butterfly eyes review

Glenn Alteen

Denise Carson Wilde's series of ink works on mylar, uses letter press stamps and monoprint drawing to create tableaus which suggest psychological states. The central image of the series is a stamp of a small child, probably a girl, but the ambiguity of gender is important to the interpretation. The androgynous face and vaguely militaristic uniform suggest they are from a child's primer earlier in the century, perhaps the 20's or 30's. In concert with other letter press stamps and hand drawn elements these tableaus evoke a variety of relationships and states of being. When brought together in 2's or 3's or more they become narratives - each image informing the next; subtly passing information which provides the interpretation.

The artist works intuitively to create these images. Randomly picking stamps and placing them in sequences on the mylar, she then adds the hand drawn/monoprinted elements to complete the scenario. There's a looseness, a random element within these works that is even more extreme when compared to the formalism of her earlier work.

But in this exhibition she has dropped all that fussy detailing. These works are impressionistic in the most basic sense. They are raw and crude. The thick lines, combined with the press stamps, create an awkward, clumsy universe where her central character encounters many peculiar and fantastic inhabitants. The artist describes the works as about relationships; to oneself, to nature and to others. They are a coming of age story; this androgynous child in an odd and strange universe making his/her way in the world. And the figure appears headless or bodiless or just legs as if changed by this environment; altered, influenced and infected.

There is a psychological element within the work and the artist insists on a spiritual one as well. Like illustrations from a new bible that is post Freudian, post Jungian and post modern, these works do strive for the archetypal. This coming of age tale harks back to the medieval everyman of theatre and visual art; or in this case everywoman. A feminist Book of Job.

Within this tale the story of disintegration looms large. The figure starts out whole and complete but in other drawings she is beheaded and disembodied. It is as if through these encounters she loses pieces of herself. There are other characters. A pair of lovers may or may not be her parents. The thought balloons deliver messages of images. Meaning overlays meaning. But paradox looms large. In the end these works appear to mean more than they do. They imply without commitment. Promise but don't necessarily deliver. The thick ropy monoprint lines and the crisp stamp impressions form into figures which are ungainly or awkward. This clumsy stance threatens to topple, but in the end somehow, there's a gracefulness within these works. They sit on the edge but don't tumble. They deliver just enough.

The mark making seems crude against the crispness of the letter press impressions. Thick and clumsy at points, then delicate and lithe, they animate the rigidity of the letter press images. The originals are drawn on 8"x10" frosted Mylar. These resemble comic books, employing thought and speech balloons. Wilde then enlarges these mechanically on the same material. The white translucence of the mylar sets off the black marks.

The markings themselves are curious, neither brush or pen could have achieved the effect. The mylar is placed face down on an inked plate and the image is drawn backwards onto the mylar. On some she uses implements, on others she simply uses her finger of parts of her hand. This is the most primitive of printers' techniques.

But it is the drawing which set off the stamps, establishing a free flow of the line against the graphic stamped images. Wilde uses them sparsely, non decoratively to fill in the elements of the tableau. The variety of printed line, mark, smudge or impression establishes a quality of tonalities with the works. When these are enlarged to their exhibition size, the small marks become gestural and imposing. They lose any resemblance to comic books despite the balloons, they sit somewhere between calligraphy and graffiti and you realize both require a special degree of spontaneity for their perfection. That spontaneity is in this work but it is the utilitarian use of line which makes them effective.

There's a child like aspect to the drawing which feeds into this interpretation, especially in the works which employ the child stamp. This tendency to storytelling allows the work to suggest and imply narratives but very seldom is the meaning entirely discernible.

However elements are entirely recognizable, especially the stamps. Some represent the natural world - flowers, birds, butterflies, fish, seagulls etc. Others represent human or social activities - people swimming, a puppet, a stereotypical Native American, sofas and money signs. These latter two suggest economy and pop up again and again. Together with the monoprinted figures they represent all the aspects of the world the child must deal with; the natural, the social, the economic.

Wilde's experience is in printmaking. In 1979 she founded the letter press studio Winter Lily Press and her recent work has been in bookmaking, etchings, chine colle and letter press. There's a strong formalism with this work and the books "You're a Nasty Love" and "Love Poems to a Vampire" are profoundly beautiful, each detail carefully thought out.

For Wilde this series represents a breaking out. Her formalism, technique and experience can't help her here, she can only rely on her intuition. It serves her well. These works bristle with meaning because they tell a tale we all know. It is mark making in its rawest form and harks back to the earliest drawings in their intent. And like those primitive cave markings these tell a story of their time.

Glenn Alteen is the director and a curator for Grunt Gallery in Vancouver, B.C.

ISBN 1-8953299-31-0

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