Now on view at Johansson Projects, “Letters to the Predator,” through new paintings and three-dimensional work local artist Jennie Ottinger takes a look at the ambiguous line between nostalgia and nightmare. Her paintings depict scenes wherein the juxtapositions of the raw, animal nature of humanity and its civility, politeness, and pleasantries are at its climax: at the circus where humans and beasts accomplish daring feats and awe-inspiring magic tricks; the tackles and triumphs of brawn in contact sports games; and the expeditious trips to see the wild animals in captivity at the city zoo. In one, a snake wrestles a strongman in a circus cage where audiences are frightened, but can’t help but look on from the safe side of the cage. In others, Ottinger depicts where manners and refinement break down: peppy blonde-haired cheerleaders in their perfectly symmetrical poses grin with a twinge of gruesome stare — rosy cheeks and ruby lips dripping off sun-kissed faces, and a white-tooth smile twinged with a malicious smirk.
The show also features a new body of work of soft sculptures dispersed throughout the gallery and perched on its walls. Many of these smaller works glower at gallery visitors from crevices and corners above, while other express their incredulous visages with disproportionate eyes and protruding tongues from under windowsills, intending to surprise and shock. The other sculpture series on view of mixed media heads are curious amalgamations of animal species made from plush toy parts, plaster, and oil paint. The artworks’ cuteness remains deliberately misleading, Ottinger shows as she dissects this relationship, literally ripping apart and haphazardly reassembling material that stir nostalgia and fond memory, and return the cuddly creature back to its feral nature.
“Letters to the Predator” will be at Johansson Projects, 2300 Telegraph, Oakland through February 28