Beasts of the Southern Wild

Jung Center's latest exhibit mixes Southern Gothic with fantastical fairytales.

By Brittanie Shey October 26, 2015

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"Storyteller" by Kelli Scott Kelley

Image: Jung Center

In a new exhibit at the Jung Center, Accalia the dog-faced girl is on a mission to recover the severed arms of her father from the belly of a swamp monster. Accalia and the Swamp Monster is Winter's Bone-meets-Brothers Grimm, melding Southern Gothic folklore with Roman mythology to comment on femininity, family and the role of fables in modern-day life.

The collection consists of nearly 70 paintings done on vintage textiles by Kelli Scott Kelley, professor of painting and drawing at Louisiana State University. Kelley was inspired to create the collection after studying Renaissance artworks in Northern Italy in 2008, but the roots of the project go back much further.

“My work has always had a narrative element to it,” said the Baton Rouge native. “I was particularly interested in that work because of the unearthly quality that those images have. I was surrounded by these Biblical stories and thought, what if I created my own mythology as a starting point for a body of work?”

Growing up with the folklore of Louisiana swamps, Kelley said she's always been drawn to mythology and fairy tales. In 2009, she did a series of paintings of wolves, including a portrait of a werewolf and an image of two cubs suckling from the teat of a woman on all fours. Her other collections have titles such as "Odyssey" and "Heroes and Monsters." Accalia herself is inspired by and named after the human woman who adopted the orphaned founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus, after they were nursed as infants by a wolf. The Accalia of Kelley's paintings has two dog-like faces. Her tale is based on Kelley's own life and semi-dysfunctional family.

That tale, and the works inspired by it, were made into a book in 2014 by LSU Press. The paintings themselves are all done on vintage domestic linens—napkins, table clothes, handkerchiefs—that a friend gifted to her. Many of the repurposed textiles have handmade needlework on them, along with signs of wear and tear, which Kelley has incorporated into her work.

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Image: Jung Center

“They were used in homes, so there's this connection with domesticity,” Kelley said. “They come with this presence because of their history and use. I really wanted it to feel like the images were a part of the fabric, so I would work with color based on the fabric. There would be a coffee cup stain and I would work with that. I love it when they showed use.”

Jennifer Wilkins, manager of curriculum and events at The Jung Center, said the show is perfect for the center's gallery. Carl Jung saw fairytales and myths as stories that embodied the common human experience.

“He recognized the importance of creativity for physiological and spiritual health,” she said. “He used a technique called active imagination, which was to start a dialog around the images in your dreams or your visions. For Kelley, these are images that came from her subconscious, her experience in Louisiana and her family.”

Kelley will be joined by Jungian analyst Constance Romero at the Jung Center to hold a conversation about Accalia on Thursday, Nov. 12. 

Accalia and the Swamp Monster. Nov 2–28. Jung Center, 5200 Montrose Blvd. 713-524-8253.

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