Life and death
Small Deaths is a troubling fugue on a parent's worst nightmare. It fixates on the unspoken paradox of childrearing — that nothing brings you so close to life, and so close to an awareness of death. The solo show from Atlanta's Joseph Peragine — comprised of two large-scale paintings, an animated short video and small paintings drawn from the video — explores new territory for the artist in a far more complex and layered way.
Peragine's paintings stick close to his previous fascination with childhood creatures that have a slightly macabre edge, such as the jumbo-sized bunny in "Untitled (Rabbit Suit)" executed in a sticky Easter egg palette of pinks and purples. It's hard to miss the metaphor of an artist trapped — by choice and love and necessity — in this nursery world where cuddly cuteness co-exists with the anvil of mortality looming up above.
Throughout the show, the bunny appears as Peragine's alter-ego for good reason. With his hyper-elongated ears and twitchy manner, he seems poised for instantaneous response. All that delicate, fluffy fur suddenly seems extra-poignant in Peragine's hands, as an expression of the fragility of both child and parent.
But it's the video "Three Small Deaths" (in the back room of the gallery) that signals an interesting new pop-culture wrinkle in Peragine's art making. It's as if the artist has shifted his belly-crawling nursery view for a position that, as his children grow, begins to look beyond the backyard to the culture at large.
Peragine has sampled key scenes and dialogue from three films — Short Cuts, The Ice Storm and Trainspotting — and animated these fleeting cinematic moments into concise little vignettes of extreme trauma. The perspective of the video suggests someone whose own brush with grief has made any moment of pain in a film jump out with a fresh immediacy. Each scene deals with a child's death, employing Peragine's usual metaphorical menagerie of bunnies, bears and parrots in place of humans.
While Disney films and nursery rhymes use animals to soothe children's real world fears, Peragine's latest work suggests these animated scenes — and perhaps cinema — as a means for adults to cathartically cope with trauma.
Small Deaths ''is on view through Dec. 7 at Solomon Projects, 1037 Monroe Drive. Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-875-7100. www.solomonprojects.com.??