The Herald Bulletin

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November 19, 2012

In Review: 'Visions of Paradise' ponders future

Artist Rob Vander Zee's work on exhibit in Anderson

ANDERSON, Ind. — Humans of this age likely won’t know what existence would be like in a future world where Dr. Seuss’ imagination merges with “Avatar” creatures. We can only sit in wonder, or wonder how to prevent it.

A fantasy world focusing on artist Rob Vander Zee’s exploration of evolution is on exhibit at The Anderson Center for the Arts, 32 W. 10th St.

It’s worth examining not only on a contemplative adult level but families can try to sort out the different mixing of species in Vander Zee’s mind. There are three-eyed geckos, rodents swimming with webbed feet and humans turning into apes but to name only three of dozens of interpretations.

The New York-based Vander Zee, who paints oil on wood panels, wants us to ask questions about our current human relationship with nature, and how science and genetic engineering might alter our concepts of the future. Viewers may never have considered the depth of such connections until seeing Vander Zee’s work, ranging from 12-inch square portraits to large 80-inch by 60-inch totally-involving images.

When entering the arts center, walk straight ahead to the Grand Room to first explore plants and amphibious creatures. That way, you’ll ‘evolve’ in human forms.

There, in “New World II,” a long-snouted insect floats among jellyfish crabs and a woolly caterpillar. A porcupine turtle crawls happily with its progeny in “Evolution of Plants I.”  The faces of a future species can be seen developing, perhaps into pink blobs with vine-hugging flamingo legs, in “Evolution of Plants II.”

Then move on to the West Gallery where quasi-humans dominate the landscape.

A tiger-orange Simian nymph contemplates a lush world in the visually stunning “Butterfly Boys.” The character gazes innocently at a winged lizard that looks like he could devour the youth.

A character named “Spor” sports mushroom-like hair. Another, titled “Spike,” has sea creatures on land near a turtle-headed aquaman. In the four-piece “Genetic Mutations,” characters include an armadillo with a bubble back and a cuddly koala-faced creature that could be hiding in any backyard garden.

“The Water’s Edge” hits directly at Vander Zee’s themes. Blue “Avatar”-like creatures rest in a scenic paradise; they seem to be able to comfortably adapt to their surroundings like chameleons. But in the water beneath them, tree trunks have faces, hands and body parts developing as a further step in evolution.

Vander Zee’s images are wonderfully imaginative on first look. On another level, the oils come alive as viewers ponder the future of mankind. Paradise looks idyllic but will science and genetic engineering let humans ever get there.

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