The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/ Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees/ Is my destroyer.
—Dylan Thomas (click here for entire poem)
The poetry of Dylan Thomas haunts the exhibition Sprout, a nature-themed show by four emerging female artists at Kibbee Gallery. Curated by Anne-Marie Manker, Sprout includes more than 20 works on paper with varying degrees of conceptual depth. Young Atlanta artists Julia Kubica, Kelly Cloninger, and Katherine Gaddy convey nature as a vital force. But it is Pam Rogers’ meditations on mortality and renewal, rooted in powerful life experience, that steal the show.
Rogers creates watercolors that fuse delicate renderings of plants with an unsettling surrealism. Images of bandaged, grafted, tied, and stitched plants pervade her paintings with a variety of colors and styles. In Grafted Garden, a blossom with a tourniquet droops from a stalk that extends across the composition like a bony, skeletal arm. Strange hybrids bloom, suggesting an endless cycle of entropy and regeneration.
The life cycle theme is more explicit in the cool-hued Objects in Translation, where a broken animal skull floats beneath a swaddled bundle resembling both a bird’s nest and a bandaged plant. A trail of blue dots connects the skull to a magnolia blossom, whose petals echo the skull’s shape. The memento mori in the watercolor pays homage to painters Georgia O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo. With the ambiguity of images such as the swaddled bundle, Rogers also communicates the uncertainty of life.
Personal traumatic experiences inspired the wrapping and grafting metaphors, Rogers explains in an interview. A car accident at age 19 left her in a body cast for months. Binding also serves as a metaphor for self-imposed and cultural constraints.
Rogers makes a feminist statement in a large ephemeral sculpture. Collected plant materials—sunflowers, sewn-up birds-of-paradise, ivy, and pine cones—are amassed in a bundle that is wrapped with clothesline and a nautical-looking rope made of upholstery cord. Called A Sportsman’s Dilemma, the work hangs in a blocked stairway like something dredged up by a fisherman. Fading bouquets of roses, berries encased in tulle netting, and an old-fashioned, silvery brooch evoke nostalgia and memories of a woman’s past. A lovely festoon of wing-shaped maple seeds strung on fishing wire encircles the work like a spring whirlwind, suggesting freedom and rebirth.
Trained in botanical illustration, Rogers found the genre conceptually limiting. Her work has become more idea-driven, transcending the genre, since she completed an MFA in painting at Savannah College of Design in 2008. For influences she cites whimsical watercolorists Amy Cutler and Walton Ford, who was inspired by John James Audubon for his surreal wildlife paintings.
Kelly Cloninger explores female fertility with obsessively drawn flowers from her Womb series. Dense aggregates of petals generate small satellites of themselves in a stylized pattern that even proliferates beyond the picture frame, spreading to the wall in the different medium of yarn. The open spatial arrangement in the drawings is reminiscent of Chinese landscape painting.
Native American creation myths inspired the strong graphic design impressions in Julia Kubica’s cut-mylar works. Silhouetted trees with massive roots in serpentine curves dominate the composition. Resembling rivers, they are full of energetic, wavy lines. Through the layering of painted mylar, Kubica, a graphic designer, creates a sense of diffused light.
Katherine Gaddy’s small-scale pencil-and-acrylic works juxtapose the vapid imagery of adorable panda bears with highly detailed nature imagery. Bears rendered in soft pastel colors straddle stark trees with infinitely intricate black-and-white bark. Still a SCAD undergraduate, Gaddy offers a study of contrasts seeking resolution in drawings such as Pink Pandemonium.
From their intimations of mortality to emblems of infinitude, the works in Sprout offer an intelligent dialogue.
Sally Hansell writes frequently for Fiberarts magazine. A former staff reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she has also contributed to American Craft magazine and curated local exhibitions of contemporary art.