The centerpiece of Peat Duggins’s “The Great White Whale” exhibit at Art Palace is an eye-popper. There’s no looking away from Coyote & Pups, an oversized sculpture of a female caught in mid-whelp, in a sea of already birthed pups. Not the typical three to twelve pups typical of the species, but I counted about 47 of the offspring in typical pup poses: on their back, on their belly leaning on a littermate, on their side, in fetal position, or piled in a mound. There are so many pups on the 42-inch platform that the coyote mother is literally standing on her offspring as she looks back at her unfinished work.
The sculpture, constructed of a cast urethane resin, replicates the white glow of marble or alabaster, while giving the illusion of also being gelatinous or soft to the touch. The pups closest to mom have a shiny, wet appearance, while about five on the perimeter – perhaps the firstborn – have a pink hue with a mottled under painting to their flesh. With the goal of emphasizing both the seductive and repellent aspects of the natural world, Duggins has succeeded wonderfully.
It is moments like these – when this Boston-based artist produces elaborate works with many hours of craftsmanship – when his star really shines. He succeeded with his 2004 installation, The Battle of Hickory Ridge, a cardboard city with nine blimps, eleven planes, fifty houses, one hundred cars and a downed plane at its center. Its companion piece, 2005’s The Architect’s Desk, also showed an incredible level of detail and inventiveness.
The exhibit at Art Palace contains three other resin forms, which are smaller in scale and less elaborate. Chandelier, with its base layer of nine spiraling antler horns topped by a smaller second layer, accurately mimics deer antler chandeliers found in rustic homes. Duggins has been experimenting with charred wood forms and industrial felt, and both make an appearance in Untitled (Horn Mount) and White Buffalo, serving as taxidermist-style supports to the accurately rendered fake fur and urethane sculptures.
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He has one watercolor and ink drawing in the show which features mating hares. The buck seems menacing, furtive and determined, while the doe’s expression was ambivalent, as she did her duty to carry on the family line. Duggins’s previous exhibitions at Art Palace have included other drawings from the animal kingdom, including eagles and snakes, azaleas and snakes, ants and wasps, and his ability to capture their detail is evident.
There are two additional pieces in the exhibit: heavy, framed window panels constructed of charred wood with layers of cut felt where the glass should be. Both untitled, the blue one features a decorative, floral motif over cobalt sub layer, while the other consists of seven felt layers pouring out of the window frame like flames, morphing from purple to burgundy to red and orange.
The exhibit is interesting, if uneven, leaving the viewer with a longing for more of the elaborate, detailed works like Coyote & Pups and some of his earlier works.
“The Great White Whale” continues through December 19, at Art Palace, 3913 Main, open Thursdays to Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., 832-390-1278, artpalacegallery.com.