Tag Archives: Versailles


Between Reality and Dream: The Nostalgic and Surreal Drawings of Patricia Bellan-Gillen

Patricia Bellan-Gillen, Your Cruel Tears 3, 2016, colored pencil and collage

“We often dream without the least suspicion of unreality: ‘sleep hath its own world,” and it is often as lifelike as the other.” – Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), 67.

The recent drawings of Patricia Bellan-Gillen channel Lewis Carroll’s diary entry from February 9, 1856. Similar to dreams, her drawings are sourced from a cornucopia of stories, fairytales, and time periods. Symbols overlap and intermingle to evoke fragmented new realities that merge past and present. Bellan-Gillen relies on negative space and obscured references—the absence of contextual signifiers—to evoke both nostalgia and surreality.

Installation View, Heike Pickett Gallery, Versailles, Kentucky

Bellan-Gillen’s exhibition, Willful Wondering, originated at Carnegie Mellon’s Miller Gallery and includes drawings completed between 2011-2016. Currently, a smaller version of the exhibition resides at Heike Pickett Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Versailles, Kentucky. While it lacks Bellan-Gillen’s large-scale installations and grandiose mixed-media assemblages, Heike Pickett’s reinstallation focuses on the artist’s application of color, commitment to detail, and use of allegory. The gallery’s bare wood floors, high ceilings, and copious windows subdue any white-cube effects. The building, according to its Pickett, was constructed in 1792—its weathered brick façade and residential appearance indicate Versailles’s architectural roots.

Patricia Bellan-Gillen, Phantom Limbs/Cheshire Grin, 2016

Symbols from Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland make frequent appearances in Bellan-Gillen’s drawings, accompanied by other anthropomorphized figures. These readymade images are warped, multiplied, and accentuated by vibrant pinks and blues. As if pulled and stretched by the compressive gravity of a black hole, leopards, birds, and the iconic Cheshire cat smile become vaguely recognizable.

Two works rely on “phantom” tree limbs—their intricate and condensed lines mimic the verdant etchings of Carl Wilhelm Kolbe. The subjects of Phantom Limbs/Cheshire Grin (2015) and Phantom Limbs/Guardian 1 (2015) emerge from amputated tree trunks—some ooze from the trunks’ concentric growth lines and vacant hollows. In Cheshire Grin, floating leopards smile in unison alongside the iconic cat’s glib expression, tethered to the limb through wispy branches. As they spiral down toward the empty space below, the cats melt into amorphous black clouds—spots, paws, and tails are reduced to formless amoebas.

Many of Bellan-Gillan’s works are monochromatic explorations of literary remnants—they capture ubiquitous symbols from popular fables and stories and recode their meanings, simultaneously questioning the prevalence of specific symbols and their permeation of our collective consciousness. The Lure of the Rabbit and the Pull of the Wale (2016) alludes to both Alice in Wonderland and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; the animal-child hybrid, marked by its rabbit head and petite Mary Janes, dons a dress pockmarked by cutout pools of swirling sea life and sailing ships. Bellan-Gillan’s drawings often belie their material complexity; an adjacent work is similarly drawn from blue pencil, layered with individual grimacing water droplets.

Through the process of collage, Bellan-Gillan materializes her unconscious layering of fantasy and reality; her cutouts resemble the endless streams of dreams and memories that coagulate during sleep.

Patricia Bellan-Gillen, Regrowth/A Wonder and a Woe, 2016

Conceptually, Bellan-Gillan’s works rely on meditative backgrounds—white paper provides space for her figures to emerge and evaporate. In larger drawings, she incorporates a limited color palette: lush landscapes are enlarged and flattened into atmospheric milieux. Regrowth/A Wonder and a Woe (2016) is centered around a lone tree stump—from its flat surface emerge white thought bubbles that extend outward in multiple directions. Just as symbols and characters reappear in dreams, specific images linger in Bellan-Gillan’s drawings. She frequently collages or draws the same eyeball, ship fleet, or animals. Her works reject a linear or narrative but connect through shared images, implying that dream symbolism is more universal than individual.

Similar to Alice’s rejection of temporal normativity—the endless “tick-tock” that dictates past, present, and future—Patricia Bellan-Gillan abandons her subjects’ sources and time-constructs. Dreams provide similar relief from this monotony, as objects and figures from day-to-day rituals, movies, literature, and news sources are intertwined with one another. Willful Wondering is a reevaluation of fairytales and fantasy and probes the complexities of visual consumption.

