Beds and flowers and metaphysics

Works by Leah Poller, Leslie Bostrom, and Steven Pestana
By GREG COOK  |  October 2, 2013

FINAL REST Poller's Death Bed: Homage to Frida Kahlo.

Some years back, New York artist Leah Poller was injured when a bronze sculpture she was working on fell on her. It left her temporarily bedridden, and got her thinking about what beds mean in our lives. So she began a series of 101 (mostly) small, bronze bed sculptures. Seventeen of them are on view in her show “ # BED” at Yellow Peril Gallery (60 Valley St, Providence, through October 13).

Disembodied arms reach out from under the covers to operate a camera in one four-poster. An homage to Frida Kahlo has a skeleton reclining atop a canopy and a palette and roses on the mattress below. An homage to Salvador Dali is draped with a melting clock. Bedtime Story is a Mother Goose book as a mattress with a moon and Humpty Dumpty perched on the ends. They’re amusing but predictable, relying too much on clichéd puns on familiar symbols or famous artists’ work.

Poller also invites people to post photos of their unmade beds to her Tumblr or comment via her Twitter hashtag #bed. In the gallery, visitors can stick foam letters onto a wall to spell out what beds make them think of. Poller is trying to tap into the connotations beds call up — sleep, sickness, fucking, death. But it feels like she hasn’t framed the questions sharply enough to get beyond the mundane.

SUPER-SIZED Bostrom's Tulips.

Leslie Bostrom’s oil paintings in “Monster Flowers,” her show at the Wheeler School’s Chazan Gallery (228 Angell St, Providence, through October 9), make you feel just inches tall. In Window, you’re at the level of three seemingly dead birds lying in the dirt. And you stare up at towering flowers, house siding, a window.

I’m fascinated by this Alice in Wonderland-like worm’s-eye-view, and part of me wants these seven-and-a-half-foot-wide paintings to be more about observing nature. But my sense is that these are side issues in Bostrom’s art.

So a painting like her 2013 canvas Black Flowers — an elk rearing out of an orange forest fire — isn’t so much about elks or fires. It’s about the foreground filled with blue-black flowers seemingly quickly, almost clumsily outlined with thick lines of red, yellow, and green that glow like neon lights.

These paintings are occasions for Bostrom, who teaches at Brown University, to get into what she really seems to love — vigorous brushwork and the moods of colors like foggy pink or sunny yellow or sickly green or that forest fire’s hot orange.


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