Creeping Beauty

Creeping Beauty

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Slimazia, 2010; copper, polymer clay, epoxy resin, paint, ink; 8 x 6 x 3.25 in.

Spray foam insulation is a DIY homeowner's BFF, its puffy goo a quick fix for gappy doors and windows that make for big heating bills.

But when Jillian Moore grabs a can of the synthetic spray, it's not to thwart energy leaks. Instead, the Iowa City, Iowa, artist transforms the foam into alien-like sculptural pieces that her fans find wonderfully odd and, somehow, oddly alive.

"I had a lot of comments at my MFA show (University of Iowa, 2008) that people imagined [my creations] moving around on their own when the building was closed," says Moore. "I really liked that." She liked that people "don't treat them as these static art objects, which wouldn't be much fun."

It takes an artist with an edgy sense of fun to make appealing what could be off-putting: sculpture that resembles extracted internal organs, fruity genitalia, cells in the midst of division, and floating umbilical cords.

It also requires wit to wonder whether one's art form was inspired by an early childhood barium enema.

When she was 3 or 4 years old, Moore contracted the parasite giardia and needed an X-ray of her large intestine. Because her mother was pregnant with her twin brothers at the time and exposure to X-rays posed a danger to the fetuses, Moore had to undergo barium and X-rays alone, without Mom. She remembers pondering the alternative. "I thought the boys would become conjoined, but specifically fused at the pelvis - ischiopagus twins, like one long baby with a head at each end." Though Moore learned the term "ischiopagus" only recently, she recalls visualizing her fetal brothers as a sort of two-headed baguette.

Her fascination with cellular biology, thus sparked, has never waned. Instead, it was merged with another childhood influence: a belly-dancing grandmother whose elaborate beaded costumes sealed Moore's appreciation for color, movement, and three-dimensional art.
That influence comes alive in the glossy composite resin and layers of luscious color that Moore applies to her foam creations and her larger electroform work. Think flushed-​​cheek pinks, royal blues, cheery-cherry reds.

Sanding through these layers allows Moore to show the complexities of each piece, with its otherwise hidden rainbow of hues or its underlying copper.

Other materials are overt. The Wildman From Borneo's tufts? "That's my hair," says the artist, laughing. "If it doesn't go into the garden to keep the rabbits away, I save it in bags. I have bags and bags of my hair."

As a final scientific flourish, Moore calls on her own creative taxonomy to label her pieces. There's Goober, for instance, a brooch created in 2009. A neckpiece was dubbed Drupe because, Moore says, "it sounds like what it does." Honorable mentions: Yellow Space Nug, Blue Nurp Ring, and Pale Slurm.

Moore's art earned a spot in the store of the College of Physicians' Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, among elegant exhibit cases that house skeletons of a giant and a midget, brains of epileptics, and wax renderings of diseased eyes. She is represented by the Friends of Carlotta gallery in Zurich, Switzerland, and Velvet da Vinci in San Francisco. She was named a Society for Contemporary Craft LEAP Award finalist for 2011. 

Suggest that her work - which Moore calls "my weird things" - is, in some ways, well, gross, and the artist is pleased.

"I always take ‘grotesque' as a compliment," she says. "I want the work to be seductive and repellent at the same time. Some pieces tip more in one direction than the other, but I'm very conscious of balancing so that it isn't just ‘gross' or ‘pretty,' because I think both are easy to accomplish - and feel cheap to me because of that." Marrying alluring and disgusting may be a tall order, but Jillian Moore seems eager to fill it.

Beth Chacey DeBoom is a writer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.