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Feb 22

Allie Gattor’s Dark Myths of the Ordinary

By Earl Miller, February 2022, What strikes me most about Allie Gattor’s drawings is the extended time I spend looking at them. The layered references––cinematic, cultural, religious, mythological, literary (notably the writer and illustrator Edward Gorey)––slowly play out in odd, often grotesque narratives revealing multiple meanings. What I first notice about this broad pastiche is that everything is out of place.

By Earl Miller, February 2022


What strikes me most about Allie Gattor’s drawings is the extended time I spend looking at them. The layered references––cinematic, cultural, religious, mythological, literary (notably the writer and illustrator Edward Gorey)––slowly play out in odd, often grotesque narratives revealing multiple meanings. What I first notice about this broad pastiche is that everything is out of place. There are the incongruous juxtapositions that arrive at a cosmopolitanism of displacement: European-looking cars with North American-style license plates, a woman in a hijab passing a suburban store, tropical plants amid Victorian and contemporary urban decor, Western cowboy costumes, and Classical Greek architecture. The scenes are simultaneously nowhere and everywhere. Among these fragmentary geographic and cultural references are the anachronistic clothes the depicted children wear––frilly, white-collared dresses and Alice in Wonderland black, buckled shoes––alongside often antique furniture and sometimes ancient architecture. Yet there are modern appliances, kitchenware, shopping carts, and pizza boxes. Also present are alternate worlds built from media tropes, especially cinematic ones ranging from the Addams Family to the Hollywood Western, which are so familiar that they are part of the collective unconscious. I see, for instance, in Calamity (2021), a boy in a cowboy costume holding a dramatic, stereotypically Hollywood gunslinger pose blowing on a “smoking,” just-fired plastic dart gun. Where much of this coheres is in the domestic sphere, perhaps the “land of the bland” the title refers to.

An underlying violence, sexism, and ghoulish grotesquery underlies the suburban play and rituals in these tableau vivants: a barbeque in which everyone but the cook is dead—a carnivore’s Jonestown—and a blow-up sex doll replacing the mom at the family breakfast table, as the smiling dad contentedly prepares a hearty breakfast. A good part of the grotesquery is conveyed through references to Greek mythology: unusually tall, conjoined triplets, an allusion to Geryon, the three-headed giant, plus a friendly three-headed dog, a domestication of the fierce, tri-headed Cerberus. This disturbance of the ordinary highlights the tension that continually underscores the banal surface world of the quotidian.

Allie Gattor, Calamity 2021, Pen, coloured pencil and marker on paper, 36 x 24″

Once I have explored all these complex underpinnings, I view the quirky, humorous side narratives: a squirrel eating dropped groceries in a parking lot, which three child onlookers do nothing to prevent; a crab pinching a child’s shoe in an interior setting; and an empty pop can on the floor of a church at a wedding ceremony. But what ultimately draws me in to linger is the emotional range of the figures, which separates Gattor’s drawing from conventional commercial illustration—the many cartoons and comics that employ archetypal rather than the situationally responsive characterization I observe here, which represent subtle, close observations of human interaction. Take, for instance, her dark yet whimsical drawing Nets (2020), which depicts three children escaping a net–wielding child catcher: one showing defiance, one resignation, and one surrender.

Allie Gattor, Nets 2021, Pen and coloured pencil on paper, 14 x 17″

As absurd as some of the narratives are, I find myself connecting with the characters and thus realizing that the bland surfaces of the contemporary world she portrays are rife with emotionally rich dramas built from meanings and symbols spanning continents and centuries. The snapshots of life Gattor takes may signify blandness by exhibition title and setting, but her imaginative, multi-layered interpretations of these environments are far from dull.

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