Susan Danis fine art

"CART" (detail) :: assemblage

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DeWitt Cheng:

Love + Pleasure

Love + Pleasure is the title of this show by painter Livia Stein and sculptor Susan Danis, both mid-career East Bay artists. Their work is exuberantly imaginative, sometimes to the point of bizarreness (and that's a good thing), and their visions complement each other synergistically, to use a 1980s business buzzword. Stein's painterliness (hard-won, of course) in her oils ("Boat," "Two Heads," "Bird with Rocks," "Megaphone" and "Self-Portrait with Pink Frame"), monoprints and gouaches communicates delight and curiosity rather than archetypal AbEx angst (which is not so terrible either, despite its current fashionable disfavor).

Danis's omnivorous list of materials-which includes synthetic kumquat garlands, feather boas, anal plugs (!), human hair, fluffy slippers, a centipede, a raccoon skull, and a freeze-dried mole-- produces assemblages of cheerful weirdness ("Octopus Egg," "Coiffure," "Frog Egg," "Hair Ball"). Nice turnout from the North and East Bay crowds for San Rafael's 2nd Friday Art Walk along 4th Street; women nicely turned out in red and pink are a nice change from San Francisco Art Ninja Black.

DeWitt Cheng for ArtBusiness, May 15, 2011.

Diana Lynn:

Susan Danis & Livia Stein

What a great pairing of artists. And kudos go to the person who installed this exhibit. The work is stupendous and vibrant, as are the artists. One is a painter and printmaker, the other makes sculptures using any number of things. Their work combined makes you want to chuck the black out of your wardrobe, makes you wonder what sissies make decisions about the public art on display in American cities today: Big Anchors, Arrows, Cows and Hearts.

I was so very pleased to see these two together, Livia and Susan. They are so comfortable to be with you can have tea with them for hours. They are so comfortable with this work that has their rather outrageous personal stamp all over it. Livia, deep into color and lines that make your eyes dance, forms and narratives that make you want to go to that magical kingdom and live with these people. Susan, whose sculptures are vibrant, glossy and soft and weird and wonderful. They are like giant toys and jewels.

After hanging out with this work and with these ladies for awhile, you realize the cliché is true: “it’s all good”. Actually, you also see that some of us hipsters are also a bit sissy. We could all wear flowers in our hair, could let it all hang out, could jazz things up a bit, eh?

Dare you.

From Diana Lynn Art Tours, June 17, 2011.

Kylie Mendonca:

Strange Gifts: yin-yang of artful unpredictability

Livia Stein arrived before the opening of her shared art exhibit "Love and Pleasure" at Art Works Downtown in San Rafael wearing a vintage gold-and-gray striped dress, green tights and a row of clanking bracelets on each wrist. "I'm the 2-D person," she announced, gesturing to the colorfully layered paintings and prints on the wall.

Throughout the gallery stood found object sculptures made by Stein's friend and fellow artist Susan Danis, who arrived minutes later with her own clanking wrist ornaments and fuchsia ensemble. The colorful duo's current show, "Love and Pleasure," runs through June 17, and viewers' only expectations should be for the unexpected. "We do stuff that's kind of far out there," Danis says. "It's just absurd to think everyone's going to like it."

Both Danis and Stein share a penchant for eccentric fashion, bright colors and candid discourse, though their delivery is unique: Stein is the pragmatist; Danis, the fantasist. Stein's work is color, imagery—brushstrokes fixed to canvas; Danis' sculptures seem to have their own gravity, as if they had spontaneously materialized with objects pulled from their resting place into piles and spheres.

"Susan makes certain things look easy," Stein says. "It's so deceptive."

Stein motions toward a metal net full of fist-sized jewels that hangs at the front of the gallery. Danis wove the net in which the jewels rest, but it's easy to overlook the craftsmanship, simply because it's very precise. Many of her pieces incorporate woven structures, such as a pillow full of bones, coral, dentures and God knows what else—and a giant human hairball (six months' worth of floor trimmings from Supercuts)—ensconced in a wire sphere.

