'Dressed In Shadow' Exhibit Examines Children's Gender Perceptions

Joan Ryan won Mattatuck Museum’s 2018 Mixmaster members’ exhibit with “Dreams Deferred.” That painting depicts a shadow-cast swatch of yellow wallpaper decorated with a repeating pattern of armed soldiers and military planes and tanks. Pinned onto the paper are drawings both child-like and violent: a half-boy-half-skeleton, a graveyard, a bleeding boy, an armored superhero, a maniacally smiling figure.

Ryan’s win got her a solo show, up now at the Waterbury museum. “Dressed in Shadow” expands on Ryan’s theme: how imagery that children are exposed to as an elements of popular culture shapes how they process information and see the world. As Ryan puts it, “constant messaging, Internet activities, cellphone apps, selfies and reality television perpetuate narrow ideas of human identity and meaning.”

Ryan teaches art at Lesley University in Boston. As the single mother of two boys and a former K-6 teacher, she saw close-up how children are affected by what they see around them. Her paintings are filled with iconography of superheroes, war and religion, illustrating how those visual influences affect and bounce off each other, seep into children’s play and affect their identities.

“Gods That Look Alike” features a glowing Jesus figure in the foreground, with creepy images of Skeletor and comic-book heroes battling on the wallpaper behind. “The Holy Place” revisits the Jesus imagery, with a drawing of Christ hanging on a wall dotted with military wallpaper.

Some of the artworks juxtapose traditional “male” images with “female” images, with the male encroaching on the female in destructive ways. “Standing at the Gates” shows faded wallpaper with a pattern of a little girl jump-roping. The wallpaper is torn off the wall in spots, where a child drew pictures of boys shooting and stabbing other boys, and setting a building on fire.

But Ryan’s artwork isn’t entirely pessimistic. She uses repeated imagery of paper cranes, a traditional Japanese signifier of healing during hard times.

“I used the paper crane as a symbol of hope and transformation,” she says.

DRESSED IN SHADOW: JOAN RYAN will be at Mattatuck Museum, 144 West Main St. in Waterbury, until June 17. mattmuseum.org.

On Other Walls

“Blue and Gold at the White,” the annual exhibit of work by Housatonic Valley Regional High School students, begins May 18 with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m., and runs until May 20. The White Gallery is at 342 Main St. in the Lakeville section of Salisbury. thewhitegalleryart.com.

“Aliza Shvarts: Off Scene” will be at Artspace, 50 Orange St. in New Haven, from May 18, opening with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m., until June 30. artspacenewhaven.org.

Five Points Annex Gallery, 17 Water St. in Torrington, presents “Works In Process,” an exhibit of work by eight Connecticut photographers, from May 18 to May 27. Artists are Keri Halloran, Adrian Martinez Chavez, Joel Blackwood, Erika Santos, Ashley Visconti, Afkar Reza, Richard Max Gavrich, and Sumiah Salloum. The opening reception is May 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. fivepointsgallery.org/annex.

Bruce Museum, One Museum Drive in Greenwich, will present its 33rd annual Outdoor Crafts Festival on May 19 and 20 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine. More than 70 exhibitors will show work in wood, fiber art, metalwork, leather, paper arts, glass, ceramics and jewelry. brucemuseum.org.

An exhibit and sale of work by the late Durham artist Ty Zemelsky will be held May 19 at Zemelsky’s studio. Proceeds from the sales of artwork will the Ty Zemelsky Raising Artist Scholarship, which will be awarded annually to a senior at Coginchaug High School. The show is at 54 Fowler Ave. The hours are 1 to 5 p.m. tyzemelsky.com.

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