Post-Apocalyptic Lithographs, Mardi Gras and Snoozing Businessmen at Brumfield's Gallery

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"The Lieutenant," by Heidi Preuss Grew - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • "The Lieutenant," by Heidi Preuss Grew

When people see "The Lieutenant," sculptor Heidi Preuss Grew said they tell her the manic-faced clay figures, one atop the other, remind them of the Maurice Sendak children's book, Where the Wild Things Are. Other analogies include Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes (more accurate, in Grew's estimation) and anatomically correct gophers.

"They're ultimately portraits," Grew said.

These ceramic and clay portraits, which debuted at Brumfield's Gallery in Hyde Park Jan. 11 all represent scenes from Grew's travels and invoke the style of Chinese caricatures of the Portuguese Grew discovered during one of her trips to Portugal, and are part of a larger exhibition including works by lithographer Michael Barnes.

"The Lieutenant," which greets the gallery's visitors, invokes Grew's trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Self-described as "not a crowd person," she said she returned to her Salem, Ore., home with 60 pounds of Mardi Gras beads, inspired to recreate the gestures and relationships she observed in a four-generation family she saw at one of the krewe parades. 

The other of Grew's series on display is inspired by her sabbatical in Japan, where she learned how to hand someone a business card (with two hands and a bow), observed the subtlety of sumo wrestling and the ringside antics of a hirsute Hungarian, and watched businessmen sleep on trains. Nods to these experiences can be found in the pieces she produced there, including "The Tourist II" and "The Wrestlers," which she sculpted in ceramic and feature intricate textures and a level of detail—particularly prominent in the figures' faces and hands—Grew said that medium allowed her to achieve.

At one point in her description of how wrestlers in Japan knock each other off balance in the ring, Grew discussed how they use open-handed slaps to stun opponents. She illustrated this tactic by giving this reporter a jocular slap in the face, and for a moment, my balance was, indeed, disturbed.

Grew's works juggle an endearing earnestness with dreamlike senses of the human form and line, like tender, loving satires. Michael Barnes' lithographs, by contrast, are more allegorical and informed by what he sees as an environmental crisis.

His prints are large and feature diffused color and a precise use of line. All but one of them contain images of water, and most of them contain images of boats. In all of them, there's a sense of irony and decrepitude. In "The Pessimist," a man with a ratcheted back futilely bobs for apples in front of a slouching barn. "The Harvest" features a ship loaded with junk and a brick chimney belching foul coal. In all of them, the prosperity and productivity of the past are implied by the despair and decay of the present.

"There's a nostalgic quality to it," he said. "I like to blur that time reference to the pieces." 

Barnes and Grew's joint exhibition runs at Brumfield's Gallery through Saturday, March 1.


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