Didomenico Studio

Worlds Suspended in Reality, 2018

“Each time I look into the eye of an animal, …I find myself staring into a mirror of my own imagination.” -Ellen Meloy

This exhibit is a visionary collection of three artists who individually have re-invented physical reality suggesting a quantum complexity that has been previously overlooked. Each emphasizes suspended figures, objects or creatures seemingly displaced in their unique created environments. Caroline Douglas’ animals are shamanic beings, wise healers with a fierce inner presence that streams from their eyes with grace. They cross over to the spirit world, each on their own soulful journey. Patricia’s figures are often seen floating in dreamlike environments, sometimes accompanied by animals as familiar spirits; oddities, such as an emu with a candelabra headdress, heavenly creatures flying into a bonfire, a boat floating in the sky, are harbingers of a surreal dream. Frank’s paintings coalesce multidimensional layers of human and animal beings: mythological figures fall from the sky, animals and humans attend a birthday party or enjoy a picnic together. On first viewing, one might assume that these displaced figures and objects are lost or not belonging. There is a deeper sense that the rearrangement of reality is merely a device to alert the viewer that things are not always what they seem. These artists assign equal value to all living beings by upsetting the status quo and circumventing the limited mindset of dominance over nature. Meditating on the world with a shifting sense of time and space, Patricia, Frank and Caroline offer a place to reflect and explore new gateways in our continually evolving landscape.

Each artist sees the distinction between human and animal as a barrier to overcome. The fate of humans and animals is increasingly interwoven, as our planet’s resources are diminished and viable space is disappearing. Our relationships with animals have always been complex, as some are treated like members of the family while others are seen as a source of food, clothing or service. We tend to anthropomorphize when it may be more desirable to note the animal characteristics we share. In fact, we have more DNA in common with a rat than we have different. These artists encourage us to expand our consciousness beyond the narrowly defined human condition, in order to enlarge our relationship and response to the world. Seeing ourselves in other living things provides us with an intimate knowledge of what it means to be a human animal, to recognize our own animal-ness. Childlike innocence and faith in the magic of the unseen are familiar narratives for all of these artists. Entering into equilibrium in a world spinning out of control and seriously at risk, they have a rare ability to create harmony out of chaos. If humans have been historically represented as the supreme or superior being, the antithesis of this hierarchy is to embrace all creatures co-existing and working together. As seen in Frank’s painting “Sing for Your Supper”, all creatures are actually present at the table, sharing a meal together. His oeuvre insists that all souls need to come together to help one another and act as one. The world will likely be saved by creatures, wild, intuitive and wise with grace. By looking into another creature’s eyes, our intertwined realities are uncovered and we recognize the universal life force in each other.

Through the sheer range of diversity, each of these artists connects their bodies of work to the mysterious world of the spirit. Viewers, having been exposed to unconventional perspectives, are invited to suspend assumptions in order to enter a more expansive, all-embracing reality. What we imagine brings meaning to our lives. In this exhibit, Frank, Patricia and Caroline’s prescient world view, revealed through their dedication to the divinity of nature, is imbued with the potency of magic.


 Caravan of Dreams:

In Caroline’s “Conveyance”, a swarm of living creatures are being lifted up into the air, transported, presumably to another, better place. They are spirits or souls being conducted to other worlds. Reminiscent of Noah’s Ark, the animals are singled out, suggesting a sense of responsibility toward their preservation. They are suspended between worlds, dangling in a fragile state, transmigrating on their way to salvation. While the harnesses suggest a human presence, humans are not seen in this installation. The act of benevolence is imbued with an altruistic anonymity, devoid of human ego. The creatures seem to magically exist without much interference. There is some sort of mystical intermediary through which the intangible operates. This work embodies the idea that no chasm exists between the divine and nature. The divine dwells in everything.

