English Translation by me and Robert Lacey:
Hunting scenes are a common subject in the history of painting. We often see depictions of aristocrats bringing down a deer after dogs have chased the prey back to the hunter, or of dead ducks piled at the feet of pipe-smoking men on a Danish beach meadow.
Dee Wolff has turned this convention on its head with her painting “Hunter and Prey.” Here, an animal we normally expect to be the prey, a hare, is not the prey at all. Quite the contrary, the giant hare/woman reigns ominous above the four-eyed coyote, who shows all sign of submission to her. The predator/prey roles are completely reversed.
But there is more than a simple reversal of roles going on here. The hare itself violates our expectations regarding relations between human and animal, as well as hunter/prey: it is a human/hare, woman/beast, a disconcerting twist that somehow drives the reversal of hunter/prey roles. We might think of ourselves as the masters of beasts, but we do not necessarily understand the source of our power.
Moreover, such paintings are clearly not just protest pictures against hunting. Dee Wolff’s animals are not cuddly or harmless; she captures their menacing, brutish qualities as much as their beauty –without the “Disney” vision of all things fuzzy and cute – and at the same time portrays the folly of those who “fuzzify” animals in this way.
In the painting “Dark,” for example, a large black dog licks his chops, in perilous proximity to the delicious little poodle who stands beside him. But this poodle is also a woman, this time in what appears to be the prey position –perhaps a warning to those who think of pets as four-legged children rather than the animals they actually are.
This painting also presents two distinct visions of nature. We see the humanized, or “fuzzified,” version in the lower part, where the scenery comes through an automobile’s mirror, a tiger is contained by a zoo, and a foolish woman kneels next to some letters. This is the world of human delusion. In the upper part, by contrast, we see nature open and uncontained. Here there is no containment or sentimentality –only a vast horizon and untamed flight. Notice that the head of the dog appears to reach into the upper zone, as if to suggest it is still a wild animal at the core of its being.
Such duality is characteristic of much of Wolff’s work. It appears in “The Eye of the Owl,” where the monumental eye projects a feeling of something compelling and magnificent on the one hand, but sinister and surreal on the other. It appears in “Boy and Red Ball,” where normal proportions are reversed, and in “Pitbull,” where a member of this infamous breed is portrayed as an ordinary mother animal. After all, the animal is never the real issue; it is always the human angle that creates complications.
Ultimately, we are part of nature. The implication seems to be that when we pacify or “Disneyfy” nature, when we see it only through the mirrors of human delusion, we confuse our understanding not only of nature, but of our own natures and our own place in the world.
Perhaps “Wooden Relief with Hare Head” reveals most starkly what Dee Wolff does with her art: she counters a humanized animal world with an animalized human world, and so invites us to reconsider and rediscover our lost connection with nature, and thereby, with ourselves.
Written by tom Jørgensen, art reviewer