JO ANN CALLIS

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All above images are Untitled from the "Domestic Setups" series,
color photographs using original sculpture, 1995.

by Andy Brumer

(Craig Krull Gallery, Santa Monica) The home, with its dynamic, divine, and at times, demonic tensions, remains for artists of every kind a symbolic well that all but begs for exploration. As a work of architecture, a house and its interior stands as an autonomous art object in and of itself. As a psychological caldron, which forges the fate and feeds the souls of the family members it shelters, a house reads like a novel, full of narrative wanderings and twists.

For years Jo Ann Callis has engaged everyday household objects as if they were actors brimming with dramatic and archetypal luminosity in photographs of haunting beauty and technical virtuosity. In this exhibition, Callis independently displays a group of small clay, hand-sculpted, brightly colored beds, tables, potted plants, rugs and chairs, that she made for a series of color photographs titled Domestic Setups (recently shown at the Santa Monica Museum of Art). This exhibition will include a selection of those photographs, which in any case must be considered along with the sculptural objects.

Callis arranges these small furniture sculptures into imagined stage-like rooms. She then photographs and mats them in vintage fabrics from the late 1950's and early 1960's. The photographs display both a jazzy and bold sense of composition, as well as present sophisticated and subtle art historical references. They create psychologically and emotionally complex, imaginative environments that are at once inviting and foreboding.

Callis' furniture "steps out" of the picture frames and find themselves arranged into small, tasteful tableaus (on top of fabric-covered floors), which are then suspended from the gallery's walls. It is as if these fun and eccentrically shaped objects, covered with brightly colored flocking, have such a metaphorical life of their own they cannot remain contained within the virtual space of the photograph. They need some real air to breathe. The fluffy, rolling undulations of blanket on an orange bed become alternately a gentle heaving of maternal breasts and a patriarchal barreled chest. The ends of the armrests on a hot pink arm-chair sprout subtle nipples that await fondling. The cover of a charcoal black bed transforms itself into an elongated vulva, while an accompanying black night table placed next to it seems to have reincarnated itself into a sexy negligee. The leaves of one plant suddenly seem to sprout floppy puppy-dog ears, while those of another begin to spiral together like some sinister metallic DNA. There is a kind of visual punning and onomatopoeia going on here, with a melding together of what an object looks like and what it has been conventionally built and designed to do.

A warmth, grace and accessibility, emerges from these sculptures that remains ambivalently (perhaps inherently, due to the medium) withheld in the photographs. They promise a delicate flight of fancy from the repetitions and predictability of quotidian life. and, when coupled with the photographs, establish an artistic tour-de-force that viewers will find both aesthetically refreshing and intellectually stimulating.