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Ann Gordon's new series Parts, picturing dismembered pieces of animals, is reminiscent of the perverse childhood pleasure of biting the head off a hollow chocolate Easter Bunny. Or viciously twisting Barbie's head, arms and legs. Or whatever violent fantasies guys played out with their G.I. Joes. Who hasn't tortured inanimate objects? Still, when an adult depicts the malicious destruction of plastic animals she's purchased from dollar stores, one wonders. Especially about Gordon, since she herself suggests, "I might have problems."
Close, but no cigar. Having gotten her bachelor's degree from the College for Creative Studies in 2003, Gordon is young and still joyfully plays with her toys. She can't fake the authentic psychological torment of surrealist Hans Belmer, for instance, whose work included "parts" of the genitalia of prepubescent girls. Psychosis can be ruled out; Gordon's got a healthy attitude. "Art has to be fun," she says. Accordingly, the animals in her drawings and paintings, albeit dismembered and oozing "blood," are undeniably cute plastic representations of rabbits, horses, cows, pigs, camels and dogs. It's difficult to feel saddened by a fairy-tale rabbit with its throat slashed, considering the gorgeous reds, pinks and flesh tones Gordon uses, her de Kooning-like brushwork, Twombly-influenced mark-making and rambunctious experiments with spray paint all of which entice and enchant the eye, deflecting any sense of real violence.
Gordon may truthfully be working out her anxieties and fears in Parts. Its content, however big messy piles of mangled, abused toys, including sawed-off limbs and torsos suggests not a tortured psyche but the inevitable result of children left unchaperoned for too long with too many playthings.
In her earlier series depicting Detroit's cityscape, Gordon redecorated the urban desolation, assigning luscious, idiosyncratic colors where none actually existed, frenetically imposing fantastical shapes upon the grim reality. She frosted steel overpasses with thick white paint, slashed skeins of animated black lines against gloomy skies, and covered the desolate landscape with festive marks like a mad pastry chef strewing heaps of sprinkles on cupcake tops. In Parts, she has found another excuse to play dress-up; she's put on an apron and become a mad cartoon butcher, again using the unsavory as a backdrop.
She's also playing "Stump the Audience." It's hard to guess some of the references in her Parts series. Are certain shapes meant to be repulsive chopped-up innards or are they old-time penny candies sucked down in size? Are those small bits of flesh blowing away in the wind or wrappers from sugary treats? Do the drips of paint represent blood and gore, or are they other bodily fluids, drools from the mouths of innocent, overindulged, messy children? Circus-bright orbs in raspberry and turquoise spray paint vie for attention, struggling with a decapitated orange camel head, his mouth frozen in a smile. Is the camel a victim of some ringmaster's rage? It's all about the ying and the yang, as Gordon sees it.
Parts also demonstrates the artist's evolution. In Gordon's strongest pieces, "Compositions 1, 2, and 3," she forcibly simplifies her busy work. She emptied out her hyperbolic, madly colorful abstractions, focusing instead on her strong talent for drawing. She pared down to simple black, white and gray against a vacant background, demonstrating new maturity. Dismembered parts horse torsos and legs mostly are starkly realized here, rather than rendered indecipherable by being heaped gobbishly in piles. There's breathing room, a relief for your eyes. Gordon has freed her abstracted shapes, permitting us the luxury of lingering along a thick curvaceous edge of hoof, and leaving room to follow a delicate bit of black tracery as it floats.
Gordon's talents are both artistic and intellectual, making her a noteworthy emerging artist. She engages the viewer with her accomplished technique and also with her intriguing dichotomies. Despite the hypothetically gruesome content of Parts, she can't disguise her penchant for transforming ugly realities into lyrical dreamscapes, superbly accomplishing her goal of "making the gross pretty." Also making certain her work is "not what it seems," Gordon surely intends to create pleasure from pain.
Ann Gordon's Parts runs through Sept. 30 at MIA (MoNA), 7 N. Saginaw St., Pontiac; 248-210-7560.
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Christina Hill writes about art for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.