In “The Edge”, the shadow side of nature, both human and non-human, is being unearthed and revealed as part of an integrated whole. All animals can be ruthless, cruel and fierce, especially in the face of danger, and in order to insure survival. Here, creatures emerge from the earth to shed light on the shadow, to expose our darkest animal selves. As conscious humans, rather than being stuck in an outdated version of superiority, we might begin to understand what is at stake by entering into a mutual pact to safeguard all creatures of the earth. In Caroline’s renditions of human animal shapeshifters, she is revealing the beast inside the human and the person inside the animal as a means of healing the dualistic trap of human/animal, male/female, good/bad, dark/light, other/self of a fixed perspective. These polarities are all part of the grand illusion. In Pantheism, where God is Nature, no doctrines or dogmatic philosophies are exerted. Nothing exists long enough to have an identity. Impermanence is the only real truth.

Caroline’s work instinctively removes barriers between species, elevating animals as guardian spirits on the healing journey. Boundaries are blurred as animals and humans share a common mission. “The Caravan of Dreams” illustrates this intermingling of species perfectly. There is a tribal nomadic narrative that marries the spirit world with the practical. We are all in this together, our fates are inextricably interwoven. In “The Caravan of Dreams”, all humans and animals are destined to complete their journey together en masse, dedicated to a united purpose. Compassion for one another as fellow travelers, and being seen for who we truly are, leads to mutual respect. Caroline’s menagerie of fantastic creatures was clearly created out of love. It is as if she dreamt of these animal souls and they materialized directly from divine inspiration. Caroline envisions animals as essential healing agents, conductors of her own transcendental self-discovery: vehicles of divine will, vast and unbounded. They include a lemur riding a tapir with an apple balanced on its head, a goat becoming a building pulling a dog, a fish swimming through the air with a giraffe, a tapir and a bear in tow, a polar bear pulling animals perched atop a hand, a dog with a headdress pulling rabbits in a basket, a baby tapir pulling a hand cradling a skull, a Trojan deer with windows, a pink deer pulling a dog with a bag over his head, a woman traveling in a snail with wings, a warthog carrying a man on a flying buttress… As viewers, we are more than mere observers. We travel with them, contemplating our future, participating in the journey together, wherever it may lead. This is it. There is no other choice! Our destiny is linked to all creatures with no room for speciesism. This is the world of the spirit: present, hovering and inescapable.

“Your essential selfhood can be discovered gratis in the next animal you run into or that flies over your head. Both you and they carry the mystery of the other. Both you and they are the masks of the other. You are they in human clothing; They are you in animal clothing, or plant clothing or rock clothing.” (Rabbi Gershon Winkler)

Woman as Portal into The Sublime:

Patricia describes herself as a self-taught artist, adding that she was married at age nineteen and started a family right away. As a woman born into an era when female artists were not given much exposure, Bramsen’s work profoundly demonstrates the uphill battle for recognition. Portraits of women impaled with bare branches, women breaking a beaded necklace, an angel flying into a bonfire with a ladder, all depict varying states of struggle. In one particularly poignant work, “ “, a woman is tethered to a rope in an empty room with a bleeding canvas on the wall behind her. The painting is blank as if to suggest that the mere act of creation requires life’s blood. She employs a surreal sense of the world through her use of displaced objects, specifically objects as seen from an altered perspective. Subjects that have frequented her paintings include insects, birds and other animals, boats adrift in the sky, empty labels, doorways, wishbones, flaming cauldrons, an erupting spring, floating eggs, as well as self-portraits and portraits of women in vulnerable and powerful states. To quote Patricia’s daughter, “Mom values her artistic instincts enough to explore wherever they point. A pink cloud, a black river, or a gauzy shawl like a jellyfish: she’ll coax a figment from her head to its most resonant spot in a painting.” (Carin Bramsen).

