Deploying animals to symbolize human traits is a long-standing literary and artistic tradition. Kate Javens carries the tradition forward in her practice of honoring heroes, sung and unsung, with paintings of creatures she deems fitting.
The series featured in “For the Wolves, the Lambs and the Rev” at Marcia Wood Gallery are inspired by the late Rev. Linnette C. Williamson, whose ministry tended to the homeless, the substance abusers and the neglected people of Harlem, where Javens now lives.
The lambs suggest Williamson's flock and the pairing with wolves in the title alludes to the biblical vision of the peaceable kingdom. It's unclear why Javens chose to paint dogs, the wolf's domesticated incarnation, instead, but the works are so masterfully painted that it doesn't matter.
Essentially monochromatic, Javens' portraits of lambs and canines come to being through a laborious sequence of laying on and brushing off paint. Because of the delicacy and transparency of the surfaces, the texture of the of support -- canvas, muslin, panel -- and the way it takes paint change the effect.
So does scale. Most of the works are intimate, like religious icons. Their size calls attention to Javens' bravura brush strokes. In contrast, the 66-by-106-inch image of a pit bull, whose regal presence dominates the gallery, shows off a different kind of chops.
It also showcases the soulfulness with which Javens imbues these animals. This has always been so, but perhaps the feeling is heightened because neighborhood dogs were her models. (Not to distract from the solemnity that prevails, but we pet owners have always known that dogs are human.)