'Comfort Creatures' invades Escondido

For those that like the weird, fun, and funky in art, the show Comfort Creatures is a must-see. Opening Dec. 9 at Distinction Gallery in Escondido, the whimsical exhibition features 30 new sculptures by artists Denise Bledsoe and Valency Genis. A veritable mind trip, the entertaining and thought-provoking pieces include bulging eyes, a mounted head holding babies, and a dressed-up flamingo, all sure to induce smiles and spark conversation.

PACIFIC caught up with the two artists before the show opens, and runs through Jan. 6, to find out more about these eye-catching characters.

PACIFIC: Your creatures are a clever mix of the whimsical and unsettling, it's impossible to look away! What was the inspiration?

BLEDSOE: I enjoy seeing the reactions of viewers no matter if positive or otherwise.  It’s fun to have my work inspire emotions but especially smiles or chuckles.

GENIS: I really do entertain myself when working in my studio. I am inspired by all creatures, but I love that I can control their aesthetic and expression.

Valency, was Dr. Seuss an influence for the mounted heads?

GENIS: Absolutely! His Unorthodox Taxidermy was beyond influential — between Seuss, Jim Henson, Tim Burton, I try to honor my heroes with every piece I make.

The bulging and disproportionate eyes demand the viewer look at them and simultaneously have the sensation they are being looked at.  What's the story behind the eyes for you as the artist?

BLEDSOE: There is something about bulgy eyes with bags under them that makes them seem vulnerable — and sleep deprived. Clients have told me they look “needy.” I like that.

GENIS: When you look at most real taxidermy pieces, they always have the doll's eyes, staring gaze — I like to keep my faux taxidermy with a similar faraway but sometimes confrontational gaze — but then often their nose will be rumpled or their mouth caught in a moment of objection. It puts a cheeky spin on the idea of these creatures that once roamed this world but were caught/killed, and then mounted as a trophy. The ridiculousness of it makes me giggle (laughs).

How did you become an artist? Did you always know?

BLEDSOE: My only interests in school were my art classes. As an adult, I’d say not a day goes by that I don’t work on or think about an art piece.

GENIS: I grew up in a family where you were either in the sciences, politics or an artist. I dabbled in physics the first time I went to college, but I ended up going back years later and fell in love with the arts — I knew it was where I really belonged.

Biggest artist influence?

BLEDSOE: The vintage, fine line work of (early 1900s illustrator) Arthur Rackham. Another favorite is (painter) Joe Sorren and how he portrays his character’s disproportionate features, and (German artist) Michael Sowa for the way he personifies whimsical animals in an almost Hudson River School (mid-19th century American art movement) background or environment.  

GENIS: (New York painter) Travis Louie, I feel like his mind is similar to mine — a world full of monsters and creatures pouring out. Along with Dr. Seuss, I adore (American illustrator) Maurice Sendak, (American writer of Little Critter) Mercer Mayer, (American children’s book author) Steven Kellogg, (American artist) James Marshall, (photographer) Peter Lippmann, (American writer and artist) Hilary Knight, (American writer) Tomie dePaola, and (American author) Richard Scarry. A lot of the children's books that I have are from the 1970s, when kids’ books weren't very (politically correct) and were kind of warped — they are hilarious to me now.

What are you doing when you aren't creating art?

BLEDSOE: The biggest part of my day is working on art but in my free time, I play with my dogs, play at the beach, visit art galleries and read art books.

GENIS: Every day when I wake up, I am so excited to get into my studio and work. I feel so fortunate to be able to be an artist. But first I take care of my mini-farm of animals — two Chihuahuas, three cats, two birds and a guinea pig.

Comfort Creatures opening reception

Enjoy live music, wine from BK Cellars, beer from Stone Brewing and ArtHatch open studios.

When: 6-10 p.m. Dec. 9

Where: Distinction Gallery, 317 East Grand Ave., Escondido

More information: 760.707.2770, distinctionart.com

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