A boat is “Passing Through” the midsection of one woman. Another woman is “Rocking the Boat” and its passengers on her head, while a third deals with little people all over her body and a cat curled against her leg, all tied as it were to her “Apron Strings.”
Those are three of the pieces in Janis Mars Wunderlich’s captivating Lux Center for the Arts exhibition “Turbulence,” in which she explores birth, nurturing, family and femininity, and takes a look at the world around her through clay sculptures and paintings.
“My art tells stories that acknowledge the immensity of our physical and emotional inadequacies, the burdens we bear and our many vulnerabilities,” Wunderlich writes in her artist statement.
“It also celebrates the buoyant strength of the human spirit to hope and persevere as we rise above the ashes to overcome obstacles. My intimate interactions as a daughter, mother, nurturer, friend, wife and teacher inspire universal narratives about our collective human search for resilience and purpose.”
“Emergent,” one of the paintings, provides one of the most powerful depictions of a key exhibition theme – a sitting woman, legs bent high, is giving birth to people and other creatures while towering against a background of gothic cathedrals.
“Apron Strings” most embodies a second theme; that of a mother accepting and even welcoming the responsibilities of caring for a family, no matter how overwhelming that might become.
It’s also a good representation of Wunderlich’s fantastical sculptural vision, which takes an expressive figure crafted in clay, adorns it with objects, animals, other people, and fires it with colors that make it look worn and old.
The resultant pieces are often simultaneously charming and creepy, and always demand a closer view to catch the revelatory details that tell much of the story of each.
Some of the sculptural works, like “Terrier in a Turtleneck,” a dog wearing a titular shirt, and “Floating Cat with Kittens,” are simply whimsical.
Others in that vein also have a point to make, like the glasses-wearing, book-holding “Academic Animal,” a piece that reflects the artist’s background as a student. Wunderlich has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Ohio State University and has worked as an assistant art professor at Monmouth College in Illinois.
There’s also a view of “Hindsight,” a head covered with eyes, along with a “Fallopian Rabbit.”
Another motif carries through the paintings and drawings, that of a floating woman or, in a few instances, animals. Cut loose from gravity – real or metaphorical – the women are free to move through the world, even if some are bearing the burdens and responsibilities on their backs.
With titles like “Madonna of the Prickly Child” and “Her Heritage,” Wunderlich explicitly makes the point of her work.
But it's conveyed visually as well, starting with “Vulnerabilities,” one of the first sculptural pieces that will be seen on entering the gallery, and ending, in a way, with the reassuring “Embrace” of two figures just a few feet away.
“Turbulence” is on view at the Lux Center for the Arts, 2601 N. 48th St., through Aug. 27.