Maryanna H. Ingle


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“Jellyphant” by Maryanna H. Ingle

As an art form, illustration has its limitations: unlike the density of painted works where color and form exist to create a balance (or imbalance as the case may be), the illustrator must rely almost exclusively on the line, the calculated precision of pencil against paper, without the forgiveness of the sweeping brushstroke. Subject is what matters.  Character provides the narrative balance. Almost all art begins this way: sketchbooks of the masters can be curious artifacts of early ideas and developments that give a special glimpse into the artists’ inner clockworks. Illustration is the bare bones of art, the peek behind the canvas curtain and there are few who have bravely set out to prove it as equal and worthy a medium as the fine art set.

Most of us are familiar with illustration through children’s books: Victorian-era artists like John Tenniel (Alice in Wonderland) and Kate Greenaway (Marigold Garden) come instantly to mind and later, Edward Gorey’s famously morbid grotesques like The Gnashlycrumb Tinies. Now Portland illustrator Maryanna H. Ingle suffuses these influences into her first solo show, a collection of nearly 50 individual works under the banner of ‘Portraits.’

With whimsy and an eye for invention, Ingle’s ‘portraits’ are studies in satire: a set of five ‘mounted trophy’ heads display comically profane animal hybrids as if they were captured on the Island of Dr. Moreau.   Featured are a ‘Wolfaffe’ (wolf + giraffe), a ‘Jellyphant’ (a sublimely fused elephant and jellyfish), and a ‘Cabbit’ (a dour-looking cat crossed with a rabbit that would have made Chuck Jones proud).   Each of her ‘trophies’ is a delight of detail and personality.   Ingle’s pencil work is precise and the size of the pieces (each is approximately 3 x 5) means each requires more attention that a simple cartoon: her pieces gape at us, almost daring to come to life – and all done in glorious black and white.

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‘Odalisque’ by Maryanna H. Ingle

Large-scale pieces abound in this collection, the most winning being the highly colored ‘Odalisque’ – a classically posed and partially naked woman with a blue beehive reclines against an elegant divan in a fantastical Persian setting.  A small snake winds about her ankle. A detached-looking gentleman in white wearing a turban, indicating some sort of possible royal status stands almost ominously by.  The smoke from his pipe drifts over the woman, undulating like the curves of her legs and hips.  Is she is offering or his prize? The scene is draped in blood-red curtains, perhaps suggesting we are watching a performance of some sort – or, more interestingly, that we are the ones being watched.

Ingle clearly has an appreciation for fairytale that is brought to abundant life in the black and white ‘Oh Man, Please Don’t Let This End,’ a fantastical piece presenting Pinnochio’s ever-growing proboscis as the ‘foundation’ for dreams: Bigfoot, a mermaid, a pirate ship, Frankenstein and others make their home along his famous lie detector.

This theme is continued with ‘Wolf Mother,’ a simple, elegant sketch that looks like it must have popped out of an early draft of Little Red Riding Hood: the smiling face of a wolf’s head on a woman’s body, cradling a swaddled infant.  She is perched on a wooden barrel in an open forest, surrounded by various peeking animals, the scene framed by a gauzy almost invisible curtain.

With the ‘Wedding of Frankenstein,’ Ingle takes a humorous look at the gentle monster and his obviously pregnant bride with the piled shock of hair, mocking the cinematic images they are based upon as he literally gives her his beating heart, straight from his hands.

The consistency of Ingle’s work is what shines throughout: exaggerations, elongated noses and chins, saucer-like eyes and sardonic expressions.  With ‘The Widow’ Ingle introduces us to an almost skeletal figure, with an impossibly long nose, dead mink around her neck, an eye patch and wooden leg.  Is she Blackbeard’s widow or a long-lost cousin of Mrs. Havisham, left to rot in her rotted elegance?  Is she both?

Though Ingle displays a tremendous gift for narrative, not all her pieces share the same level of quality: her ‘Three Vintage Nudes’ offer nothing new in terms of invention, though her skill at conveying the drama and decadence of these three silent-era beauties is remarkable.   One gets the feeling you have seen them somewhere else, but their playfulness and presentation are without question.

In ‘The Dinner,’ one of the three colored pieces on exhibit, she attempts an Elizabethan tale, with four well-sated figures in ruff collars seated around a messy dining table, covered in the crumbs of their late feast.   These nobles eat with their bare hands, lacking the grace of manner their serene expressions and fine clothes would indicate.   The value of these lords and ladies is captured in the subtle details: behind them is a small portrait of a dog in a ruff collar.

One of the most strangely disturbing pieces – perhaps in the wake of the Air France disaster – is ‘Drowning,’ a large work of free-floating bodies all sketched in black and white, drifting through a light-streaked ocean of startling blue.  The simple figures lack expression and easy definition – they are simply lost, clothing and hair billowing around them, bodies strangely peaceful in their languid motion of death.

In another time and place, Maryanna’s work might have been featured in a magazine like Punch with the caricatures of George Cruikshank, or they may have sat alongside Aubrey Beardsley’s erotica; her surrealist narratives might even put her in the company of Edward Gorey or, more recently, Tim Burton.   She belongs in the family of these whimsical satirists and fantasists with their macabre and witty senses of humor.  There is more than a hint of a glint in the eye of a not-so-subtle imp of the perverse. Her attempts at large-scale pieces is brave and takes a gentle stab at the aesthetics of decorative or fine art, but I honestly hope she will scale down in the future, utilizing her talents for illustrated fiction, a genre she seems born for: a child’s book – for adults.

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Maryanna H. Ingle’s show, “Portraits” runs through the month of June at Gallery Zero in Portland, Oregon.

littleme_biggerBorn and raised in the Pacific Northwest , DJ Young is a writer, blogger and part-time collector of rare words, now working on her first novel. You may visit her blog here: www.dijeratic.wordpress.com