Bluelucy, 653 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, Oct. 19-Nov. 9. Opening reception Sat., Oct. 19, 7-11 p.m., 727-251-8529, bluelucy.net.
Dark Arts: Creep St. Pete Local
Station Number Three, 2701 Fifth Ave. S., St. Petersburg, Sat. Oct. 26, 7-11 p.m. 727-328-4993, stpetedarkarts.com.
When Calan Ree invented the character GingerDead, a gender-ambiguous little boy with an outsized sense of morbidity, she wasn’t thinking “this is my alter ego.” But it eventually dawned on her, as she illustrated GingerDead’s adventures in a web comic series over three years, that she and her creation had an unsettling amount in common: a mischievous and vaguely sinister older sibling, an attraction to the space where humor and horror overlap, and a personal style that might be described as adorable with a splash of vampire.
Putting two and two together was harrowing — Ree went a step further and meditated on how GingerDead’s captivation with death echoed her own experiences in a real-life abusive romantic relationship — but the character triggered good things. Fans sent haikus like the ones that captioned many of her comics (e.g., rhythmic pulse beckons / I’m ravenous for your love / please pass the ketchup). They also bought GingerDead merchandise like greeting cards and polymer clay jewelry, which Ree hand-crafted and inscribed with drawings of the characters.
Finally, Ree began to think of herself as an artist, she admitted over a drink last week at the Ale and the Witch, even though she had been making things for most of her life.
Her first solo exhibition opens on Saturday at Bluelucy. Titled LORE, the show brings together about 30 ceramic sculptures based on folklore from around the world — figures representing myths, superstitions, and fanciful hearsay filtered through Ree’s imagination and fingers deft at coaxing expressive faces out of clay. In addition, a group of sgraffito panels, clay slabs incised with black-and-white drawings, will give a taste of her 2D talents, and t-shirt screenings at the opening reception will let fans take away an affordable piece of her art in graphic form.
What won’t be on display is GingerDead; Ree stopped the comic in 2011 and says she’s spent the last two years discovering the body of work that constitutes LORE. The sculptures are just as dark, but with a more delicate sensibility and much more, formally, to sink your teeth into; besides skillfully manipulated clay, they incorporate natural materials including wood, fiber and bone to create haunting characters. One, a gently textured lavender face whose eyes are ringed with an orange mask, conjures up a banshee, the double-visioned woman of Irish folklore who sees the living and their imminent demise. White hashmarks on the figure’s forehead, above an O-shaped mouth that holds a flower, tally the deaths she has foretold with a scream.
Ree also gives form to the Japanese kappa, a prank-loving water sprite whose head holds a divot filled with water, and the barometz, a half-lamb half-plant creature that was imagined as an explanation for the origin of cotton during the medieval period. Even fairies get a dark twist, with miniature wings in place of hands and pupil-less eyeballs; they are the antithesis of Disney and “definitely not all sugary,” Ree says.
Chatting with Ree about her past, I couldn’t help thinking that her latest works also have a biographical slant. After growing up in Long Island and studying psychology in college, she traveled around the world, scraping by as a bartender in Germany and painting people with henna tattoos on city sidewalks in Ireland. Writing, from haikus to folklore, has always played a role in her creative process. And, yes, she ditched the bad relationship. The exhibition LORE finds her, exhilaratingly, farther into a certain journey.Last December’s Abnormalityart show is back and aiming to be better than ever: A follow-up event, called Dark Arts: Creep St. Pete Local, is planned for Halloween weekend. The details will sound familiar to anyone who attended Abnormality. Paintings, illustrations and other works by 65 artists will go on display at Station Number Three, a refurbished fire station in St. Pete’s Warehouse Arts District. Several performances will take place throughout the evening, including appearances by Anton James Andresen, who performed last year as the "Naked Mentalist," and models dressed in frightful costumes by designer Dollface.
This year, the art on tap was culled from about 100 submissions by organizers Casey Paquet and Bluelucy owner Chad Mize. Pale Horse, aka Chris Parks, and Dysfunctional Grace Art Co., aka Daniel James, return with spectacular illustrations and taxidermy sculpture, respectively. Other participants include Bask, Frank Strunk III, Daniel Mrgan, Sebastian Coolidge, Laura Spencer and Cake Marques. Marques, an Orlando-based painter, parodies Renaissance portraiture by depicting skeletons decked out in ruffled collars and other brilliantly vulgar human-monster mash-ups. Art from the show will be available for purchase in an online gallery after the one-night event.
The big change from last year is the introduction of a $10 ticket, available in advance at Daddy Kool Records. Ticket sales will benefit Keep St. Pete Local, the independent business alliance; KSPL members can get theirs for $5. The event is KSPL's first fundraiser, and the organization is footing most of the bill for putting it on, Paquet says.
“I made zero dollars last year and had a great time, so I’m not terribly worried about that.”