What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

July 21, 2022

John Geary
Negative Sheep
Rory Devine Fine Art
July 2 - August 6, 2022

John Geary

Asked how he came up with the idea for Negative Sheep, Santa Monica based painter John Geary answered, "One late night in my studio I was smoking marijuana, lots of it and I threw a sheepskin rug over two ottomans. It looked like a sheep with no head and two rear ends. I took the idea of a headless, two-tailed sheep and made Push me, Push Ewe. It's foam over a wooden armature covered in sheepskin with sculpted bronze legs." In the exhibition Negative Sheep, three of these ambiguous and uncanny headless animals, two white and one black, are positioned as if grazing the concrete gallery floor. They are surrounded by more sheep-- a range of colorfully drawn and painted, realistically rendered as well as more abstracted and purposely kitschy depictions of these innocent looking creatures.

While Geary's sheep are cute and appealing, it is impossible to view the exhibition and not think about the term "black sheep," as well as "Dolly," the infamous clone created in 1996 and Geary plays with the cliches associated with the species. A gifted and talented painter, Geary has a deft hand and a knack for drawing and painting animals. His output includes earlier large-scale renditions of found images of wide-eyed dogs and cats as well as a series that featuring gorillas and apes. His Negative Sheep can be interpreted as mutations, some based on anomalies like two-headed sheep or rams with four horns. Geary often begins by digitally manipulating and then printing out found images. He openly embraces the printing glitches that sometimes occur, using these color distortions as a jumping off point for his pastels and paintings. Often, he will create an inverse image-- which led to the "negative," or black sheep works.

While the cheerful Three Double Negative Sheep presents three seemingly smiling young white sheep with dark noses and eyes in front of a fence set against a gray-blue "grassy" ground, in its complement, Three Negative Sheep, Geary uses the opposite colors and tones so the ground is lighter and the sheep have black heads and white facial features. In actuality, Three Double Negative Sheep comes from inverting Three Negative Sheep, creating the positive, or "double negative" of its title.

Another small-scale pastel, Lamb in Daffodils also conjures a feeling of innocence. Here, a pink-hued lamb is drawn amongst yellow flowers and green leaves. The animal looks out at the viewer with a naive expression of surprise. Pixelated Sheep comes in two versions-- pastel on paper as well as a large-scale acrylic on canvas painting. Geary obscures the head and part of the body of a four-horned sheep by reducing these aspects of the animal to a grid of pixels.

Encircling the gallery is an array of painted and drawn, large and small, negative and positive depictions of sheep. This menagerie is both seductive and disconcerting, seductive as who can resist images of cuddly creatures; and disconcerting as Geary includes sheep with mutations which immediately calls attention to issues of climate change and its effect on domestic and wild animals. While Geary turns headless sheep into bench/sculptures, it is not far-fetched to imagine a future where headless animals are bred for human consumption. Geary's negative sheep, often portrayed as black or multi-colored, are welcome mutations that celebrate the notion of difference.