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Teresa Bramlette Reeves
Teresa Bramlette Reeves' solo exhibit at Whitespace goes down the rabbit hole.

Cullum’s Notebook: Exhibits give new twist on folk tales, Lewis Carroll’s Alice

Long ago — or not so long ago in lands other than this one — the frozen winter months were devoted to folktales told by the fire. These folktales and fantasy stories are evoked in two current gallery exhibitions, but both of them plunge us into the middle of their stories instead of letting us remain snug by the fireplace.

At Whitespace and Whitespec through January 22, She’ll Be Late by Teresa Bramlette Reeves borrows the fall down a rabbit hole from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (specifically, from the first manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground). But instead of the densely populated Wonderland of the Alice stories, Reeves’ protagonist encounters only strange shapes, a few objects, and herself. Even the fall is solo; as the title of a mixed-media piece reveals, She didn’t really follow a rabbit in, but she thought it was a good story. (Reeves will be in the gallery to talk about the show January 15 from 1-4 p.m.)

Teresa Bramlette Reeves
“She thought if she made raindrops, they might encourage a downpour,” 2021.

Presented in a wide variety of formats and styles of drawing, painting, sculpture and collage, this is an allegory about the surprises of aging. Reeves explains this eloquently on her website, where the transition is described bluntly as “the move into one’s final decades.”

Starting with the amusingly titled watercolor She entered willingly willfully, the titles tell a tale that is at first parallel to Alice’s, but soon turns alarmingly darker. The title of the embroidery-on-cloth Who am I then? Tell me that first and then if I like being that person I’ll come up, if not I’ll stay down here ‘til I’m someone else is quoted directly from Carroll’s book. The subsequent works, however, present a very different picture of solitary entrapment.

Early in the series, the beautiful mixed-media-on-linen work She looked upward from inside and saw the night sky makes clear that the fall opened up new perspectives, even though it was not a good thing. The 40-by-47-inch mixed media on canvas She tried, but every ladder was inadequate inaugurates a series of attempts at escape.

In two identically titled pieces, She remembered that Alice swam in her own tears, the protagonist wonders if a deluge of rainfall would fill the hole to the top and allow escape. She thought if she made raindrops, they might encourage a downpour. If not, then would a great mound of snow? She thought if she made snowflakes, it might actually snow.

Art imitates a hoped-for reality in this story, just as it is said to do in real life. But Reeves makes clear that the imitation is only that, an inadequate copy that offers no way out.

These ideas dissolve into their component parts in the Whitespec portion of the exhibition, which includes an Experimental Snowflake made of seed pearls, beads, ribbons, thread and fingernail polish.

The effect of such disparate types of artmaking is as wondrously united yet disconnected as the multiple transformations in the original Alice narrative. Here, however, it is seen from the perspective of a seasoned professional artist and curator in the latter part of a still-vigorous career. The sense of sometimes baffled disjuncture is there, but not the innocently unknowing bewilderment of the original story.

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Some of Erin Sledd’s small folk tale-inspired works are enhanced by vintage frames. (Photo by Jerry Cullum)

At Poem 88 through February 5, viewers of Erin Sledd’s Wald may feel themselves immersed in another folktale theme, being lost in the forest. The gallery floor is covered in pine straw, holly, evergreen twigs and other leftover fragments of last month’s holiday decorations. Since the consistently tiny drawings on the far wall are arranged in clusters amid paper cutouts of tree silhouettes painted the same color as the wall, the effect is one of oddly disorienting enchantment.

A title borrowed from the German word for “forest” might suggest the Brothers Grimm, but such works as Hut Hut take their inspiration from the Russian folktale of Baba Yaga, whose house opens to visitors only when addressed with “Hut, hut, turn your back to the forest and your front to me.” Since this sort of information isn’t immediately available in the installation, the overall effect is one of agreeably multilayered mystery. The show is as multilayered as the mattresses in one of the most readily interpretable drawings, a woodland version of The Princess and the Pea, here titled Restless in the Wild.

One drawing, titled Aubrey Haresley, acknowledges Sledd’s stylistic debt to Aubrey Beardsley, transmitting all of his delicacy of line but scarcely any of his decadence. The vintage frames selected for some of the drawings here, though, are as deliciously fin-de-siècle as anyone could wish.

This is Sledd’s first solo exhibition in Atlanta, but her art has become known here in recent years through several works. For instance, her multimedia Breath of the Compassionate installation, in Hambidge Center’s 2017 Creative Hive at Colony Square, and a number of appealing geometric cutout pieces in Different Trains Gallery’s M. C. Escher Plus group exhibition, which I discussed in the May 2018 Cullum’s Notebook. Similar paper cutouts hang from the ceiling in the Poem 88 installation, but this time they are forest-themed and folktale-influenced.

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Dr. Jerry Cullum’s reviews and essays have appeared in Art Papers magazine, Raw Vision, Art in America, ARTnews, International Journal of African-American Art and many other popular and scholarly journals. In 2020 he was awarded the Rabkin Prize for his outstanding contribution to arts journalism. 

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