Upon first glance at the floor of the Spotlight Gallery in the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville, we might feel a natural urge to clean up. A scattering of cigarette butts and plastic bags seem carelessly left behind by a crew of busy maintenance workers. Nearby, produce boxes filled with semi-rotten apples and melons create the same instinct -- the impulse to quickly discard without a second thought. As a society, we tend to regard anything that isn't shiny, new and completely intact as worthless and disposable. This is particularly true of unsightly trash or anything, really, that we deem unimportant.
Upon closer examination of the discarded cigarettes and wads of pastel-colored chewing gum, however, the painstaking detail of artist Chris Thorson’s elaborately realistic trompe l'oeil sculptures creates a subtle and then blunt shift in how we think about the ways we contribute to a culture of waste.
Thorson's installations in Recognition simultaneously create a sensation of repulsion and awe, causing us to peer as close as possible to each careful and unsightly detail. In her piece Bro Palace, Thorson sets up a space anyone who has spent any time with adolescent boys (or girls) will experience as familiar -- dirty socks, a set of keys, an empty ketchup packet, a plastic takeout bag and remote controls are strewn across a bedroom rug. Instead of using dirty clothing collected from a dorm room, each sock in the installation is handmade by Thorson with hydrocal, gouache and pastel; items such as the ketchup packet and a grape vine stripped of its fruit are a combination of cast bronze and enamel.
Thorson's refrigerator installation, a personal favorite, includes seven rotting and sprouting potatoes (Yukon Golds, Century Russets and Viking Reds) displayed across the top of a minifridge. Added humorous touches include a “High from California” marijuana leaf refrigerator magnet and a magnet with the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, both affixed to the refrigerator’s small door. Nearby, a plastic shopping bag made of beeswax, organic silk and natural dyes made from plants grown by Thorson herself lies haphazardly on the floor. The potatoes' eerily realistic appearance (oil paint on direct cast bronze and hydrocal) offers another reminder of how easily we take for granted the abundance and accessibility of perishable food items, while hunger remains a critical issue in so many parts of the world.
Thorson's work is brilliantly crafted and requires double and triple takes to fully appreciate the introspection and philosophical musings it prompts. Whether we're looking at a set of keys, a crate of withering apples, a crumpled, musty-looking sweater or a discarded takeout bag, her pieces offer a crucial shift in our perspectives of the things we need, want, easily acquire and just as easily cast aside.
Recognition is on view at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville through March 20. For more information visit napavalleymuseum.org.