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James Prosek, Passenger Pigeon and Wild Grapes, 2014, oil and acrylic on panel, 24" x 19".


Summoning up John James Audubon, Carl Linnaeus, and venerable field guides, these imaginative reconstructions of flora and fauna by self-taught artist, naturalist, and author James Prosek offered a tantalizing mix of abstract and realistic art, art history, and science. Perhaps the most eye-catching of Prosek’s works was the full-wall painting featuring black silhouettes of passenger pigeons, extinct since the early 20th century. Attached to the painting was a small panel near the bottom right displaying the birds’ splendid coloration. The work reprised a much larger version. In addition, there were little numbers placed throughout the work, as if referring to information about the pigeons, but none was forthcoming.


Sculptures included sections of white birch shaped into a perfect circle graced with a few delicate, part real–part ceramic leaves, as in an improbably curlicued antler composition that is itself a hybrid. And there were a number of exquisitely rendered watercolors, including one of a rhinoceros evoking Durer’s beast. Eel Impressions V (2014) includes an actual eel, the thin, wavelike bands suggesting a Sol LeWitt. Curated by Waqas Wajahat, Prosek’s “Walk in the Woods” playfully, subversively underscored the necessity of taxonomies and showed how protean nature outsmarts and eludes us, its essence that of flux and constant mutation.


A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 83.


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