Cast From a Different Mold

"I lived in an area where there was a pond out front, so I went fishing every day and would catch bluegill and catfish. I decided that surgery and exchanging internal organs was probably a really good way to learn medicine and that, if the transplants were successful, I was on the right track. So I would take the liver out of the bluegill and put it into the catfish and vice versa, then sew them back up. I had very crude tools--my mother's sewing kit, these tiny little scissors, a little needle and thread and some Mercurochrome, that orange stuff, to help the healing process along."

Kratz reports that she spent countless hours dissecting, rearranging and sewing her piscine patients back up: "I was so sincere about my endeavor, so focused on it, that I didn't think that it wouldn't work. I guess in that initial observing and dissecting, it started transferring to other things--flowers, apples, seeds. I really started to investigate everything. ... I have to add that the catfish always lived."

As someone who obviously loves and respects nature, Kratz is torn about her choice of polyester casting resin as a medium. She's acutely aware that it's a highly toxic material antithetical to the natural objects so critical to her life and work. The substance, to which an organic peroxide is added as a catalyst, is, oddly enough, the same stuff used to make all those tacky scorpion paperweights sold as souvenirs to tourists and swap-meet shoppers.

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Its fumes are so toxic that the artist was forced to stop using the material for a year so she could recover from allergies aggravated by the resin's noxious vapors. During that period, Kratz experimented with other media for her sculptural pieces, even whipping up batches of hard candy in the kitchen in a vain attempt to effect the aged, rocklike appearance so distinctive to her work. "I loved the idea of the hard candy, especially since it's so readily available, but the appearance of time and permanence was not there. Those pieces usually turned to sugar," she says.

A well-ventilated casting booth now allows Kratz to continue working with resin. When she moves into her next studio, she plans to have a separate room where she can work in a clean-room "space suit" designed to seal out all traces of the substance from which she has created some of her most memorable pieces.

Maybe it's the childlike simplicity and an uncomplicated sincerity carried over from the artist's early dissection period that make Kratz's fully matured work so compelling.

Though initially engaging the viewer on a primordial, sensual level, the work from "In the Garden" also involuntarily dredges up subterranean memories long forgotten or neglected by all of us. Kratz's garden is a mystical place where the tendrils of growth and decay tangle and rub, where haunting specters appearing on the ground and in the night sky during moonlit walks glide easily past us. Through these tranquil pieces, the artist successfully invites us to join in "...looking for the soul of these natural things, the invisible part that lives on after they appear to die."

"Mayme Kratz: In the Garden" continues through Saturday, March 2, at Lisa Sette Gallery, 4142 North Marshall Way inScottsdale. For more details, see Art Exhibits listing in Thrills.

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