Perishable:  New sculpture by Shawna Gulp

Phyllis Weston Gallery
Photography by Tom Baril
September 18 – November 9, 2013

By Kenn Day

Perishable succeeds in producing a coherent symbolic experience of the human condition, at least from Shawna Gulp’s perspective. Her sense is apparently that we are fragile and perishable creatures in a natural world that is cold, hard and potentially damaging to us. While not all of us share this view, it is common enough to resonate with many.

What I find particularly effective is the after image left by the collection as a whole, rather than any one image. This image is of an opaque, white female form, huddled within a cage of steel nails, pierced by metal rings that are laced together by black thread. I am left with a feeling of both despair and defiance – and ultimately a sense of hopeful uncertainly.

It is this fragile quality of the ephemeral – which we experience in life, beauty, youth, love and most other things that we cling to – that seems most on display here. In Gulp’s creations, this takes the form of porcelain pears and eggs, placed in uncertain and potentially dire situations. The pears are balanced on slender tree trunks, protected only by glass bells. They are stranded atop blocks of raw wood, connected to each other by a chain that stretches across the chasm separating them. They appear as fruit, springing gracefully into the world from a fountain of steel. Often the skin of these fruit is pierced and laced in a way that reminds me of the piercings some young fetishists receive – a long line of metal rings along either side of the spine, laced together with black ribbon. In each case, the porcelain fruit stand as representatives of the perishable in each of us, certainly in the artist and many of her viewers. While the pears bring the female form most easily to mind, none of us are immune to this process.

Shawna Gulp – Sterile Blossoms

The first piece that catches the attention when entering the gallery is entitled Sterile Blossoms. Strands of metal spring upward, arching gracefully to fruit, painting the gallery wall with an elegant play of shadow. While aesthetically pleasing, this piece seems more shallow than some, as if it expresses an earlier point in the artist’s journey.

Shawna Gulp – Paired

Shawna Gulp’s Paired, is a pair of pears (no pun intended, I’m sure), sitting on twin blocks of bark-coated cherry wood, connected by a chain strung between rings embedded in the porcelain skin of the pears. The matte white porcelain is opaque, the pear form reminiscent of a Rubenesque female body, immediately increasing the stakes of fragility. The metal rings become piercings; the chain, an intimate connection across an abyss of the natural world.

Tom Beril’s photographs are clearly competently and even artistically done, but they fade into the background, becoming attractively thematic wallpaper in support of Gulp’s collection. His images are of pears, lilies and other organic forms, which compliment and support the sculptures, but with none of the sense of depth and experience expressed in Gulp’s work.

It was tempting to dismiss Perishable as a gimmick. It does play a lot with the words and concepts. At first I thought the sculptor was working with actual fruit, which would be allowed to rot throughout the exhibit, adding yet another layer to the conceptual sandwich. In classical painting the still life uses fruit and flowers in the blush or perfect ripeness, just before they begin the process of decay. I wondered if this might not be an aspect of what both artists were expressing.

While I do not share Gulp’s romantic perspective on life, I would recommend making the effort to view the show in person and be willing to open to your own internal experience. It is not disappointing.

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