I’ve had several people comment on the deer-head blog, pointing out additional artists who use deer-head trophy imagery. In order to stay focused, I consciously chose examples that shared an ornate, craft-centered theme that played on the masculine hunting/feminine decoration dichotomy. To be sure, there is and endless roster of artists using this venerable icon.
You’ve all seen this in your art history books- it’s in the first chapter, right after the Lascaux caves, which shows you how long this horn-head fetish has been going on.
Although a superficial reading of the avant garde rule book might lead the inexperienced to dismiss work using such a well-worn image a priori, there’s nothing wrong with using deer heads; the trick is to use them well. One thing that stood out to me as I sifted through all of those deer heads was that, although all were using the same gimmick, some were enormously better than others. Gimmicks can be very good: what’s the whole smear-paint-on-a-canvas-to-mimic-real-life but a really good gag? But they’re dangerous- the artist is always running the risk of letting a good shtick take over, rather than using the gimmick as a vehicle for some deeper insight. Some artists can swing it, some can’t.
Here are a pair of contemporary Texans that can:
Ken Little, from his recent show at Finesilver Gallery in Houston. I remember liking these, not because of the cute gimmick, but in spite of it. Little has always been a joker- here he takes the same obvious idea so poorly done by others, then executes it with such unerring wit that he gets away with it. The only problem with this installation is that the joke gets stale when repeated a dozen times in the same room. (Funny art erodes other funny art, while solemnity is cumulative, but more about that in another blog)
In this piece Erick Swenson takes the deer head icon and makes it his own with delicate, subtle character manipulation. Notice the lifelike squashed muzzle, the almost Michelangelo-esque musculature and veins. Swenson injects lifelike pathos into the deer head symbol, and then takes it away by freezing it into classical statuary. The fake icicles add a whole fantasy narrative. Swenson has done a lot for taxidermy.