July 16 2014 12:00 AM

July art exhibits use books as more than just inspiration

C.S. Lewis once said if an author is not concerned with originality and simply tries to tell the truth, then nine times out of 10 they produce something original without even knowing it. Any truth to be found in MICA Gallery’s new exhibit, “NEXT: Anamnesis,” is best left up for the viewer to decide. But originality in the pieces is hard to ignore, even if some of them are utilizing Lewis’ work. Physically.

Katelin Mae Thomas’ giant tree branch in MICA’s window is constructed entirely out of pages from Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Her work is half of “Anamnesis,” a show that is part of NEXT, an initiative started by MSU Professor Henry Brimmer meant to bring younger artists to Lansing’s art scene. Both artists in “Anamnesis” are recent MSU graduates.

Many of Thomas’ sculptures are made from antique books. Little figures, such as a mermaid or a primly dressed woman, are constructed from the actual pages and situated on aging tomes. A surprising intricacy is achieved in the deftly constructed little figures with their subtle coloring, almost telling as much of a story as the books they sit on. Book pages might not be the first material that comes to mind when you think of sculpting, but to understand Thomas’ reasoning is hardly a matter of reading between the lines.

“The written word on paper is becoming obsolete with the various forms of electronic reading devices out there,” she said. "I want to inspire others to see the same kind of magic that I do in books.”

Thomas also has a series of three fantastical etchings on display, with giant creatures living in symbiosis with other elements. In one, a whale carries a small city on its underside. They’re images that are not difficult to picture gracing the cover of today’s fantasy works (a professed possible future career choice for Thomas).

The other half of “Anamnesis” is a collection of photographic works of artist Kathleen Matkovic, who has a more personal story to tell than lions, witches and wardrobes. Her collages are a blend of her photographs and those from travel magazines. (Her work can also be seen this month at (SCENE) Metrospace’s new exhibit, “Landsome.”) The pieces are dreamlike landscapes with surreal juxtapositions featuring a visual medley of mountains, vines, flowers and a tiny white structure in every piece.

“That’s a picture of my family cottage that my dad took.” says Matkovic. “The series was inspired by my transition from graduating school (and) feeling like I don’t have a home anymore.”

Another series in Matkovic’s exhibit is “The Bunny Years,” which takes the viewer on a tour through a dollhouse Matkovic once built with her father. Vibrant colors are are haunted by an occasional eerie silhouette of a fluffy creature — a rabbit the artist had as a child.

“I grew up and the rabbit eventually died,” she said.

Continuing in the literary vein, H.P. Lovecraft once wrote of his disinterest in people’s businesses, but his curiosity about their thoughts and dreams. Given his penchant for writing about otherworldly creatures, he’d have quite a time picking artist Lesa Doke’s brain with her exhibit, “Don’t Know You Don’t Know Me” at Lansing Art Gallery.

“The imagery suggests an anthropomor phism or humanoid that the viewer may not recognize,” says Doke in her artist statement for the exhibit. “The objects may share a similar perplexity about themselves and the relationship to the viewer.”

Perplexity indeed. Viewing Doke’s drawings, gives the viewer the feeling of squinting at something alien, almost nightmarish.

Doke utilizes a form of crosshatch with paint marker, playing with the negative space and resulting in something that looks like a glimpse into Lovecraft’s dreams as interpreted by Dr. Seuss. Doke’s paintings would also make Lovecraft proud. Layers of acrylic are spread on large canvasses, with dark colors suggesting shapes and forms similar to those found in Doke’s drawings. Additionally, several paintings in the series feature a squid-like creature, calling to mind the Lovecraftian god, Cthulu.

To close out her artist statement, Doke writes, “Hopefully, the viewer will bring to this experience his/her own perceptions to enhance the ‘reading’ of my work.”

It’s surprising she didn’t add, “Cue devilish laugh.”

“NEXT: Anamnesis”

MICA Gallery 1210 Turner St., Lansing (517) 371-4600, micagallery.org “Don’t Know You Don’t Know Me” Lansing Art Gallery, 119 N. Washington Square, Lansing (517) 374-6400, lansingartgallery.org