It’s easy to understand how four Wyoming artists would choose to explore clouds as a theme for an artistic collaboration. But cupcakes?
Jenny Dowd, the curator of the exhibit “Cupcakes and Clouds,” was inspired to create the show by a vision she had while skiing in the depths of winter. She explained the origins during the show’s opening at Pinedale’s Mystery Print Gallery in September.
She and painter Shannon Troxler had started talking a couple years before about putting together a show, she said, “something different — sweet, but challenging in a different way.” Nearly a year later, on a dark winter day, when Dowd felt like she couldn’t take any more of the winter darkness and lack of horizon, she went for a ski. It was one of those days, she said, when “the clouds have combined forces with the snowy ground, and it’s impossible to distinguish where one begins and the other ends.
“I got this weird, surreal feeling that I get about the Wyoming landscape,” she continued. “I couldn’t at all remember the feeling of summer and I didn’t care. Indescribable shapes plus impossible shadows swirled with soft colors.”
It left her unsure of what was concealed, she recalled, and evoked a sensation of frosty icing and the delicate sweetness of cake. “Is the ground a cake and the sky frosting? Is it actually the other way around?” she wondered. “Cupcakes and Clouds” was born.
Dowd invited poets Matt Daly and Connie Wieneke to team up with Troxler and herself to share in this ephemeral concoction of creativity. The resulting show has been exhibited at the Mystery Print Gallery in Pinedale since September.
In the show, the artists play with the oppositional forces of permanence and the ephemeral, examining how the essence of fleeting, shape-shifting clouds can be captured and held permanent in porcelain, ink, oil, watercolor and wax. Or not.
“Cakes, petits fours and cupcakes: decorated, frosted things always remind me of porcelain,” Dowd writes in her artist statement. “The pattern on these sweets mirror the flattened pattern of clouds. A consumable that cannot be consumed and a cloud that cannot change or disappear. Finally, something equally tangible and fragile.”
Dowd’s sculptural pastries reflect the tranquility of that winter’s day that started it all.
Dowd and Daly, meanwhile, worked together to create ceramic fortune cookies that must be cracked open and destroyed to relinquish their message. Daly said that while writing the fortunes for the cookies, he tried to envision the future from the perspective of a cloud.
“What do the clouds notice above and below them?” he asked. “What topics make up their chitchat when they lean against a granite range?”
Daly also explored the idea of words passing through clouds, akin to how they pass through people as their lives unfold and transform. Dowd gave Daly some long-stored, unused yards of silk that he hung as layered curtains from the ceiling. He then projected lines of poetry through the air to fall on the moving, shimmering layers of fabric. As the verse appeared in projection and disappeared over and over again, it appeared to be transforming.
Dowds’s monoprint series, “Cloud Studies,” came to life after what she described as “an accident born of frustration.” A little white ink smudge on a brayer layered up with blue created a surprisingly blended cloud on paper. After creating more of the layered clouds, she mounted the papers in open shadow boxes, and hung tiny, porcelain cloud shapes in front of them. The solid shapes cast shadows on the paper as the clouds are moved by a breeze or from the press of a finger.
Wieneke found that trying to capture the fleeting ended in a surprising acceptance of imperfection. She envisioned creating a type of Roman shade made of a fabric through which she could weave her poetic verse. Instead, the paper ripped and the fabric would not roll.
We “can’t nail down the ephemeral,” she wrote in an artist statement. “That inability implies a willingness to let the world be. Not really. We always want to make sense of what we see, hear, feel. The falling light. The cloud that stretches and contracts.”
Wieneke also created whimsical recipes written on beverage coasters with for dishes like Tarn Cloud Soup, May Cloud Fondu and Thunder Cloud Appetizers. My favorite is Enlightened Cloud Cake:
Squeeze a cup of cumulus into a paper bowl.
Some liquid will slop over the rim.
Scoop a quarter cup of pine pollen from a pond.
Sprinkle on the surface. Let rest. Gather a
basket of spider strands from the branches on a
seldom walked path in the woods. Beat them
until frothy. Fold into the cumulus-pollen
mixture. Place the batter in one cupped hand.
Press the other palm on top, open and lift both
to the mid-day sun. Baking time varies.
Troxler also confronted the challenge of capturing with paint on canvas the ever-changing nature of clouds, “the cotton candy swirl of cumulus and the dark brooding bellies of storm clouds.”
The “impossible task,” she said, reminded her “to let go of perfection and exist in the moment, to celebrate the process and forget the product, to revel in abstraction and the luscious physicality of paint.”
Her skyscapes depict her subject in every season, some infused with light and air, others dark and weighted with paint that drips from the sky. While clouds are inherently abstract, Troxler’s plein air paintings are firmly anchored to the Wyoming landscape. They are carefully composed yet loosely painted to successfully convey the otherworldliness of the subject.
Together the four artists take observers beyond the confines of gravity, where they are invited to consider just how much we are truly anchored to the world we inhabit.
“Cupcakes and Clouds” is on view through Nov. 2 at Mystery Print Gallery at 221 S. Sublette, Pinedale, Wyoming.
Studio Wyoming Review is supported in part by generous grants from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, a program of the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources and the Wyoming Arts Council with funding from the Wyoming State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.