Hung side by side, their works play like a conversation between old friends, each alternately playful then dark, witty and then flippantly dismissive of convention. One gets the feeling from Stein's work that painted lines must continue off canvas and onto the wall of her studio, where she's still coloring outside the lines.

"I decided a long time ago," Stein says, "that there's no waiting for something called a muse—the muse never comes."

Despite their cheerful palette, Stein's paintings have dark undertones. A series on flight, for example, features abstractions of military planes and helicopters, splatters of red pigment, and as such are vaguely hostile. Her own self-portrait depicts a frowning woman, which she attributes to staring in the mirror too long.

"A lot of people don't see the mixed messages in my work," Stein says, "and if they don't see it, I don't break their hearts and tell them."

Stein recently bought for Danis a taxidermied goat as a gift. A strange gift, yes—the type of gift she didn't know she wanted until she got it. The goat, it turns out, is a perfect metaphor for their show: it's an unusual offering that inspires the viewer, when perhaps the viewer didn't even know she wanted to be inspired.

"Love and Pleasure" runs through June 17 at Art Works Downtown. 1337 Fourth St., San Rafael. Reception, June 10, 5-8pm. 415.451.8119.

DeWitt Cheng:

Susan Danis: "Celebrating the Universe" at Artzone 461

Surrealism extolled the imaginative transformation of found objects (objets trouves) as exemplified in Meret Oppenheim's iconic fur-lined teacup. East Bay artist Susan Danis continues that tradition, transforming anonymous materials into strange and funny objets d'art. An intrepid scavenger, Danis forages in thrift stores and hardware stores for socks, shoes, dentures, toys, garters, feather boas, dolls, rope, hearing-aid cord, shoelaces, and parakeet bells; and in nature (as well as specialized shops) for amber, coral, barnacles, feathers, horns, claws, pearls, teeth, fish vertebrae, human and animal hair, and the odd freeze-dried mole. These improbable ingredients populate her offbeat eggs, pendants, shrines and articles of furniture.Frog Egg is a glass sphere containing silicone super balls bearing tiny, plastic, bouncing baby animals; Octopus Egg is a terracotta oval studded with glass light-bulb sockets, like potato eyes; and Peacock Egg, with its cracked shell of ceramic and stained-glass patches, exudes fragility despite its size and apparent heft. Danis's globular pendant sculptures, which hang from the ceiling, generally suspended by heavy chains with large hooks, include Rococo Pleasure Ball, a fluorescent orange, hot pink and lime-green fantasia of doggie chew toys and plastic beads; and Snake Ball, a colony of interlaced vipers composed of interlaced rubber piping and metal chain. Among the shrine sculptures are Partial Palate Reliquary, a gloriously opulent triptych of dentures, pet brushes, and taxidermy glass eyes, everything set within a gum-like red matrix, with a central orifice exuding a hairy tongue; Rapunzel's Hair, with its family of vacuum-cleaner nozzles, suggesting both lampreys and phalluses, framed by braided tresses; and Industrial Coral Reliquary, baby hippo teeth and a strand of silvered coral displayed to advantage against black velvet in a gilded baroque frame. The furniture sculptures include two Cage pieces stuffed with white feathers, but no birds, and a sequined, pretty-in-pink Loveseat made for spirited solo equitation. Art theory in recent years has denied reality; Danis' cheerfully weird fantasy, paradoxically, refutes such glum solipsism. Long live delirium.

From Art Ltd., Sept 2011. DeWitt Cheng is a freelance writer
based in San Francisco.

DeWitt Cheng:

Susan Danis: "Celebrating the Universe" at Artzone 461

Susan Danis's assemblage works in "Celebrating the World" manage to take an astonishing miscellany of salvaged and scavenged pieces—"toys, pickled snakes, used shoe laces; hot pink feather boas, dentures, parakeet bells, garters, fresh water pearls, hair, innards, freeze-dried moles and tentacles"—and give them compelling esthetic form, imbued with her contagious and exuberantly weird sense of humor—a nice mind-meld of the usually antithetical Pop and Beat sensibilities.

From ArtBusiness Review, June 19, 2010.

