"Open the door, get on the floor. Everybody walk the dinosaur." -- Was (Not Was)
I saw a happily grinning young boy, about two years old, in an art gallery in Tiverton at an opening a few nights ago. He as wearing a screenprinted t-shirt with the image of a dinosaur on it in the middle of an exhibition of dinosaur sculptures. I said to his father, "Wow ... this must be his favorite art show."
The dad responded, "Oh yes ... his grandfather is the artist."
Damn, little Ben has the coolest grandpa on the planet. A combination of the wizard Merlin, Santa Claus and Richard Attenborough's portrayal of John Hammond, the creator of "Jurassic Park" in the film of the same name, Jeff "Fish" Wells is a gregarious, inventive and entertaining artist. And in an era where much art in unfriendly, derivative and mind-numbingly dull, this is a welcome treat.
Wells has packed the Van Vessem Gallery with an array of not entirely anatomically accurate dinosaurs, as he is reaching for emotion, humor and a pop culture mythology, not presenting a scientific thesis. There are not the prehistoric beasts that might be on display in a children's museum. I suspect there are any number of 10-year olds who might correct him on some of the depictions ... but I certainly could not. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said about pornography, "I know it when I see it." This is the paleontology version of that notion.
Using materials such as fiberglass, plywood, duct tape and Bondo, Wells has created great reptilian monsters that reference Godzilla and his Japanese monster ilk, as well as Dino from "The Flintstones," and "The Herculoids" with equal unvarnished fervor. Entering the gallery, one encounters "Pteranodon," a flying lizard with a twelve-and-a-half foot wingspan and an elongated head with a tremendous beak, shaped much like a pair of needle nose pliers.
In the adjoining room, from two chains dangles "Little Florida," a tylosaurus. She bends and swerves like the sea serpents of ancient myth or the "monster" of Loch Ness. Across the room, mounted to the wall like a hunter's trophy is "Buddy," the head of a jovial silver triceratops. The metallic sheen reinforces the sense that this was a deadly armored animal, with javelin horns jutting upward ... even as he smiles, as if just kidding.
On a smaller scale, there is "His and Hers," two dilophosauruses, rising from white-painted wooden ovals from which pegs are attached — to hang the husband-and-wife bathroom towels from, of course.
"Selfie" features a cartoonish dinosaur with more teeth than a comb and a bright pink tongue hanging out like an overeager dog. He sits in a dark green fiberglass lawn chair, one foot atop the opposite knee, as if he were waiting for someone to bring him a beer and a burger.
A highlight of the exhibition is "After Years of Ruling the Planet, the Nuances of Music Still Eludes the Dinosaurs," a gathering of three unique and individual works displayed as a unit. One of them, "Gordy," a juvenile t-rex accidentally destroys an accordion; while in "Two Saxy," a young velociraptor does much the same to a pair of saxophones. In the hands of yet another raptor, a cello fairs no better.
Also on display, in various moods and positions are a yaleosaurus, a proceratops and a family of dimetrodons. Don’t' worry if you don't know which is which. Bring a kid ... they will.
"Dinosaur Haven: Selected Works by Jeff "Fish" Wells" is on display at the Van Vessem Gallery, 63 Muse Way, Tiverton, RI until July 10.
- Don Wilkinson
Originally published in The Standard Times. June 16, 2016