Stuck Together is a conjoining of images, all fascinating, most anthropomorphic. The visually rich exhibition re-purposes images through collage, assemblage, and a sometimes-surreal approach to turning the ordinary into extraordinary. There’s a touch of whimsy, however dark, in the work of all three LA-based artists exhibiting: Marsian De Lellis, Simone Gad, and Debra Broz. Each artist is reinventing the objects and images they present, bringing them new life, renewal, and a gloriously subversive yet redemptive turn.
De Lellis’ work changes the first gallery space into a large-scale installation that is a quilt of dolls – a thousand of them in fact, many damaged, worn, frail, altered – and reminiscent of the Skin Horse in the classic children’s story The Velveteen Rabbit, who speaks of growing shabby from being loved. Once loved, these dolls have been discarded, only to come back in De Lellis’ art and imagination to a new, meaningful narrative space.
Naturally highly textured, the work brings the viewer into a play on identity, repetition, and life after, if not death, decay. De Lellis describes the decaying handmade dolls from their (In)/Animate Objects collection as being displayed in three formats, “clustered on a rectilinear panel, individually in a grid on the walls, and entombed in a glass display case.”
The large-scale wood panel (In)/Animate Objects Panel #1, is covered with over a thousand of the smaller and medium sized dolls, combined in tapestries stitched together. Wall Dolls, Nos. A-1 to I-31, consists of 279 dolls evenly spaced out in a grid consisting of 31 columns and 9 rows; the dolls range from more primitive with no clothing or hair, to more developed and complicated, with distinctive clothing and other characteristics.
According to De Lellis, “As I arranged them, I imagined a team of archeologists had excavated the home of a doll hoarder, and how their findings might appear in a museum setting. I was interested in the idea of taxonomy – but instead of genus and species, I created groupings centered on visual commonalities like hair, skin color, dress pattern, degree of damage, and level of complexity.”
In the glass display case, De Lellis features what they describe as “29 specimens: 7 larger-format dolls from the collection, and 21 of the most damaged dolls that I have oven-baked, burned, singed, sanded, scraped, buried in dirt and left underground for a prolonged period of time, run over by cars and treated with chemical agents to create a sense that there’s evidence of use through an actual deterioration processes. The dolls have been loved… Too loved in some instances. They are fragile. They are valued commodities that need to be protected by glass from the elements and from further wear and tear so they don’t completely crumble apart.” De Lellis describes the thousands of dolls as a testament “to the insatiable need for love at the heart of the obsessional life.”
That obsessional zeitgeist is also a part of De Lellis’ artwork itself. They quote Louise Bourgeois, who once said, “the act of sewing is a process of emotional repair.” De Lellis is stitching together biographies, lost dreams, found meaning, memorials, and a dark yet illuminative magic in their work.
Gallery director Sean Meredith propelled the three-person exhibition, which De Lellis describes as being for all three artists about the creation of handmade responses to mass-produced images and objects. “The dolls I made for the exhibition are handmade versions of the Raggedy Ann. Simone uses found images of vintage pinups to paint on. Debra uses mass-produced ceramic collectables that she finds and alters.” All three also make objects that show a history, have an autobiographic thread, and, as De Lellis attests, “it also seems like there’s a sense of joy or playfulness in all three and a heightened level of obsessiveness.”
Self-taught artist Gad was born in Brussels but has lived in Los Angeles since her childhood, beginning a career as an actress, but also working as a painter, performance artist, and creator of assemblages and collages for over 50 years. At Track 16, Gad has hung beautiful, haunting collages with oil pastels as well as a series of lush paintings on display. Her thickly textured acrylic paintings are somewhat amorphous in meaning, both patterned and dream-like abstracts whose subjects are architectural in nature. Her collages, however, are somehow both sorrowful, touching, and playful combinations of images, rescued animals overlaid on vintage nude pinups, beautifully expressing ideas of both vulnerability and rescue.