Eric Smillie:

Art from the Sole

Susan Danis says yes to the universe. It started with painted mud skulls, then it was a 7-foot-long horse costume complete with a hot pink tail. Things have only gotten wilder since then.

"If I feel the desire very strongly to make something, no matter how preposterous it is, I will do it," declares the 51-year-old Berkeley, Calif., artist. "Because the ideas are from the collective unconscious, and why would I censor that?"

A pack rat since she's had pockets, Danis collects dried worms, gloves, and old socks. She lists the scrap yard across the bay in Petaluma as a favorite place: "It's the only thing I've found that's really as beautiful and compelling and visually interesting as a Parisian cemetery."

And she's tapped the community to satisfy her cravings. "These oral surgeons are giving me the teeth of the people of Berkeley in return for Jack Daniel's and chocolates," she explains.

"When I was making my giant hairball, I went to Supercuts for six months every day to collect the floor sweepings; I had my own bucket there," she adds.

Danis also spent 16 hours at a time amassing objects during the city's now-discontinued annual large trash day, including many that found their way into Bed.

Starting with an old French frame, she laid down a mattress wrapped in a pee-stained, thrift-store sheet. Then, with heavy fishing line, she tied shoes, ice skates, and galoshes to a quilt covered in velvet and added horns, a human skill, and a hairy Patagonian armadillo. She wove a loose pillowcase from shoelaces found on the street and stuffed it with stingray teeth, dentures, horse jaws, a raccoon skull, a centipede, and the bill of a swordfish.

"I try to embrace the universe as it is," explains Danis. "It tends tooffer the lobster combo plate, so that's reflected in my work; I also offer the lobster combo plate."

From Craft, Volume 10. Eric Smillie.

Art Hazelwood:

"New Hybrids" at Peninsula Art Center

...Then it proceeds to exaggerate the natural shapes and the phenomena of reality into indefiniteness and disproportion, to intoxicate itself in them, to seethe and ferment in them, to do violence to them, to distort and explode them into unnatural shapes, and strives by the variety, hugeness and splendour of the forms employed to exalt the phenomenon to the level of the Idea.

lectures on aesthetic (1835), friedrich hegel

Surrealism officially died out before World War II, but Surrealism as a concept has stayed with us. It is a term rife with preconceptions and commonly dismissed as so many dripping clocks. However, there has always been a much broader stream that flows through the realm of Surrealism. As a movement Surrealism goes beyond its historical moment and remains accessible and fertile for both viewers and artists alike. This could not be said of the more specific movements Dada, Cubism or Futurism. Surrealism has become synonymous with a way of viewing the world, but just what is essential to that world is a difficult question to address.

The Peninsula Museum of Art's Hybrids: The New Surrealists exhibition running through January 7, 2007, answers the question of what constitutes Surrealism with a show of surprising breadth - 58 pieces - in a two room exhibition. The success of this show rests on eleven diverse artists whose work connects somewhere in the aesthetic land that is Surrealism. Many of these artists could be shown in any number of contexts. Mark Grim's paintings could be viewed as formalist abstractions, Gary-Paul Prince's paintings could fit right into a political art show. However each of these artists in their own way have picked up strands of Surrealism and carried them forward. What defines their work is therefore partially the context of this show and the interrelation between the pieces and partially the context of the very term Surrealism. But while a stronger connection between the work is at once visually apparent, defining that connection is elusive.

According to curator DeWitt Cheng that connection can be summarized in the word hybrid: the mixing or cross pollination of forms. This definition resonates through the exhibition. The works on display share a sense of dissonance and incongruity. The hybrid of violence and religion in the pop culture inspired work of Gary-Paul Prince; the hybrid of death and fetishism in the assemblages of Susan Danis; the hybrid of flat abstraction contrasted with suggestions of tightly cramped spaces in Mark Grim's colorful paintings. One searches for a theme that links all these hybridizations together in vain. Is it the use of organic forms? Is it the psycho-sexual nature of the work? Is it decadence or decay or lost belief, or spiritual longing? None of these thematic relations hold all the work together. But the contrasting of opposites, the distorting of opposing visions to create something new and unknowable through purely rationalistic (realistic) means, stands out as a shared quality.

