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Heavy Machinery, Weber Grills and Dainty Things: New Works by Edith Vonnegut

June 20 - August 6, 2006

 

(above: Edith Vonnegut, "Bound Mermaid" 2006, oil on linen)

 

Edith Vonnegut's first one-person show in three years runs June 20 through August 6, 2006 at the Cahoon Museum of American Art. It's longish title, "Heavy Machinery, Weber Grills and Dainty Things: New Works by Edith Vonnegut," gives some idea of the scope of this 48-work exhibition/sale. But the real subject is always the same: the strength and nobility of women.

Vonnegut previously had a one-person exhibition at the Cahoon Museum in 1993. At that time, her two sons were young, and her paintings featured her "Domestic Goddesses," as she called them, female figures who did household chores with all the grace, dignity and nudity of a classical Aphrodite. Thirteen years later, most of her protagonists are simply women ­ albeit exceptionally strong and powerful ones ­ or, sometimes, angels. Instead of dirty floors and dishes, their major enemy is development and other threats to the landscape. In works like "Saving the Sapling," the heroine protects a child and a tree, holding off a piece of heavy equipment with one hand. In "The Last Crop Will Be Asphalt," an angel stands at the end of a road and lifts an earthmover over her head.

These works reflect Vonnegut's determination to control development in her own community, Barnstable village. She and her husband, John Squibb, have been regulars at the town of Barnstable's zoning board meetings since 1998. "It's our hobby," she says. "The little bunnies and birds can't fight it, and I think they need a fierce she-lion warrior."

The "Weber Grills" of the title refers to a series of five nocturnal paintings in which muscular angels warm themselves over the round, modern grills, finding a bit of light and warmth on foreign terrain. The "Dainty Things" category is something of a catch-all. It includes seven paintings that imitate toile fabrics, with each of the vignettes borrowed from Vonnegut's own paintings past and present; several small portraits of girls; two self-portraits of the artist flying over the landscape; and such whimsy as an angel riding a bicycle with a basket of little devils on the back. The latest sea life to suffer from a carelessly discarded six-pack holder is a beleagured mermaid, her wrists handcuffed by the plastic rings.

The artist comes by her offbeat sense of humor quite naturally: She's the daughter of novelist Kurt Vonnegut. She grew up on the Cape from age 5 through high school, with her parents constantly encouraging her artistic talent. She attended the Museum School in Boston and the University of Iowa, but largely educated herself with art books and visits to museums. She's revered Renaissance artists since her childhood ­ when she pored over children's art history books ­ and she continues to look back to that period for inspiration. Recently, she's been particularly inspired by Raphael's jewellike palette.

A number of Vonnegut's paintings were published ­ with accompanying text ­ in her book "Domestic Goddesses" (Pomegranate Publishing, 1998). Her work has been purchased by such Hollywood stars as Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Raquel Welch and Julia Roberts, who recently named Vonnegut as one her favorite artists in a Vogue interview. She has had one-person shows at the Pepper Gallery in Boston and Central Falls Gallery in New York, among other venues. Her last solo show was at Hamilton Gallery in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2003. Now she's saying the Cahoon exhibition may be her swansong ­ as far as one-person shows are concerned. "I just want to live a little life with nothing look-at-me about it," she says. "I like to think I'm a housewife who paints."

 

(above: Edith Vonnegut, "Weber Grill and Angel in Power Lines" 2005, oil on linen)

 

 

(above: Edith Vonnegut, "Basket of Little Devils" 2006, oil on linen)

 

 

(above: Edith Vonnegut, "Saving the Sapling" 2006, oil on linen)

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