Do you ever wish you could be a kid again? The world of Saturday morning cartoons, picture books, and sugary cereal in candy-colored boxes springs back to life in Jill and Gabe Lanza’s exhibition, “Superstition,” at Logsdon 1909. It might seem a little different from the childhood you remember: Mr. Lanza’s paintings and three-dimensional constructions are too dark and twisted for Saturday morning, and Ms. Lanza’s “books” take a very sophisticated look at line and texture. But the creativity apparent in each piece is reminiscent of a child’s gaze on a world as beautiful as it is bizarre.
Ms. Lanza, for example, uses string in unconventional ways. Thin ropes harness a vast construction in midair. By layering line after line of colored thread she creates cocoon-like images; when sewing directly onto a photograph, she forces the viewer to see an entirely different image. In her artist’s statement, she explains that in her work “imagery is built through the creation and destruction of photographs.” She imposes a new order on archival pigment prints of close-up images; using the thread’s line “a new place is constructed.”
Mr. Lanza’s work also constructs new worlds. His “self-contained reality” is of a completely different “universe,” according to his artist’s statement. If it seems familiar, it could be because his audience was raised on the same “flat world” of cartoons and toys that gives form to his work. Lanza explains further in an interview: “I realized I was growing up under a kind of graphic design…I remember the Flintstones having very thick lines, like thicker than normal.” Raised in a family that “didn’t really go to museums,” this two-dimensional introduction to visual art influenced Mr. Lanza tremendously. “I thought all art was like that,” he says, reconstructing a perspective from his younger days. “Even in art books, you’re still looking at something flat.”
However, Mr. Lanza’s work in “Superstition” shows an expansion of that “flat world” into the third dimension. Pieces of furniture and other found objects serve as bodies for a population of constructed people. Mr. Lanza recalls his “slow transition” to working with wood from his earlier pieces, which were “almost like silk-screening.” “I was trying to get more into folk art,” he remembers. “So I started to look through dumpsters.” Now, friends give him old bowls, hoping that these will find new life in Mr. Lanza’s sculptures. A small army of jar-headed, chair-legged children, clowns, and robots stare out with hollow-eyes and toothy smiles. Too creepy for the Flintstones, these figures would feel more at home in the demented world of Ren and Stimpy or Tim Burton. “That’s what I love about it,” says Mr. Lanza. “At first you look at it and think, hey, that would look great in a kid’s room, and then you’re like…oh, no.”
“Superstition” exhibits some of the Lanzas’ first collaborations. “A Scape” features a large wooden head, clearly recognizable as Mr. Lanza’s work, which blows square “bubbles,” variously sized blocks covered in fabric (Ms. Lanza’s creations), across the wall. Mr. Lanza explains that the idea for “A Scape” originated at another art show in Peoria, Illinois, where Mrs. Lanza wasn’t able to fill the space. “We thought about adding some of my work,” Mr. Lanza recalls, “but the art director said, ‘I really don’t know how you two could fit together.’” It is easy to see what he meant: aside from a somewhat abstract notion of exploring of space and texture, there are few similarities in the couple’s artwork.
However, the couple was able to use the director’s criticism as motivation. “We said, ‘Let’s force ourselves to do this,’” Lanza says with a smile. The success of this collaborative experiment coincides with both artists’ previous work in combining seemingly disparate elements: old and new, painting and sculpture, texture and line. Perhaps the artists’ eye is similar to a child’s, in that both strive to connect these dissimilarities, to illuminate unseen images, and to reinvent the world as we know it.