Anne Lemanski is best known for animal sculptures she meticulously builds from copper rods, vintage decorative papers, and artificial sinew. Muscular but fanciful, they acknowledge both the power of nature and the way we idealize it.
But when she arrived at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation this past spring, she knew that her 10-week residency was too short for making such demanding, time-consuming works. And she had hit a wall with them.
So she took a different path, creating hand-cut collages from 1950s-’60s era science encyclopedias she’s collected for 25 years. The results are on view in “Simulacra,” at McColl through Jan. 2.
Collectively titled “Blue Go-Go,” Lemanski’s collage-based prints are filled with conflict and cooperation. They are so bright and boisterous you can almost hear them.
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Although they reference the impact of human activity on the natural world, they are wonderfully enigmatic. A mermaid astride a pigeon looks like an absurd Lady Godiva, an octopus smothers a whale, a poison dart frog gazes at a man cutting meat. The backgrounds, taken from the inside covers of an old math book and filled with geometric forms, hint at mathematical systems in nature.
The prints are huge; at 42 by 54 inches, they almost engulf the viewer.
These works exist in digital form only. Lemanski makes an 8.5-inch by 11-inch collage by temporarily affixing the cutouts to a background. After scanning the collage, she dismantles it, reusing some cutouts in subsequent pieces.
Lemanski had never worked in digital media before; she credits Matt Steele, the artist who runs McColl’s media lab, with being an integral part of this project. It was a process of discovery and surprise, from scanning the collage and making small alterations on the computer screen to seeing the final product emerge from McColl’s large-format printer. And unlike the 11 weeks it takes her to make a sculpture, each college was completed in a few days.
Back at her home studio in Spruce Pine, Lemanski created the large sculptural installation in the center of the gallery. Based on the collages, it includes a rabbit, impala and spider. It has a quieter, more stately power than the prints, as if the animals are working in concert with the geometric forms, rather than bursting out of them.
Instead of decorative papers, Lemanski used encyclopedia illustrations as the source of her animals’ skins, enlarging them so dramatically that they look unreal, breaking down into a flurry of Ben-Day dots. It is a deft strategy of contrasting artifice and reality and questioning which one to trust.
Lemanski characterizes her previous sculptures as “decorated animals” and these newer ones as “simulated animals.”
“Simulacra” has a quiet coda: a modest display case – so modest you might miss it. In it are scattered all the cutouts used in the collages. What is bold on the walls is endearing in the case.
It not only brings home the importance of scale, it is also a testament to the vision and skill that brought forth these vivid, rambunctious works.
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.
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McColl Center for Art + Innovation is located at 721 N. Tryon St.; mccollcenter.org; 704-332-5535
Hours: 5-9 p.m. Thursday, 12 noon-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday