Cassie Marie Edwards: The Porcelain Menagerie

What they lack in accuracy—or, like, even resemblance—they more than make up for with essence, with vibe, you know?, the kind of exaggerated impossible realness one finds in boardwalk caricaturists and political cartoonists and magical realists that serves as shorthand and signature and x-ray and fMRI all at once … the owl, white as terror and blank as fear, for example, the cold, clean lack of hue that instantly calls to mind Empire, logic, rhetoric, chin tucked and beak silent under brows pointed as the tip of the spear, his wing falling across his shoulder and back like a pallium, a majestic senatorial little creature, from Minerva's court to the curio cabinet … or take whatever beast that is, with its haughty pout and crimson lip, tarantula leg eye lashes and pink bow, perhaps a puppy but reading more as a kitten—anatomy be damned!—as she most definitely possess that ruling feline trait, the intoxicating insouciance with which they have courted our love and desire for approval for centuries, that fickle heart blown out, amplified, drawn across her lips, looking like the love interests that would drive old Tom to mutilate himself in search of a living gift … and then the lesser critters of the copse and field, the squirrels and rabbits and chipmunks and fawns and field mice, arrested and frozen—animals which vibrate with anxious muscle and survival instinct—and finally able to be examined, loved, doted on, adored, those fleeting moments when one locks eyes before the animal in questions dashes away, your lingering love banging like a chestburster against its ribcage, tearing through yards and hedges while you are tearing with unrequited affections, well, we've fixed them, haven't we, all of them, twisted nature yet again—and not without true ecological impact, as is, being the mightiest of earth's creatures, our wont—and created bespoke wild for the everyday person, a one-time cost collection of pets to keep in the home, evoking both recoils and coos, the porcelain menagerie…- B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor

Cassie Marie Edwards | Uninterested, oil on canvas, 2017. 16 x 16 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

The gleaming subjects in Cassie Marie Edwards' Figurines, presented by Aron Packer Projects in the offices of Chicago Gallery News, are drawn from the peculiar iconography of the everyday, the tiny totems of musty homes and generational gaps, archeological remnants of the distant past from which you sprung. In the opening paragraph of Edwards' artist statement (“One of my earliest memories was in my great-Grandmother's house. She had an entire wall shelf filled with figurines … I'd always spend time looking at them, while being instructed to keep my hands behind my back (of course)”) rings an origin most all of her observers will understand, including your reviewer, who has fond memories—and remember, here, the caveat Tom spoke of when dealing with another fragile heard, i.e., who the fuck knows how accurate this recollection is—of a torero, cloaked in a traj de lucies of brilliant crimson (bold!), frozen forever in balletic battle with an imposing toro bravo, horns tipped with gold, against a sea foam background high above my own great-grandmother's living room. It was comforting, this moment of eternal violence, something for youthful, restless eyes to rest on while histories are unspooled like spiderwebs and connective tissues is softly laid … and Edwards' mining of such surprisingly deep aesthetic veins gives her paintings an aura of oddity and fondness which can only be thought of as similar to your eldest relative's upstairs hallway as a child.

Porcelain menageries carry in them the uncanny idealized nature, the oddity of imposing the characteristics we most desire on a totemic form to keep resting beside us, or locked safely away behind class. Consider the bull, or the horse, unicorn, or bear, common tchotchke subjects whose cuteness seems to have an inverse relationship to their ferocity (that a house cat will tear an ecosystem asunder and is, in this way, much more of a terrorist than a bear, speaks to the inherent human perspective from which these caricatures are drawn), or the aforementioned stock-still prey items, for whom sitting is death. Skittish horses, coquettish cats, majestic, cuirass-chested working dogs who cannot maintain their sense of regality while huffing through crushed faces and flapping jowls, all are made into exactly what we wish for them to be: perfect, one note—our favorite note—and within our possession. Figurines are our literal molding of nature, their fragility the proper trade for our wonts.

Cassie Marie Edwards | Blue Mouse, oil on canvas, 2017. 12 x 12 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Edwards, then, in depicting these idealized and trivialized and fetishized—lipstick, mascara, flowers and bells, bows, blush, eye liner; these are animals as children's beauty pageant contestants, the dotting horrors—little icons is playing, as she puts it, a “visual telephone game;” we have abstracted, to various degrees, various fauna, which are now depicted outside their usual environment and even dimension. As Edwards notes, it is fascinating that we can really understand them at all.

And the closer you look, the more muddled the understanding becomes. Edwards does a masterful job in capturing the material nature of her subjects; light gleams with sidereal brilliance in folds and curves, cheekbones and haunches, in bronze and brass, plastic, porcelain in various glazes and enamel shades. Her skill, and the power it imbues, calls the very subject into question. It is impossible to define if these are still lifes—depicting, as they are, technically inanimate objects—or portraits, elevated as such by virtue of the essence we bestow upon them.

Cassie Marie Edwards | Happy Squirrel, oil on canvas, 2014. 12 x 16 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

What is obvious is that the tension inherent within them—between nature in tooth and claw and our idealized form of it, between anatomy and interpretation, between power and fragility, between “high” and “low,” between memory and reality, between figurine and painting, between still life and portrait—is taunt beneath her subject's flushed cheeks, fickle eyes, and frosted countenance, vibrating as hot as vitrification. 

Cassie Marie Edwards | White Cat, oil on canvas, 2015. 22 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.


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