Works, while goofy, show good form
Artist morphs animal imagery into engaging and functional furniture
Some kinds of art you just like. You may not think a piece is "great" or particularly important, but you get a lift when you see it. That's how I feel about the lovingly crafted art furniture by Judy Kensley McKie now on view at Gallery NAGA on Newbury Street.
Working in wood, bronze, stone, and cast plastic, McKie combines goofy cartoon animal imagery with the functional forms of chairs, cabinets, and serving trays. Some of her works look like they were made by a folk artist for a children's zoo: a bronze bench in the form of a large bird with wide-spread wings, for example.
But the juvenile aspect is balanced by a sophisticated sense of design that blends influences of Art Nouveau and Art Deco with those of Asian and tribal arts. A tall, limewood cabinet with abstracted swans carved in relief on the doors would not look out of place in a Fred Astaire movie. A bronze, wall-mounted hat rack in the form of a moose head with bulbous, branching antlers is like a sculpture by Miro.
The formal elegance and knowing manipulation of styles engages our educated intellects, while the nutty animals and the ways they magically morph into furniture excites our childlike imaginations. This irreverent yet finely tuned play between the high and the low -- or culture and nature -- is delightful. McKie doesn't try to do too much either formally or conceptually. Some might say the things she makes are not much more than domestic luxury goods; some will say they're too cute. I think they are smart and soulful. I like them.
Ken Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.