By: Jacob Cutler
“Flight of Fancy,” the newest exhibition at Kenmore Square’s Panopticon Gallery, is an ode to the spirit of summer. A group show featuring the works of Claire Rosen, Stephen Sheffield and Kerry Mansfield, each of the artists’ work use color and whimsical imagery to perfectly portray and encapsulate the meaning of the season and in one way or another represent the title of the show.
Rosen chose to photograph live exotic birds in front of Victorian wall paper. Right off the bat, one notices her superb use of color. The backgrounds of each photo are not only beautiful in their own right, but they serve the photograph. The colors help bring attention to the bird while creating a whimsical world that only exists in that photograph. The photographer also personifies these birds through the way in which she captured them. When photographing the birds, she did not attempt to pose them or get their attention. She waited patiently, eventually taking thousands of photographs that resulted in this series. This patient approach allows for these natural human-like poses. In her piece, “Canary Wing Bee Bee No. 7756,” the two subjects are photographed in a way in which the viewer can see that these birds have a human-like personality that’s evident in how expressive the birds are.
Sheffield’s works are collages that contrast idealism and scientific thoughts. They feature mid-century Hollywood era men and women layered on top of architectural plans, electrical circuits and sheet music. In addition to the people, some of the pieces incorporate bird imagery. These collages are part of a series of work in which Sheffield creates and publishes one new piece of work every day. This series lives on his Instagram account where he has posted daily since January 1, 2017.
Sheffield’s juxtaposition between science and ideals portray to the viewer that these two concepts can not be separate from each other. For instance, Sheffield’s piece, “Blue Bird Like Smoke,” features a woman dressed in a fashionable dress from the mid-20th century holding a blue bird while in the immediate background, there is a black and white image of a large smoke cloud; behind that, there are architectural plans for a home. What Sheffield is attempting to illustrate is that this idyllic lifestyle of the American dream where one has a beautiful home can only happen with the destruction of the earth. It is also a sort of timeline in which there are planning stages, the execution of the event and the eventual outcome.
Mansfield’s photographs are dreamy beach landscapes shot from above looking downward on the ocean, individuals, couples and hang gliders. Upon first look, these photos portray calm and tranquil scenes. However, this body of work was made as a way for Mansfield to cope with her recent bout with cancer. During her time of recovery, Mansfield felt isolated from the world and that she had lost her ability to connect with others. Every piece portrays this emotion through its perspective. Each photograph either is shot in a way in which the artist is looking down on a far away subject, or the artist is looking up at a subject located off in the distance.
Mansfield’s photograph, “Water’s Edge Couple,” portrays a bird’s eye view of a couple standing at the shoreline. This image is a direct representation of Mansfield’s longing for human connection. She is looking downward at this beautiful scene that she wishes that she could be a part of. “Orange Glider” depicts a person flying through the sky. One could argue that this image is Mansfield’s belief that she is gliding through life on her own. It is as if she is hoping that she glides high enough to a point where she feels that she is able to reconnect to the world around her. Even though Mansfield’s photographs are of beautiful beachscapes, it is not her intention to awe the viewer with beauty. It is to help the viewer understand how lonely one can be despite the beautiful scenery around them.
“Flight of Fancy” is more than just a fun summer show. This exhibition is sharing three different but also extremely applicable situations, themes and messages to everyday life. Rosen, Sheffield and Mansfield all use the medium of photography to portray the real through whimsical imagery.
(“Flight of Fancy,” works by Claire Rosen, Stephen Sheffield and Kerry Mansfield, will be on display through September 3 at the Panopticon Gallery, Hotel Commonwealth, 502C Commonwealth Ave., Boston. For more information, call (617) 396-7803.)