VERA MERCER: Still Life Photographs

“Even the Mighty Will Fall”, detail
22″ x 22″ x 6′ 5″
ceramic, encaustic, fresh water pearls, playing cards

“Errors like straw upon the surface flow who would search for pearls must dive below”
– John Dryden

Pearls have been coveted and treasured as rare jewels of almost incomparable value throughout most of recorded history. The very word pearl has become synonymous with something extraordinary, fine and splendid.

Laura De Angelis’ exhibition “Pearl Diving” serves as a metaphor for exploration of our deepest and most private conscious and unconscious wants and desires. De Angelis says, “This body of work embodies the struggles, triumphs, cruelty and beauty that accompany this arduous seeking of the rare and strange – a gem born out of hardship”.

Laura De Angelis is a sculptor and storyteller extraordinaire. Her well-researched ideas, masterful technique, and poetic narrative result in powerful and poignant figures and animals alive with nuanced gesture and psychic energy. They become complex physiological portraits, which “reveal the workings of our inner worlds and are, in turn, the visible reflection of that which is invisible.”

De Angelis’ sculpture offer insights, stories and myths open to individual detective work and interpretation. Her red stags, magical beasts that appear repeatedly throughout history, are presented as a pair of trophy heads that bleed pearls instead of blood. Pedestals made of cards used for gambling support them. It is taboo to kill a red stag, a house of cards easily falls, and history is full of examples of human folly and destruction of what is most precious.

De Angelis incorporates the ancient technique of encaustic beeswax to cover and color her ceramic figures, each pound made of the nectar from 17 million flowers. 51 million flowers form the beeswax skin that surrounds each of De Angelis’ stag heads, the distilled essence of life more precious and rare than any jewel.

Laura De Angelis is a graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and currently works full time in her studio in southern Missouri. Her sculpture is in numerous private and public collections including the “Art in the Loop” public art commission for the Oppenstein Park of Kansas City, Missouri. De Angelis served as lead artist for the ambitious redesign and reconfiguration of the park including numerous one-of-kind site-specific sculptural and architectural art elements.

Crab, Paris, 2009
color photograph
43″ x 60″

As elegant and dramatic as a 17th Century Flemish painting, the opulent and baroque large-scale Still Life Photographs of Vera Mercer are grounded in a contemporary omnivore’s sense of food and nourishment in its most direct form. The actors on Mercer’s meticulously composed stage are fruits and vegetables, flowers and fish, fowl and game that most often go directly from being photographed to the kitchen. Mercer uses a large format 8 x 10 camera and film to create her highly detailed and sumptuously laid tables. Mercer’s candlelit tableaus serve as memento mori, a theme as old as antiquity, reminding the viewer of the transitory nature of life and his own mortality.

Born in Berlin, Mercer moved to Paris in 1958 and took her first photographs surrounding food in the legendary Paris marketplace, Les Halles, where butchers and meatpackers prepared the meat that was served in elegant Parisian restaurants. This theme continues to spark Mercer’s photographs today. In 1970, Mercer moved to the United States and with her husband, Mark, established several world-class restaurants in the American Midwest, Omaha, Nebraska, including the French Café, V. Mertz, La Buvette, and the Boiler Room. They are credited with helping to preserve and transform Omaha’s historic Old Market into the thriving community it is today.

Vera Mercer maintains a studio in Omaha, Nebraska and Paris, France and shows throughout Europe. In 2011, her work was the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Centro De La Imagen in Mexico City.

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