Review: “The Other Thing Is”

Malcolm Bucknall's sentimental, humorous, chimeric portraits

Hold That Pose by Malcolm Bucknall (2023) oil on wood panel, 24"x18" (Image Courtesy of Wally Workman Gallery)
The historic practice of creating art about anthropomorphic animals works to elucidate our humanness through alienation.

We can often more readily and thoughtfully recognize emotions and intentions that are shown to us with a degree of separation from ourselves: perhaps because it’s less threatening to our egos. That space between the self and the other also makes it all the more fun to experience the artwork.

This is what visual artist Malcolm Bucknall sets out to do in his work. In his current exhibit at Wally Workman Gallery, “The Other Thing Is," portraits of animal heads on human bodies line the walls. The creatures in these paintings and drawings are uncannily familiar in their expressions and evoke the nostalgia and sentimentality one would feel while flipping through a child’s picture book.

Using ink and paint as his mediums, Bucknall takes inspiration from vintage Edwardian and Victorian photographs to recreate recognizable moments with an absurd edge. He treats his subjects with affection and teasing, showing instances like an ostrich posturing ruggedly or a praying mantis proudly prancing in a dress. After looking for a while you start to feel that we as humans are just as silly wearing our clothes and adopting our affectations as a sheepish duck holding a pose in knee socks and Mary Jane shoes.

Alongside his recognizable portrait style of animals possessing human traits, the show also presents several more experimental works inspired by beetle heads and one rare all-human portrait based on a Mathew Brady photo.

Bucknall, born in 1935 in Twickenham, England, has followed his artistic pursuits all over the world, from art school in India at Santiniketan in the Ashram of Rabindranath Tagore to subsequent studies at London's Chelsea Art School. After these endeavors, he solidified his education with a BFA from the University of Texas and his MFA from the University of Washington. In the 1960s the Englishman returned to Austin and stayed put.

Since the beginning of his art career, Bucknall has grown and shared his distinct style as a gallery artist. He has also achieved a recognizable status in the alternative music community for creating the zany cover art for three releases by Austin's the Jesus Lizard: their 1992 album, Liar; 1994's follow-up, Down; and their 1993 split single with Nirvana, “Puss"/"Oh, the Guilt."

Each of Bucknall’s creations demonstrates his lighthearted approach to being an artist. “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like,” he expresses in his artist talk. “I think that is a wise thing to say and a wise attitude to have. Because you’ve got to expect the unexpected, the unthought out, the something new and wonderful – like a child experiencing something for the first time.”

At a time when we’re constantly being documented and looking at images of ourselves and others, it’s refreshing to experience some distance. Bucknall offers us a look from afar where we can see these identifiable moments in our lives – the contrived efforts, the vanity, and the joy – revealed in all their glory and embarrassment.

"The Other Thing Is"

Wally Workman Gallery, 1202 W. Sixth, 512/472-7428
Sat., 10am-5pm, Sun., noon-4pm. Appointments appreciated.
Though Nov. 26

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More by Meher Qazilbash
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Wally Workman Gallery, Malcolm Bucknall, The Jesus Lizard, Nirvana

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