Other representations of women are shown wearing quixotic hats: a cloud hat, a nest comfortably settled onto a woman’s head, a bit of moss tied to another woman’s head. She has in fact, literally created and made her own fanciful hats. These unusual accoutrements suggest women have had to juggle a multitude of prescribed roles to survive. The nest, as a symbol for home-making, functions for Patricia as an arena where women have been allowed traditionally to express their creativity. In “Balancing Egg”, (19…) a nude older woman is bent over while an egg barely rests on her back. She is balancing the beginnings of a potent life force with her own inevitable mortality. The egg juxtaposed with the stripped bare version of an elderly woman is a striking and apt metaphor for the inherent struggle in being female.
In all of Patricia’s paintings, there is a powerful dance between birth/death, entrance/exit, protection/vulnerability, emergence/hiding. In another self-portrait, the artist gazes out unapologetically, magically balancing an egg floating just below her hand. It’s as if she is proclaiming her sense of self while balancing the many roles of her gender. Bramsen’s expressions of feminine identity and displacement precede the current trend of gender examination. In a sense, these themes helped pave the way for women, not only as artists but in the world at large. Patricia’s alternately displaced and bound portraits of women are embodiments of the many contradictions women have had to overcome. Nevertheless, Bramsen choses to use whimsical symbols and light-hearted imagery to address these more serious matters. Her portraits serve as a foil for the “other”, creatures in solidarity with themselves, allowing room for playful connections, and growth through self- examination and transformation.

In a seminal work, “Woman Drawing Herself “, a woman is drawing her own sexual identity onto her body with a pencil. Using the simple artist’s implement, she is literally taking matters into her own hands by drawing herself into existence. Mark making, seen as a lifesaving mechanism, is a proactive force at work here. The very act of creation opens a portal into a poetic, dreamlike state, where all beings are equal. The world becomes a theater for the revelatory life of the spirit.

In a seemingly less impactful found object sculpture, Bramsen has placed an eraser in a tiny altar. By positioning an eraser as an object of devotion, she is elevating the act of making mistakes. Dali’s famous quote,” Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature….” is apt here. In other peculiar works, Bramsen’s use of unrealistic color functions as a psychological insight. For example, the ears on her subjects are often painted bright yellow emphasizing them as instruments for the act of listening.

Featured in this exhibit are some of Patricia’s lifelong collections, such as the Madonna collection, as well as her collection of assemblages of miniature vintage artist’s palettes and wishbones. The Madonna is a powerful symbol of the sacred feminine. The palettes are small reminders of what is within reach to invent your own reality. The wishbones are superstitious instruments, signifying wishes and prayers, perhaps unrealized, as they are curiously intact. If her work is a collection of wishes, dreams, and desires, recorded in colorful portraits of women, we are privileged to bear witness to their efficacy. Rendered eternal, and therefore not in vain, the women Bramsen invents are creators of life, art, and beings able to manifest desires and dreams and to ultimately become a portal into the sublime.

Tricksters, Beneficial Beasts, Acrobats & Other Apparitions:

In Frank’s Fossil Series, he has unearthed human and non-human creatures alike to expose latent buried attributes that have been previously unseen. The paintings themselves are rich with texture, grit and resemble archeological sites. The creatures have been lovingly disinterred and brushed into existence. Fossils are encrusted clues to life that came before, evidence of evolution. All creatures are shapeshifters of a sort, that expose the necessary trajectory of change. These works reveal multiple realities through layers embedded deep in the history inside the earth.

Frank’s larger animal paintings also feature multilayered and multidimensional characters, human and animal alike. Each work blends into the other in an amalgamated veil, a transparent skin suggesting the plasticity inherent in all living forms. Common objects, such as a can of sardines are thrown into the mix. Although displaced, they seem to function as critical punctuation, a reminder of the mundane coexisting with the phantasmagorical world of the imagination.

Frank’s paintings are inclusive of all creatures, animal and human as well as combined shapeshifters, which perhaps gives permission to accept an inclusive model for human beings of all diversities, ethnicities, cultural identities, sexual preferences, disabilities or physical abnormalities, people living on the fringe, anyone previously labeled as an outsider. Such inclusivity engenders all beings free from prejudice, judgment or lack of belonging.
As we witness a mass exodus of animals on the verge of extinction, our consciousness is faced with varying degrees of grief, remorse and panic that we are indeed next. The notion that any living conscious beings, whether (at the apex or not) are lesser beings, is outdated. An integrated inclusive world view is essential to creating a sustainable and just future.

