The minaret-shaped recesses, French doors, steam radiators and relief tiles in Roxaboxen don’t evoke for me the bookstore that was the space’s last occupant (since I never visited it), but more generally a strange Art Nouveau eclectic exoticism at the tail end of its postwar home-décor revival—the environment of my 1970s toddlerhood. Printmaker Miranda Stokes may not have the same associations, but since she lives in the adjoining living area, it seems as if the wedding-cake Orientalism of her surroundings has seeped into her subconscious as well.
Her show in the space features a long twenty-odd-foot scroll of collaged images and decorative motifs across from a number of small works in shadowbox frames; both walls use a number of techniques, from etching and block print to lithography and screenprinting, to create a curious theater of childhood memories and personal narratives. Sometimes echoing the indistinct fever dreams of Odilon Redon, the parlor tragedies of Felix Vallotton or the quaint vignettes of A.A. Milne’s illustrator Ernest H. Shepard, her scrawled drawings, blurred through intermediary processes, melt into the photographs she uses as source material, creating a sense of the magical possibility of handicraft so cruelly foreclosed by industrial modernity.
But there is an irony and violence that cuts the nostalgic treacle. At the end of the room, small, incomplete cartoon drawings reminiscent of David Shrigley cower meekly in the shadow of a comically bedraggled but thoroughly ferocious model of a polar bear’s head. Sporting mangled teeth and empty eye sockets, its presence hammers home the odd but distinct menace common to curio shops and deep memories. (Bert Stabler)
Through May 23 at Roxaboxen, 2130 W. 21st St.