Dickon Drury: An Egg in Your Shoe | Cammie Staros: Monster in the Maze

616 N. La Brea Los Angeles, CA 90036
Sep 16, 5 PM - 7 PM — ends Oct 28, 2023
Shulamit Nazarian is pleased to announce the opening of An Egg in Your Shoe, the gallery’s first solo exhibition by UK-based painter Dickon Drury. The artist’s thematically rich, meticulously detailed paintings mine diverse corners of art history and the genre of still-life painting to delve into themes of self-sufficiency, preservation, and regeneration with tenderness and humor.

Drury's latest series of oil paintings on linen invites viewers to contemplate the complex relationship between material possessions and a sense of home amid an uncertain future. The still lives present collections of objects that work like visual puzzles, prodding the viewer to piece together clues about the mysterious inhabitants of these scenes. Drury's practice seeks the humor and idiosyncrasy embodied in our selection of material possessions, and his research has often looked to the supplies collected by apocalypse preppers. Boxes in the process of being packed or unpacked evoke a sense of urgency and an impending move, while rolls of bubble wrap allude to themes of protection and value for one's beloved objects. The compositions present their diverse groupings of objects democratically, without a hierarchical division between a whistle, a lighter, or a high-end ceramic vase. Without a human figure in sight, Drury's paintings offer an imaginative narrative played out in the background by the invisible, implicit inhabitants of his eccentric world.

The title of the exhibition references the whimsical threat, "Put an egg in your shoe and beat it." This absurdist declaration also poses the question, how might it actually feel to walk with an egg in your shoe? An off-kilter sense of space and a diffuse feeling of disorientation pervade the tablescapes and bookshelves of Drury's works, which he depicts as if viewed from many angles at once. The punning title also alludes to the objects and shapes that suggest multiple meanings in Drury's compositions. In another sense, we might think of the many "easter eggs" that appear to discerning viewers of these paintings, such as cleverly rendered art historical references, hidden optical illusions, and tongue-in-cheek visual jokes.

This exhibition marks the artist's first body of work created in his new studio in Cornwall, a coastal, Southwestern county in England, where a tidal creek flows just beyond his windows. The gentle, reflected light has softened the artist's saturated color palette somewhat and infused many of the works with rich blues. Drury's watery surroundings, as well as his interest in analogous forms and referential images, are emblematized in the painting A River Ain't Too Much to Love. Here, the roaring water depicted in a perfect miniature reproduction of early twentieth-century artist Marsden Hartley's Smelt Brook Falls echoes across an array of plastic water bottles, tinned fish, and ocean scenes on product packaging. The upper portion of the painting depicts a ceramic teapot inspired by the classic British potter Bernard Leach adorned with the image of a well. For Drury, the well motif is symbolic of the processes of introspection and gathering inspiration, but also signifies hopes for self-sufficiency as our climate crisis causes freshwater levels to drop across the globe.

Throughout Drury's recent paintings, the eclectic throng of objects—from packaged foods and condiments, to solitary earbuds, seashells, and snails, to first aid supplies and batteries made from fruit—is suggestive of our sense of precarity in a world colored by global pandemics, political instability, and environmental catastrophe. Snails became a prominent motif in Drury's work during lockdown as a signifier of our collective retreat into the safety of our shells. Another pervasive image throughout the works is a slender apple core, which, on closer inspection, reveals two faces shaped by the fruit's negative space. The apple core is inspired by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin's classic optical illusion, known as the "Rubin Vase," in which an image of a vase that produces two faces confuses our perception of figure-ground relations. The ambiguous relationship between figure and ground embedded in the apple speaks to the larger sense of personality evoked by these scenes of strangely evocative objects. In a world in which we are confined to our domestic spaces more and more, perhaps our sense of self begins to blur with the contents of our homes, and still lives become portraits.


Shulamit Nazarian is pleased to present Monster in the Maze, an installation of new sculptures by Cammie Staros. The artist explores the tropes of classical art history and mythology by appropriating and transforming the visual language of Greco-Roman architecture and artifacts. For her third solo exhibition with the gallery, Staros has designed a site-specific labyrinth of gallery walls to contain three new bodies of work: ceramic vessels, stone sculptures, and tapestries of hand-made ceramic coins. The exhibition's installation alludes to the labyrinth of Greek myth as well as the maze-like quality of encyclopedic museums. By juxtaposing the storytelling structure of museums and myths, Staros makes space for us to question these institutions as sources of insight that blur the lines between truth and fiction.

