By Betsy DiJulio
Make no mistake: Aggie Zed’s animal-based drawings and sculpture are not about animals. That’s right. Her menagerie of horses, donkeys, dogs, rabbits, and more are about people. It’s the circus parade of the human condition, but not in any explicit, overwrought way.
Working in both 2-D—soft pastels and acrylic inks—and 3-D—ceramic and metal—Zed’s stream of consciousness approach to image- and object-making filters the external world through her highly idiosyncratic lens. What results in the drawings is a layered, stacked, and compartmentalized—yet fluid—shape-shifting realm of perplexing and quite political narratives.
Tables, benches, platforms, boxes, televisions, windows, walls, doorways, and rugs frame, highlight, and enclose anthropomorphized animals and human figures. But, just as much as them, her protagonists are magnificent lines, translucent and opaque veils of tone, and drips of color.
Though Zed asserts that “MSNBC is the background of my studio,” she doesn’t feel the need “to be in people’s faces about politics,” noting that “I draw well enough to be overt if I wanted to.” Instead, she works with undercurrents and what she describes as “energy” that she draws out to “help her heal.”
And she does it with immediacy, usually a day, noting that “If the drawings don’t happen quickly, they die.” In contrast, the sculptures or “scrap floats,” while still intuitive, are slow to emerge in part because of the technical challenges involved in “getting something to balance and stand.” Pounded, punched, and soldered, the pseudo-electrical looking connections of levers, gears, traps, and snares are, on one level, a commentary on our “uses and misuses” of technology.
Be seduced by the colors of the drawings, the complexity of the scrap floats, and by the animals in both, but don’t assume the work is “cute, darling, or dear. Even whimsical misses the point.” This work is “deadly dark.”
In compatible contrast to Zed’s loose line, ambiguous spaces, and complex thickets of metal and ceramic, Wade Mickley’s highly recognizable, highly formal work possesses a kind of visual clarity. Admitting to loving “kids’ stuff,” Mickley’s conscious influences are alternative comics and children’s literature, especially Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, along with folk and outsider art.
That is not to say, however, that there is anything childish or simple—and definitely not simplistic—about Mickley’s colorful world of whacky abstract figures composed of both found and purchased objects. Though his figures, with their wide mouths and often hyper-symmetrical balance, may not walk on Zed’s dark side, they are not little rays of sunshine. Clouds, teardrops and other frequently used motifs are clues to the “personal angst” that Mickley says drives the creation of these assemblages. That and a need to create, to let ideas evolve, and to “dance around” objects for a while.
The term “maker” is on the verge of becoming cliché—not unlike “curate” (as in curated meals, closets, and more); but people have always had a need to make thing with their hands. And for many artists, the process trumps the product. Mickley—who jokingly asks, “Why do I do this to myself?”—relishes the learning involved in each piece. “I enjoy figuring things out,” he says. “I have this and I have this. How do I put these things together?,” e.g. rusted metal and “busted” plastic or one of his favorites: vinyl records.
Though his mad-cap world is brightly colored and playful, especially in its rhythms, Mickley’s work is societal. Sometimes he starts with detritus, noting that the objects “have a story to tell.” And sometimes he starts with an idea, especially one shaped by language. Words and phrases that he hears people say mash up with song lyrics in an app that he keeps on his phone.
With all of that floating in his mind, after a walk in the woods—or some kayaking or paddle boarding—which Mickley finds clears his head, this self-described introvert goes home and makes things.
For her part, Zed finds walking “magical.” Maybe we should all be walking, whether on the dark or the wild side.
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Aggie Zed: Beep Tech
Wade Mickley: Nevertheless
Through September 9
Rawls Museum Arts
22376 Linden Street, Courtland