Dan Attoe

Forest for the trees

Dan Attoe's "Landscapes and Water" at Fourteen30 Contemporary in Portland

I want to smile because Dan Attoe’s drawings in the front room of Fourteen30 Contemporary are unexpectedly cute, as if they were taken from a children’s book. On the other hand, the words that accompany many of these drawings are darker, sometimes untoward, and therefore more along the lines of what I have come to expect from Attoe. These little disjointed stories would not make a good bedtime story for one’s three-year-old. Even adults might chuckle nervously when they’re alone. But unless the setting is therapy or a 12-step meeting, the subject matter is often something most folks wouldn’t care to discuss, let alone share. A Potteresque bunny rabbit appears to be saying, “Stop making games that you’ll never be able to solve”; in another, a kitty clings to its branch, and instead of “Hang in there,” we get, “Struggles with alcohol.”

Each drawing has five or six of these images floating around a central vignette that typically reflects the title of the piece. The central image in “Children” is a dark forest with a light from above that shines so bright, it illuminates the figures in a clearing to the point that they appear to be ghosts. Crowning this scene is a miniature mantel of flowers on either side of a gingerbread house. Below both the house and the woods we find “There are little silvery whispers all around you. They all know something you don’t.” The aforementioned rabbit is at the top of the paper, other little drawings scattered about. A wind-blown dog’s head has the side-caption “Charlize Theron.” A Playboy bunny with matching ears and old-school stripper pasties has the word “Children” written next to it in smeared graphite. A mouse trapped in a glass jar is at the bottom of the piece. But what gets my attention more than any of the above is a snowman-shaped gourd with the caption, “I talk to kids.”

Not in the least comforting.

Continues…