It is this use of distortion, and the incongruent in pursuit of an idea, that defines Surrealism in this show; not an idea held captive but a pursuit of elusive knowledge. To that end these artists of disparate vision take their stand. William Harsh in bold strokes and strong colors makes recognizable objects into a series of iconic elegiac statements. His work connects to the non-French school of Surrealism. Like De Chirico it is laden with a sense of longing, like Max Ernst it has a mock heroic element. In Achilles Inside Out, one feels all the pathos of great plans gone awry. The painting, Ice Age, suggests detritus on a beach bringing itself together in the form of a chariot of hubris and ennui while pushing towards a failed future.

Gary-Paul Prince is more direct and certainly less heroic. His painting, Our Lady of Naked Aggression, takes deadly aim at the contemporary mix of sex, religion, and violence. The meaning here is right on the surface, where the contradictions of society are played out in plain view. While the painting does not refer directly to our political moment it carries an emotional charge that could only be produced in a time gripped by such hysterias.

Arthur Bell has a series of stunningly beautiful paintings, loose in execution, harmonious in coloring, that gives the viewer entry into a very personal world. His Coming of the Lord, is a witty, original and comic piece. The archangel knitting while awaiting the arrival of the Lord is just one touch of this painting that does not go for any easy reading of eschatology. In fact it speaks both in mocking satire and with a genuine sense of spiritual longing.

DeWitt Cheng's two paintings in the show have a monumentality that is imposing and a creepiness that is offset by the muted tones and dark richness of the surface. Proto-zoological, psycho-sexual, parasitically nostalgic, these works emit a sense of majesty and decay while allowing a life raft in the form of an enigmatic epigram painted on the canvas, "All Claims, All Lust for Meaning Disappear." As in many of the works in the show the surface beauty draws the viewer in only to be confronted by the uncompromising content.

On a smaller scale the dentures among pearls in an assemblage by Susan Danis, Denture Reliquary, is another example of beauty put to work attracting and then disorienting the viewer. Danis' work is ornamental and pleasing at a distance but on closer inspection the grotesqueries become clear. The fact that these are dentures and not teeth at all, oddly adds to the sense of the macabre. But the fetishistic quality and the titles themselves suggest a mystical relation to objects. Whether the work is deifying the world or debunking the fetishism of Catholic reliquaries the artist never tilts her hand to one or the other. In her piece Wellspring, a very self contained orb with myriad drain stops attached, suggests a radical reversal of the world order. To pull out one of these stops would mean the world draining back into the primal center of the orb.

The grouping of four of John Hundt's spare collages which brings the mechanical and the organic together in elegant if menacing ways, shares this contradiction between beauty and menace. Leering eyes and sexy legs suggest relations between dismembered humanity, reduced to the essentials.

Ariel's loosely drawn, richly ornamented paintings have at once a concrete and an abstract nature. The coloring seems to cling only passingly to the figures who exist in an atmosphere of light. The paintings give an immediate impression of vitality. The subjects here are moving with determination and stern self regard while the paint flies about them. The rich textured surface and the sgraffito of some drawn lines assert at once an abstract nature to the work and a concrete sense of the physical presence of the art. Her paintings and sculpture in this show are permeated with a strong sense of the fantastic. Here more than in other works in the show we are reminded of the dream world associated with Surrealism. The term was first used by Apollinaire in describing Chagall. And these works share the deep waters of Chagall's sector of the Surrealist vision. Here is a profoundly personal vision; the central character, an actor on a stage, in a dream that is life, in profound self control, buffeted by fate.

Michael Pollice in his paintings pursues a path of distorting the human form to create emotional works that convey the surprise of psychological discovery. His figures are suggestive of Picasso's distortions and pursue the expressive nature of the human figure.

Ribitch, using digital means, creates prints on paper that explode images into densely compressed, highly chaotic textures. Entry into this world is blocked at every portal, and yet the surface is so appealing that one renews again and again an attempt to enter.

In contrast the reclining sculptures of David Dion seem to welcome entry into what seems to be dioramas of other possible worlds. Figure in Landscape, with its sphinx-like form suggests an aboriginal connection between the world and mankind. This sense of a connection between nature and humanity is done without appealing to any particular aboriginal culture. This gives the work a purity of feeling and a somewhat utopian cast.

