Stretching 15 feet across a wall at Bockley Gallery, Andrea Carlson’s 60-panel painting “Ink Babel” is an epic vision of a planet inhabited by crabs, scorpions, feral pigs, vultures and coral snakes that share their desolate landscape with ancient sailors, Egyptian gods, American Indians, European explorers and a surveillance state signaled by power stations, watch towers and hovering helicopters.
A magnificent piece of work, the 10-foot-tall black-and-white mural reads like panels in a cinematic storyboard or pages from a surrealistic graphic novel. The narrative is merely hinted at, the scenes fragmented and their meaning — if any — left to imaginative interpretation. The panels seem to recede toward a horizon distant in time and space. Images repeat, mutate and shrink in size. Though disconnected, the vignettes are linked by mood and motif into a riveting whole.
Crab claws and scorpion tails merge while the shaggy pig glowers and a bejeweled Indian gags at the sight of high-masted ships sailing on a futuristic sea. A gaunt sailor suggests Odysseus, the Greek wanderer who encountered monsters and magic in the ancient Aegean. Here he sails with a companion vulture under the gaze of Egyptian deities. The horrified Indian appears to be Mayan, Aztec, Incan or simply noble without peg to a particular time or place. The sea roils and mountains rise in a landscape populated with critters of malign indifference.
Each scene is meticulously rendered in ink on watercolor paper and finished with a moody oil-paint background. Carlson melds these unlikely materials with such a sure hand that each panel could stand as a finished painting. While the implied story line is fluid, the images are so evocative and intriguing that they seduce the eye into puzzling out connections. See for yourself before “Ink Babel” moves on to the Plug In Institute for Contemporary Art in Winnipeg, where Carlson will be showing it with additional new work later in September.
Ends Sept. 13. Noon-5 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Free. Gallery talk by Carlson at 6 p.m. Tue. Bockley Gallery, 2123 W. 21st St., Mpls. 612-377-4669 or www.bockleygallery.com.
On Fertile Ground: Native Artists in the Upper Midwest
The first in a three-year series, “On Fertile Ground” features recent work by 15 American Indian artists from Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Thirty additional Midwesterners will be showcased next year and in 2016.
The initial show is a wide-ranging sample of paintings, prints, sculpture, jewelry and traditional crafts (woven sashes, birchbark containers) by well-established and novice talents. Carefully chosen and smartly installed, it is a handsome though somewhat uneven introduction to the field.
The paintings, prints and drawings are particularly strong. In her usual style, Julie Buffalohead poses her anthropomorphic animals on plain paper without background or context. Her rabbit/girl and a deer saddled like a pony are sweetly wise as they pose for a selfie. In the ironically titled “They Paint Horses, Don’t They?” she shows her rabbit alter ego literally painting Target-style circles on a recumbent pony, while in another image a rabbit/king reacts to the “news” of sunken ships that a crow delivers in a cellophane bag. Karen Savage-Blue’s small landscapes adroitly capture the look of light on water in a spring marsh, on an icy shoreline and on a flooded bank. The lost and haunted look of the young woman in Judith Allen’s somewhat surreal “Vestiges” is very effective, as is the intense determination of the young woman in “Summer’s Dream” by Nelson Chasing Hawk.
In “Before the Dog Days,” Monte Yellow Bird uses antique ledger paper for a charming, but improbably nostalgic, drawing of a pretty girl gamboling on horseback under dogwood blossoms. Jody Webster celebrates contemporary Indian kids in handsome pencil drawings that show Indian regalia in color and the rest of their world in black-and-white.
By contrast, Jim Denomie recalls a tougher time in Minnesota’s history when Indians were hounded from their homelands, rebelled and were hanged. And John Hitchcock delivers striking lithograph and screen prints in which animal heads — deer, horse — stand in for humans ruined in war and other follies.
With their garnish of lapis, jasper and horsehair, Nelda Schrupp’s silver necklaces elegantly fuse tradition and modernity. Wanesia Misquadace does the same in her symbolic birchbark containers. Additional pieces include Picassoesque paintings by Jennifer White, chicken-wire sculptures by Alexandra Buffalohead, traditional woven sashes by Dennis White, silver jewelry by Wendy Boivin, and an elaborately beaded saddle and bridle by James Star Come Out.
Ends Nov. 15. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat. Free. Gallery talk with James Star Comes Out, 6 p.m. Oct. 17. All My Relations Gallery, 1414 E. Franklin Av., Mpls. 612-235-4970.