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andace Garlock’s studio in Sparks is a space full to the brim with artwork executed in a wide variety of styles—ceramic birds standing on doll legs; prints on irregularly cut paper that dangle and curl from the ceiling like sheafs of seaweed; larger-than-life photographs of male nudes.

Candace Garlock at her exhibition, Daily Nodes, at the Nevada Humanities Gallery in Las Vegas earlier this year. Photo: Ronda Churchill, courtesy of Nevada Humanities.

“I guess I like taboos,” she said of the third category. By this, she meant she likes tweaking them, though she’s not the sort of person who enjoys rubbing people’s noses in things just to get a reaction. Rather, when her interests and experiences have steered her toward taboo areas, she pushes forward, undeterred.

Fashionistas

Admittedly, “taboo-busting” won’t be the first phrase that likely comes to mind for her current show at Sierra Arts, Bird Chatter: The Rise of the Fashionistas. This is where some of the ceramic birds with doll legs are roosting. Here, Garlock is at her most goofy and accessible. The birds are rendered with cartoonish extravagance, goggle-eyed and bright-plumaged, often spackled with dots or ceramic details, as if they were magnetized to attract simpatico bric-a-brac.

This ceramic bird from the “Fashionistas” series is named after—and nods to the hairstyle of—Garlock’s granddaughter, Maddie, who was, in recent years, a toddler with gravity-defying locks. Photo courtesy of Candace Garlock.

These are portraits, filtered through avian fancy. Each one represents a family member or friend.

“Maddie,” for example, is modeled on one of her granddaughters. The tangly tufts that crown the bird’s body are a reference to the girl’s fine hair, hard to style when she was of preschool age.

The plastic flowers that cover the bird are inspired by the little girl as well. “She is a fashionista. She loves pink, and she loves girly stuff,” said Garlock.

Beyond the inviting, humorous surface, this work is intimately entwined with Garlock’s experience of COVID. The family and friends who serve as subjects are the people who were in her orbit during that period of enforced isolation—and the birds were figures who attended her when she actually contracted COVID. “I was sick … and my husband put up bird feeders right in the window where I was, where I could see them every day,” she said. “I literally just sat and did my breathing exercises, watching the birds.” She frames this body of work as a synthesis of what was right in front of her at the time.

The bird sculptures are displayed alongside linoleum cut prints that integrate them into landscapes. Garlock hops from one medium to the next. The habit partly stems from her background as an art professor at Truckee Meadows Community College, where she has to cover a lot of bases, running classes in printmaking, ceramics, digital photography and painting.

Moving through media is also a way of modulating her art practice through the constraints of multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with in 2011. Painting and drawing became more cumbersome for her—a matter of translating signals from the eye, through the brain, to the hand—a chain that is interrupted by MS’s lesions in the brain and spinal cord. Those modes of art-making became extremely fatiguing for her, and working in clay provided something of a reprieve.

“When I moved over into ceramics, I noticed that I didn’t get as fatigued,” she said. “When you think about the clay, you’re feeling your way through it. And it’s like therapy, too—just moving clay around.”

Grid-Body-Place

On the heels of the Fashionistas, Garlock is also preparing another exhibition, Grid-Body-Place, which will take place at the Lilley Museum at UNR this summer. This one will veer more frontally into taboo subjects, directly addressing the human body, with all its complications of desire and function.

Her photos of male nudes will appear in this show, forcefully organized onto a grid. The grid concept came from Garlock’s mentor, Jim McCormick, who taught at the University of Nevada, Reno, when she was an undergraduate art student in the early ’90s. McCormick used grids to reference cartography, map-making, and the human impulse to understand and control the environment. He assigned a panorama project, for which students were tasked with taking a series of overlapping photos, meant to be stitched together in Photoshop in a grid pattern.

“Range Finder Suite: Tower” a 1989 etching by Jim McCormick, is one of many pieces in which the late artist and professor used grids to reference humans’ desire to categorize and control things. Photo courtesy of the Lilley Museum of Art at UNR.

Garlock decided to apply this process to the human figure rather than to the landscape—stepping towards a cartography of the body, with all its analogies of analysis and jurisdiction. For her subject, she used her first husband.

“What happened was, at the time, my first husband—he was always naked,” Garlock explained. “He didn’t care. There was no modesty. I grew up in a household that was very strict. We did not show our body. I was just playing, and I said, ‘Well, I’m going to do this assignment with his body’ because he was just laying there, laying down.” So she opened up her tripod and got to work.

A male nude mixed media piece from 2006. Photo courtesy of Candace Garlock

In that act, she did one of her casual ventures into taboo areas—it remains a decidedly minority occupation for women photographers to train their lenses on the male nude. Garlock realized this could be a fertile, novel avenue of exploration and embarked on a series of large-scale male nudes. She began working with fellow graduate students at Boise State University, and then was able to complete her degree remotely in Reno, where she worked with local models, setting up in whatever spaces were available—her home, her bedroom, wherever they could set up lights. It became evident she was moving in very charged territory. She had a show of the work at Whitman College in Washington, and after her artist talk, she learned that there had been complaints. She had said the word “penis” too many times. She was at a loss as to what alternate vocabulary she should have used—“That’s the correct word, right?”

