Life After People is the popular History Channel show that depicts Nature reclaiming the Earth in the days, months and years after people disappear from the planet. With humans gone, animals will inherit the places we once inhabited. Elephants that escape from the L.A. zoo will thrive in a region once dominated by their ancestors, the wooly mammoth. Alligators will move into sub-tropical cities like Houston, feeding off household pets. Tens of thousands of hogs domesticated for food will flourish. In a world without people, new stories of predators, survival and evolution will emerge.
In his exhibition of new works at Naples’ Gardner Colby Gallery, artist Kevin Sloan also explores the awkward interaction between animals and the man-made world in which they now live – although in a more whimsical and decidely less dystopian fashion than Life After People.
“They fumble with measuring devices and collect timepieces below the sea,” Sloan told American Art Collector magazine for a recent article (Vol. 87, January 2013) on his Modern Times collection. “They stare bewildered at piles of clocks and balance on children’s toys. In these small dramas, they actively participate in the world of modern things but with a child-like irreverence. These objects, often so valuable and revered by us are just more things to stumble over and attempt to make sense of in the animal world.”
In his paintings, Sloan combines wildlife, still life and landscape painting into a single, tightly unified composition. Each work is vivid and richly drawn. “Mr. Sloan’s distinctive work,” observes Gardner Colby Gallery, “is characterized by its opulent, lush and often tropical landscape. His allegorical paintings are both real and imagined, and invite the viewer to use one’s own intellect and awareness to create personal stories relating to each captivating painting.”
“My cast includes everything from things that live in the sea to things that fly in the air, like insects,” Sloan points out with the fondness and attachment of a novelist describing the characters in his story. Many of the usual suspects reappear in Modern Times, such as the sea turtles and whooping cranes that headlined Sloan’s 2011 Cabinet of Curiosities exhibition and the toucans, parrots, and fish that inhabit the landscapes that serve as backdrop in his 2012 Peaceable Kingdom series. But while this year red-tentacled octopus and elephants make dramatic first-time appearances, four anomalous landscapes steal this year’s show.
Like all magical surrealists, Sloan has heretofore been content to express himself allegorically. His imagery and compositions are designed to tap into viewers’ emotional reservoirs by hiding unsuspected or suggestive content in what might otherwise seem like a common, ordinary scene. But in these four landscapes, Sloan gets in his viewers’ faces. There’s no escaping Sloan’s apocalyptic warning. He skywrites We Were Everywhere, It Was Perfect and It Seemed Endless and Do You Remember above the muted mountains that separate his setting suns from orderly rows of crops framed by towering gnarly-branched trees. Absent from these compositions are both men and wildlife, perhaps signifying daily loss of farmlands and the wildlife habitats they contain due to the extreme heat and droughts associated with climate change.
But Sloan is at heart an optimist. All is not lost, at least not yet. While his animal muses struggle to make sense of man-made objects and an ecology under siege due to science, industry and overpopulation, Sloan includes a lone fisherman in Do You Remember? to suggest perhaps that while our shared habitat may be fragile, but there’s still time for hope.
Modern Times opens Thursday, January 31 with a reception for the artist from 5:30-7:30 p.m. For more information or to RSVP, please visit www.gardnercolbygallery.com or telephone 239-403-7787.
Gardner Colby Gallery is located at 386 Broad Street South in the Third Street South Gallery District. It is one of the anchors of Naples’ famed Gallery Row.