Topmost image: Patricia Bellan-Gillen,Your Cruel Tears 3, 2016, colored pencil and collage

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original works

A tale of the stripmall store and the people within

Photo: cardomain.com

Photo: cardomain.com

Like many Kentuckians, my friend Glenn is very generous.  He gave me a car.  His silver Chevy Cavalier belonged to me every time I came to town.  The same was true for other visitors but for the two weeks I was in Lexington every year, it was all mine. 

How to repay such generosity?  I thought hard. 

Sidenote:  Where I live, such acts of kindness must be reciprocated.  It’s actually a law: one must not offer nor receive a gift or gesture without repayment in kind within a certain time to be determined by the giver.  Should that time be exceeded, the recipient will be advised by The Silent Treatment. 

Using my best “I-pretend-to-be-from-Kentucky-even-though-I’m-not” thinking, I came up with the perfect thing – I would repair the trunk!  

Lately, as you were driving along, the latch had taken to randomly releasing the rear hood causing it to catapult forward and threaten to smash the rear window.  In my case, I was often so startled I would slam on the brake causing the trunk lid to stop bolt upright completely obscuring the rear view. Alternately, it would latch so securely that the only way to retrieve one’s belongings was to crawl thru a tiny rear seat opening into a pitch black trunk with a flashlight and screwdriver to search out the offending clasp. Being in the latter position in dressy clothes more than once, I decided that fixing the trunk would be perfect repayment.

Discovering the culprit to be a plastic mechanism that had dislodged from the trunk hood, I headed where anyone living in Versailles would: to Terry’s 5 & 10 cent store.  I was pretty sure I’d find plastic cement, or “see ment” as its sometimes called, among the penny candy, 1950’s housewares and way in the back, my personal favorite, live fish and turtles.  The promise of being greeted by the aroma of roasting cashews alongside the 25 cent mechanical horse with a Western saddle had me on my way. 

From Terry's Facebook page

From Terry’s Facebook page

Now if you have ever been to Terry’s in Versailles, you know it’s a shopping experience like no other, particularly if Terry is in the house.  Wandering the aisles can be like hypnotically clicking link after link of Facebook pages where u find things you were unprepared to come upon.  Over the years, I had stumbled upon everything from a music box that plays My Old Kentucky Home topped with a model of Ashland to every kind of party and Christmas decoration to pink flamingos, ruffled lace by the yard and something resembling saran wrap that was labeled “Adult rain bonnet with visor.”  Young family members were delighted with purchases I could not resist such as the Volcano Making Kit, ant farm, bow and arrow, pirate patch, chattering teeth and a “96 Shot” package for cowboy guns.  Honestly, you can get lost in the place.


From Terry’s Facebook page


But Terry’s is unique in one very important way: the people who work there KNOW WHERE ALL THE STUFF IS!  I was led directly to the shelf of adhesives where I began reading labels.  After the 4th one I was completely confused until I heard a voice close to my ear say ” What’re you lookin’ to fix?”  And from that point on, Terry was in charge.  

I explained about the trunk.  He said “Well let’s see what we’re talking about” and the next thing I know, We’re outside with the rear hood open directly into 90 degree sunshine and Terry is climbing INSIDE the trunk so he can “get a better look”.  Once in there, he sat facing the rear, flashlight in hand.  As he began to lower the lid from inside to get that better look, I had a panicky image of it closing all the way leaving his lower legs dangling outside like those Halloween body-in-the-trunk gags. Luckily that was avoided by the arrival of another smaller man who climbed in next to Terry and turned out to be his son-in-law. 

Between the two of them, they figured out that super glue offered the fastest fix but agreed it probably wouldn’t last.  I followed Terry back inside where he encouraged me to take a 3 tube package that was better AND cheaper than the one I had picked up.  “If I was you,” he said, “I’d head over to the auto parts store for a new latch.  Then you can return this glue.  Good luck and you have yourself a nice day now.”

From Terry's Facebook page

From Terry’s Facebook page

As he walked away, I wasn’t sure what amazed me more: Terry’s willingness to diagnose and repair my car problem himself or his desire to do so with the least possible cost to me.  He all but GAVE me the glue.

And by the way, it did the trick.  

I never had to go anywhere else. 

Now that’s service.  

Editor’s note: On a recent Friday, this sign appeared in Terry’s door. Word is, it won’t be coming down. We wish the best to this good man and his family.


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