Art review: Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor at Charlie James Gallery
Seven large-scale assemblage sculptures by Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor merge the playful with the monstrous, such things not always being as separate and distinctive as one might assume. Textile scraps, especially bedding and carpet remnants (plus a lot of torn cardboard), are piled, glued and screwed onto superstructures built from wood, creating crouched and uncuddly creatures with big feet, muscle-bound legs and oversize heads.
Like a homemade doll morphing into a prehistoric T-rex, the bodily proportions of the beasts, which range from 6 to 8 feet in height, are such that tiny, distended or even absent arms preclude the possibility of a reciprocal embrace. (A few are even crippled, held upright by wooden sticks.) Eye sockets are invariably empty, yielding vacant stares.
For her second Los Angeles solo show and her first at Charlie James Gallery, the Sacramento-based artist riffs on a familiar if rather creepy Western folk ballad for inspiration. The sculptures, collectively titled "Dreadful Sorry Clementine," refer to a singsong lament in which the death-by-drowning of a young woman is ostensibly leavened by an inescapably lustful appeal to her still-living little sister. The creatures' flower-bedecked heads only add to a general sense of nausea.
O'Connor's engaging work joins a long line of artists' puppets in which surrogates for the unspeakable are given preternatural form. The conceptual offspring of Hans Bellmer and Nick Cave, with a bit of Kim "Mudman" Jones thrown in for good measure, her dolls transform a contemporary cult of the perfect body into a nightmarish horror show.
Charlie James Gallery, 975 Chung King Road, Chinatown, (213) 687-0844, through Jan. 7. Closed Sundays through Tuesdays. www.cjamesgallery.com
-- Christopher Knight
Above: "Dreadful Sorry Clementine" by Elisabeth Higgins O'Connor. Credit: Charlie James Gallery