Friday, June 9, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

Bats and cats in root beer, and deer, deer everywhere

Special to The Seattle Times

Exhibit reviews

"Marcel Dzama: Works on Paper, 1997-2005," 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays,

Greg Kucera Gallery, 212 Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-624-0770 or

"Let Our Beauty Ease Your Grief: New Works by Patte Loper,"

11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, Platform Gallery,

114 Third Ave. S., Seattle (206-323-2808 or

A sense of nostalgia — but with a twist — enlivens the work of Marcel Dzama and Patte Loper. Both artists work representationally and use the limitations of realism to veer off into complete fantasy. At the same time, their work addresses complex social and emotional realizations.

Winnipeg-based Dzama, 32, shows several suites of drawings at Greg Kucera. Looking like they came from old schoolbooks, the drawings feature flat figures set on stark white backgrounds. A host of colorful characters caught in the middle of bizarre performances and actions populates them: soldiers, cowboys, flappers, cops, nurses, rabbits, bats, birds, cats, bears, various anthropomorphic blobs.

There's often violence committed or impending, with guns and military formations recurring in several scenes. Tension also comes from the sheer incongruity of contexts put together. A cowboy shoots at bats. A layered cake walks down a set of cat stairs. The free-floating quality brought about by the lack of visual background adds an anything-goes kind of sentiment.

Henry Darger's work comes to mind at first glance, mainly because of Dzama's use of early-20th-century costumes and style of rendering. But there's a tragic desperation in these pieces that recalls the tone of Francisco Goya's "Caprichos (Caprices)" series of etchings.

Masks, costumes and mutations reveal rather than hide the dark side of human intent. Lewd and comic, they point to the limitations of reason in the face of absurd sets of situational choices. Fantasy then becomes not an escape, but a way of speaking truth.

There's an immediate and fleeting aspect to Dzama's line drawing that addresses the intellect rather than the senses. We read the scenes quickly, making them all the more jarring. Rendered with thin ink lines and colored with flat planes of watercolor and, improbably, root beer, the images have no lushness or shading to dwell on.

We accept the images at face value and move to the next one. Fortunately there's lots to chew on, and Dzama executes with such variety, wit and rigor that the effect is stunning.

Patte Loper's paintings and drawings at Platform Gallery are of a different order. Loper presents images done with oil and graphite that invite lingering on depth and detail. She recreates settings from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "North by Northwest," two iconic movies, as well as a photo of a mid-century modernist house from Architectural Review in richly graduated oils.

She chose arresting images to depict from each film, the Devil's Tower monument in the first and the woods near Mount Rushmore in the second. Having captured the settings, she inserts fawns as surprising dwellers. Fawns also make appearances in drawn copies of photos taken from an old article in ArtForum magazine, and in a handmade animated film based on a nature documentary by David Attenborough.

Fawns and deer are cultural symbols of tamed perceptions of nature, typically lingering in places only when they feel safe enough from predators. In one painting, a deer is lying dead, shot through with arrows; but in the rest, their calm demeanors may signify the momentary absence of danger.

The settings receiving these fawns, arguably fixed in time because of their cultural significance, become organic for the moment, transcending cultural trappings and getting sublimated into a larger, nonhuman process.

Lucia Enriquez:

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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