“Gone With the Twins,” at Get This! Gallery through July 2, riffs on Margaret Mitchell’s novel, of course, but Charles Dickens might have been the more appropriate source. Call this exhibition, created by the street artists known as the Paper Twins, “A Tale of Two Souths.”
The twins, known as Nica and Edgar A. English, have always made their wheat paste drawings independently and gone out together to put them up, and the procedure for this show, which includes drawings, paintings, sculptures and assemblages, is no different. As in “Wanderers,” the twins’ installation about hobo culture for the 2010 exhibition “Art on the BeltLine,” they share a theme: home.
Nica is Peruvian. She grew up in Lima, a cosmopolitan city at the foot of the Andes Mountains. English grew up in Atlanta, but her roots are the country roads of Mississippi. Different landscape. Different culture. And different execution.
English presents the more polished, coherent body of work. Based on a trip back to the old homestead, her work evokes the decaying buildings, the lush green canopy over those red clay roads and her family stories. She brings in new materials — bright green wheatgrass “growing” at the bottom of each image and on the ground beneath the cutouts — and sound.
This is a narrative, told with specificity. “Pet Them Gently, Kill Them Quickly” (above) depicts English’s great-grandmother, who reaches down to pet a little lamb, hiding behind her back the knife that will slit its throat, practicing the pragmatics of farm life. The point of view is a key formal move. We see her from the rear, the knife blade stark against her white blouse, and the use of perspective in her leaning posture gives the flat silhouette a third dimension.
The flowers on the wall behind the sculpture, a detail of wallpaper in the family home, are a deft touch as well. The repeating pattern unites the disparate pieces and adds texture to the exhibition. The only weak spot among this artist’s works are the assemblages of photos and doilies, which don’t succeed formally or bespeak her originality.
Far away from her birthplace, Nica focuses on sense memories — the neon colors of music posters jumping out of the Lima haze, the geometric patterns and brilliant colors of the blankets worn by Andean women selling foodstuffs in the markets –- which have clearly informed the palette and patterning of her street art. Cultural references, such as kite season, native foodstuffs and Nazca, the ancient line drawings in the desert visible only from the air, make oblique appearances.
“La Mujer del Mercado” (below), her most successful work, is a cutout of a squatting Andean woman who holds the hot-pink string of an abstracted kite that floats above her. Nica has filled a diamond-shaped frame with dyed potatoes and quinoa. The use of these dietary staples has promise: their textures and symbolic importance could be exploited. But it’s not quite soup yet, if I can mangle metaphors. As with some of her other pieces, the scale of that element gives it a tentative look.
Like English, Nica is a deft draftswoman, as is apparent in the small drawings sprinkled through the show. In addition to figurative works, she distills her memories into abstractions — paintings on pieces of wood, collages. The street artist pays homage to the music posters ubiquitous on the streets of Lima — one a reference to a saucy female politician, two announcing this show.
Though never uninteresting, Nica’s contribution is a bit of a hodgepodge, formally and conceptually. The assemblages of smaller works don’t cohere, and some of the individual pieces seem lost interspersed among English’s drawings. Perhaps her works would have shown better had they all been hung together.
The show feels disjointed, but there’s good work here, and it comes together as a reminder of the enduring power of memory and place.