Friday, November 19, 2010

REVIEW: Gwen Murphy Shoes at Gallery in the Woods in Brattleboro

By Jamis Lott

As you venture downstairs in Brattleboro’s Gallery in The Woods, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for the collection of Gwen Murphy’s shoes. It won’t be hard; the shoes will probably see you before you see them. The shoe pairs, each fitted with facial features made of ash clay and acrylic paint, have a presence that will stop you in your tracks.

I have never seen shoes, or thought I would ever see shoes, with such a heightened anthropomorphic glory. While staring at these faces, and while they stare back at you, a mixed sensation of emotions sets in: childhood playfulness, but also disturbing chills once you realize that a pair of shoes with an elongated expression of authority is staring at you.

The features on the shoes can be considered grotesque, with dreary lids on bugged-out eyes, long faces, and pouting lips. But each expression is an indispensable part of the shoes they adorn. The high heels have an arrogant snootiness about them, a pair of big mouth shoes has just that, a set of wooden shoes has a blissful, earthy and primitive expression, and a pair of high-shined black and white bowling shoes has a quiet and confident smirk. The exhibit is anthropomorphism at its best. The presence of character, the application of the mediums, and the childlike conception make this exhibit worth observing. The display offers a chance for a laugh, or a new respect for objects as common, yet as irreplaceable, as shoes.

Here’s what Gwen Murphy has to say in her artist statement:

Fetish- an object believed to have magical powers to protect or aid its owner.

I see a shoe as a kind of fetish, because it has a presence and the power to protect and transport us. Since I was a very young child, I have looked at shoes and found them looking back at me, each pair with its own personality and facial expression. When shoes are lined up near a door or in a closet, they are trusty steeds waiting to serve. Mouths yawning open, they sometimes look sleepy or grouchy. Sometimes they look like they are singing. They are like a better species of beings made entirely of pairs of identical twins. This series of sculptures is my way of bringing forth the presence I see in each pair of shoes.
– Gwen Murphy

Images from Gallery in the Woods website