A similarly sunny vision is portrayed in Mark Grim's abstractions. These paintings move between flat object and illusions of depth, again like in Ribitch's work alternately welcoming and warding off the viewer. But in the case of Grim's work the reward for perseverance is paid off with a snug harbor of three dimensional illusion slipped into the flat space. The space available is limited and pretty soon one is knocked out again wondering where the door was that let him in the first time.

The works in this show do not sit comfortably and politely nod in agreement. They are agitated. They stand up and offer an emotional challenge or a spiritual challenge. There is something discomforting about all of these works. The incongruity and the hybridization surprise. The incongruity between subject and surface or space and flatness, or ambition and despair leaves the viewer off balance. All of this disorientation leads to the central truth of the exhibition; that Surrealism as a way of viewing the world is not constrained by the singular historical movement, but is rather a language used to communicate the crossroads between conflicting emotional truths.

Art Hazelwood, 2006

DeWitt Cheng:

Susan Danis at the Berkeley Art Center

Given the emotional detachment of much contemporary art, it is a pleasure discovering an alternate universe as vivid and generous as Susan Danis's. The East Bay sculptor, an inveterate scavenger, delves into "the collective unconscious made manifest" (i.e.. the annual trash pickup) for the stuff to populate and nourish her teeming imagination.

Discards take on new life as suggestive curiosa; kitsch is transformed into treasure. Secret affinities between the cultural (toys, fabric, beads, locks, hooks, chains) and the natural (bones, teeth, coral, hair, taxidermic animals) emerge and guide Danis's creative process. The finished assemblages, bursting with energy, resemble Hindu temples in their exuberant profusion-plush-toy potatoes sprouting rubber eyeballs and plastic fingers- but funny, creepy and poetic. They're aesthetic rafts lashed together from the flotsam and jetsam yielded by an oceanic universe.

Above a moonlit sea in Rene Magritte's The Voyager hovers a planet composed of lion, tuba, marble Venus torso, armchair, mirror, foliage and boulder. A number of Danis's sculptures also take spherical form as clusters of objects suspended from heavy hooks and chains, like chandeliers, carcasses or wrecking balls. Unlike Magritte's familiar objects, however, forcibly compacted, Danis's imploding critical masses seem the product of agglomeration, with the elements drawn together by magnets, or mutual attraction, as if clogging some dimensional drain or black hole. Snake Ball interweaves metal and rubber car engine hoses to form a tangle of striped snakes, their heads buried, seeking warmth in numbers. Frog Egg presents a crystal sphere housing smaller tangential spheres, each containing a wriggling, quickening inhabitant; transparent superballs embedded with plastic animals become the multiple yolks of cosmic egg earth, or the crystal spheres of a new Ptolemaic bioastronomy. Castor Wheel updates Michelangelo's dictum that good sculpture be closed in form, able to be rolled downhill intact; here, the sculpture is all castors, wheels sprouting in every direction, a small moon, perhaps, orbiting some Gustonian planet of shoes and hairy legs.

Other sculptures hang on the wall, framed and formally presented, like mounted biological specimens, trophies, or reliquaries cradling saints' remains. In Pearl Reliquary what first appears an ornate rococo canister transforms into a culture of gum tissue (pink wax) embedded with glaring mute glass eyes and occluded, inward-turned mystic eyes (large pearls). The florid v-shaped frame, vertical axis of lustrous plated coral and puppet-like bachelor figures (baby hippo teeth, of course) of Industrial Coral Reliquary make a glorious Freudian joke of the ever-sanguine male libido, Marcel Duchamp's Large Glass writ small. Beetle Leg magnifies an "insect part" to armored arthropod proportions and suggests polished pneumatic devices both martial and marital.