“My pinups with animal rescue drawings are on paper and shown salon-style; there are also 12 paintings of recent works of Chinatown as well as Brussels Art Nouveaux/Barcelona abstracted,” Gad explains. “The pin-up drawing collages are like self-portraits in a way, and of my survival of sexual abuse when I was a young girl and actress.” Gad, who concurrently has an installation of 200 animal rescue drawings at MOAH, adds that “I have tremendous empathy for all kinds of animals, and make my drawings of them with their spirit in mind, as to me they are sentient beings like we are, only with feathers and fur of all kinds. They feel emotions like we do. To me they are the best part of us.”
The pin-ups she pairs with the animals are circa the 1850s to 1970s, and her pairings are made in such a way that she feels they “rescue each other.” Gad has also incorporated some self-portraits of herself in the 70s, then herself a vulnerable survivor of sexual assault who has triumphed and rescued herself from a much darker existence.
Interestingly, considering Gad’s pairing with De Lellis and Broz, Gad started out as a fiber artist, until her vision became impaired working with hand-beading and sewing. She says that she then “became a collage artist, changing my career after designing for rock stars…incorporating my fiber art onto their performing wardrobes.”
Like Gad’s animal pastels, Broz’s ceramic sculptures have qualities of both playfulness and poignancy to them. Broz’ work combines classic animal figurines to make dark yet humorous deformed creatures. A ceramics restorer as well as an artist, Broz combines parts of existing production pottery into sculptures that are sometimes experimental and amusing, and other times startlingly deformed, with two heads, extra limbs or ears.
Broz says of her work that above all else she wants “viewers to know they should look at the work with a sense of humor – maybe slightly dark humor – but humor no less. This work is about considering the idea: what makes something what it is? This installation is an experiment with form – in this case, the form of rabbits.”
With white rabbit figurines as her sculptural templet, she says she wanted to test how many adjustments she could make “before the form would lose its ‘rabbitness,’” she explains. “Somehow, they all remain rabbits even as they are changed. I like this ability of the original object to remain what it is, while simultaneously having become vastly different from how it began.”
Her works, created from original figurines collected online, and not reproduced through molds or other means are part of an imaginary world, one in which the figures are all “comfortable in their weirdness.”
She notes, “When you look at the series, notice that each of the rabbits have slightly different original painted details. It’s important to me to preserve the original painting, because it shows the hand of another craftsperson that originally worked with the object when it was in its other life.” Her work is a resurrection of the original maker’s artwork that would otherwise be discarded. Broz has made altered ceramics for years, and had imagined creating a series using a specific mass-produced form to see how far she could go. “When I got the opportunity to be in this show, I wanted to make some new work. Since I’d been thinking about these rabbits for so long, I started searching for them on eBay. Originally, I planned to create a few. After making a few, I felt compelled to make more, and they multiplied…like rabbits.” Broz says she loves the idea of the white rabbit as a complicated symbol, from the white rabbit that led Alice into Wonderland to the Easter Bunny to selective breeding, and how the myth of a white rabbit doesn’t match with the reality of the reasons it was produced.
While Broz has worked with altered ceramics for a while, she’s never made a series using the same form repeatedly before.
“I was only working with the two basic forms of the standing and sitting rabbit. Having the limitation of using only rabbits allowed me to be able to stretch what I could find inside that original form.”
Broz sums up the similarities in her work, and that of De Lellis and Gad. “I think the main similarity in all of our works is the obsessional quality. Marsian’s dolls, Simone’s drawings, and my White Rabbits all take iterations of a form to a compulsive degree. We also all have a strong sense of the object as a thing that is real and tactile, representational. All our work has darkness, but there is love and humor in it too,” she says.
Together, the narrative and textural depths the three artists create form a rewarding exhibition that invites viewers into a new world, just below the surface of our own more conventional reality.
Genie Davis is Los Angeles Art Critic at Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Davis is a multi-published novelist, journalist, and produced screen and television writer based in Los Angeles. Publisher and writer of www.diversionsLA.com, she also writes for a wide range of magazines and newspapers.