Art review: “It’s smaller than I thought”, Safe and Sound Gallery | Art review | Seven days

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  • Courtesy of Marin Horikawa
  • “Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, 1503” by Jake Scharbach

Almost everyone who sees “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre in Paris has the same first impression, and so is likely to smile knowingly at the title of an ongoing exhibit in Burlington. “It’s smaller than I thought,” Safe and Sound Gallerypresents an invitation-only collection of two-dimensional works of art inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting.

Gallery owner Marin Horikawa said he “cold emailed” 60 artists – from as close as Vermont and as far away as Tokyo – of whom 15 have been there. The result was an impressive variety of interpretations. Suffice it to say, Renaissance Lisa wouldn’t identify with most of them. Besides, the noble Florentine would surely be amazed to find herself an international icon five centuries after posing with this enigmatic smile.

Horikawa is enthusiastic about involving children in creating and learning about art. To that end, he had full-size line drawing versions of “Mona Lisa” printed out for the kids to take home and color in. At the show’s reception last week, these sheets were stacked on a table in the gallery. (That’s how I found out that the painting is actually bigger I remembered: 30 by 21 inches.)

A few of the show’s entries realistically mimic da Vinci – to a point.

Jake Scharbach‘s oil painting, titled simply “Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, 1503”, is so exacting that it could be a convincing fake. The Brooklyn-based artist is known for mixing images from the classical world with contemporary cultural detritus. In this case, Scharbach easily sidesteps an accusation of artistic fraud by adding a white plastic bag over Lisa’s head and a slice of pizza floating in front. gave heris the left breast. The bag features a large smiley face and the ever-present imperative “Have a nice day”.

In last week’s receipt, this board was the first to acquire a red “sold” dot.

Janice Wu“2020 Mona” also represents the original, except that it is meticulously rendered, in pencil and gouache, like a puzzle with a plot of missing parts. At 36 by 60 inches, the work exceeds the size of da Vinci’s portrait, but most of it is blank – that is, white Arches paper – as if inviting the viewer to complete the puzzle.

B.C.-based Wu writes that her illustration “embodies the quiet uncertainty, anxiety, and longing for familiarity that has been instilled in our collective psyche during the pandemic.” It was indeed a confusing time. Wu’s work itself is enigmatic, evoking both what has been lost and what remains to be found.

Christopher DeLorenzo writes that his acrylic painting “Highway Blue” was inspired by “a line in a Bob Dylan song where he sings, ‘Mona Lisa must have had the highway blues, you can tell by the way she smiles.’ While Dylan has made lyrical reference to an early work, the Massachusetts artist seems to be borrowing from more modern masters. Its simple shapes in two shades of blue with white outlines recall both the cut-outs of Henri Matisse and the elegant line drawings of Pablo Picasso.

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"Renaissance" by Naomi C. Gallay - COURTESY OF MARIN HORIKAWA

  • Courtesy of Marin Horikawa
  • “Rebirth” by Naomi C. Gallay

With “Renaissance”, an acrylic painting on unstretched canvas, Swiss artist Naomi C. Gallay contributes to the racial calculation of exposure. Her Lisa is rendered in flat, graphic color blocks representing multiple skin tones and set against a dark green background.

Although featureless, the portrait instantly says a lot about human history. The title of Gallay refers less to the time of Vinci than to a february Time magazine essay by Ibram X. Kendi, “The Renaissance is Black.” In it, the author delivers a withered takedown of the ubiquitous, titled “White Gaze” while applauding a rising tide of dark creativity and “spiritual emancipation.” The racial groups evoked here, Gallay’s painting says it almost aloud, are equal.

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"More smile" by Kevin Foote - COURTESY OF MARIN HORIKAWA

  • Courtesy of Marin Horikawa
  • “No More Smiles” by Kevin Foote

“No More Smile” is the title of Kevin Footework in acrylic, gouache and graphite. As part of this thematic show, the background is easy to recognize as resembling that of “Mona Lisa”. But the viewer can only register it after considering the subject – a young girl standing with her back to us – and the stunning execution of her plaid dress, shiny braids and luminous skin.

It’s an unusual portrait, certainly, not only because you can’t see the girl’s face but because her head is tilted forward—in shame? shyness? – and his hands are tightly clasped behind his back. Foote, based in Wisconsin, associates the romantic landscape with a regionalist and quintessentially American psychology. The cloudy tones of the painting are reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth’s earthy palette; its emotional resonance even evokes his famous composition “Christina’s World”.

Foote writes in his artist statement that he loves “[leave] the viewer in a sense of wonder.” He succeeded, and exquisitely so.

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"mona" by Nori Pepe - COURTESY OF MARIN HORIKAWA

  • Courtesy of Marin Horikawa
  • “Mona” by Nori Pepe

Vermont artist Nori Pepe describes the methodology of his etching as “almost the antithesis” of da Vinci’s process and “a cathartic expression of the year we’ve just been through.” She created “Mona” with layers of monotype and chine-collé prints and multiple pieces of paper. Rather than embracing the Italian artist’s rich tones, as Pepe writes, his palette “seemed to begin in the shadows.”

The resulting linocut reflects his complicated process and focuses on the challenges of the pandemic, resulting in an image with much to analyze in terms of technique and content. Pepe offers a Lisa who looks like she’s been through the wringer, but whose composure remains unwavering.

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"A woman with green hair" by Yoshi47 - COURTESY OF MARIN HORIKAWA

  • Courtesy of Marin Horikawa
  • “A woman with green hair” by Yoshi47

Yoshi47, on the contrary, brings levity to the exhibition: “A Woman with Green Hair” by the artist is hilarious. This woman is, of course, Lisa. But forget enigmatic; her curved smile is huge and shows way too many teeth. His buggy eyes also express manic excitement.

Other characters scattered across the canvas sport the same Cheshire Cat smile across the top – a Yoshi47 signature. He describes the work as “a portrait of a girl who normally glows in the dark in the company of so many creatures she has created in her mind”. In effect.

Even if it’s a bit spooky, the Japanese artist’s candy-colored acrylic paint is still magical and joyful. Any viewer who remains unmoved by Yoshi47’s unstoppable energy has a cold, cold heart.

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"Mona works from home" by Katie Benn - COURTESY OF MARIN HORIKAWA

  • Courtesy of Marin Horikawa
  • “Mona Works From Home” door Katie Benn

San Francisco Artist Katie Benn“Mona Works From Home” is funny too, with what you can only call an attitude. The small oil pastel work is cartoonish: Lisa’s flat face has large brown circles for the eyes and a red slash for the mouth. Her shoulder-length hair is bright blue.

Arms crossed over her plaid dress, our daughter looks resigned, her expression a 21st-century “never mind.” Benn’s explanation: “A global pandemic forced the Louvre to temporarily close its doors. Mona couldn’t afford to do nothing; she had to find a job.”

Next to Lisa’s head, the artist hand-printed “OK, OK, OK.” Maybe she means “Yeah, sure” or “That’s enough.”

“It’s smaller than I thought” was not necessarily designed as a response to the pandemic, but how could it not be? As one of the first local shows to open for in-person viewing, this collection is a satisfying jolt of provocation, fun, and catharsis.