Genetic Material

K ehler Liddell Gallery has invited in some summer guests—42 of them, to be exact. Add to that 15 members of the Westville art collective, and you’ve got KLG’s annual juried show, this year featuring nearly 60 works riffing on the theme Our DNA through July 25.

Some artists faced the given topic head-on and crafted works that are, in one way or another, representations of DNA. Among them are Kathryn Frund’s Infinite Possibilities 3, a tall double helix made entirely of plastic bottles, beads and thingamajigs in blue and green that recast the code’s four bases into the irreplicable pattern of clutter that is each of our lives. Artist Tom Edwards met the challenge by working his own DNA into his small Self Portrait with DNA, whose materials are listed as “pencil, pastel, blood and saliva.”

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Other works subtly echo DNA’s twisted structure. The interlocking strands of Anne Sheffield’s fiber and bead sculpture Matrilineal Ancestors, for example, are braids woven in shades from silvery white to onyx black. Together, they form a heartlike shape as if to remark upon the links from mother to daughter through the generations. The turquoise-shaded peaks protruding from a wall of plaster in Amy Hannum’s sculpture Defiance suggest a loss of adhesion, a buckling, a lifting up. The reference could be grand or quotidian—mountains or sheets of wallpaper. Either way, from a certain angle, these, too, suggest the structure of a strand of our genetic code.

The DNA theme seems to have hit certain recurring notes of inspiration. Trees play a prominent role in Our DNA, as in Amanda Walker’s watercolor Sap of Life, which gives an old, branching tree a heart and arteries. Hands, too, appear in several pieces. Donna Owens’s Tools of the Trade is one of many accomplished photographs in the show. This gorgeous portrait of a working man’s greasy hands clutching a wrench takes full advantage of the silver and black tones of a black-and-white photograph. Every line in skin and crack of cuticle is illuminated. The semicircular ends of the wrench are barely visible protruding from either end of the clasped hands, which are clearly the real tools of the title.

My personal favorite, Robert Schwarz’s Sequencing, is a narrow, vertical oil painting that seems to capture a moment of rupture. At the top of the canvas, a rift travels between chunks of greenish-gray, like boulders on a cliff face. It reaches downward, as if rending the canvas in two, and the colors turn hot and angry while large gaps narrow into puckers like spermatozoa. Their tails split cracks in the surface, one of which spills red streaks like blood. Some sort of natural process is underway. Whatever it is, it seems the irrevocable is about to happen—a birth, a rending.

A few works emphasize the “Our” in the exhibition’s title—the characteristics we share. Marsha Borden’s companion pieces WE (Cut From the Same Cloth) I and II are literally so—patchwork pieces labeled “Us” and “Them” stitched together into a doll and a ball. The titles emphasize our similarities, while the pieces ironically point to an impulse to differentiate and divide that is sewn into us. Gar Waterman offers a similarly dark take with It’s in Our DNA, a collection of small tools and widgets welded into an armored figure carrying a machine gun.

The emphasis that emerges from this wide-ranging exhibition, however, leans more toward the optimistic. Taken together, the works in Our DNA accentuate the fact that while our individual strands are layered and complex, we can still see ourselves in one another.

Kehler Liddell Gallery – 873 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Thurs-Fri 11am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4pm through July 25, 2021
(203) 389-9555

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 features Donna Owens’s Tools of the Trade, behind glass. Image 2 features Robert Schwarz’s Sequencing.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts twice-weekly content for book clubs in her Substack newsletter, Better Book Clubs.

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