"Changeling," Charcoal on Paper/Sold
Fall from Grace
(Special viewing and artist's talk; doors open at 4:10 p.m.)
5815 Johnson Drive
Hours: Noon-4 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, special events and by appointment.
Runs through: Nov. 27.
Artist's site: http://www.kdallam.com
Gallery site: http://valagallery.org
It's always a tightrope walk, deciding how much of an artist's personal life and background — especially medical history — to include in some of these columns.
The litmus test, I suppose, is whether an artist's current or former condition (physical, mental, economic, etc.) is germane to his or her work, rather than peripheral to it.
So ... this is where things get graphic:
Katie Dallam's art would not be what it is, had her brain not been rearranged by another woman's punches fourteen years ago, in Dallam's first (and last) professional boxing match. Instead of fighting a similarly inexperienced opponent, she found herself overmatched against Sumya Anani, a windmill-punching veteran who landed almost twelve dozen blows before Dallam's corner conceded in the fourth round.
She collapsed shortly after the fight, her skull filling with blood from a ruptured vessel. And all for three hundred dollars.
That's as far as I'll go with that part of her life story; better to hear it in her own words while seeing her work in person.
Dallam will give an artist's talk this afternoon at VALA Gallery in Mission, where her show Fall from Grace is on display this month. And if you find yourself thinking of Million Dollar Baby, that's because her life before the ring — and near death in it— has much in common with F.X. Toole's short story, which became the Academy Award-winning film.
The difference is in the aftermath ... and what Dallam has done with her second shot at life.
Her artwork needs no qualifiers, no sympathy votes, no special stickers exempting it from criticism. It stands, uncompromisingly, on its own merits.
The works in Fall from Grace are not always easy to look at. They're dark, grim, sometimes grotesque ... and yet, as Changeling (pictured above) shows, capable of compelling a viewer to look again ... and again ... not out of curiosity or voyeurism, but because of the show's haunting humanity and sense of raw spontaneity. Her works are both fragile and solid, reminders of mortality and fists raised in the face of death.
One of the most devastating residual disabilities from my injuries is also one of its greatest gifts — I no longer have the ability to plan too far ahead or to think things through, she writes. Since my injury, my art has become less about the end product and more about the process. It is a way to keep myself alive. I must constantly paint myself back into existence — reattach my bones –otherwise I feel dead. When I paint, I enter a space where I feel whole — where I can still be a person with a place in this world. I do not plan or “pre-think” my artwork, rather I let pieces flow from the chaos inside me and take me to places they want me to go.
It has not been an easy journey, and the postcards Dallam sends from her inner road trips are not of the "Having a Great Time, Wish You Were Here" sort.
And that, perhaps, is what makes them so memorable. Hers is a fall from the grace of the athlete ... and into the grace of the creator.
With every stroke, every line twisting into a powerful whole, every signature on a finished piece, she wins a fight few of us could comprehend. Her "place in the world" is multidimensional: survivor, friend, sister, inspiration ... and unflinching, compelling artist.