Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You Ain't Goin' Nowhere

Robert Boyd

Ken Little has a show up at d.m. allison for a few more days. Last weekend, Little played a few songs on the patio of the gallery. Some were originals, like "Simple America," and some were covers like "You Ain't Goin Nowhere," one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs. All the band members were artists, too. (That's Ed Wilson on the left. Ken Little is the second from the right.) 

I think more artists should be in bands. I always liked the fact that Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw were in Destroy All Monsters before lighting out to CalArts. I just got an excellent CD of Jack Early songs (aided by Dean and Britta). When you encounter a visual artist who is also a musician, you wonder what the relationship between the music and the art is. Little's music comes out of the country/Americana/singer-songwriter genre, which I see as having its ultimate source in Bob Dylan. And Little is the right age (born 1947) to have grown up hearing songs like "Like a Rolling Stone" when they first showed up on the radio. But let's look at his art.

Ken Little, Wolf, bronze, 7 x 9 x 10 inches

Ken Little, Bear, bronze, 12 x 13 x 15 inches

This show consists mainly of sculptures of animal heads that have the appearance of masks. They look a bit like native American sculpture, and the forms are simplified and somewhat cartoonish. They're delightful.

Ken Little, Hare, bronze, 23 x 22 x 16 inches

Ken Little, Ape, bronze, 13 x 10 x 14 inches

Little indicates eyes and mouth through holes in the the bronze, which is what makes these heads seem mask-like. But he uses this technique on pieces that are obviously not masks.

Ken Little, left to right: House, Please and Soar, bronze, 4 1/4 x 4 3/4 x 4 1/2 inches; 4 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 4 inches; 6 x 6 x 5 inches

What Little demonstrates with some of these pieces is something cartoonists have long realized--all it takes to anthropomorphize an object are two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth. This seems like a simple truth, but it's a powerful one. His bronze open hand is a beautiful thing, but the face on it gives in an uncanny feeling.

Not that the work here is unsettling. On the contrary, it is amusing and warm. These animals and anthropomorphized objects seem like friends. In that way, they are like Little's band--a gathering of old friends, playing amusing, lovely songs.

Ken Little, Blow Bunny, bronze, 8 x 5 x 5 inches

Ken Little on guitar

This show runs through March 1st at d.m. allison gallery.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Robert,
    I had a great time with Ed Wilson, Tim Glover, and Bob Russell (like you said all artists) playing music. And even more fun casting and finishing the bronzes with patinas.
    Here is a statement from 1988 when I was in the middle of making these pieces:
    I think of these as “Masks” or “Helmets” rather than animal heads.

    The distinction is that they incorporate the prominent features of the animal’s appearance or anatomy, but they have been simplified, stylized, and animated.

    It is very obvious that they are hollow.

    Their historical influences and foundations are found in carved wooden Indian masks from the Northwest Coast of the United States, African figurative totems, Mexican folkart masks, Japanese Haniwa Tomb sculpture. Their more contemporary foundations come from the Walt Disney, Hanna Barbera, and Looney Tunes cartoon characters of my youth like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Mickey Mouse, and Winnie the Pooh.

    Ken Little