A world gone wrong

Lesser at AS220 project Space; and new Providence Art Windows
By GREG COOK  |  August 20, 2014

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STORMY WEATHER Lesser's 'Scapegoat.'

The skies always seem threatening in Jennifer Hrabota Lesser’s paintings. “An impending or receding storm,” she says of the weather in her images in her exhibition “Scapegoat” at AS220’s Project Space (93 Mathewson St, Providence, through August 30). Underneath these roiling clouds, on scraps of grass, often at the edge of blue-gray seas, perch sheep or horned goats. In one, a fox and a hedgehog are together at land’s end. The fox turns its head back to keep a wary eye on a procession of wolves wading through murky waters behind them.

“My work has evolved from a fascination with 19th-century Victorian naturalists and my own struggle in coming to terms with living in a highly industrialized age that can feel alienating,” Hrabota Lesser writes. Her art is about her “reverence of nature” amidst “the ugliness of industry and growing capitalism” and the “changing climate.” In other words, her paintings of animals and storms put us in a land of fables about the world gone wrong.

Her environmental message is prominent in her paintings, in which she aims to create whole scenes. But she seems to still be figuring out her symbolism. Her animal paintings often feel primarily like portraits. Create, a silkscreen print tinted blue with watercolor, depicts a pair of arms reaching out of foliage, but the hands are severed at the wrists and birds pop out of the wounds. It’s a violent, disturbing image — which is perhaps not quite what she’s aiming for.

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REPPING THE CAPITAL Lesser's 'Providence.'

But Lesser is obviously a very talented artist. Her skill is most evident in her realist brush and black ink drawings of a skull, wet bears, a sheep’s head decorated with roses and daisies, a black bird perched on a branch above a banner saying “Providence.” They read as symbols or heraldry. In one drawing, an eagle, with its wings dramatically captured spread in mid-flight, is above a ribbon bearing the slogan “It is better to travel well than to arrive.”

Lesser’s drawing style recalls comic books or tattoos or the romantic goth prominent at DeviantArt. She surrounds her subjects with thick, dark outlines while using thinner, lighter marks to render detailed fur and feathers. She’s mastered this sort of line work so that a confidence and dynamism comes through her dramatic use of lights and — oh — darkness.

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