“Here it is the middle of August and the coldest day of the year, it’s simply freezing. The dogs are sticking to the sidewalks!” So complains Sabina, the housemaid in The Skin of Our Teeth, Thornton Wilder’s surreal 1942 comedy about mankind’s heroism and folly as embodied by the immortal family of George (inventor of the wheel, lever, and multiplication tables) and Maggie (inventor of sewing and cooking) Antrobus, married 5,000 years, of Excelsior, New Jersey. A new ice age is heading south from Canada, refugees like Moses and the Muses are at the door, and the family pets, mammoth and dinosaur, huddle by the fire.
Julia Shirar, painter, teacher, and sound artist (Lost in Translation, The Squid and the Whale, and the historical document Galaxy Quest), is concerned about global warming and other challenges to Wilder’s Ancient and Honorable Order of Mammals, Subdivision Humans. The three satirical paintings dominating her installation, Wrath Is Come (which includes drawings and sculptures), nod to her Southern Baptist upbringing, with its “late-night flicks about Armageddon … with hooded men on horses beheading … sinners” and admonitions from Revelations (“For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”), but she is interested in the human comedy and finds irresolution, entropy, and de facto misanthropy. The three large portraits present figures done in an expressionist style reminiscent of Alice Neel, but the subjects, “armatures for [her] projections,” seem psychologically absent. “Bunny” sits in an armchair smoking a cigarette, nude but for a swatch of cloth, a pair of mules, and a wimple-like rabbit-eared headpiece; the shirtless, recliner-bound, middle-aged man in “Asleep” is no less inert; “Pumpkin (Waiting for Frogs)” is a ceiling’s-eye view of a naked man on a bedspread, his eyes and saluting penis focused on something outside the frame, while a Freudian pumpkin rests next to his crotch. Shirar: “I think it is too late (not to mention egotistical, really) to pretend that these portraits are somehow a warning. They are an observation of the status quo during apocalypse-lite … we go to work, we have children … we watch … television … we recycle, plant gardens, [and] compost” but “Rome is burning and we are all playing our fiddles.” (Or maybe this is all just a bad dream, like that Twilight Zone episode about the earth falling into the sun!) Sabina, again: “We’re all human; who isn’t?” Chill. Wrath Is Come runs through February 20 at Rowan Morrison Gallery (330 40th St., Oakland). 510-384-5344 or RowanMorrison.com