Remember playing with shadows when you were a kid? A sunny afternoon making you 12-feet tall, or a beam of light coming in from the hall at bedtime providing a stage for bunny ears, dogs and more? Artist Eva Steil’s exhibit, Book of Shadows, on display at Blackbird Studios, revisits shadow play, documenting the fleeting forms like so many moments excerpted from a sunny day in the past.
The melodramatic silhouettes of this exhibit read like minimalist inversions of Steil’s usual color-saturated glam figures. Like the shadowed counterparts from Shakespeare in the park, shadow figures take dramatic poses. At other times, the stage shifts to mottled concrete, and like spills of ink the shadows run with shades of indigo and rust. As in the tale of Peter Pan, the shadows have become detached from their bodies, freed to perform playful antics: a lurching Frankenstein; arms with short tentacles dangling; a conductor with baton and cowboy with poncho. The mood ranges from lighthearted, with a shadow strolling with an umbrella, to film noir and a trembling shadow pointing the tip of a revolver. Other images take more sensuous forms with female figures, with bits of lace, shoulders draped with strings and netting, dramatic veils or the curved silhouette of a nude breast.
At times the exhibit benefits from props outside the realm of shadows. For example a shadowed figure takes a phone call; the shadow phone cord mischievously connects with the physical base of a rotary telephone. In some works, the props are less successfully integrated, such as a tangle of metal wire next to a shadow with an ambiguous pose. Some shadows experience the interruption of flowers or flowerpots in their head, or park benches in their forms, to unresolved purpose.
Small photo-prints lined up in rows beg for a narrative reading of the work, with each image functioning like a frame from a stop-motion story. The images are organized with some groupings that fit well together running into unrelated groups of images. The display would benefit from editing — removing unresolved works and curating the remaining images into tighter narrative groups. With “Book” in the exhibit title, a storyline is implied and the potential is there. Taking the images individually, viewers enjoy a variety of shadowy costumes, playful activities and intriguing forms.
Book of Shadows, by Eva Steil, up through February, Blackbird Studios, 1551 S. Commerce St., blackbirdstudioslv.com