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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Quoth the Raven

 About a year ago, artist and editor Jeff Menges commented to me that I should consider doing a show about corvids, specifically ravens and crows. He knew I had a thing for crows: I had been keeping tabs on the mated pair that lived in my neighborhood for years, and they often popped up in my artwork. I'd been devouring the works of author and avian expert John Marzluff, marveling at the intelligence and marvelous adaptation this bird possesses. I also knew that for some strange reason, crow and raven art tended to sell quicker than any other animal or bird art at Krab Jab Studio. Even skull studies sold to eager collectors.

"Corvidae Skull", Benjamin A Vierling
I ran the idea by a few artists and illustrators to gauge interest. A barrage of positives came back at me. I think the only reason that some of them weren't able to participate had more to do with time constraints than interest.

People simply love this black bird.

Crows and ravens weren't always so loved. In fact, not too long ago the American Crow was the target of a mass holocaust, with thousands being destroyed, often in very bloody ways (such as blowing up their roosts with dynamite). They were considered a pest by farmers (think "scarecrow"), despite their usefulness at eating the bugs and worms that threatened crops far worse than they did. Honestly, the crow (and it's shy cousin, the raven) challenges our belief that we, Man, are the superior rulers of this earth. When we look to the sky in the western hemisphere, it is that black bird that dominates. Wily, social, talkative, clever, playful, excellent parents, scavengers, with amazing memories, the raven and crow simply challenge our superiority. And they crap on our cars. On purpose.

I was really curious to see what artists would come up with for this show. My one worry was that we would have multiple images of a Raven cawing ominously at something in the distance, but I was pleasantly surprised at the pieces I received (although we did get an excellent example of the raven caw in Halsey Swain's work).
"Raven", Halsey Swain
Myth was a popular topic. Morrigan, the Irish triple-goddess who often took form of the crow in battle, is featured in the work of Yoann Lossel and David Thierree (and hinted at in Olivier Villoingt's dark drawing) - all three artists hail from Brittany, France (a coincidence that they chose this Celtic goddess? Possibly!).
"La Morrigan", Yoann Lossel

"The Soul of War", Olivier Villoingt

"Morrigan", David Thierree
Norse's god Odin kept two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, that brought him news all around the world, the subject of which Echo Chernik, Jason Engle and Stephanie Pui-Mun Law tackled.
"Huginn ok Muginn", Echo Chernik

"The Messenger", Jason Engle

"Raven-god", Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
The crow as a symbol of omen was chosen by artists Braden Duncan and Margaret Organ-Kean. The divine roots of counting crows (called orniscopy, or divination by observing birds) was reduced to a folksy rhyme by the 18th century.
"One for Sorrow", Braden Duncan

"Corvimancy", Margaret Organ-Kean
Crows and ravens in literature was also tackled. Edgar Allan Poe's classic poem The Raven was the subject of Stefanie Vega and Samuel Araya, and hinted at by Robert Tritthardt. Poul Dohle referenced the Raven King from Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Allen Williams ties the corvid and the book together beautifully in his graphite drawing.
"Sentimental Damned", Stefanie Vega

"Dark Wings", Robert Tritthardt

"Plutonian Shore", Samuel Araya
"Raven King", Poul Dohle
"If Beauty were a Book", Allen Williams
The magical, shamanic qualities of crows and ravens were apparent in three pieces by Sandra Everingham, Yuko Ishii and Yvette Endrijautzki. It's interesting to note that while we think of crows and ravens as a more masculine symbol, there is a very strong element of the feminine in these works, especially when seen in the positive, mystical aspects of the crow and raven. Perhaps our ancestors have noted the strong maternal connections crows have to their chicks - they make very protective and loving parents, with the female patiently teaching her young what to eat, how to speak, and how to behave long after most chicks leave the nest.
"Transmutation", Sandra Everingham

"Die Raben Koenigin", Yvette Endrijautzki

"Entrance (Healing Magick)", Yuko Ishii
 Our macabre obsession with crows and ravens is reflected in Kyle Abernethy and Jethaniel Peterka's work. Even Benjamin Vierling's simple skull study has a slight sinister element to it. Death permeates the world of crow and raven - infamous scavengers of carrion, we naturally connect them with death. Even the wistful works of Jeff Menges and ShirrStone Shelter Dolls touches on death.
"Dominion", Kyle Abernethy

"Visitation", Jethaniel Peterka


"Lignum Corvus "RAMUM"", ShirrStone Shelter Dolls

"Bare Branches and Dark Wings", Jeff Menges
Crows are silly birds, they really are. Coupled with another silly animal, Drew Tucker anthropomorphizes the crow in his painting, further reflecting our strong connection to this bird.
"Family portrait:  Putnam Co. #8", Drew Tucker
Sara Otterstatter uses her work to tackle the very really issue of extinction: the Pied-Raven is now extinct, and there are a few other breeds of crow that are on the verge of extinction, notably the Hawaiian Alala Crow, of which there are less than 100 left in captivity. A portion of our proceeds will go to support crow conservation and research.
"Nevermore: The Pied-Raven", Sara Otterst├Ątter
-Julie Baroh, January 2014

NOTE: We will be having one last hurrah on January 30th, 5 - 8 pm! If you are local to Seattle, come visit and see the show - including all the European pieces stuck in customs during our opening reception!