Daily Nodes

Her explorations in the area of the photographed male nude were cut short by the escalation of her MS, which gave her debilitating attacks. The reality of MS directed her toward work that was explicitly recuperative. One of the features of MS is that it erodes memory. Garlock’s neurologist, Melissa Bloch, suggested she keep an art journal. From that point, her practice of keeping sketchbooks evolved into something more expressive and diaristic—colorful pages full of collage, drawing and painting (some will be on display at the Lilley). She began a practice that became a body of work called “Daily Nodes,” also to be included at the Lilley—sketches, often of her unfinished sculptures, accompanied by notes on what she was doing or thinking about. Partly this was a way to retrain herself in drawing, through the cognitive fog of multiple sclerosis, and partly it was a way of fixing memories that the brain lesions would otherwise steal. Many of the drawings show connection points and branchings of forms—as though Garlock were documenting a macroscopic synaptic process that was being eroded, at the microscopic level, in her own body.

“Nodes, Day 1.” Image courtesy of Candace Garlock.

Grilles

Not content to just display work that’s already completed, Garlock is creating new material for the Lilley show. In a body of work she’s calling “Grille” (calling up the grid as a protective barrier, like the grille of a car), pale ceramic forms evoke the figure, or internal organs, or flowers past the peak of their bloom. They stand in pools of red resin—some of them could be giving birth, going through a menstrual cycle—or they could be bleeding out, reeling from injuries or internal disasters—leaking their life onto circular wooden bases that are scored with tight grid lines.

“Imbalance” is a ceramic and multimedia sculpture from the series “Grilles.” Photo courtesy of Candace Garlock.

The grids here reminded me of the backing of Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of human and animal motion. Muybridge is most famous for capturing the gallop of a racing horse with a series of cameras set along a racing track in 1878, to settle a bet over whether all four of a horse’s hooves simultaneously leave the ground at full tilt. It was a question of locomotion beyond the bounds of unaided human perception—and in discovering the answer with mechanical perception, Muybridge laid the groundwork for cinema (because the photos, put back together in sequence, reconstitute the horse’s motion—and in fact that indefatigable horse is still galloping in video clips and animated GIFs to this day).

Muybridge continued to use the camera as a tool of motion analysis, directing models to perform physical actions for timed cameras, staged in front of grid backgrounds so that, for instance, the distance that a knee traveled could be measured from one image to the next. I suspect the grid, with its rectilinear materialization of scientific objectivity, helped him persuade models to run through their assigned tasks in the nude—it remains somewhat quizzical that, through Muybridge, the Victorian era produced the image of a naked woman unashamedly sweeping fictional dirt from a wooden floor, lit by the sun in Muybridge’s outdoor studio, apparently unmindful of any contradictions or synergies between the erotic and the gendered domestic.

Eadweard Muybridge shot these images of a woman picking up a broom and sweeping in 1887 to analyze human motion. Image: Creative Commons. File borrowed from Artstor.com.

I feel like the gridline bases of the “Grilles” serve a sympathetic purpose—if the sculpted bodies or organisms are unruly, unpredictable, and messy, the grid suggests that perhaps they could be understood—or at least studied, and organized into a system. My gut feeling is that some of the figures are past the point of a cure—but not, at least, beyond the range of diagnosis. Of these sculptures, Garlock said, “I was looking towards artists who record the body, the way that the body really is—the monster beauty. It’s grotesque in a way. As we get older our bodies get lumpy, wrinkly. But there’s such beauty. The other day, I was looking at the veins from this hand to that hand, noticing that they were different. It was after some medication, so they were raised up a little bit more. But then, a lot of people are appalled by this, right?”

Garlock laughed. “You get it out of the little kids. I have the privilege of being a grandma, and little kids have no filters whatsoever. They have names for things like this”—she held out her arm, dangling the bit of flab hanging from the underside. “This part is a ‘chicken-leg-arm.’ But they like it. They love the flab and they say it’s a really nice pillow. At the same time they’re saying something mean about my body, they love it.”

I asked Garlock how MS not only changed her art—but how it changed her perception of her own body. She replied: “I’m fascinated with it. I had a colostomy bag for a while. And then I had major complications, and sepsis, and then a whole other surgery where they took out a Grand Canyon from my stomach. When they pieced it all back together, I have the weirdest shaped stomach, and no belly button. Maybe that is coming through these [“Grille” sculptures], but I haven’t come to terms with it fully.” She paused. “Do I feel beautiful? No. But do I feel OK and content? Yes. I wouldn’t want to go do plastic surgery or anything like that.”

It’s possible to find contentment through pain and ambiguity and outright disaster—but it is a necessarily complicated contentment. Garlock’s work bracingly traverses that intricate, convoluted terrain, in all its modalities of grace, humor—and abject, lucid acceptance.

Bird Chatter: The Rise of the Fashionistas is on display at the Sierra Arts Gallery in downtown Reno through June 1, with a reception from noon-4 pm on Saturday, May 18.

Grid-Body-Place will be on display at the Lilley Museum of Art at UNR from June 25-Aug. 3.

Garlock’s jam-packed 2024 exhibition calendar continues with exhibitions at the Oats Park Art Center in Fallon in August and September, a booth at the Reno Tahoe Art International Show Sept. 12-15, and a show at Savage Mystic Gallery in Reno in December.

Cover image: Inside Candace’s studio. Photo by Chris Lanier.

A note of disclosure: Candace is the organizer of NV AWE: Tiny Treasures, a collaborative artmaking project that is also a fundraiser for Double Scoop. Artists are invited to participate through July 1, and the resulting artworks will be for sale at the Reno Tahoe International Art Show Sept. 12-15.

Posted by Chris Lanier

Chris Lanier is an artist and critic who generally likes to mix things up – words and pictures, video and performance, design and art. He’s had work shown and published in the U.S., Mexico, England, Japan, France, Canada, and Serbia – and has written for The Believer, HiLobrow, Furtherfield, Rhizome, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Comics Journal. He is a Professor of Digital Art at the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe (formerly Sierra Nevada College). More at chrislanierart.wordpress.com.