Other sculptures parody real objects or embody impossible machines. Hairball, a giant spherical scrunchy stuffed with hair, with its circular, hair-fringed orifice on top, like some horrible maw or fontanel, marries the hilarious and alarming surrealism of Meret Oppenheim's Fur-Lined Teacup with the tactile appeal of Eva Hesse's Chia-pet minimilist boxes. The antique metal frame of Bed contains scores of shoes of all colors and styles, soles up, as if a crowd of houseguests had dived in, never to retrieve thiir things and go home. The dimpled metal sphere of Wellspring, covered with drainage plugs and their chained stoppers, suggests World War II submarine mines, or black holes magically trapped, recalling other mad and maddening gizmos like Duchamp's cryptic Hidden Object and Oppenheimer's Fat Man, back on the art radar screen in recent weeks.

At the end of the philosophical comedy My Dinner with Andre, Wally, exasperated with Andre's esoteric adventures, asserts the essential unity of reality: ". . . why do we require a trip to Mount Everest in order to be able to perceive one moment of reality? Is Mount Everest more real than New York? Isn't New York real? I mean, I think if vou could become fully aware of what existed in the cigar store next to this restaurant, it would blow your brains out." One theory about the central panel in Hieronymus Bosch's Garden Earthly Delights has it representing human life, innocent, playful and joyous, had the Fall never occurred, had mankind never been forced to choose between seraphic bodiless spirituality and brutal mindless torture. Danis's metaphysical vaudeville, with its love of high and low, its acceptance of the quirky, tragic and absurd, and its alchemical transfornation of refuse into gold, makes us feel, in Ana Fox-Hodess's words, "ashamed of our own discomfort and our inability to embrace the stuff of the universe with Danis's unconditional pleasure."

DeWitt Cheng is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.

Jeff Greenwald:

Pleasure and Other Pleasures

Honestly, cyberpals, I don't know what kind of weird-ass art you're into, but I saw a show today that amazed me - as I knew it would, after seeing the invitation. The work is by East Bay artist Susan Danis, and the show is called PLEASURE. There are 33 sculptures in the show (at the Berkeley Art Center), all assemblages. Danis' materials include everything and anything she can find, wherever she can find it, from the floor of Supercuts to the oral surgeon's trash bin: human hair, socks, rubber snakes, locks, teeth, nets and chains, bull testicles, tails and manes, freeze-dried moles and anal plugs, cigar tips and natural pearls, giant gems and glass eyes.

Photography can't do her work justice, but I'm sticking a couple in anyway to provide the vaguest perimeter of Danis' often disturbing, sometimes hilarious, always astonishing vision. The show is only up until 15 October - but you can also see her terrifying Knife Sphere on permanent display at Studio 333, in Sausalito. (It's not there permanently, but it will be there awhile.) It's like a giant, lethal snowflake made of hundreds of knives, bayonets, machetes, etc. Very sharp.

Jeff Greenwald blogs @

Ana Fox-Hodess:

Susan Danis, "Pleasure"

Bay Area assemblage artist Susan Danis works at making connections, both physical and psychological. Her sculpture is built with carefully collected and selected found objects. Each work, by its very nature, connects seemingly unrelated items. Giant glass gems hang from a fishing net, smelly old shoes form a bed's quilt, and winter gloves are filled with the stuffing of disemboweled sofas. Teeth and hair and hardware and children's playthings come together in Danis's works, forming an unlikely network of materials.

She does not shy away from the repulsive or the disturbing. Instead, Danis embraces the world at face value, and she finds beauty in even its ugliness. "Everything is mixed together," she says, "and there's beauty to it." Danis gives new meaning to the phrase "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

Garbage night provides her best occasion to collect materials and allows her to tap into her community's collective unconscious, as she calls it. She may spend years collecting for a single piece, forming connections with people in her quest for materials.

Many of Danis's pieces present a tug-of-war between attraction and repulsion, with neither force coming out a clear winner. That is exactly how Danis wants it. In a world full of both the beautiful and the awful, Danis is unconcerned with creating pretty art, although a certain visual harmony permeates all of her works. She focuses instead on forging connections and examining how both the good and the bad can coexist. Danis describes her art as dialogue with the universe about what it means to be human and a woman and living today. She is compelled to create, not for a final product, but for the connections she makes as she goes.

