Disarming Humor

A look at the use of humor in art

HUMOROUS ART

Any artist who attempts to capture something of real life in their work must achieve a balance of light and dark. And just as they use chiaroscuro in the formal element of their work, just as they play with brightness and shadow, they can use the balance of light-heartedness and profundity to powerful effect. Throughout history, artists have used wit and humor to draw viewers in, to throw them off-guard, or to provoke them to question what they see. Through satire, whimsy, absurdity or visual punning, artists use humor to make their work more honest, more human, more surprising and more accessible.

Susan Sills makes life-size freestanding cutout versions of famous paintings to frame a whimsical restructuring of art history. She releases familiar images form the confinement of their frame in order to “confront the contemporary viewer in new and surprising ways that invariably provoke not only smiles but also fresh insights.” She cuts figures out of birch plywood and then recreates the original technique, “…be it the heavy impasto of Van Gogh or the subtle glazes of Ingres.” She brings the characters into our 21st century world, using unexpected props and surprising visual combinations to cast them in a new story.

Jennifer McCandless is constantly perplexed and fascinated by the human race, and her curiosity informs the narrative and formal qualities of her work. She sculpts in clay, concentrating mostly on the figure, but giving it movement, form and personality. Her figures are affectionately portrayed, but they’re thought-provoking and formally complex as well. “My recent work is figurative, narrative and sometimes satirical. I like to use humor and cartoonish qualities in the work as doorways to the viewer, in order to make the work accessible and the content more palatable. Many of the pieces deal with dark personal realities and ultimately I am peering into human experience trying to use expressive qualities of the clay itself.”

Joe Rohrman considers himself an advocate of the ordinary. His clay sculptures feature ordinary people in ordinary situations, but through subtle exaggeration he imbues them with individual personality. “Some of my works may have a tragic or pathetic quality, while others are whimsical or lighthearted.” But they’re all accessible and easily understood; they’re all intended to provoke a smile. Through gentle comedy he represents life as we know it, and people that we recognize.

For painter and sculpture Alex Mitchell, humor is a way to free herself from heavy expectations and to allow herself to play and grow as an artist. She’s a born storyteller, and she’s learned that the act of telling the story is as important as the final process. “Through my practice of art-making, I’ve learned that play is essential, making mistakes is part of evolving, trusting each step is better than focusing on the outcome, and taking myself less seriously is the key.” Combining this light-heartedness with intensive handwork that allows her work to cross the boundary between craft and fine art enables Mitchell to tell rich and memorable stories through her work.

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