In addition to calling on the museum as a source of knowledge, the exhibition's title, Monster in the Maze, alludes to the iconic figure of the Minotaur, a man with the head of a bull, as a cultural locus that invokes issues of nature and humanity, identity and otherness, and desire and violence. Art and literature featuring the Minotaur are ubiquitous and diverse—the story and its characters have fascinated countless creators, from Dante Alighieri's medieval epic to the Surrealist movement of the 1930s, to the mid-century English novels of Mary Renault. Across these manifold cultural interpretations, the Minotaur is sometimes figured as a terrifying product of unnatural desire and sometimes a tragic antihero imprisoned by an unjust society. As established in the writings of Ovid and Virgil, the Cretan King Minos prayed to the sea god Poseidon to send him a snow- white bull as a sign of favor. When Minos failed to sacrifice the bull, Poseidon punished Minos by making his wife, Pasiphaë, fall hopelessly in love with the animal. The Minotaur was the monstrous, hybrid product of their love-making, a ferocious creature who required annual human sacrifices. Minos commissioned an inescapable labyrinth to contain the beast, turning his source of shame into a force of gruesome power.

Staros's labyrinthine exhibition alludes to the legacy of the Minoan story in poetic and multiplicitous ways. Like the Minotaur at its heart, the labyrinth has been a potent carrier of metaphor. For the Surrealists, the labyrinth symbolized dream states—traversing the esoteric maze of the unconscious was the fantastic journey necessary to access the untamed center of the human mind. For Staros, the exhibition's labyrinth also alludes to the principles of organization and display that characterize museums' approach to remnants of ancient culture. As institutions steeped in the history of colonial exploitation, so-called "encyclopedic" museums traditionally construct a maze of different wings to house the relics of various cultures and time periods. Staros's artistic practice considers the ways that the structures and ideologies of museum display shape the narrative of archaeologic objects by recontextualizing them to fit a particular story about history and art. Staros's methods of display ask viewers to consider how institutions shape the meaning of cultural objects by displacing them from the flow of life and suggest the conceptual links between museums and mausoleums.

The exhibition comprises three types of objects that refer to traditional categories of Greek artifacts featured in museums: vessels, coins, and marble sculptures. The terracotta vessels draw their form from ancient red and black amphorae, Greek or Roman handled jars, and feature warped and morphed figurative scenes of warriors, gods, and animals hand-painted by Staros. While the artist has used slip-painting on her ceramic vessels before, this exhibition features the first body of work to feature recognizable narrative scenes, including images of the Minotaur, Poseidon, Theseus, and Athena.

The "coins" in the exhibition are ceramic forms made from numismatic molds, their red earthenware glazed in shades of blue and green, with silver and gold luster to evoke the tones of ancient, corroded treasure. The coins are linked with jewelry hardware and strung into wall hangings adorned with delicate spider webs made from thin silver chains, suggesting the fragile economic lifeblood and moldering remains of bygone empires.

The stone sculptures, carved from cream travertine, present fragments of bodies, their elegant posture contorted by the artist's digital and physical manipulations. The color of the travertine and the image of fractured bodies evokes the skeletal remains of the Minotaur's victims. Like the amphorae, Staros draws the forms of these works from specific sculptures from the Archaic period (circa 650–480 BC) but distorts and glitches them to appear as if viewed through moving water, or melted in a wave of destructive heat.

Together, these artifacts link ancient past and ominous present, portending a posthuman world in which artworks outlive their creators and become esoteric relics lingering amidst ecological destruction. Finally, the Minotaur also alludes to the "bull-headed" stubbornness of contemporary culture and our refusal to accommodate the inevitable encroachment of climate change and natural disaster. At the center of the labyrinth, visitors encounter a provocation to consider their own relation to the artwork on view, and to wonder if monstrosity is, perhaps, a matter of perspective.