Boise Art Museum gets a little spooky

‘Vampires and Wolf Men’ and ‘Night Hunter’ open this weekend

doland@idahostatesman.comJanuary 31, 2014 

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Stacey Steers’ “Night Hunter” film and sculptural installation at the Boise Art Museum features images from four films starring silent-screen actress Lillian Gish, hand painted and collaged with 19th century illustrations.

  • Ticket info

    BOISE ART MUSEUM: “Vampires and Wolf Men,” Feb. 1-May 25; “Night Hunter” and “Night Hunter House,” now through June 8. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. 670 S. Julia Davis Drive. $6 general, $4 seniors, $3 grades 1-12 and full-time college. Free for ages 5 and younger and members. Find more details on, xx.

Two darkly whimsical exhibits at the Boise Art Museum explore the culture of that which goes bump in the night.

Both Anna Fidler’s “Vampires” and Stacey Steers’ “Night Hunter” play on our fascination with the darker side of popular culture to draw us into their work.

DID VAMPIRES FOUND PORTLAND?

Probably not, but in her series of portraits “Vampires and Wolf Men,” artist Anna Fidler suggests that maybe they did.

“I’m creating a new myth,” she says. “It’s humorous to me that they could be seen like this.”

It’s a fun way to play with our current popular fascination with the occult, Fidler says.

It started on a trip to Pittock Mansion, the home of one of Portland’s most prominent early families. It is now a museum.

“I saw a photo of Henry Pittock when he was about 20. He looked so handsome — in a vampire-like way,” she says.

She used Pittock for her first portrait. The spark to think about vampires fit in with an overarching theme in Fidler’s work.

Fidler became interested in ideas of transfer of energy, a holdover from her days as the front woman for an electronic alternative band called The Sensualists in the late 1990s.

“You can feel it when you’re playing — this transfer of energy from the crowd to the stage and back again,” she says. “It’s nothing you can see but you know it’s there.”

She first explored this idea very literally with a body of work about photosynthesis, the transfer of energy from sunlight to plants to humans.

But put in a different context, the transfer of energy could become an addiction, she says. Perhaps that’s the root of why people become fans.

She next created a series of portraits of Portland Trailblazers players — one of her personal objects of fandom.

“There’s the exchange between the players on the court and then again that transfers to the crowd,” Fidler says.

Her “Vampire” series took it to another level. Vampires literally suck the energy out of a human, “the transfer of energy between the undead and the living through the life-essence of blood,” she says. “I thought that was a funny way to think about it.”

Fidler started each portrait with a visit to the Portland Historical Society and rifled through its archive of photographs of pioneers who founded the city.

“I was looking for people who looked like they could be vampires. It was something in the eyes — like they had a story to tell.”

Wolfmen came into play when she found men with large beards, a look that was popular in Portland in the late 19th century — and is again today, she says.

When she found one that drew her in, she made a photocopy of it, which degraded the image and removed it from its original time. Then, she drew over the image with a ball point pen to create a topographical map of the face.

Once that was done, she took it to the closest Kinko’s and had the image blown up into a copy 8 feet by 8 feet. Then, her studio interns would transfer the portrait onto very large paper, stained with an acrylic wash by carefully tracing over her lines. After that, Fidler created a color map that the interns used to fill in the lines with colored pencils.

“It’s really an elaborate system to decide the colors,” Fidler says.

She goes lightest to darkest, and even decides which direction the pencil should go. Mixing it up adds texture.

“The interns do much of the work, but it’s really more my hand than theirs,” she says.

Fidler enjoys working as a team. That’s another way of creating energy and making the normally solitary pursuit of art a social activity.

FROM ‘VAMPIRES’ TO HAUNTED HOUSES

Stacey Steers dances the line between film and art. She started drawing her award-winning animated films in the 1980s — creating shorts that were a hit at Sundance and other festivals.

She shifted to the collage technique she uses today around 2000. Then in 2006, the Denver Museum of Contemporary Art asked her to exhibit one of her films, and it added a new dimension to her world.

There were several forces converging at the time. Animators such as William Kentridge began showing in galleries and museums, opening the door for Steers and others. And Steers, who lives in Boulder, Colo., had become frustrated with the film scene.

“The truth is, there is very little infrastructure to support short films,” Steers says. “It’s an honor to get invited to a festival, but you’re always on the fringes and in a funny way, you’re not taken seriously.”

Though she still shows at festivals, she found her short film could find a more fruitful home in the museum world and have a longer life.

The shelf life for film on the festival circuit is about two years.

For “Night Hunter,” Steers used stills of silent-film star Lillian Gish as her inspiration. She hand colored and collaged more than 4,000 images from four of Gish’s films, all made in the early 20th century.

“She’s such a stunning performer,” Steers says. “There’s something about silent films because so much of the power of the film comes from the acting.”

Steers combines Gish’s expressiveness with fragments of 18th and 19th century illustrations. The result is a disquieting dreamscape drawn from allegory, myth and archetype, and set to an eerie score by Larry Polansky.

The exhibit includes the film, her collages, shadow boxes and a Victorian-era dollhouse inspired by her film. The miniature house creates a lens through which to view film.

In each of the house’s 10 rooms, a different loop of the film shows on a tiny screen. The decor of each room reflects something about the scene.

The “Night Hunter House” and film are geared to complement each other.

“Seeing the film in the house makes the experience of both more rich,” Steers says.

“When I created the house I discovered how much people love miniatures. They’re like looking into mystery that needs solving.”

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