Worms Are the Words
Joy Feasley and Paul Swenbeck
Lump Gallery
Through March 20

One of the first works you encounter upon entering Worms Are the Words, the current show at Lump Gallery, is a dreamy little mountain landscape painting by Joy Feasley titled “You made me so very happy,” mistily rendered in chalky neon colors. It depicts a fantastical mountainous canyon with waterfalls cascading from vast alpine heights. There are a few of these landscape paintings in the show, all portraying a hinterland of both cutesiness and kitsch. They are tricky works to pull off, as they tread into territory rife with loaded historical cliché and landscape painting’s own storied history and fascination with nature’s sublime grandeur.

Although the paintings are striking enough on their own, with their nostalgic composition and the odd wistfulness the artist manages to bestow, in spite of a pretty weird color palette, it is the works’ thematic place within the show that is the driving interest. In Feasley’s collaborative work with her husband, Paul Swenbeck, the pair consistently strikes a balancing act between bohemian content and theistic context, thus setting the fundamental agenda for this exhibition. The show’s ambition hinges on disparate faith-based parts, media and themes, and our willingness to connect the dots between them. While the show is comprised largely of painting and sculpture, it quickly extends beyond those traditional boundaries to form a highly eccentric installation.

The artists call upon Wicca, paganism and other unsanctioned nature-based religions, deeming them all equally fair game for exploration. A solar oven included in the show stands like a survivalist’s reliquary: a clamshell pair of dish-shaped mirror-tiled circles fringed with assorted ceramic offering bowls. (One of Swenbeck’s fortes is in fact ceramics, and here he bestows George Ohr-like funkiness to his terra cotta and Egyptian paste works at will.) Swenbeck and Feasley have also taken a unifying cue from the restrained design of the Shakers, the Protestant religious sect that dates to the 1700s and is renowned for their design simplicity and spare lifestyle. The Spartan Shaker aesthetic is exemplified in the gallery’s wall-mounted wood railing with pegs and brackets supporting the paintings and a few mixed-media works. At the gallery’s middle section, a Shaker-inspired wood stove with faceted angular faces has an exhaust pipe that runs up and through a wall. It transforms itself on the other side into a withering deflated balloon shape that winds it way into a freestanding, glowing fiberglass-wrapped form looking like a funky visitor from another planet. Call this the UFO portion of the show. Yet with a little suspended disbelief, it fits within the artists’ quirky cosmic mysticism.

Another intriguing painting called “Orion” depicts the famed nighttime constellation. Rendered exquisitely in engraved resin, it expresses a spirit of cosmic ethereality, a certain awe of nature and wonder that has so often captivated the human imagination in art. Looking at this splendid little painting, I glimpsed our own primal spiritual fascinations at work, coaxing out at least a little of the magic on display.