In the scenic paintings, the landscapes take on a mythological and dream-like atmosphere. Even the titles reveal the intent to merge the psyches of animal and human. These animals are being re-imagined in order to bring us, as human animals closer to our own animal-ness. The manner in which Frank renders the creatures is compelling in their sensitivity and their sheer magnetism. He seems to be painting things behind things, the sacred hiding behind the ordinary, the ethereal other worldly realities and the unseen currents flowing through the cosmos. There is a myriad of falling figures including mythological characters such as Icarus, as well as other Biblical figures, circus performers, acrobats and athletes (“Pole Vaulter”, 19…). They convey a kind of detached presence, a graceful existence as if his brush or pencil caught them in mid-act. Animals are simply part of the narrative in the way they participate and are equally and comfortably present in surprising situations ( “The Birthday Party”, dinner table). Human figures are painted with an ethereal light, almost as if they are apparitions. The fact that animals are front and center in typical human settings is unremarkable, they simply belong here with the tribe. Although many of Frank’s paintings depict scenes from the theater or the circus, which are traditionally realms of entertainment, here they convey mutual co-existence of human and animal creatures living in harmony.

In Frank’s lesser known abstract paintings, blocks of modulated color make the initial impact until closer inspection reveals a snake winding through the composition, or disembodied limbs sticking up out of nowhere. These works are also a foray into enchanted realms through Frank’s use of fields of textured colors embedded with occasional representational creatures.

In nearly all of Frank’s paintings, creatures abound. They are frequently depicted embedded in situations side by side with humans: they are packed together in boats, wearing masks and hats, dancing, shapeshifting into humans (and vice versa), falling from the sky, throwing their hands up high, lingering in doorways, casting shadows on their environments… Together they are of divine design. They are in us, of us, one with us. There is a poetic sensibility, an interspecies acceptance, a playful, bewitching world view where societal norms are disregarded and transcendental magic reigns supreme.

Weird is the new normal in BMoCA’s fantasy “Worlds Suspended in Reality” exhibit

By Ray Mark Rinaldi, Special to The Denver Post Jan 3, 2019, 11:04 am

There are four stars in “Worlds Suspended in Reality,” the enchanting, three-person exhibit that is currently attached to the walls, stacked on the floors, tucked into the corners, lodged into cracks and hung from the ceilings at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

First among them is Caroline Douglas, a ceramist whose monumental, and endlessly fascinating, “Caravan of Dreams” greets visitors at the door. Hundreds of scaled-down animal figures set on wheeled carts and lined up in a purposeful parade pull viewers in, and along for the ride, as they travel on some spiritual journey. Each of them — monkeys, rhinos, bears, snakes, dogs and more — is imbued with a ritualistic purpose and a unique self-determination that raises them above sub-species into something truly soulful.

The second is Frank Sampson, who has his own take on the inner life of animals. His paintings, culled from 50 years of labor, instill creatures with physical abilities and mental aptitude that seems to go beyond human. His pigs, bunnies, foxes, fish and lions make their own choices — some good, some questionable — as they engage in dancing, prancing, hunting, thinking and other pursuits.

The third is Patricia Bramsen, whose absurdist paintings and sculptures  elevate her subconscious — and, by extension, the subconscious of her entire gender — into the driving force of existence, empowerment and subjugation. Women float freely into the air, wear bonnets made of clouds and co-mingle with giant birds and mammals, offering up symbols of the things that enable and disable females along their life-long paths.

But fourth billing — and, perhaps, top billing — just might go to Rebecca DiDomenico, the curator, whose art isn’t on display, but whose talent for matching artists in a group show is among the best I’ve seen in awhile. “Worlds Suspended in Reality” is a cohesive journey that brings out the best in everything — the artists, the building and the viewing experience.

The through-line comes from the way that Douglas, Sampson and Bramsen mine the dream world for all of its beguiling possibilities. Each has a special skill for casting off the rules of the physical world, the order of species and the definitions of traditional art to create evolved fantasies that question the things we know.

