Ever walk into a gallery and smell cake? UCF’s Visual Arts Building has the usual art-building aroma about it, but the sugary tendrils of a very recent cake celebration waft out the entrance. Inside, Erin Elizabeth and Harry Sidebotham, married Chicago artists, mask some of their feelings about new parenthood behind sprinkles, icing and beautiful confectionery.
The crib can throw a terrible shadow over the artist’s studio. Reacting to this, 1960s Expressionist artists like Elizabeth Murray painted domestic scenes jittery with anger. Here in the 21st century, Elizabeth and Sidebotham create gorgeously colorful and high-spirited work using sprinkles, frosting, and sequins cast into glossy, glittering disks and diamonds, sandwiched between stroboscopic diffraction gratings of color and light, and the little “CONGRATS” banner across a laptop should say it all.
But look closer. The artists’ collaborative central tapestry of sprinkles, gold foil and a baby’s play mat, titled “Waste Not, Want Not,” is edged with nine years’ worth of used X-Acto knife blades – not exactly baby toys. “An Heir and a Spare,” alluding to their two children, embeds grim EKG electrodes into a beautifully painted salvaged woodwork. The two artists stacked baby-food caps, straws and other domestic detritus for “Mobile 3” and “On Finding a Balance,” a precarious sculpture ready to topple over any second.
Sidebotham’s color field paintings calmly offset his wife’s energetic swirls of glittery sugar. “Betelgeuse” creates a shimmering optical effect, stacking blue and red strips over a sensuous lime hourglass shape, but the effect, upon closer inspection, isn’t calming at all. It rather stimulates the viewer. Like the godfather of Op Art, Richard Anuszkiewicz, Sidebotham’s interest in the cosmos inspires an exploration of multidimensional space using color and form.
Elizabeth’s work is outwardly energetic but, in contrast, draws one into a more contemplative space. “Can We Skip to the Good Part?” is a freeze-frame of colorful, morphing organic shapes layered in thick resin, revealing geometric patterns underneath. Her “Capitalist Blooms” series are flower blossoms made from OxyContin and Zantac tablets (among other things). Strangely serene, these still have a sharp edge.
But it’s important to get back to the cake. In the middle of the gallery floor, a plastic sheet protects the remains of their performance piece “Cake Hopscotch.” A video plays on the back wall of the artists ritually stomping sheet cakes, laid out in a children’s hopscotch pattern, their sticky, smeary feet covered with sugar goo.
They go it one better in “Cake Fight,” a video of this slapstick ritual taken to the extreme with a dozen or so desserts. Cathartic tension relief, at least for the artists, makes for good fun. Parenthood is ritually celebrated, and yet it collapses one’s world just when it’s supposed to grow larger. Elizabeth and Sidebotham examine this paradox and find, in their exhibit, a way out through cake. Visit while the smell is still fresh.