difficult thing Mari has to do is get past the years of resentment and her reflexive withdrawal to remember and reconnect with a big sister who would protect her in darkness.

Geek Love - the Binewski siblings

The Lisbon siblings' isolation has nothing on the Binewskis'. The children of this family are children, yes, but they're also products: bred specifically for the freak show at their parents' traveling carnival. They don't attend school, and besides a few carnival employees, they have no companions other than each other. The siblings are charismatic and flippered Arty, conjoined twins Electra and Iphigenia, hunchbacked albino dwarf Oly, and powerfully psychic but gentle Chick. Their sequestered lives continue without change until Arty stumbles upon a business venture far more lucrative than a carnival: a cult. As Arty's megalomaniac tendencies run further out of control, the siblings' close-knit bonds turn to tragedies of passion and jealousy. 

Firefly - Simon and River Tam

Sean Maher as Simon and Summer Glau as River.

Sure, River Tam might be deadly and prone to erratic fits and will spy on you having sex, but she's still a way less annoying Joss Whedon younger sibling than Dawn Summers. Hell, Avengers' Loki's a less annoying Joss Whedon younger sibling than Dawn Summers, and he killed Agent Coulson and kept the Avengers so busy that Thor didn't even have time to bang Natalie Portman on his return trip to Earth. In cult classic series Firefly, young doctor Simon Tam boards spaceship Serenity with a strange box - which turns out to hold the naked body of a young woman in stasis. The young woman is his sister, River, who has had her brain torn apart by the government to make her into a psychic assassin. Extremely (extremely extremely) devoted Simon has risked everything to rescue her, and now the brother and sister are on the run, hiding out on Serenity. By turns endearing, terrifying, and kick-ass ("I can kill you with my brain"), River is eventually embraced by the rest of the crew.

Finnegans Wake - Shem and Shaun

Signed cover page of a published excerpt. Joyce sucks at J's.

Can you really call them - or anyone in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake - characters? They're more...concepts...and the figures mostly known as Shem and Shaun are the ultimate concept of the two brothers: forever opposites and forever united. The sons of two other figures in the book, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker and Anna Livia Plurabelle, Shaun is the "good" conformist brother and Shem is the screw-up troublemaker. They are a seemingly endless list of opposing but eternally connected brothers: Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, and alcoholic writer James Joyce and his own straighter arrow brother Stanislaus. Michael Bluth and Thor are definitely Shauns, and GOB and Loki are definitely Shems. Which are you?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Literary Salon on the Bus

My bus ride now.

So I was late to the Avengers party (Tony didn't bring the party to me :'( ), but I finally saw it a few weekends ago, and like many, immediately and tragically fell in love with Tom Hiddleston, who plays Loki. Shortly after, I learned via his twitter that he was recording poetry with Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, and Harry Enfield for iF Poems, an iPhone/iPad app.

Granted, I don't have a lot of apps on my phone, but this is my favorite. Until now, the only poetry recordings I had were my two go-to bus listens, T.S. Eliot's readings of his "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and "The Waste Land" (Listening to "The Waste Land" while riding the 38? At night? Now that's an experience.). With the iF Poems app, I now have 270 poems to read and/or listen to on the bus.

While I'm a text-text-text girl, a recitation of a poem is not just the text, and the reader does matter - greatly. And these people know what they're doing. I was most struck by this when listening to Tom Hiddleston's performance of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," which has never been one of my favs. However, Hiddleston's voice for this poem is so earnest as well as passionate that it ameliorates the pushy-frat-boy feeling the poem can have. When he finally gets to "Now therefore," his case is sounding pretty good, even with the "worms shall try/ That long preserved virginity" grossness just a few lines previous.

Not everyone can pull off "worms gonna screw you anyways" as a pick-up line.

Helena Bonham Carter voices many of the children's poems, which, despite her Bellatrix Lestrange/Mrs. Lovett gothness is familiar ground for her - she voiced the Oscar-nominated short animation The Gruffalo, based on the children's book of the same name. And yeah, she reads a Tim Burton poem.

Bill Nighy's subtly foreboding voice is so well suited for darker poems like William Blake's "The Tyger" and Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabel Lee." You can totally see a grizzled, ruined Bill Nighy lying down with a skeleton, can't you? His low growl and Helena Bonham Carter's airier tone work well together for Tennyson's lovely but morbid "The Lady of Shalott."

Girl, did you just steal and deface a boat?

Muni's still crowded and bumpy, but now on my commute it's a lot easier to pretend I'm lounging on a divan while brilliant people read to me. Whether it's via iF Poems or not, I definitely recommend trying out poetry recordings for your phone or MP3 player. It's a nice change of pace. I got my Eliot recordings from the iTunes Store, but I'm sure there are various ways to procure such things. The Academy of American Poets, which I've used to link to the text of the poems mentioned here, has a huge collection of poems on those CD things.

As a sample, here's Laurence Olivier Award winner and upcoming Prince Hal/Henry V Tom Hiddleston reading from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night:

This makes me cast him in every single Shakespeare play in my head. Except Winter's Tale, because blah.

A few notes:

-You get ALL the poems, which is great, but I can see how it would be an issue if you're already short on space on your iPod or iPad.

-The selections do skew younger, but I think that is the point? You're never too old for "The Owl and the Pussycat," though.

-They also skew very British, which is fine, since it's a British app and the British have a pretty good track record when it comes to poetry. ;) Just beware of Dead White Guy syndrome, if that's something you're wary of. Breaking the British penis mold are poets like haiku master Kobayashi Issa and American icon Emily Dickinson.

-You can also make your own recordings, which is cool if unlike me, you can actually get through recording your voicemail greeting without feeling despair.

Image Info:
The Reading painting by Edouard Manet
Tom Hiddleston photo from his Twitter account
The Lady of Shalott painting by John William Waterhouse