The Fussy Eye: Dresses in Distress

There’s a rustic, frontier-homestead quality to Larry Calkins’ new show under my hat, which mixes paintings, sculpture, and a series of flat, doll-size dresses that effectively function as both. He obsessively paints little shacks, whose rooflines echo the A-shaped, doll-sized dresses that seem to have been aged to the day of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The dress fabric, and the canvas he paints on, look to have been weathered with dirt and time, like something buried under prairie for a century. Onto those wrinkled sepia surfaces he stitches small, old family snapshots—tokens of an era when photography was new (but which now signify the opposite). Text has been hand-applied, too, like a letter written on an old paper bag. All Calkins’ materials could’ve been found in some long-dead grandmother’s attic. (In fact he shops at yard sales and occasionally digs up scraps located with a metal detector.) Other pieces are undergirded with wire, assembled from fragments, like quiltwork.

The house paintings, called Sanctuary Stations, are equally modest—depicted as structures clad in tarpaper and plain wood. They have a humble, rural dignity—the sort of structures Calkins would’ve observed during his youth in Oregon, where he briefly worked as a logger. This haunting show gestures toward the past in several ways, including some ghostly little figures painted on the paper quilts. It’s not clear whom they represent—do dolls have souls? Grover/Thurston Gallery, 319 Third Ave. S., 223-0816, Free. 11 a.m.– 5 p.m. Tues.–Sat. Ends June 1.

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