through May 11 | Museum of Art – DeLand, 600 N. Woodland Blvd., DeLand | 386-734-4371 | moartdeland.org | $5
Wanderers in the rural South may stumble upon DeLand, all abuzz with college-town shops and cafés, flip-flop-shod Stetson students mixing with locals in an artsy, relaxed street vibe. The Museum of Art – DeLand shatters this easygoing scene with their current exhibition featuring the terrible intensity of Jill Cannady, a Florida artist working since the 1970s. Her career has blossomed from its meticulous beginnings to a full-throated roar of raw female power that ultimately, with a slender paintbrush, flicks the male principle right out of the boxing ring onto the floor.
The museum’s main space is a tan prism on U.S. Highway 17-92 (locally named Woodland Boulevard). Inside, Cannady’s early work is downstairs, starting with super-realistic self-portraits and still lifes in oil paint. Depicting such stuff as cotton balls, old bricks and red sticks, it was clear something was itching at her, something unseemly. Her work seemed to turn inward, this interior twist finally breaking out with “An Act of God” in 1988. The painting shows a woman in a black leotard striking a classic pose of horror, crouching in fear of a brutal lightning storm. Across her lies the flaccid body of a headless man, his shoulders knitted together as if headlessness were sort of natural for him. It’s an epic scene of spiritual war between the female and male sides of humanity, with no resolution at hand.
From that date on, Cannady’s work increasingly moves within. Her paintings become sculptures in which she molds a figure from hardware cloth and then sculpts just the head out of clay. These turn back into paintings, until by 1997 her series “Big Dogs/Bearded Men and More” takes a van Gogh turn toward ferocity. The intense colors and wild eyes of both man and beast suggest a sort of equivalence between them. Placed next to them is Cannady’s own self-portrait, larger than life. Her eyes in this painting suggest a burning soul of deep resolve. Get out of her way.
In the Museum’s downtown satellite (just a few blocks away at 100 N. Woodland Blvd.), Cannady’s more recent efforts elevate the message. “Encounter Obstructed” (2012) is a triptych of Adam and Eve. Here Adam seems immature, his little pink penis stared at scornfully by Eve, who poses like Michelangelo’s David. In between stands an artist’s easel and dozens of symbols, ranging from black bats to volcanoes to bears. Men are even further lampooned by her series of “Atomic Dragons,” male busts made out of electrical parts, epoxy clay, marbles and so on.
In “Coxswain’s Choice” (2013), Cannady places a baby in the coxswain’s chair of a racing boat, eight rowers-cum-caregivers frantically pulling on the oars, trying to keep up with the baby’s cries. Anyone who has cared for an infant can relate to the feelings of victimized adoration on their faces. Relentless, Cannady goes on to portray men wrestling with reptiles; her coup de grâce is an installation piece inviting you to step into a boxing ring surrounded by a raving crowd, tiny boxers’ portraits staring at you like so many dark devils, inciting you to throw a punch. Go on, be a man.
Cannady’s talent, coupled with her increasingly clear mission to elucidate feminine strength, makes this a show of unusual depth and emotion. If you are tired of the throwaway little noodlings you see from most artists, and wish to see something real – something with a message – go to DeLand. If you want to see how an artist develops across her career to build to a crescendo of greatness, get up there now. Women in search of their own true selves should study this show for inspiration.
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