While not overtly political, undertones of social criticism, particularly derisive of puritanical American attitudes toward sex, pervade her sculpture. Danis shies away from identifying her art as political and avoids creating didactic art. She wants viewers to experience her art their own way, rather than imposing her experience or opinion onto them.

All of her work has tactile appeal. Danis uses materials like hair and teeth to make people relate to her objects physically. She hopes that the relationships people acknowledge and discover with her art cause them to "feel things in their guts." She relishes the feedback people have given her in her comment book, and counts audience reaction as just one more of the connections that her art has allowed her to form.

It is difficult to categorize reactions to her work. Looking at her art one has the feeling of discovering some unmentionable taboo, as if a child has sneaked into a forbidden room and seen something not meant to be seen. This sense of voyeurism is heightened by Danis's layering of materials. To see any piece completely, it is necessary to peer through several layers of stuff, and even then the center of each piece is often obscured.

All of Danis's work, even her darkest subject matter, is handled with the raw frankness of a child's perception. Her work is shocking in its bluntness. Danis makes otherwise repulsive objects captivating by simply not being repulsed by the objects herself. At first glance, Danis's art makes one feel guilty for looking at something illicit. In the end, however, her works make us feel most ashamed for our own discomfort and our inability to embrace the stuff of the universe with Danis's unconditional pleasure.

Ana Fox-Hodess is an intern at the Berkeley Art Center.
She is a senior at Miramonte High School in Orinda.

Gretchen Giles:

Growed Up

Hair and teeth and dung and bone. Pull and bull and tongue and donkey. Children's collections and grandmothers' vanities and adult dirty secrets and rusty old bedsprings and a sweet slice of brain, served up by a xylophone. Oh my!

How does childhood appear once one is firmly on the wrong side ofthe Garden gate, Paradise lost, erotic knowledge found, some of it mourned? In two very different Sebastopol exhibits, East Bay assemblagist and photographer Susan Danis . . . peers in, nose pressed up.

Showing . . . at the MeSH Gallery, Danis' "Earthly Delights" exhibit presumes the prissy concerns ofa woman's World War I1 vanity table as seen with the disgustless awe of a child crouched under the ruffle. From that vantage, one could silently witness the indignities of maintaining dignity: false teeth, matted brushes, wigs and extensions, the midget denture of filthy seed pearls. How does the harridan in curlers emerge an hour later better resembling a movie star? Through gunk and yuck and damned hard work.

Turning the homely domesticity of vacuum hose heads into dusty vulvas (Rapunzel's Hair), Danis often builds within a traditional painting's frame, a lurid girly-pink plastic stuff weighing down her unlikely objects. The surface looks satiny and plump, like the cheap sheen of a Valentine chocolate box, yet it is as resinous and thick as the waxy callus of a hardened foot.

The childhood mania for collections, notably seashell collections, is booted upside down in such works as Eraser Head Mandala. Here, whitened shells are fenced back into the frame with yellowing molars, ivorying plastic Tiparillo cigar filters, an oversized house fly, and pencil erasers flattened by foot or tooth or both. The uncanny melody of the color of Danis'objects is as lyrical as their proximity is unsettling.

Painstakingly wrought, Danis'other assemblage pieces showcase careful years of pack-rat wonder. Eggs such as Faberge never imagined sit on pedestals, obsessively covered in a writhing of Medusa-like metal bungees that connect and snake all over (Spring Egg); keys intact, shackled entirely in useless doorlocks (Locks, Hair, Hooks); or as blind as a hirsute cousin of the Addams Family (Uovo Peloso). But perhaps it's her photographs that are the most fun, if fun indeed is to be had within this knowingly naive look at adulthood. Flawlessly composed shots such as Feast place a silky plate of skinned bull testicles in heartbreaking proximity to a woman's naked breasts. Color photos juxtapose internal organs with toddler's instruments, snarls of dime-store yarn, the oily sheen of a tomato seed. The colors draw in, the subjects surprise.

Both compelling and repelling,"Earthly Delights" nonetheless forgives us for being flawed and wasteful and human-for growing old-in a way that childhood's own immortal rigor never does.

Gretchen Giles writes for THE BOHEMIAN