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Lori Kanary reproduces plastic surgery -- with Silly Putty

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It was an ingenious idea -- so straightforward it was almost forehead-slappingly intuitive: Comment on the dysmorphic appearance of extensive plastic surgery patients by monoprinting realist portraits of them on Silly Putty. "I can't believe nobody's done it before," says Lori Kanary, the artist responsible. But as far as she knows, she's the first -- and it's pretty brilliant. Having done one series last year at Space Gallery that featured portraits of famous people, Kanary is getting ready to debut another in the same vein (but with more technically-angled drawings) at NEXT Gallery tomorrow.

Aptly titled Specimen II, the new series deals with medical-drawing-type renderings of plastic surgery patients. "The images I worked from basically came straight from plastic surgery sites," she explains. "You know how they have the before and after pictures? I worked with the 'after' pictures. They're pretty classically styled, because the body shapes are so exaggerated anyway, it's almost cartoonish."

To emphasize that inherent distortion of surgically altered body types, Kanary says she doesn't use the Silly Putty to distort the images further at all -- rather, she keeps the prints as true to their shape as possible. And after experimenting with several mounting techniques ("I'll try not to bore you with the details," she says), Kanary says the pieces are more or less permanent -- and that, as far as that goes, the Silly Putty actually helps. "You know, the shelf life of that stuff is probably a million years," she notes.

But Silly Putty isn't the first toy Kanary's applied to art. Back in 1999, Kanary had the idea to comment on pointillism by reproducing a painting by Claude Monet with a giant Lite Brite, for which she used close to 70,000 pegs. Besides being unbelievably clever and badass, it also won a Guinness World Record for "World's Largest Lite-Brite Image," and is permanently installed at the Guinness World Record Museum in Hollywood.

Then, after the record was usurped a few years later, Kanary took it back with an even bigger Lite-Brite, commissioned by Asics shoes, this one with about 350,000 pegs. "It's billboard size," she says.

In spite of all that, Kanary says she doesn't really consider herself a "toy artist," and indeed, her other projects range from parodies of famous paintings to stunning atmospheric silhouettes. But she's got a sense of humor about it, too: The opening show will feature "a model wearing Silly Putty pasties," she promises.

Specimen II opens tomorrow, with a reception from 6 to 10 p.m. For more information, visit the NEXT Gallery site or call 303-433-4933.

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