Quietly Sure-Like the Keeper of a Great Secret by Jo Dery

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Quietly Sure-Like the Keeper of a Great Secret
By Jo Dery
Little Otsu

joderyquietlysurecoverArtist Jo Dery’s first book is a simple and charming endeavor—even if it’s a bit touchy-feely. The slim, 88-page volume is a collection of brief, intertwined stories about the relationship between humans and nature. It follows four characters, “seekers and guides,” as the book’s publisher, Little Otsu, calls them, on their journeys in a natural landscape.

The story lines are a bit vague and far from literal: a spider follows a boy’s shadow (soul?) into his body, rendering him temporarily blind; a different boy, whose hair looks like a mini mountain range, talks to the moon, which then melts into a pond for him; and more of that sort of thing. Generally it reads like Dery either spends way too much time outdoors or perhaps too much time smoking peyote. But in a way, she has endeavored to create her own myths and folk tales, and in that sense, her efforts are not ill-conceived. There’s always the possibility that I’m just too much of a jaded urbanite to appreciate them—although I do think that good story-telling is much more complex than we judge it to be, and getting a 21st-century audience to think about its relationship to nature can be done far more effectively than it is in Quietly Sure.

But while the story lines flounder, Dery’s art succeeds. A flat, trippy, folk-art style, where patterns, objects, or scenes often float around, it is perfectly matched to the fragmented, weird stories. At certain moments, the art called to mind outsider art legend Martin Ramirez, with the use of incessant repetition of lines to create patterns. These patterns proliferate and intermittently hint at decorative abstraction, though they never fully go there.

The closest Dery comes is in the best spread of the book, near the end, when the hunter character is searching for the sea with a lizard on his shoulder. Night falls, and in those two particular pages, Dery seems to invert the book’s color palette from blue on white to white on blue—although it’s not entirely clear which color represents foreground and which background. And that’s what’s so great. The outlines of trees and other forms are equally difficult to discern, and the whole spread, nearly abstract, is delightful.

Dery has a Website where you can check out more of her work, all of which is consistent with what’s in Quietly Sure. But the site also has animations, and those I found much more engaging and suited to her artistic style. Then again, the readers of the art blog New England Journal for Aesthetic Research voted Dery and Quietly Sure their People’s Choice winner for books in the 2008 Boston Art Awards—so maybe I really have just been living in New York for too long.

–Jillian Steinhauer