Witch-Wife

Shotgun Review

Witch-Wife

By Shotgun Reviews March 20, 2016

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Megan Franz reviews Witch-Wife at Chandran Gallery in San Francisco.

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Witch-Wife, at Chandran Gallery in San Francisco, is a visual feast in which artists Caledonia Curry and Monica Canilao explore the mystical consciousness that fuels dreams and creativity, while also touching on the ripple effect of relationships. Brooklyn-based Curry and Canilao, a local of Oakland, California, have been friends and collaborators for about a decade. The exhibition, whose title conjures not only the fabled women who practice magic, but also implicates the artists’ multifaceted relationship, creates a strong and complex dialogue between the works through the layering of different styles and narratives. On view are a variety of works including paintings, collage/assemblages, murals, and collaborative installations by the two artists.

Curry, better known by her street alias Swoon, has created large-scale expressive portraits that translate her street style into a separate body of gallery works that portray her personal history. Her signature woodblock prints and murals show family members, friends, and people who have strongly impacted her. The word “wife” in the title conjures domestic ties, which come through especially in two of the works, each depicting women at various stages of life, including motherhood. While the portraits are symbolic of a life cycle, they remain personal and suggest the intimacy found in close familial relationships. Like most of Swoon’s work, layers of lines and colors overlap complex backgrounds to create illusions of movement and depth.

Swoon and Monica Canilao. Witch-Wife, 2016; installation view, Chandran Gallery, San Francisco. Courtesy of Chandran Gallery. Photo: Tod Seellie.

On the wall opposite, smaller, intricate found object sculptures and collages made by Monica Canilao complement Swoon’s elaborate line work. Small bottles, animal bones, and antique trinkets evoke the talismans or charms associated with witchcraft. Some of the objects are arranged as if to resemble ornate altars, but their battered condition makes them seem more like forgotten relics. The assemblages resemble vanitas still life paintings, in which objects were used as reminders of mortality. For Canilao, whether the objects are broken combs or jewelry, scraps of fabric or bullets, the works reflect the transient nature of time and our lives on earth.

In the large downstairs area, the two artists have collaborated on tattered, makeshift sculptures that extend from floor to ceiling, creating a mystical environment. Composed of Swoon’s printed figures and textile structures by Canilao, the three sculptures resemble human forms in long, flowing robes with elaborately draped cloths in myriad textures. Small openings in the structures allow a viewer to not only see inside but also to enter and be fully enveloped, as if in a womb in a spiritual realm.

In their collaborations and solo work, the artists summon whimsical manifestations of not only spirituality but also a passage of time evoked through materiality and imagery. Invoking a mystical consciousness, perhaps as a higher way of knowing and understanding the world and our position in it, the works in Witch-Wife are potent with possible meanings and manifest the intuitive, intimate connections of relationships. The result is visually striking and thematically engaging, while beguiling aesthetics transport the viewer to an otherworldly place. 

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Megan Franz is an MA candidate at the California College of the Arts in the Curatorial Practice program. A recent transplant to the Bay Area from Tucson, Arizona, she has a BFA in Art and Visual Culture Education with an emphasis in Community Museums. 

Witch-Wife is on view at Chandran Gallery, in San Francisco, through April 1, 2016.

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