Davidson Galleries’ exhibition is timed for Halloween but doesn’t dwell on the macabre.
It’s the season of turning leaves, lengthening nights, jack-o’-lanterns — and, if you stop by Davidson Galleries, smiling ghoulish creatures that look as if they want to both greet you and eat you.
“Twisted Impressions,” Davidson’s new group show, is nicely timed for Halloween, but it doesn’t just dwell on the macabre for the macabre’s sake. Its dystopian notes have deep resonance, prompting us to ask ourselves what kind of world we live in.
Some of the lithographs, mezzotints, etchings and engravings in the show are astonishing. Two Japanese artists, Toshihiko Ikeda and Tomiyuki Sakuta, are special standouts.
10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays through Oct. 29, Davidson Galleries, 313 Occidental Ave. S., Seattle; free (206-624-7684 or davidsongalleries.com).
Ikeda’s etching with chine-collé, “The Smiling Old King -beautiful black horns-,” is the greeter/eater who looks absolutely delighted to see you. Although he seems conjured from fluid lines and angular grotesquerie, Ikeda created him dot by dot — a painstaking and no doubt time-consuming process. Ikeda’s etching “Old Man-Q -Comfortable Coexistence-” is just as cheery and equally disturbing. Its double-faced, double-horned head seems at oddly dapper ease with its deformity.
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Sakuta’s intaglio prints are more surreal than gothic, and his miniature “portraits” are especially magical. He’s an illusionist creating anthropomorphic forms from every conceivable “material”: beads of water in “A Face of Drops,” delicate lace in “Bjorn” and squeezed fabric in “Antonov.”
Seattle’s Daniel Carrillo, best known for his faux-vintage photographs, has just one piece in the show — a mezzotint and engraving titled “Couple” — but it’s a doozy. It’s an image of mutually inflicted damage framed by harmonic interdependency. Its male nude and female nude form the illusion of a pair of scissors. Their heads are the instrument’s thumb and finger rings. Their blades are curling, whiplike extensions of their outer arms. Their tentaclelike inner arms are laced together to help them keep their balance — a good thing, considering that their lower limbs are either lopped off or replaced by hooks.
Another one-off, Valerie Syposz’s “Same as Always,” is the most chilling piece in the show. Its young woman, her eyes closed, wears what looks like a necklace, but turns out to be a strand of ribbons sutured into a gash in her neck. There’s both horror and serenity in the lifeless aspect she presents.
Where Ikeda, Sakuta, Carrillo and Syposz look nightmarishly inward, other artists lean more toward social critique. Aaron Coleman’s lithographs create church-influenced stained-glass illusions. In “Surrender of Reason,” blindfolded white doves skim a baroque sea of blood-red — an allegory, perhaps, on the perils of blind faith. In “The Vulture Eats Between Its Meals,” a birdman in flowing ecclesiastical robes prepares to slaughter and snack on a rat he’s holding in his left hand. The image is magnificent — and enough to make you question your own carnivorism.
Michael Goro’s masterful etchings and engravings envisage environmental ruin — particularly in “A Fish Rots from its Head Down,” where ecological-militaristic nightmares are just part of the decaying creature’s digestive process. Ali Norman’s plasma-cut copper-plate intaglio, “Commonly and Absurdly Called ‘Existance’ ” (the misspelling is deliberate), is a life-in-death vision that takes the form of a three-headed animal skeleton. Glimpses of mushroom patches, wooded slopes, castle staircases, a space observatory and whirling planets overhead can all be seen inside the cartoon-sharp outlines of its bones.
A few artists stick closer to sci-fi scenarios or standard-issue melting-skull thrills. But most of the work in “Twisted Impressions” is as thematically challenging as it is technically accomplished.