The sea inside 

Mystery, fear and a chilly sense of danger fill Twelve21’s cool space

Threshold

through July 29
Twelve21 Gallery
1221 N. Orange Ave.
407-982-4357
twelve21gallery.com
free

Bryan Carson and Brian Phillips are paired together at this exhibition in Twelve21’s upstairs gallery-cum-graphic studio, and it is a great antidote to the heat and humidity of Orlando’s summer. Stepping into the crisp, cool space, a particularly chilly sense of danger awaits, emanating from startlingly intimate and dispassionate portraits of interesting predators. The two artists share a talent for depicting beauty and terror without getting emotionally involved.

Phillips idealizes hawks, wolves and ferocious felines, transforming them into symbols of mystery and fear. In “Carefully Chosen Words,” five cheetahs bury their faces in the belly of a fallen deer. The horrible beauty of an animal giving up its life force is set in an icy green vacuum. A bloody-muzzled lion, having finished a similar meal, looks into the night in “Born First in the First of Worlds,” a dodecahedron floating just over her head.

Sharp divisions in the canvases, hovering faceted crystals and the objective realism of these pictures all lend them a certain coldness, as if they were icons in a much larger narrative. Meat-eaters are hot; by cooling them off, and with close-ups of eyes and teeth, Phillips offers them as messages, as agents of transformation.

Carson, with shows in Miami’s Wynwood district and the Red Gate Gallery in London under his belt, returns to Orlando with a mature signature technique. He inks his figures over flat wood panels, with opaque acrylic for accents; the warm wood grain contributes a great deal of texture. His voyeuristic underwater glimpses of serenely floating woman’s bodies are disconnected from their faces, black hair languidly floating around them.

Jellyfish and mysterious tentacled sea life inhabit these scenes. In “Seward Harbor,” a young girl with a wise old face stares at the viewer, ignoring a tentacle sliming up her arm from her fishing bucket. These poisonous, predatory creatures lend peril to otherwise innocent human scenes. Only in “Destiny,” a tiny wood block on which a girl screams at a squid, does the subject actually confront the menace presented in the picture.

Dispassionate portrayals of fearful situations link both artists, suggesting a jaded sensibility. Our complex contemporary world seems so unsafe that scissors, incisors and tentacles are almost benign. The work in Thresholdis worth seeing, if only to reinforce an uncomfortable sense of the relationship between man and nature gone dangerously awry.

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