Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: The Work of Kelly Boehmer

It's October--the month of witches, ghosts, and all things spooky--and we are very excited to be able to feature artwork this month that fits with this theme.  Florida State University's Museum of Fine Arts is running an exhibition entitled Cute and Creepy, and throughout this month, we will use this column to feature the work of one of the artists in the exhibition.  The exhibition runs from October 14 through November 20, and we would encourage you to visit it in person if you are in the Talahassee area.  Last week, we featured the artwork of Carrie Anne Baade, the curator of the exhibit; today's feature focuses on the work of Kelly Boehmer.

Kelly Boehmer, Unicorns (I Am Breaking Eddie Vedder's Heart)
mixed media, 2010
What attracts me to Kelly Boehmer's work is the colors.  Bright pinks and greens, vivid blues, unbashedly glorious yellows.
I also love the subjects she chooses--unicorns, leviathans, giants birds.  All huge, huggable looking creatures that appeal to the part of me that has never left first grade.

But Boehmer's art isn't just cute colorful stuff for kids--she juxtaposes horrible, disgusting, and macabre elements with these whimsical images.  The flowers in the blood draining from the unicorn's chest, for example, are provocative in the way they suggest a beauty in a fatal wound.

When I read Boehmer's artist statement on the "Cute and Creepy" website, I was impressed, because my reactions were just what she was aiming for.  Often, I find myself scratching my head when I read what an artist was going for, but with Boehmer's work, I just nodded in agreement. 

Boehmer says, "I want the work to have a childlike appearance that is both pitiful and magical. Seductive colors and textures are used to entice the viewer, but they are then reminded of the base things that connect us as humans by seeing the piss, puke, and feces."

Kelly Boehmer, Peace Dove
mixed media, 2007
Take her sculpture entitled Peace Dove.  A large, beautiful bird lies exhausted, possibly dead, on top of the ark.  She holds an olive branch, while a host of seemingly angry animals strains to escape the ark.  And as other pictures on Boehmer's website show, a stream of urine is coming from the dove's backside. The story is familiar, and the images of doves, olive branches, and rainbows are all taken to be symbols of hope, peace, and renewal.

But Boehmer's sculpture reminds us that there is so much more to the story than that.  Along with the hope and peace, there is exhaustion, anger, and urine.  And while some might argue that looking at the hope and peace by itself is more beautiful, as Boehmer points out, the piss, puke, and feces remind us of what connects us all on the most basic level.  It's the mixture of these impulses that makes Boehmer's art so compelling and that holds your attention after the glow of the bright colors has faded.

All images copyright Kelly Boehmer 2011.  Used with permission.