Jana Swec & Jared Theis

D Berman Gallery, Austin

Through September 5
by Lauren Adams

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      Jana Swec
      Red, 2008
      Ink and colored pencil on paper
      24 x 34 1/2 inches
      Courtesy D Berman Gallery

      View Gallery

      Jared Theis, April's Joke, 2007
      See image gallery for full caption.

      View Slideshow

      There has never been a time, during my life at least, in which the debate over humanity’s impact on nature has not been at the forefront of public concern. We are inundated with news of shrinking ozone, deforestation and global warming. Many, including myself, sometimes wonder whether nature is losing the battle. That’s why I found the work of Jana Swec and Jared Theis, now on view D Berman gallery, so refreshing. Both artists revel in nature—its surprising strength and inspiring perseverance.

      Jana Swec magnifies nature’s resilience through her delicate ink and pencil drawings of trees. The artist's leafless, knobby renditions twist and move in unnatural ways, taking on life straight out of a storybook. These creations, though barren and daunting, seem familiar and accessible, echoing popular characters such as Harry Potter’s Whomping Willow or the trees in the forests of Sleepy Hollow. The movements of these creations seem so fast and urgent that they evoke human emotions; Knuckles (2008), whose twisting knots are teeming with nervous energy, recall such mental images as wringing hands and knotted stomachs.

      Perhaps the strongest image in Swec’s collection is Red (2008). In this piece, the twisted branches evolve into a group of elephants. At the same time as these creatures stomp playfully through the water below them, their raised trunks and limbs morph seamlessly into twisting branches. As Swec points out, the elephant shares many characteristics with her own forceful, tree-like creations. The animal’s wrinkled skin is easily likened to tree bark, and both the elephant and the tree share the reputation as bearers of ancient wisdom. Swec’s elephant-trees embody a double nature; gentle giants who are capable of leveling villages with their stampede.

      Jared Theis has likewise created pieces that express his concern with the “clash between human civilization and the natural world.” His small ceramic pieces, the highlight of this body of work, suggest, in the same instant, both a macro and a micro view point. Inspired by coral reefs, wasps’ nests, termite mounds, and birds’ nests, these pieces, viewed up close, take on the texture and composition of natural formations. However, take a step back and the perspective changes completely. Where there was once a ribbed coral formation there is now a paved road way that winds lazily through plots of farmland and riverbeds. The doubling of the small ecosystems and human made networks suggests that the two can live in harmony, or perhaps that no matter how far human construction progresses, the natural world will find a way to survive, in even the smallest of spaces.

      The show at the D Berman is well worth visiting, even for those who are exhausted by the environmental debate that seems to have no end in sight. The delicate and intricate construction of the pieces in this exhibition echos the subtle beauty found, but often over-looked, in nature. The atmosphere is quite inviting and I, for one, couldn’t appreciate this more. Many things concerning the environment these days, be they documentary, art, or organizations, leave me riddled with guilt; feeling as though I had personally set fire to thousands of acres of rainforest. I find it refreshing to once again take pleasure in the beauty of nature. The work of both Swec and Theis conveys that, although it is made up of fragile components, nature is still a force to be reckoned with.

      Lauren Adams is an intern at Fluent~Collaborative.

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