It’s a super crowded art opening at the Austin gallery, Women & Their Work. The place is hot, packed and at the centerpoint of it all is a triptych called “Look to the Left.” There is a particular font prevalent throughout: curly, bubbling and sketch-like. And everywhere you look are lots of big, vertical, oval eyes peering out at you. But they are soft and friendly, not leery or ominous.
Enter the world of Houston-based artist Wendy Wagner’s show Look to the Left featuring playful, imaginative characters and lots of different media in lots of different sizes. Ceramics, acrylic and oil paint, felt soft sculpture and animated video all connected by pastel color patterns and characters.
"I’ve loosened up a little bit and become more organic in my technique. Even though I have lost my peripheral vision, I haven’t lost my artistic vision."
Animation still “Disco Forest” features cartoon characters that resemble (as far as I can approximate) an octopus, a slug, a frog and a chimney dancing under a disco ball in a magical pastel forest of pink, green and blue.
The full video installment of animated loops is faced by two slug-like, colorful (yellow, green, pink, red, and blue pastel), comfortable bean bags on the floor titled “Flying Snouts,” which many young kids were going crazy over.
So who are these imaginary creatures?
“Qwerkys are 10 charming and lighthearted characters that [help] us to identify the playful spirit in all of us, enable us to laugh at ourselves and not take life too seriously,” says Wagner. They have cute names like Tootie, Worried Wormy, Froggee & the Secret Bunny, Miss Pretty, Flying Snouts and Twinkle Thumb. They also exist as hand-sewn microfiber and felt dolls available for purchase in the gallery shop.
“Being an Austin native, I have always wanted to have a show at Women & Their Work,” says Wagner. After being selected as part of an open call for works in 2011, the show had to be postponed a year for health reasons. Wagner was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May of 2012, “right before my 45th birthday," she says.
She has had multiple brain surgeries since then and is currently undergoing treatment at MD Anderson. As a result of treatment, she has suffered a loss of peripheral vision of the left side of both eyes.
“My current work increasingly reflects this void,” Wagner explains. “It radically affected my approach to art and inspired me to return to drawing. I’ve loosened up a little bit and become more organic in my technique. Even though I have lost my peripheral vision, I haven’t lost my artistic vision. I’ve been bursting with ideas – in a sense, a new version of my work that reflects an intimate portrayal into my experience.”
One can particularly experience this intimacy in her series of untitled works for oil, graphite and mixed media on paper, also on display at Women & Their Work. The series encapsulates non-objective sketches that feel extremely stripped-down and raw.
Wendy Wagner’s work is on view at Women & Their Work through March 14.