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Mind Over Matter

Prodigal Collections: Recent Work by Augustina Droze at Indigo Art

The gallery window displays glass jars and viles that contain moth wings, clear liquid and a golden Finch. Reminiscent of a science museum or biology class, the installation inside invites the viewer to peer into glass bell jars on museum pedestals at the remains of insects, birds, and frogs—blue Kingfisher feathers, orange shellfish, and delicate husks and wings. The material of Prodigal Collections is a lavish array of specimens that are the subjects of oil paintings by Augustina Droze. You have likely seen the artist’s Buffalo-themed mural at Bidwell and Elmwood. She is known for her high-profile public projects all over Buffalo and elsewhere, including a building façade in India. Her fine art moves along a distinctly different path. She draws upon the tradition of still life, arrangements of inanimate objects that often include carcasses of game fish, birds, and animals. Droze is not concerned with placing her subjects in particular environments. Her studies exist in a void of decorative patterning. The content of these paintings may provoke repulsion, but the execution suggests the lush beauty of color, repetition, depth, and form.

There is grace in her realistic presentations of fish, butterflies, pigs, and rats. In the past, she has arranged her subjects in circular Mandala patterns. This time, she piles them in rings, mounds or drops. The imagery seems to protrude out of the canvas surface. Some are solitary, such as the spectacular single finch, frog, or goldfish centered on a white background. Others are more intricate allover patterns. She has reassembled a school of sewn and stuffed muslin fish, previously shown in a different installation last year at University at Buffalo Gallery at the Center for the Arts where she has been an MFA student. Her Spawn are now clustered on the gallery wall to mirror the painted mound and drop arrangements. They also appear to tumble forward like a waterfall.

The American philosopher, Susanne Langer, wrote: “Art is the objectification of feeling and the subjectification of nature.” Her ideas pointed to the human mind’s continuous process of meaning-making through the power of seeing one thing in terms of another. Droze transforms her Prodigal Collections into paintings that urge the mind to see new associations in nature. Without a shred of sentimentality or implied message, her titles are straightforward. Arrangement with Rats is a symphony of insect wings and bodies with a flurry of fur, pink feet and stringy tails. Her creepy crawling things become aesthetic elements that are spun into a unified whole. A mound of emerald insects called Scarabs glisten as jewels. Like Zombies who return to the world of the living, the bodies in these paintings are found curiously out of their original habitat.

The Goldfinch has gained new popularity as the subject of a painting in Donna Tartt’s bestselling novel. Droze’s “Finch” is also the subject of a painting, but it is without twittering songster potential. Just as all the others in her banquet of specimens, it remains still and lifeless. The artist explores our culture’s fascination with death and the tendency to seek domination over nature. Although the subjects of these works show no signs of life, they also reveal no visible decay. They seem to be frozen in time to make us look—and wonder.

The exhibition remains on view at through August 8.

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