Life, death and memory are the domain of the arts. Sherry Leedy often thematically links the shows in her gallery, and although the work of Judy Onofrio and Nicolas Dhervillers (who is also showing works at Cerbera Gallery across the street), couldn’t look more dissimilar, mortality and its lore abounds in the art of both artists.
Onofrio continues her long-standing tradition of wall sculptures conjoined of multiple parts, but in the last decade the works have changed dramatically, from colorful, carnivalesque narrative pieces to all-white, abstract serpentine structures assembled from bones. They’re disturbingly beautiful and spooky.
There’s no denying the materials. Onofrio uses parts from animal skeletons that she has cleaned and processed until they reach the desired shade of pristine white. She then links them in ways invisible to the eye, and creates a crazy variety of forms. With all their baroque twists and jutting extremities, these works would make a chiropractor squirm. We fidget also, but for different reasons. How often does one embrace beauty that so relentlessly reminds us of that last, great adventure: death?
This is the first exhibit in the United States for French artist Nicolas Dhervillers. Leedy is exhibiting Dhervillers’ large-scale color photography. Cerbera Gallery is featuring a retrospective of Dhervillers’ pastels and small botanical photos as well as his large abstractions. Cerbera Gallery director, Philipp Eirich, is a long-time supporter of Dhervillers’ art and collaborated with Sherry Leedy on the show.
Dhervillers is only 36, but his art is that of an old soul transfixed by the imponderables of existence. In his large-scale color photograph at Sherry Leedy, no one really dies. The past and present fitfully co-exist, and in his best works, an ancestral presence hovers throughout.
A film student early on, Dhervillers borrows from cinematography, as well as theater and historical painting. In a talk at the Kansas City Art Institute, he also acknowledged the influence of Jeff Wall and other narrative-based, large-scale photographers. But there is a distinctly European feel to Dhervillers’ oeuvre.
He is well-versed in Western European painting, particularly masterworks at the Louvre.
In his monumental and witty “Hommage a Nicolas Poussin,” it takes a moment before the viewer discovers a minute image of a man, digitally borrowed from a painting by the 17th century French painter Poussin, and placed by Dhervillers at the bottom of a magnificent landscape photograph. The same technique is used in “Hommage a Bouguereau II,” only this time Dhervillers cops a male image from the 19th-century French painter Adolphe Bouguereau and drops him into a forested area.
Dhervillers’ background in cinematography serves him well in his “Road Movies” series, where he employs the expense-saving “day for night” technique used to simulate nighttime while filming in daylight. The visual moodiness produced by this method, amplified by Dhervillers’ use of superimposed landscapes and vintage automobiles, is rich in narrative potential. His “Untitled 6,” “7” and “8” all have the mystery and visual lushness of a good Hitchcock movie.
“My Sentimental Archive” from 2011 is strange, wonderful, and hard to forget. The right half of the work is composed of a group of Swiss Amish women — widows of workmen killed in an avalanche in a Swiss village at the turn of the 20th century — dressed in black and clustered together, walking down a highway, seen from the back. The women are separated by a wall from a group of male laborers with a large crane, working on a mountainside dig. Dhervillers lifted the women’s image from the Swiss village archive and collaged it to his own present-day photo of male laborers working in the landscape where the avalanche originally took place. This ahistorical, fictional collage, with its play of past and present, is as haunting as it is jarring.
Dhervillers’ feel for landscape is also evident in his small studies of flowers at Cerbera Gallery. These works have the same sensibility, that of fictional reality, as his narrative pieces.
A sense of infinity pervades his large, abstract paintings at Cerbera, fitting for an artist whose art has no real beginning or end. Dhervillers’ techniques, sophisticated, high-tech and contemporary, take us to a place where there is no space or time.
“Judy Onofrio: Unearth” and “Nicolas Dhervillers: Retrospective Works” continues through Oct. 21 at Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment. For more information, 816.221.2626 or www.sherryleedy.com
“Nicolas Dhervillers: Retrospective Works” continues through Oct. 21 at Cerbera Gallery, 2011 Baltimore Ave. Hours are11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. For more information 1.844.202.9303 or cerberagallery.com