Critics’ Picks

Amy Jean Porter, Of Lamb #8 (Lamb stuttered), 2008, gouache and ink on paper, 11 1/2  x 8 1/2“. From the series ”Of Lamb," 2008.

Amy Jean Porter, Of Lamb #8 (Lamb stuttered), 2008, gouache and ink on paper, 11 1/2 x 8 1/2“. From the series ”Of Lamb," 2008.

New York

Amy Jean Porter

P.P.O.W
535 West 22nd Street Third Floor
June 23–July 23, 2011

Over the past decade, the Connecticut-based artist Amy Jean Porter has drawn over twelve hundred species of animals, often coupling her renderings with quotes from sources as varied as the Bible and hip-hop songs. Her latest series comprises 106 ink and gouache drawings, nestled together in P.P.O.W.’s project space, that focus on just one animal: a lamb. These pieces come out of a collaborative book project with Brooklyn-based poet Matthea Harvey titled Of Lamb, which was published last month by McSweeney’s and inspired by Harvey’s selective erasure––literally whiting out––of David Cecil’s biography of nineteenth-century essayist and poet Charles Lamb to create verse from the remaining text. Upon noticing that the words lamb and Mary (Charles’ sister’s name) appeared on nearly every page of Cecil’s book, Harvey’s reworking of Sarah Josepha Hale’s nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” into an irreverent love story about its protagonists began to emerge.

Porter’s drawings are not so much illustrations of Harvey’s poetry as they are points of departure for further surrealistic play. In Of Lamb #4 (Cheerful Lamb), 2008, Porter translates Harvey’s stanza “Cheerful Lamb/liked tinsel” into a scene in which a bright-yellow lamb walks toward a colorful bird that is clutching a foil-wrapped Hershey’s kiss; and in Of Lamb #33 (He was), 2008, the stanza “He was, / to use his own phrase, / half a man” is reimagined as a lamb standing upright, dressed in a suit with top hat, and holding a glass of booze in one hand.

Even though the paintings are installed in the order they appear in the book, the positioning of Harvey’s whited-out copy of the Cecil biography at the tail end of the exhibition hints at hidden stories yet to be discovered, and thereby underscores the lack of any truly singular linear narrative.