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Absurdity and decay inspire Cawein artists

Humor and loss flow through upcoming show at Pacifics gallery


by: COURTESY PHOTO - Tiny vermin teeth show through Miel-Margarita Paredes Gnaw sculptures, which offer a twist on traditional hunting trophies.Jessica Kreutter’s grandmother never dreamed models of her teeth would end up on public display in a ceramic cat’s head. But her granddaughter decided that was the perfect place for them after she found the teeth in her grandma’s belongings and recreated them in clay.

Kreutter is one of two sculptors bringing nature- and time-bending works to Pacific University's Kathrin Cawein Gallery Feb. 6.

The other, Portland metalsmith Miel-Margarita Paredes, uses tongue-in-cheek humor to point out the sheer absurdity of our interactions with the world around us and the creatures in it.

“I don't necessarily wish to claim that the ways we humans manipulate the world are bad or wrong, but I think I can safely say that they are often bizarre,” Paredes said.

Artist of the absurd

In her wall-mounted “Gnaw” series, for example, Paredes plays with the notion of hunting trophies, which have always fascinated her. Using copper sheet metal, she turns rodents — the most likely animal to actually be found within the walls of homes — into ornamental fixtures.

Noses and mouths of tiny vermin appear in delicately designed, white-enamel and copper rosettes, displayed like grotesque wallflowers.

In “Standards,” Paredes' red-enamel and copper sheet-metal pieces are inspired by the human practice of dog breeding, which has led to breeds as diverse as Pekinese and Great Danes. 

In “Accessories,” Paredes uses copper and brass to recreate — with a twist — animals that have been bred for a specific purpose.

A wheelbarrow-shaped turkey, for example, satirizes turkeys bred to produce so much meat they can no longer support their own weight, while “Snakefood Armor” gives mice bred to feed snakes a fighting chance.

Paredes fell in love with metalsmithing after her first class in a Wisconsin high school and eventually earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in metalsmithing from the University of Wisconsin. She met her husband, a Portland native, in art school and the two moved to Portland in 2007.

Rot is hot

Kreutter, a Portland art teacher, is attracted to decay. In this place of loss, where time can be suspended and captured, she imagines inhabitants left behind — half-formed bodies, animals that merge with objects, and humans or nature taking over an artificial interior.

“Of Ruin and Rooms that Breathe” includes a chair, a figure, flooring and 1,100 porcelain diamond shapes patterned on a wall hung from a grid by pins.

Kreutter subtracted diamond pieces — each cut, fired and glazed individually — from a mold of metal ornamentation she found on a 1950s-era clothes hamper, until an image of worn wallpaper formed. Diamonds broken and bent in the process were used in the piece as a debris pile on the floor.by: COURTESY -

A photo of an abandoned treehouse occupied by two ceramic cats was inspiration for Kreutter's second piece, “Replica.”

“To me, these figurines mimicked or were shadows from the living that once took place in the room,” said Kreutter, who graduated from Lewis and Clark College with a degree in Anthropology and Sociology, then got her master’s degree in fine arts from The University of Tennessee.

She used castings of her grandmother’s and mother's old teeth to fill the open slits carved through the heads of each gold-painted, ceramic cat.

Birds and branches Kreutter found in a dumpster emerge from an old crocheted frame in her third piece, which slits open the birds’ backs to reveal bones and decorative patterns made from household objects.

“I am thinking about the invasion of nature as time and decay take over an abandoned space," she said. "I am thinking of a life that exists in objects that can reveal itself when all rules are suspended.”



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