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HIGH ART: Troxler’s heroines haunt library
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – What do Anna Karenina, Emma Woodhouse, Daisy Buchanan, Jane Eyre and Scheherazade have in common? They are all young heroines of classic literature. And they are characters who haunt the mind of artist Shannon Troxler, whose exhibit, Missing Pages: A Literary Series, hangs at Teton County Library gallery through December.
Troxler’s encaustics feature an array of favorite characters and moments from the artist’s reading list. For this review I want to focus on the female characters. All the paintings are rich and dare I say textural, but it was the young heroines who most captured my attention.
All but one of the eleven 12-by-18-inch portraits incorporates torn pages from the character’s novel. Two of the portraits are male characters. The other nine are female and only one of those has a non-book background, as Daisy Buchanan emerges from a grid of dollar bills. The encaustic process involves pigmented wax applied in layers and painted or shaped. On the surface, Troxler also scratches thin lines, often in gold, to render character-specific motifs like daisies.
Daisy may be fresh in your mind from the recent Hollywood blockbuster The Great Gatsby. But before Carey Mulligan’s glam, Daisy was a spoiled, sheltered resident of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s imagination. Troxler’s Daisy appears pretty and entitled but also a tad naive. Troxler said she thinks Daisy is partly a victim of Gatsby’s machinations.“Most of these women characters were kind of trapped,” she said.
Troxler’s choice of media is ideal for exploring the character’s feelings of being trapped while simultaneously revealing a paradox. Though iconic literary heroines may have been confined by their era and station in life, and indeed by the boundaries of their written stories, they also live beyond their pages in the minds of readers, quite independent of the authors’ intent.
Troxler’s characters rise from the page. The edges of the portraits are left misty and loose. In Jane Eyre’s case, it’s difficult to discern whether Jane is being engulfed in flames or emerging from them. The gray mist surrounding Anna Karenina blends with her fur hat and collar, suggesting the atmosphere of the train station where she will eventually seek her own demise.
Troxler was clever in her choice of color. Anna Karenina’s gray mist and hat echo her eye color. Gray eyes are symbols of wisdom, and this is one way Troxler exquisitely captures Anna’s plight. Wiser because of her love affair, Anna sees that “if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.” Yet restrained by convention, she has nowhere to go with this wisdom. “You understood the choices Anna made,” Troxler said. “She wasn’t fulfilled. In another era she would have gotten a divorce.”
Troxler doesn’t shy from female sensuality and this is a boon to these characters, several of who did not get to experience outright sex in their novels. Troxler’s women have a certain “knowing” in their eyes and clearly they’ve all reached sexual maturity. Yet it is Lucy Westenra who exudes full on lust in Troxler’s rendering. This is the most delicious of the paintings, where the smooth, buttery surface of the wax is ideal for Lucy’s rosebud lips and desirous gaze.
Troxler hopes the series sparks dialogue. “These are strong women characters who sometimes suffer because of choices they made.”