Skinning the surface

Ethan Moore’s latest body of work, excerpts from The Book of @trophy, is currently on view at 311 Howard. The exhibition opened Friday, after a fortuitous 11th-hour move from Stella Haus in the Blue Star complex. Formerly Sol y Sombra and now the home of musician Matthew Ahern, the domestic setting provides an ideal backdrop for Moore’s newest work.

Upon entering the gallery space, one is captivated and enchanted by the apparent whimsy of the works that decorate the walls. On closer inspection, delight turns to horror as the content of each piece emerges. A flash of hot pink beckons viewers to the back corner of the gallery space. This striking hue belongs to the sinewy leg of a coyote, from which it hangs upside-down, as in a meat locker. A bear’s head, made of polyurethane foam, hangs at eye level. It is covered in a cheery blue and green pattern with a shiny finish. From afar, it appears to be smiling, but an expression of misery becomes evident as the viewer approaches. Neck twisted in anguish, its jaws part in a silent scream.

Just as a hunted animal is entrapped by its pursuer, we are confined by a society of our own creation. Moore incorporates elements of bourgeois décor to evoke the surroundings we construct. A large chandelier looms overhead. Crystals drip down from miniature lampshades above a jumble of black-lacquered antlers. The delicate forms of black butterflies hover among the mass of horns. The forms resemble bones, and their unnatural darkness conjures images of charred ash. While the purpose of such a fixture is to brighten a room and fill it with warmth, one feels chilled and confounded at the sight of this piece.

A silhouette resembling a mountain-lion rug hangs above the fireplace, yet it is constructed from a muted red and cream toile. Gray felt backing matches the color of the animal’s plastic ears, folded back as in anger. A wide-open mouth reveals bared teeth, encrusted with rhinestones, surrounding a golden, scoop-shaped tongue. The rage and violence expressed in the face of the animal seem ridiculous in light of the cheery fabric that covers its frame.

The irony inherent in these works reminds the viewer that perceived strength often camouflages weakness. Stark white antelope skulls are mounted on backdrops covered in brightly printed fabrics. Instead of horns, plastic foliage protrudes from their heads. By replacing horns and antlers — which animals use for fighting and self-defense — with delicate flowers, Moore reveals the fragility of human nature and of the world around us.

Moore is concerned with the juxtapositions of beauty and ugliness, happiness and sadness. He aims to create work so attractive it will lure viewers in, only to repulse them by revealing an added dimension. The grotesque often lies behind an alluring façade, and the discomfort and surprise which overcomes one upon that discovery is precisely what Moore provokes in his audience. 

excerpts from The Book of @trophy
By appt.
Closing reception:
7-9pm Fri, Jul 27
Ahern Studios
311 Howard

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