The new run of work by woodblock printmaker Shawna Khalily at Gallery exVoto balances a dose of gravity and ritual mysticism against an odd kind of punk aesthetic. On the one hand there are expressive interpretations of biblical content, and the artist shapes dramatic contests between angelic and demonic forces in which it’s difficult to determine a victor. In other prints, Khalily plays spiritedly with images of bones and hearts and wings and lovers — and combinations thereof — that could translate readily into a tattoo artist’s portfolio or a biker’s club crest.
It’s important to note that although the artist says on her website that her main interest lay in drawing the human figure, most of the works at ExVoto are woodcut prints. There’s even an example of the carved woodblock on display next to the a colorful print called Adam and Eve.
Khalily’s woodcuts demonstrate a thorough understanding of the mannered and allegorical visual language employed by fifteenth century European masters like Albrecht Durer, but she’s also confident enough to break from the style freely with a more broad and expressive cutting technique and by incorporating elements from pop music lyrics to ancient mythologies.
Remember watching REM’s video for “Losing My Religion”? I didn’t either particularly, but after re-watching it I get a sense that Khalily’s works function in a similar allegorical vein and shares an adjacent visual territory: the kind of place where classical mythology mingles with southern gothic storytelling to create a shifting tableaux of hope, fear and desire.
The term ExVot signifies an offering at a shrine made in gratitude and/ or devotion. In all, Khalily’s work exemplifies the theme of the gallery and does so with candor, respect and a not negligible hint of impending doom.
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