Sherry Markovitz, “Time to Take a Walk”

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Sherry Markovitz ranks amongst the giants of PNW art for a reason: her watery, gouache paintings on fabric are ethereal, often haunted with renderings of sweet-but-creepy, rosy-cheeked dolls or other takes on the icons of youth and innocence. She is as well known for her sculptures, which resemble wall-mounted trophies meticulously beaded by hand, and convey a dogmatic sense of devotion to the sumptuous materiality of the object. 

Her latest show, titled “Time to Take a Walk,” is currently installed at Greg Kucera Gallery. For it, Markovitz has thrown something of a curve ball, diverging from dolls to dogs. Markovitz spent the past two years observing neighborhood canines canoodling, sparring or sniffing around the local dog park near her home. Her casual acquaintance with the community grew into something almost obsessive, as she began to photograph them with her small digital camera, learn their names, owners, stories. The service dogs, the aggressive dogs, the sweet dogs. Eventually each of the characters found their way onto her cotton panels, rendered in the same liquescent, light strokes that brought her dolls to life. 

The saccharine small hands and hollow heads of the dolls have been replaced by a brute animality—borderline off-putting—of the beasts. Primal, panting, salivating, with blood-red mouths and vermillion lips that look like slashes or glistening cuts of raw meat. In one piece, a blind pit bull called Larry is strapped in a harness, gazing with sightless brown eyes in the direction of the viewer. The hulking bodies of great danes fill entire panels with their menacing energy and musculature, floating on a vacant field of bright white (the backdrop of the park omitted, left blank), while in other paintings, small spaniels and other breeds are caught mid-tussle, their tufts of curling fur painted on with the lightness of feathers. 

The other half of Markovitz’s show comprises a collection of sculptures similar to the ones for which she’s widely known: animals embroidered with glass beads. Continuing on the doggy theme but departing from the dog park, they recall (some more than others) childhood companions like Snoopy and Tigger. In fact, for the past few years Markovitz culled a collection of much-loved and worn stuffed animals from thrift stores and used these as the armatures on which to build these cartoon trophies. Wrapped in layers of papier mache then covered in beads, the shapes are all but lost, mere whispers of their original objecthood. The effect is that of swaddling or funerary encasing: the softness of the furry thing buried beneath so many luxe layers of stained glass, rendered crystalline and so heavy it could never be played with again. 

Markovitz’s work has always been a little unsettling, and a lot uncanny. Her subjects are the stuff of fetishization, and by further fetishizing the objects of our collective, culturally-vetted desires—dogs, toys, trophies, dolls—those relationships are not so much questioned as they are observed, with patience and morbid curiosity. The human connection to dogs is an odd one: For what other species do we so eagerly grovel to pick up their shit, or take out for spa days? We build parks for them and socialize them. Markovitz’s fascination with her own local dog park simultaneously unfolds like a TV drama with beloved characters, while scratching at the absurdity of human impulses, winkingly hinting that the things we cherish the most unwittingly reflect both our darkest and brightest desires.