Clare Rojas

As is her custom, Clare Rojas donned a mammoth wig and performed homespun country tunes as her alter ego Peggy Honeywell at the recent opening of her latest project, a site-related installation incorporating a quiltlike arrangement of large painted plywood panels alongside more conventional painting, sculpture, and video. In Rojas’s music and visual work alike, duality, the pain and bliss of love, and the complexity of women, men, and nature are common threads.

On the rear wall that served as the backdrop for Honeywell’s performance, a flatly rendered young female giant with flowing black hair and wearing a long flowered dress is shown presenting a miniature horse to a diminutive older woman gliding toward her on the back of a swan. The initials P. H. have been painted between horizontal bands on the elegant bird’s neck, and the woman between its wings bears an offering of diamondlike forms—symbols of hope in the artist’s iconography. Fabric designs, tile shapes, and stripes separate the two generations of women.

To the right of this image, an arrangement of panels that first appeared as part of Rojas’s Table Turner installation at Deitch Projects in New York in 2004 depicts a small naked bald man posed spread-legged and vulnerable inside a box, surrounded by geometric enclosures guarded by a horse and a lion. As in traditional quilting, older pieces of work are here patched into newer ones to lend the project an intergenerational character. Rojas’s fantastical imagery of powerful females, magical beasts, and pathetic male nudes forced to assume the poses of female fashion models is meshed into a blend of quilting patterns and traditional Pennsylvania Dutch “hex” signs. Her faux-naïve style of patternmaking and spare, dainty drawing straddles nostalgia for old-fashioned craft and the cartoonlike stylings of contemporary street art.

The massive, intricate paneled installations covering the walls of the Rose Art Museum’s upper floor extend the imagery to more intimate gouache and latex works. One small painting features a kerchiefed giantess—a dominant protagonist here—whose projected tongue becomes a striped pathway along which diamond-headed male figures bearing gifts parade toward her mouth. A simple painting in black lines against a light monochromatic ground depicts a wiry naked man in an awkward pose displaying his male attributes. And in a more elaborate image, a black-haired woman plays her banjo on the back of an elongated growling horse. Lyrics and music to Honeywell’s song “Squirrel Bridge,” painted in the style of a folk-art sampler, are framed and hung elsewhere.

Rojas manages to temper fairy-tale imagery and sugary lyrics like “Kindness is walking you across Squirrel Bridge/Take your Flowers and hold on tight/Without much disturbance you will rest here for the night” by poking fun at male behavior. The two levels of the installation are linked by a goofy fountain based on a male figure who pisses pink water into a pool equipped with four erect water jets. The figure holds a small monitor that shows a video of Honeywell singing about love to a group of beered-up frat boys. The comic aspect of Rojas’s depiction of sexual relationships and the absurdity of her over-the-top performances and videos make for an upbeat kind of art in which, as the show’s title suggests, “Hope Springs Eternal.”

Francine Koslow Miller