Here kitty, kitty 

18 Lives elevates the status of domestic housecats

Most of us throw a dish of kibbles their way, offer a scratch behind the ears and call it a day, but Atlanta artist Sigrira Perret-Gentil has elevated her dogs and kitties to mythic status, finding poetic individuality in their moist gazes and frisky dispositions.

The GSU graduate student's soulful Chihuahuas and free-spirit hounds have graced a variety of local group shows. And now the fuzzy kitties have their moment in 18 Lives at the Georgia State University's School of Art and Design Gallery through May 2.

Perret-Gentil's two black cats, Juneau and Jarvis, kindly lend their judgmental yellow stares and haughty approach to self-maintenance to the nine photographs in the show. 18 Lives also features a video of the cats engaged in close-up acts of scrupulous grooming so intimate, they provoke shivers of voyeuristic embarrassment.

Perret-Gentil's photographs are by turns elegant, like glamorous Annie Leibowitz celebrity portraiture, and slightly eerie, as in a shot of Jarvis retreating, with his haunches turned away from the camera. With his vaguely ursine pose and lascivious tongue emerging from a mass of black fur, the image "Follow Me" has an uncanny dimension. Juneau is more some creature sprung from the unconscious than from the familiar kitty kitsch of "Hang in There: It's Almost Friday" calendars.

"I try to not make them look like greeting cards," says Perret-Gentil of her effort to steer the work away from the usual kinds of sentimentality used to depict animals.

Though her regard for animals is incontestable -- she has been a longtime vegetarian in support of the animal kingdom -- she says her work is not activist in nature.

"I think probably the only thing political about it is trying to get people to look at them from a different point of view. I'm interested in psychological portraits of animals and representing them in a way they haven't been represented."

Considering how at odds they are, the works by D.E. Johnson and Jill Larson displayed at Sandler Hudson Gallery through May 17 are surprisingly complementary. Johnson's collaged photocopies and drawings of women's faces and bodies overlaid on the pages of Green Stamps booklets and Larson's illuminated micro-view photographs of flowers and wildlife suggest a female vantage of the world.

In Johnson's case, it's a view that can embrace the lyrical, in tender tributes to individual girls and women, and the cruel, as the artist cuts her headless female bodies into pieces and offers provocative titles -- "Mastectomy," "Fetish," "Man-Eater" -- that underscore cultural violence.

In contrast, Larson's eerily seductive photographs of a scaly bird's leg or rotting roses are not explicitly female in form or content. But they have a respect for the laws of decay and flux that seem intimately tied to the female experience of childbirth, child rearing and aging that has been a continuing subtext of the artist's work. Larson has intensified an association with decay, earth and burial by painting the walls of the small gallery alcove black and illuminating her succulent, abstract works from behind, so that they glow.

Metalworker Freddy De Shon, whose utilitarian artworks grace numerous Atlanta homes and restaurants, occasionally plays the role of gallery owner at his RAW gallery/studio in East Atlanta. His third show at RAW is a two-person exhibition of paintings by J.J. Garrison and mixed-media artist Lisa Shinault, both of whom make work that would be right at home in the pages of Juxtapoz magazine. Shinault paints counterculture goddesses steeped in art history references: armless blue women and Botticelli maidens cradling heifer-sized lemons.

Garrison counts artists from Norman Rockwell to Van Gogh as influences, though his subjects look like the denizens of F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu or the pasty-faced, debauched Berliners in a Fassbinder film.

De Shon first encountered Garrison's work while both were attending the Atlanta College of Art in the mid-'80s. "I remember seeing J.J.'s work in the hallway during one of the days where prospective students and their parents could walk through the school," he recalls. "Several horrified parents and delighted kids stood and stared at J.J.'s demented take on life, and I'm sure a couple art careers were squelched that day."

De Shon thought the "disturbing beauty" in both Shinault's and Garrison's work made them a perfect match for RAW, where a short video work by Will Fratesi will also be featured on opening night May 3 (8 p.m., 543 Stokeswood Ave., 678-296-1561). The show continues through May 9.

For Art's Sake is a bi-weekly column covering the local art scene.


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