The sculptures of Enrique Gomez de Molina must be seen to be believed. At once gorgeous and grotesque, they fuse the actual body parts of different animals into fantastic new creatures at whom we are compelled to look at in awe and wonder.
A hornbill-headed, hoofed bobcat with peacock feathers appears frozen in time as it flies across the wall with wings spread open. A monumental hog-moose with a feathered coat rears upright on two hind legs with hippopotamus feet. A goose-monkey holds a rope around the hog-creature's neck. A pheasant-mink admires its own reflection in a mirror. A toucan-headed, winged goat appears to be just on the cusp of taking flight. A hawk-faced skunk balances with its two front paws on a tightrope in a corner (riffing on the work of Karen Rifas, who is also represented by Bernice Steinbaum). A number of other bird-mammals populate this strange menagerie, including a series of bird-minks that mimic human personalities and poses.
In this outstanding exhibition, feathers, beaks, and bird feet merge seamlessly with mammal skins, claws, hooves, and even eyelashes. Gomez de Molina unites all the disparate body parts with painstaking, exquisite craftsmanship, down to the last detail. Paint and glass eyes are the finishing touches that help to give each piece its own unique character, adding to the illusion that these bizarre, unsettling creatures could truly exist as living, breathing beings. Perhaps they were bred in some deranged scientist's laboratory, or maybe they come from some future dystopia in which all sorts of strange mutations have been caused by the toxic chemicals and radiation that our industrial society keeps spewing into the environment.
Gomez de Molina's work challenges us to think about these critical issues, yet at the same time the gravitas is leavened by a sly sense of humor that reveals itself throughout, in both the sculptures' postures and the titles that accompany them.
Ethically, Gomez de Molina treads a fine line, as he utilizes the remains of once-living animals in order to critique our industrial society's negative impacts on nature. Some might argue that his process is disrespectful to animals or even hypocritical. However, as the title of the show emphasizes, this is not taxidermy. In other words, Gomez de Molina does not kill animals for sport, and these animals were not killed specifically for the purpose of making these works of art. Rather, De Molina buys his animal parts through eBay, and he never uses the bodies of any endangered species. Further, I would contend that his work is inherently distinct from our everyday acts which do contribute to the exploitation and oppression of animals. Unlike leather jackets or the meat aisle at Publix, Gomez de Molina's creations serve a higher purpose: they impel us to think about how we as humans relate to our animal cousins. In so doing, they honor the lives they once held within.
Ultimately, Gomez de Molina deserves to be commended for using his artistic virtuosity to shine a much-needed light on humankind's poisoning of the natural world.
Images: Enrique Gomez de Molina, Don’t Hog the Spotlight, 2012, Mixed media, pig, moose, emu feathers, replica hippopotamus feet, cambells monkey, goose feathers; A Toucan Will Always Get Your Goat, 2012, Mixed media, replica toucan skull, goat, reeves pheasant, rooster. Courtesy of Bernice Steinbaum Gallery.