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Shapes Shifting

The Letter G from Fotini Galanes's "Alphabet Series."
Jesse Walp's "Sprig."

Works by Fotini Galas and Jesse Walp at Buffalo Arts Studio

Artist Fotini Galanes makes beauty from what is usually considered unbeautiful. Unbeautiful is in the eye of the beholder.

When Galanes was age 11 months, visiting at the home of her grandmother, she grasped the cord of a percolating electric coffee pot on a table above her and spilled the full pot of boiling coffee down on herself, causing burns over 95 percent of her little body. Twenty-three percent third-degree burns.

An exhibit of her exquisite artwork is currently on display at Buffalo Arts Studio. The exhibit includes some photographs of the scar tissue. But the main event work consists of pencil-on-paper drawings and related sculptural objects that derive directly from the physically and emotionally traumatic experience.

Also on exhibit in the current Buffalo Arts Studio show are a dozen or so woodwork sculptures in uncanny biomorphic forms by artist Jesse Walp. Shape-shifting between plant and animal forms, with suggestions of human.

In the drawings, Galanes translates the look of scar tissue into an intricate, delicate, unique formal language and syntax of visual motifs remotely recalling a miscellany of possible cognate forms—shell forms, rococo surge and swirl decorative programming, Indian paisley, filigree, lace—choreographed into the vaguest suggestions of narrative structure—like a Balanchine ballet—but not such as to mar the essential abstract purity of the work.

Coffee is a sort of sub-theme. One of the sculptural objects is a version of the fatal electric coffee pot. Also, Galanes likes to do her drawings in coffee houses. So there are two displays of coffee cups, one with observations and comments individuals have made to the artist—insensitive does not begin to describe—about some of the physical after-effects of the accident. “Freak” was one of the kinder comments.

The other coffee cups display features observations by a much more decent crowd, basically on her art, in the double sense of artifact and execution. “You’re a real good drawist,” one person said. Another asked, “What’s it going to be when it’s done?” Another wondered, “How do you know when it’s done?”

Several of the sculptural objects are versions of childhood toys—ostensible references to living and growing up with aftereffects and learning to make something beautiful of them—with design features related to the signature visual motifs. Including a set of alphabet blocks with letters in her signature style, and on each block two alphabetically appropriate more traditional style drawings—usually animals or plants—the K block features two types of kiwi, the animal and the fruit—also superbly drawn.

One of the toys is a large jigsaw puzzle with pieces in elegant to erratic shapes that turn up again as patterns in sand around other play items, including a sandbox.

Biomorphic to anthropomorphic in the sculptures of Jesse Walp. The work consists of lovingly shaped and polished and stained wood pieces, sometimes as single pieces, sometimes as multiples conglomerated, as in one case into the semblance of a large blackberry. In another case, a segmented possible berry form inexplicably sprouts snail antennae, such as could function as little hat hooks, for tiny hats, at any rate, but on the model of a larger piece unmistakably suggestive of a hat rack. (In another context, you’d call it a hat rack. In the context of this slightly bizarre sculptural collection, you wonder.) In another, wall-mounted piece, a muscular arm emerges from the wall, supporting a serving tray, serving as a little table. Service with a smile.

A little piece called Sweet Pea is green, like a pea pod, with nodules suggestive of peas, but more conspicuously, overall, a human fetal form. What the piece most notably suggests—without explicitly presenting—is a mother-child embrace. Mother-child cuddle.

Another piece, called Bump, is a minimalist, pre-lapsarian Humpty-Dumpty.

And the room centerpiece, called Stroll, is a kind of archway stretched connective between two multi-bulbous support feet resembling huge garlic pods, all in a rakish attitude somehow strangely reminiscent of underground comix cartoonist Robert Crumb’s iconic Keep on Truckin’ guy.

The title of Galanes’s exhibit is Subcutaneous. The title of Walp’s exhibit is Life Forms. The dual exhibit continues through March 22.

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