Cara Cole's dense photographs and Kyung Jeon's airy paintings might be the oddest pairing you'll find in a Las Vegas gallery. But somehow it works, the two achieving an uneasy equipoise as they face each other across Dust Gallery's broad storefront space.
Cole, a UNLV graduate, follows a rich seam she explored in her The Sky Above the Mud Below series, which comprised her MFA show, also presented at the Winchester Community Center gallery two years ago. In four of the five shadowboxes of —The Sheltering Sky, she juxtaposes black-and-white prints of skyscapes, generally of light seeping through cottony cloud layers, with what might be called "furscapes," close-up views of animal pelts, some clotted with blood.
In "number 12," the two vertical prints read as graphic continuations of each other, a diagonal ridge through the clouds seemingly recapitulated in white, umber and garnet fur. But for the most part, the diptychs amount to juxtapositions, the forms playing off each other in various ways. For instance, "number 13" shows sunlight seeping through fissures in the clouds, viewed almost directly straight up, played against a patch of resplendent white fur. The feathering clouds in "number 15" could be imagined above the landscape suggested in the color print to its right, a ridge line of blood-matted hairs before a horizon of white, wheat-like fur.
The only deviation from the cloud-fur pattern is "number 12." Here, the bloody teeth of a snarling canine snout in the left print face its putative prey, part of a bloodied rabbit's head and its long ear. But it's open to question that the two are directly related; in fact, you're not sure if the wolfish snout belongs to a live animal.
Similarly, uncertainties attend the calm, deceptively childlike images of New Yorker Jeon. These amount to a Korean woman's at-times ambivalent reflections on life, love and sex. And it seems that the pigtailed woman who could be the artist's alter ego finds herself uncomfortable in the world of traditional relationships, Asian or otherwise, between men and women.
Not surprisingly, men are at best manipulators, at worst jailers, in Jeon's paintings, which mostly are executed in gouache and graphite on rice paper attached to canvas. Simple little figures float in blank white or ivory dreamspaces, with relative size betraying little about perspective or depth. For instance, in "Fishing," a large woman squats near the top, presumably farther away than the small man lower in the image, seen from the rear as he urinates a yellow stream that yields eddies of yellow, over which the woman dangles a pike-finger with a string attached.
Similarly, in "Lockdown," a small man points a finger upward to support a large, squatting woman whose pigtails terminate in weights, below a crosshatched patch of white that stands for a high prison window. A male figure reprises this balancing feat in "Bowl," holding aloft the title form, toward which two women dive.
But it's not clear if men are the source of evil in this tortured world or merely its chief beneficiaries. The concentration mostly is upon how women feel they must present themselves. The female figures usually appear in leotards or underwear, sometimes without tops. "Sitting and Hiding," for instance, is an iconographic conundrum with five female figures in various degrees of dress and undress.
The long scroll "Love Story" hints that the issues are largely social in origin. Using a time-honored graphic format, Jeon unravels the story of a boy and girl, intended for each other since childhood, who slowly grow apart and find others. The girl/woman eventually observes the boy/man's marriage to a woman in traditional garb.
The shakey balance between the two halves of this show is between Cole's bold but ambiguous juxtapositions and Jeon's demure but devastating descriptions of social anxieties. The two have little to do with each other, but somehow make sense together.