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Anne Siems, "Wolpertinger," 2010, mixed media on paper, 30 x 21 in.
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"Swift Fox with Garland"
Anne Siems, "Swift Fox with Garland," 2010, mixed media on board, 40 x 50 in.
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"Hare and Hummingbirds"
Anne Siems, "Hare and Hummingbirds," 2010, mixed media on board, 54 x 60 in.
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Anne Siems, "Flower Fawn," 2010, mixed media on paper, 30 x 21 in.
ANNE SIEMS, Wolpertinger & Other Creatures
Jacana Gallery, Vancouver
Nov 10 to Dec 5, 2010
By Helena Wadsley
Quirky might be an understatement for Seattle-based, German native, Anne Siems’ paintings of forest animals. Perky critters - rabbits, owls, foxes and fawns - sit upright and alert to danger, while dressed in unwieldy lace collars and weighty stone pendants. Although the setting is not rugged wilderness of North America but the pastoral forest of 16th to 19th century European paintings, these distinguished creatures look out of place, dressed in what we associate with culture and refinement. Without the addition of visual cues that might refer to a fable, the incongruity of subject and context limits the narrative or symbolic significance.
In Hare and the Hummingbirds, a wreath of curling vines, from which birds’ nests and beehives hang, and industrious mice and squirrels gather food, frames the forest. While the wreath was, according to Siems, inspired by Spanish religious paintings, it, the tassels that hang from the sky, as well as the ribbons that scroll across the bottom, as in Swift Fox with Garland, indicate a human presence. However, in both works, the decorative confuses rather than contributes to the overall meaning of the paintings.
Flower Fawn, a work on paper of a life-size fawn’s face turning coyly, with enormous Bambi eyes and crowned with flowers, is sugary sweet. By contrast, in Wolpertinger, the antlered rabbit of German folklore, sits erect on a red velvet stool, the legs of which are hooves. A red jewel hangs around the rabbit’s neck. Framed by trees against a backdrop of blue sky, the creature seems an oddity displaced from another world.
In general, Siems’ menagerie seems disconnected from the woodland in which they find themselves. The rabbits and foxes, though alert, remain passive, and I am left wondering why they are wearing these delicate yet extraneous frills typically worn by men of the church and members of the nobility in 16th and 17th century Europe. The delicate handiwork was purely decorative and had no practical use at that time and seems to0 lack a sense of purpose in Siems’ work today. I question whether, by anthropormorphizing the creatures, Siems is creating a dystopia where the animals can no longer connect with the natural habitat from which they came.
Ironically, it is the lace and other adornments that provide visual interest. Without their peculiar presence, these works would be little more than charming illustrations. In this way, they recall Rococo paintings of the 18th century, sharing the decorative characteristics and whimsical subject matter. The delicate, complicated pattern of the lace is exquisitely painted, far more so than the forest and the coats of fur which, while competently painted, lack innovation.
If these paintings are intended as narratives, the sense of anticipation shown in each creature - whether it be fox or fawn, hunter or prey - is vague. While Siems prefers to leave the narrative up to the viewer, more visual cues signifying a specific fairytale or an archetypal symbol - for example a rabbit’s association with rebirth, or a fox’s association with cunning - would close the disparity between the wildlife and the vanity of their adornments. As cute as these animals are – posed, as if for a photo – with their beautiful collars and liquid eyes, I found myself desiring a bitter tonic to balance these saccharine portraits with their Disneyesque, pastoral backdrops.