Ferus. The word practically buzzes with vitality, conjuring to mind images of a wild animal—back arched, teeth bared, fur bristling. The exhibition, Ferus, currently on view at Eggman and Walrus gallery lives up to the wildness implicit in the provocative title. This group show consisting of paintings, sculpture, prints, and photography from twenty-six local and far-flung artists is pulsating with raw energy. A menagerie of animal life is present: anthropomorphic wolves, metallic bees, tattooed hogs, and even a Warholesque portrait of an heirloom chicken, a nod to the famed Ferus Gallery of the 1950s and 60s to which the exhibition also owes its moniker.
Eggman and Walrus is found in a rambling building near Santa Fe’s Plaza district. There are two separate gallery spaces, accessible on Palace and San Francisco streets respectively. Through conversations with gallery owner, Evan Glassman, and curator, Jared Antonio-Justo Trujillo, the intimate connections behind this exhibition became clear. Trujillo hails from New Mexico, and knows many of the artists in the show personally including James Lofton, a Santa Fe artist who passed away several weeks before the opening. The show is dedicated to his memory.
Ferus is not your typical staid gallery exhibition. The art is packed in tightly, with barely a pause to catch your breath between works, and is presently in a state of reorganization between rooms and the two gallery spaces. Themes of the internal and external struggle between man and nature are prevalent throughout this predominantly figurative show. The preoccupation with ideas of wildness is also intended as a self-conscious, tongue-in-cheek reference to commonly held biases about the roughness of the new and emerging artist, a demographic that is well represented in Ferus.
Cannupa Hanska Luger, keep up; Courtesy of the artist and EGGMAN and WALRUS
Artist Cannupa Hanska’s sculptures, titled Keep Up and Up Keep, are standout works. In both, asexual unclothed human figures appear crowned with clapboard houses from their chins up. Tangles of roots sprout from their ankles, while blossom- and leaf-tipped branches burst from the wrists. The carved torsos of the figures are guileless and supple looking. The roots at their feet are expressive and tentacular. Hanska’s work is whimsical, yet it also elicits a measure of disquiet and unease in the viewer. There is a palpable sense of horror in these pieces, running beneath the playful facade. In both houses, open windows invite the viewer to peer inside. In one, a tiny swing dangles lightly from the figure’s forearm. In another, a rope ladder with toothpick-sized rungs descends from the front porch. The sentimentality of these houses’ construction, however, belies the overtones of maintenance, liability, and status anxiety suggested by both the phrases “keep up” and “up keep”. I found these pieces to be a particularly poignant mediation on feelings surrounding house and home which at times can be a complex cocktail of tenderness mingled with frustrations about stature, sunk costs, or loss of freedom. Can you tell I’m a post-bubble homeowner?
Elizabeth Sobel, Rafters at Dawn; Courtesy of the artist and EGGMAN and WALRUS
A group of lithographs by Elizabeth Sobel also captivated my attention. Sobel's pieces are haunting, invoking the spirit of brooding storybook illustrations. Her work is populated with characters torn between their human and animal affiliations. In Rafters at Dawn we find three characters in varying states of lycanthropy. A cloaked figure with a wolf’s head and human hands holds a horse by its reigns while staring directly at the viewer with potent intensity. In the background, a naked human figure covers his wolf’s face in shame, as another animal—this one fully canine—darts across the room on all fours. The attic-like setting gives the work both a feeling of nostalgia and the promise of mysteries yet to be unveiled. In Ticks in the Woods, Sobel’s work is less hard lines and more soft chiaroscuro. Half human, half animal characters appear once again, this time glowing like incandescent apparitions.
Also noteworthy is Julia Cizeski’s Barn Owl found displayed in an adobe wall niche, looking as though it could suddenly spring from its perch and fly away. The materials list is almost as good as the work itself. It reads like postmodern poetry: Cigarettes, rolling paper, wire, wine, coffee, tea stains. Contriving an animal from the accessories of contemporary life strikes me as an apt tribute to the larger exhibition’s overarching theme of mankind’s struggle to understand itself in terms of its relationship to nature. The artists in Ferus crave affinity with the natural world, yet they are also conscious, at times painfully so, of their separateness from it. Nowhere is this conflict more evident than in Cizeski’s piece where the artist strives to summon nature through products that are distinctly human.
(Image on top right: Cannupa Hanska Luger, keep up; Courtesy of the artist and EGGMAN and WALRUS)