Fred Stonehouse’s meticulously surreal paintings have the sombre, still atmosphere the Northern Renaissance about them. But the bears, deer and devils that inhabit his compositions are visionary provocateurs at play in crepuscular Wisconsin landscapes. You can imagine a carnival barker shilling this show, beckoning you to bizarre sites that are indeed the stuff of dreams. Welcome to The Marschmeister, now on view at Tory Folliard Gallery.
Stonehouse, who currently teaches at UW-Madison and lives in the Slinger area, spoke with wit and candor during the Jan. 7 opening reception about his art, influences and the reference points that shape his iconography.
Stonehouse channels and transforms a good deal of autobiographical meaning in his paintings. He explained how the Catholic imagery of his childhood reappears in derivations of the Sacred Heart, a strange image in its own right: A disembodied heart supplanted by flames and encircled by a crown of thorns.
Stonehouse related an anecdote about how iconographical familiarity can easily be taken for granted. He described how a friend, who did not share Stonehouse’s theological background, plausibly misinterpreted the Sacred Heart as a red bomb or grenade wrapped with barbed wire. In either reading, it is a loaded image to say the least.
One of the newest pieces in the exhibition also has the most quizzical title: Dream of the Marsh Potatoes. Dreams can be a rich source inspiration for Stonehouse, and this is a surrealistically delightful example. He described being close to finishing the piece but struggling with elements of the composition. He dreamed one night of an old friend and mashed potatoes, or marsh potatoes, becoming lollipops. They sprout big and luscious in the swampy scene. In the dream, Stonehouse took a lollipop to taste, and its flavor was that of a dirty potato. So, let’s feast on the vision in painting instead, the lasting image of an ephemeral dreams.
Fred Stonehouse: Marschmeister is on view at Tory Folliard Gallery (233 N. Milwaukee Street) through February 4, 2012.