These artists go deep with their wild scenarios and each works hard to bring their audiences into their complex scenes. By making them a trio, DiDomenico increases their powers of persuasion threefold. The fact that all three are so confident in constructing their long, strange trips makes it easier for viewers to let go of their own realities and dream along.

And so, you travel freely with Douglas and her train of salt-fired stoneware animals, who mix equally with humans in her odd caravan. What’s so weird about a chimp in a fez hat riding comfortably on the back of a sloth? Or a woman holding a giant rose while perched on a burro? Or a dog pulling along a boat loaded with some kind of wild cat? The surreal procession stretches 30 feet through the gallery.

Sampson’s work offers the same suggestions, though in two dimensions. His animals mingle easily — sea creatures carry on with livestock, predators blend casually with would-be prey. There’s a great deal of influence from 17th century Dutch painter Edward Hicks’ well-known scenes of animals getting along famously in pastoral settings.

But Sampson, who is now 90 and continues to work, brings a 20th century cynicism into the mix. In “Dancing Alone,” from 1987, his animals come together for a ball that seems indulgent and overly serious. Or he deconstructs his creatures into disembodied limbs collaged together, almost violently, in 1982’s “Samurai III.” Or he adds emotional stress and real-life pain into a tableaux, like 1986’s “Bandaged,” which features a very troubled human figure surrounded by dogs, pigs and fish who just seem to stare in bewilderment from the sidelines.

Sampson is an important figure in Colorado art and this exhibit, pulled from decades of work, does him justice, covering not just his mix of materials — acrylic, oil, charcoal, ink — but also the connectedness of his output over a lifetime. His major projects are in the show and so are the one-offs that have kept us guessing for years.

Curator DiDomenico presents Sampson’s work in multiple ways. Some canvases are stretched,  framed and hung as solo objects; others are unstretched and simply tacked to the walls with their edges touching. It serves to bring all of the disparate works together, as if Sampson has spent his life making one endless work of art. It’s a revelation, really, that drives home his enduring metaphors that all beings have a place on this planet, that hierarchies exist only in our heads. As we see in his 2015 rendering of the classic tale of  “Jonah and the Big Fish,” sometimes you eat the seafood and sometimes it eats you.

Patricia Bramsen’s work includes paintings as well as sculptures made from found objects. (Daniel Tseng, Special to The Denver Post)

Bramsen is no less sweeping in what she has to say, though her visions are more internal. They feel like personal dreams. The fact that all of her figures — the human ones anyway — are women gives them the heft to speak for all females, intentional or not.

In these works, they fight to make sense of uncertain surroundings. Women balance eggs on their backs or bird nests on their heads. They never seem worried, but they don’t appear to be in control of their situations, either. It’s easy to read these props as symbols of fertility or domesticity, the things that define a woman’s place in society, and to suppose that women are both enabled and constricted by the roles we assign them. Bramsen doesn’t seem to be judging, just reporting the facts, which aren’t always so easy to flesh out.

There are other non-painting pieces from Bramsen. For example, a bowl of peach pits is piled into a ceramic bowl and set on the floor, and 27 actual turkey and chicken wishbones are lined up in two rows and hung on the wall. They evoke ideas about who we really are and what we want to be. They are a mixed bag, the stuff of trash bins and big dreams, reality and fantasy, hard truths and false presumptions.

Like with the work of other artists, DiDomenico has her way with these objects. We see them straight-on but also, awkwardly, hung way too high on the walls or on top of pedestals, so we can barely make sense of them. It allows Bramsen’s work to flow into richer dimensions and it challenges us to play along.

In that way, this four-person effort expands into five parts. Museum visitors, invited to indulge without the usual rules of art shows, become equal players in the experience of “Worlds Suspended in Reality.” Animals, humans, makers, presenters and viewers are all part of the big parade.

“Worlds Suspended in Reality” continues through Jan. 20 at BMoCA, 1750 13th St., Boulder. Info at 303-443-2122 or bmoca.org.