Gallery Review: Valery Milovic Populates A World With Creepy But Cute Characters

Valery Milovic Plays With Broken Toys

Summer Olsson
4 min read
“I don’t know what you’re so angry about; I’m the one who has to get toasted.” (Mariposa Gallery)
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Endearing, chubby creatures with big eyes greeted me as I entered the Mariposa Gallery.

Getting closer, the pieces revealed themselves as more ominous. All of the subjects in
Listen to What I’m Not Saying (over and over) , the new solo show by visual artist Valery Milovic, have vacant spheres instead of eyeballs. Some have sliver slits lined with needle teeth or “x”s slashing the front of their faces where mouths should be. Children, bunnies and angel-like beings proffer bright-red hearts that are partially anatomically correct and dripping blood. The pieces are primarily acrylic on wood, often cut along the outline of the characters, making them more like toys. Over the paint, Milovic uses decoupage clipped into specific shapes: Eyes, clothing and sometimes whole bodies are collages of text, maps or equations.

The two-piece set “Mr. Toast” and “Mr. Toaster” features a big piece of toast with one black eye and two twiggy legs, smoking a cigar and grinning like a maniac. Its counterpart is a frowning, shark-toothed toaster, with facial scars and pointy horns. Hanging from its backside is a real electrical cord and plug, gently blurring the line between real and not. The duo is funny, but if these things came alive they’d be terrifying. 

Creepy-cute is big right now. In fact, it’s been de rigueur for awhile, and it’s getting a bit tiresome. Milovic’s work fits the trend of storybook imagery mixed with things gothic and gross, but she’s not using this style just because it’s the hip thing to do. A California native, Milovic lives in New Mexico and has always loved vintage toys and cartoons. Inspired by the children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit,” she created a series called Broken Toys , which gave rise to Broken Toyland: the world in which all her recurring characters live. She paints the same creatures repeatedly because she’s empathetic to them and their problems. Flowers, feathers and hearts are repeated in her work like children’s doodles—but here they are juxtaposed with cigarettes, alcohol, razor-sharp fangs and blood.

Milovic says behavior, flaws, mortality and loneliness are some of her explorations, and that her work is not for children but for “adult children.” It will appeal to people who like the aesthetics of filmmaker Tim Burton or artist
Elizabeth McGrath, but probably not so much to people who like Norman Rockwell.

“Fox Ate the Little Prince (because he lied)” is an orange-and-black biped fox holding a crown. Micro text on his shoulder warns the viewer, “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” “Nunny #01” is exactly what it sounds like—a bunny in a nun habit. Indicating a dilemma of faith, she holds an alcohol bottle labeled “Outer Darkness Brand.” “The Little Star” pieces continue mixing symbols of purity and tarnish. Some of the pudgy, five-pointed twinklers have delicate wings, but more have cigarettes and grimaces. The most overt glimpse of Milovic’s personal demons is in “Maternally Speaking.” An evil gingerbread cookie-shaped woman has one hand on a hip, the other raised. “What’s wrong with you?” is scrawled in her gaping maw. Lacquered to her dress is a charred photo of a little girl, her head buried in her arms.

Overall, the show is grim yet playful. I started relating to Milovic’s characters, too. I don’t have a pet, and I wouldn’t mind taking home one of her flawed, lovable creatures. We could have a burbon and a smoke together.

Listen to What I'm Not Saying (over and over) by Valery Milovic

Runs through March 31

Mariposa Gallery

3500 Central SE

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