From the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association – Where Every Story Has Three Sides
By Vanessa Moore Ardolino, Wedge Arts Reviewer
While I was doing my arts reviewer thing – dutifully studying artist Denise Rouleau’s technique on a miniature cat figurine – at the Douglas Flanders & Associates Fine Art Gallery, a couple from White Bear Lake stepped through the front door. The moment the woman cleared the threshold, she cooed with pleasure.
“Look at all the kitties,” she exclaimed. She smiled as she stood before the main attraction of Rouleau’s show, “Unleash the Cats . . . Terra-Gatto Warriors,” 50 larger-than-life statues of warrior cats. Her cry compelled me to reassess how I was looking at Rouleau’s exhibit. I needed to let their kitty-ness approach me playfully, and to appreciate the figures as more than just intriguing manipulations of clay.
Shrouded in woven strips of tan burlap, the feline army centerpiece is meant to echo another art exhibit happening nearby.
Rouleau has been making cat figurines for about five years, but after learning about the Chinese terra cotta warriors on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, she thought it would be fun to create a series of pieces that give a nod to the 2,000-year-old figurines. While her cats stand with the same historic solemnity as the Chinese warriors, the toy mouse Rouleau placed in front of her army, reminds us of a feline’s ability to lighten the mood of any setting.
As evidenced by the woman from White Bear Lake, visitors are immediately drawn to the warrior cats. Each of the eyeless faces is unique – painted in grays, blacks, oranges, browns, and tans. It may take a while for people to notice there are 10 other pieces on the walls, and many of them have a similar streak of humor running through them. Some of the pieces were made earlier as an offshoot of a series Rouleau does with her studio mate, Mark Roberts, called “Art of the Catacomb.”
“I guess I couldn’t resist making a ‘cat-acomb,’” the Seward resident said.
“I sculpt the cats in low fire clay by hand and use some fine pointed rubber ended clay tools for their faces,” Rouleau said in an email. “I don’t look at cats while I sculpt and paint them because I don’t want to get caught up in the realism…. It’s been fun watching people find their cats in the work and listening to their personal interpretation.”
Rouleau weaves cat legends from many different cultures into her works, as well as surprising bits of pop culture.
If you remember the television show, “Hee Haw,” you might recall the lyric that Rouleau chose as a title for my favorite piece: “If It Weren’t For Bad Luck, I’d Have No Luck at All.” Referencing the negative attributes pinned to black cats, she covered a set of cat figurines with black flocking powder, making their little bodies absorb the light.
In the “Glitter Kitty Brigade,” miniature cats are covered in glitter “calico,” and look like tiny soldiers.
The “Book of Desire” consists of an open wooden “book.” On one side, six gray and red mummy cats – about two inches tall – crane their necks to look at the opposite page where a mummy bird, with yellow feathers, is positioned.
This is a show for cat aficionados of all stripes, even those who don’t own cats . . . Like Rouleau herself.
Terra-Gatto warriors is on display until February 2 (her next show will be later this month with Roberts at the Phipps Center in Hudson, WI). Flanders is located at 910 Lake Street. For more information visit www.flandersart.com or call 612.791.1285.