“Hide 21” by Sheep Jones
“Hide 21” by Sheep Jones
A little conundrum to begin: Betts Gallery has two fronts and one back. How so? Located in the front space of The Belfast Framer, Betts has an even bigger front in the separate adjoining business, Yo Mamma’s Home, “that cheeky little department store where laughter and cool stuff dazzle the senses,” the website says. That’s all true, by the way, but “one back”? Yes, Betts Gallery actually has one back entrance on Beaver Street, so customers bring art to be framed from two fronts and one back. Mystery solved!

Anne Warren is the owner of Belfast Framer and Betts, and she curates monthly theme-based exhibits of mostly local work with the help of local artist friends. This month the show “Animalia” features the work of Sally Brophy, MJ Viano Crowe, Julie Cyr, Kris Engman, David Estey, Helene Farrar, Conny Hatch, Sheep Jones, Kirk P. Linder, Kat Logan, Kathi Peters, Rebekah Raye, Willy Reddick, Dorothy Royle, Jill Stasium and Peter Walls. So many artworks, so little time and space to do them all justice that I’ll focus on several and present a few pictures to inspire your visit this month.

“Animalia” is Latin for Earth’s animal kingdom, over 7 million species, a million of which are insects and a miniscule portion of which are we humans. We’re all related, though, from tiny organisms of few cells to the giant blue whale. We tend to eat each other in whole or in part. No fault; just the way it is with us animals. We can’t internally manufacture our own nutrition so we consume other life forms, like plants and other animals. Thus, foodie cities, the vegan diet and steak tartare.

The current exhibit explores much-friendlier aspects of the animal kingdom. No one was eaten for this show, for instance. The closest it comes is the poster image, “Hide 21,” an oil-on-wood panel by Sheep Jones, where a worried child’s head and shoulders are being either limply embraced or possibly consumed by a blank-eyed raccoon, its supernaturally long claws draped possessively over the child’s chest. In the beautifully textured, white background, gold and orange flowers celebrate the dominion of earth in the comings and goings of our shadowed selves. We’re all caught in the same web, dear child. I know how you feel.

In Julie Cyr’s “Olga and Her Menagerie,” another child, Olga, is innocently surrounded by her seven pet ducks, from hatchling to duckling to drake. She holds some on her lap; others shed their shells at her feet. A big white drake stares blankly in the foreground, while the ducklings seem to be quacking a warning to Olga: “Do not be so passive in your sweet blue shift on your nice red chair with your leg so nonchalantly crossed. Olga, don’t you see the two foxes so alertly watching you? Is this our peaceable kingdom, or is it a portrait before a feast?”

In Kat Logan’s encaustic “Hummer,” the richly colored wax melting and blending together as it’s applied brings the tiny bird to life amidst multiple dots of red, blue and green, like the flowers it will visit. The hummer perches and looks inquisitively at the viewer from its mysterious avian consciousness, ready to bolt at the slightest move.

David Estey’s “Happy Sunfish” is both one of the most abstract and simultaneously cheery paintings. In a series of colorful brush gestures, the artist suggests the sunfish swimming from light to dark waters. At first, the smile is not evident, but once seen, one bursts into a belly laugh of complicity. This is one happy fish!

Conny Hatch’s “Red Rooster” is made from a ground of found barn siding complete with rusty nails, on which is a simple but effective assemblage of weathered wood chunks in the form of a crowing rooster, so comb-red that one can fairly hear its aggravating call.

Willy Reddick’s elegant tiny acrylic “Cormorant Drying Its Wings” is framed by a hammered tin plate riveted in place with brass pins no bigger than a pencil lead. So carefully made in all aspects, the opening frames an exquisite painting of the bird, wings outstretched to dry, rising up and looking warily over its left shoulder while gently expanding concentric circles of light gray water or sound spread out below.

I wish I could talk about everything in this enjoyably animalistic exhibit: MJ Viano Crowe’s “Divine Cycles” paper cut; Peter Walls’ iconic birds and undersea lures; Helene Farrar’s “Green Dove.”

A piece by Kris Engman, though, deserves a mention. In her “Bee Haven #1,” on a ground of heavy paper with both drawn and cut-out hexagons, actual three-dimensional bees, each handmade, about 2 to 3 inches long, with mica wings, wire legs and bodies gilded in gold, are busily working the “hive.” One bee has even left the others and is crawling up the wall on its own, getting ready to fly.

Like the rest of the show, it’s fun, imaginative, delightful.