Dan Van Clapp





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August 27, 2008
You Be Gillin'
The dA's Gone Fishin' offers a fanciful look at our waterlogged friends
by Stacy Davies

Fish have always been more interesting as symbols – or meals – rather than as actual creatures. Yes, they can come in striking colors and abstract shapes that give us visual pleasure, and we can certainly bond with the ones who live inside glass bowls on the back of our toilets – but mostly, fish are tiny-brained slimers that swim around in their own waste.

Where art is concerned, however, this scaly, cold-blooded and unaffectionate aquatic invertebrate can be raised to new heights. Such is the case in the dA's new show, Gone Fishin', curated by the always clever A.S. Ashley, who once again shows off his penchant for fanciful, quirky shows that take us on an amusing jaunt through what would normally be an uninspiring subject matter – unless Disney got a hold of it, of course.

One of the first gems you'll run into at the show is Bobby Rojas' Unpleasant Surprise, a vibrant purple and yellow oceanic adventure in which an unwitting seaman hooks a prehistoric beast – a scene that cries out to be published in your next favorite children's picture book. Rojas was awarded the "Ugliest Fish" plaque at the show, as well – a kitschy side game Ashley apparently added on to mirror the trophies so coveted by recreational anglers.

Jim Fonseca Jr.'s Creation of the Koi – hung next to Mr. Ugly – also extols the wild abandon of the gilled ones, and the elaborate fin construction some of them possess: in an electric orange and red melange, a koi sporting dorsals that look much like blankety pleats from a fancy ball gown writhes to be free to swim another day.

Equally vivacious is Manny Le Gaspe's Table for Two...Pisces, portrait of a lunch in blue that reminds somewhat of an old master, with dynamic couplets of purple-green fish on each plate whose bodies are overlaid by a gritty iron mesh.

Taking the imaginative mayhem down to basic symbolism, Jimmy Centeno's Homage to Hemmingway's Old Man and the Sea is an appreciated bare bones nod to one of the most over-exhumed literary works of our time: on the left is a "man" who is constructed of a rusted, smashed bottle cap for a head, a corroded hammered metal sheet for a torso and some waterlogged composite paper for pants; on the right is a rough representation of a large fish head cut from what appears to be palm tree bark.

Turning tradition on its ear, as usual, Ashley includes his own offbeat visions: mounted above the entrance to the back gallery are his hybrid sculptures Foot Fiddish, a fabric fishhead attached to a real prosthetic leg for a body, and Butt 'n Hook, a fish tail connected to a prosthetic hook arm head. Dan Van Clapp also joins the fun with Fish and Game, an unfortunate catch that has a grenade stuffed in its mouth.

Franz Keller takes a smart post-modern look at fish and consumption symbols in Loaves & Fishes, which might remind one of a "where to eat fish" map supplied to foreigners in Japan; and Lisa Cook scores big with her two adult fairytale-esque portraits of busty, effervescent redheaded women (one a mermaid) dealing with their own peculiar hooking excursions in a wild netherland of choppy little yellow-green waves.

Embracing subtlety and details, Natasha Hickman shows her highly skilled A Diver's Paradise, a small pen and ink scene of a scuba man in a sunken room rummaging over furniture and floating lamps; and Octopus' Garden, a twist on an underwater paradise that also goes much deeper (ahem) than mere fancy.

Thomas Skelly continues the push into richer layers with Fishing Scene with Red Spots, a picturesque snapshot of two men in a rowboat pulling a single fish from a lake that edges toward Manet until you run into great globs of paint and a water funnel surrounding the little dark fish that elevate the piece to superb.

These works, in particular, speak directly to the goal of noncommercial fishing – seeking out quality over quantity – and there is certainly a decent catch of prize winners here to be seen.