How much is that doggy?

Sharp edge meets mass appeal--not a common feat, especially by such a young 'un.

Heather Gorham, an emerging Dallas artist, somehow finds that rare space between abrasion and whimsy, the ominous and the welcoming. Her larger acrylic paintings and her minuscule bronze sculptures star a strangely cohesive stable of creatures--sideshow animals and wild hares and red-penised demons and meditative women--all confronting the viewer with knowing gazes and unspoken stories of their own. Her current show, on display at Gallery Two-O-Nine on McKinney Avenue, shows off Gorham's hyper-stylized aesthetic. It's decidedly unhip in its surrealist, fluid forms, which makes it rather refreshing against all the current artwork so embedded in cyber, rave, and academic-theory culture--not to mention all things determinedly "conceptual." (If I hear one more art-monger declare painting dead...)

Even when Gorham makes a point, she throws in some comic relief. "The Birthday Party," a painting spanning its own wall, shows six chubby babies straddling a long, slithering crocodile out in the desert; the babies each wear a pointy party hat decorated with kid-myth dangers--scissors, matches, poison symbols, etc. The croc is smiling. A tiny bronze sculpture that echoes the sentiment, this time with one less baby riding the reptile, is titled "And Then There Were Five." (Ah. Seems Gorham's ambivalence about having kids of her own has found a forum in her work. Luckily, instead of burdening us with this confession, she entertains us.)

"JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy" and "The Birdman" carry on Gorham's longtime fascination with the counter-culture of circus life, in all its creepy, melancholy glory. JoJo, whether actual dog-man hybrid or a boy with a mask, puffs away at a cigarette while waiting for his curtain call; the Birdman's jutting schnozz is ringed with toucan stripes he's either sported since birth or painted on himself just minutes before. We'll never know the truth of these freaks, but the wise look in their eyes says they're doomed to this outsider life forever, which may answer the question well enough.

Gorham pays homage to her influences without guile or side-stepping. "Hare Dance," a bronze rabbit doing a frenzied jig while balancing a tea cup in his paws, has the decidedly sinewy, knotted, elongated limbs of a Giacometti; "Swimming Home," a painting of a woman buried up to her neck in a field of high grass, with a lone house glowing in the barren distance, is a nod to Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World." But like all her work, these don't come off like cloying grabs at commercialism. Gorham's love affair with her demons and lizards and dog-faced boys has created her own folklore.

--Christina Rees

Heather Gorham's work shows through May at Gallery Two-O-Nine, 2714 McKinney Ave., Dallas. (214) 871-9209. A second artist's reception will take place from 7-9 p.m. on May 16 at Gallery Two-O-Nine.

 
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