After a five-week hiatus, Motel has reopened its doors with a refined sense of purpose. Owner Jennifer Armbrust has recommitted the gallery to developing the careers of emerging young artists, opting to phase out the handmade goods that made up the boutique side of the business. Motel's new direction can be seen in Unnatural World, its strongest show in months.
According to Boston-based artist Amy Ross, the works in Unnatural World represent an imagined splicing of plant and animal DNA. This grounding interest in science—reflected in drawings and watercolor paintings as exacting as botanical studies—is important to consider in a show that numbers mushrooms and hallucinatory creature combinations among its subjects. That is, Ross' elegant representations never wallow in hippie trappings or allow you to envision the artist as some Audubon Society member lost in the K-hole. That's not to say that her images aren't disorienting. In her Birdshroom series, mushroom caps sprout beaks and eyes to form the tiny heads of sparrows or, conversely, a tiny clawed foot grows out of the base of a stem. Similarly, in "Owlshroom, No. 2," a mushroom simply grows out of an owl's head, hovering above it like a billowing chef's hat. The gracefulness of the lines in her graphite drawings and the perceptible depth of her flawless watercolor execution charge these small works with a lifelike fragility: They are every bit as frail and slight as the real-life organisms she fuses together.
In a group of slightly larger works, Ross presents ink drawings of spindly magnolia branches that bear both unopened buds and cloven hooves, which, it turns out, appear remarkably similar. From those buds that have blossomed, the heads of goats, sheep, and calves flower. There's an almost religious quality to these works, as biblical animals spring forth from a "tree of life," if you will. Ross, who earned a Master's at Harvard Divinity School, likely had creationism in mind when she undertook this project. After all, only the artist—or, in an age of genetic engineering, the scientist—gets to play god and create her own world, unnatural or not.