Flora and fauna reign supreme in the show “Inhabited” at Kai Lin Art. If bunnies, owls, bears, chickens and wintry forests speak to you, count on this group show to scratch your wildlife itch.
Writer Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods” has hypothesized that contemporary children suffer from a nature deficit disorder. Perhaps adults do as well and long to be reminded in such work of nature’s beauty and importance. If artists can remind us of the singularity and artfulness in gesture and point of view, they can also reassert joy to be found in these forms of nature.
Ensconced since March in a handsome new Westside space, Kai Lin Art has found sexier digs in what is turning out to be a booming art district. Galleries like Sandler Hudson Gallery, Get This! Gallery and the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center are longtime occupants of the booming Westside arts district, which will soon include the Westside Cultural Arts Center, across 10th street from Kai Lin, where one-time blue chip art dealer Fay Gold will curate contemporary art exhibitions.
The three artists in “Inhabited” have a Savannah College of Art and Design connection: Carl Linstrum and Larry Jens Anderson are instructors and Ashley L. Schick a onetime student who now runs her own fine art print shop, Straw Hat Press, out of another Westside art nexus, the creative hub known as the Goat Farm.
Schick’s works in “On the Farm” and “Survey Shadows” are in some ways the most memorable of the lot, with their quaint, oddball technique somewhere between conceptual and crafty. Schick creates her patently adorable portraits of roosters, turkeys, goats and chickens out of paper. Both the subject matter and the scissors and paper technique are charmingly childlike. She shows an edgier side in this work at Kai Lin by expanding that barnyard lexicon into more conceptual work featuring industrial and mechanical items, also rendered in paper: telephone lines, water towers, power lines.
Anderson is something of a fixture on the Atlanta arts scene, a former upstart known for making politicized and humorous artwork with the art collective TABOO, who has mellowed into an elder statesmen. His art is mellower too. In this case he creates works like “Monkey,” “Spotted Pig” or “Bear,” whose thick black lines in ink against creamy paper can suggest Japanese woodblock prints. If Schick tends to render animals with a soupçon of style and wit, then in “Fauna” Anderson offers his animals up as vaporous, dreamy creatures, more a children’s book icon of “Squirrel” or “Blue Jay” than a portrait of a singular creature.
If Schick and Anderson keeps thinks simple, Linstrum in “Lost and Found” has a tendency to gild the lily. His rich, moody landscapes are captured in camera-phone photographs that are then coated in layers of paint and wax, as if subject to the haze of memory. There is a sense in his mixed-media works, with numbered titles drawn from map coordinates, of solitude, even loneliness. The effect is enhanced by the use of a thin frame around each image onto which Linstrum has inscribed map coordinates at the top and a date and time at the bottom. It gives the works a diaristic quality, of one man recording his place in a vast landscape at any place in time, of time itself as the stacking up of experiences. Linstrum runs into trouble when his poetic look at self and place blows up in larger pieces on panel that lose that sense of tranquility and become more decorative, or when he embellishes the works with actual topographic maps or by actually marking his images with the swirling lines of those maps. When he goes big or goes too far, some of the introspection is lost. His is certainly the most complicated work of the three, and for that reason he periodically runs the risk of losing focus, of throwing out too many variations on a theme. But if any of the artists speak to the absence of nature in many of our lives chronicled by Louv and the grounding, meditative, life-affirming truth of forests, it is Linstrum.