Jayson Niles’ outrageous creations on display

It’s hard to resist art that makes you laugh out loud.

Laughter is a reaction too rare in an art world more known for quiet contemplation, but one that it’s hard to suppress when appraising sculptor Jayson Niles’ works in “Anamalis” at Buckhead’s staid and ladylike Swan Coach House Gallery.

A Dr. Frankenstein of the claw and fur set, Niles creates absurdist mash-ups of animal bits and pieces, turning them into inspired new sculptural creations that suggest some terrible confusion in the taxidermist’s back room.

Niles’ group of 19 sculptures of invented creatures are crafted from real cowhides, sheepskins, fox furs, resin, wood and whimsy.

“Lion Anamalis” is one of Niles’ more outrageous creations. From a distance, this life-size beast with fuzzy white fur pawing at the air suggests a polar bear in a ferocious claws-out attack pose, like a hunting trophy in a wealthy industrialist’s study. But come closer and prepare to giggle. Closer inspection reveals: The creature’s pelt is an IKEA sheepskin rug; The animal is poised on a pair of wooden skis; The ferocity is partly diminished by its glamorous rhinestone eyes; The beast’s tail is composed of a long, arching stainless steel antennae with a decorative metal flourish at the end. Maurice Sendak’s children’s book, “Where the Wild Things Are,” has nothing on the cutie-pie ferocity of Niles’ furry oddities.

Niles sources his furs from the IKEA rug department and thrift stores, stitching animals of various species together into one ludicrous but oh-so-touchable whole. Niles allows visitors to pet his animals, a lovely gesture considering how strong the impulse is to stroke their pelts. With their odd collisions of the natural (wood, fur) and the human-made (resin, stainless steel), Niles’ sculptures make it hard not to think of our own misguided attempts to “improve” upon nature via cosmetic surgery, cloning or genetically modified crops.

With many of these imagined animals, it is often the pelt that determines the origin of the species. “Fox Anamalis” for instance, boasts the red and gray coloration and lush tail of that crafty forest creature. But like the confectioner unable to resist adding an additional layer of rich fondant to his cake, Niles then embellishes his fox with enormous wooden antlers to push the creature into the realm of animal extremity. By the same token, his “Fish Anamalis” sports a fish’s bifurcated fins, but also a bird’s beak and wings. Niles defines his invented term “Anamalis” as “a sort of mix up of animal, circus and anomaly,” and so it is.

These travesties of nature are rife with physical impossibilities. Niles is a fan of balancing his fur balls on one spindly leg like Saarinen tulip tables, as if daring them to escape a predator while balanced on one ballerina hoof. None of his glamorous creatures seems up to survival in nature anyway with their rhinestone eyes and enormous, cumbersome wings and antlers twice the size of their puny bodies. But they could certainly hold their own next to other strange human inventions. These idiosyncratic fauna suggest other mythical creations of the human imagination, from Pegasus to the Minotaur.

An undercurrent of delightful wackiness runs through Niles’ imaginative work, which only falters when he moves away from the clear follow-through of this wacky creatures and explores a more abstracted, formal mission. Niles proves less successful in his abstracted animals formed from resin and wood like “Anamalis 3,” which has the appearance of fishing lure balanced on a bulbous wooden comma. With these works, Niles seems to be imploring viewers to use their own imagination, but the exercise is not nearly as fun as surrendering to the artist’s.

Art Review

“Anamalis by Jayson Niles”

Through Feb. 21. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. ,Tuesdays-Saturdays. Free. Swan Coach House, 3130 Slaton Drive, NW, 404-266-2636, www.swancoachhouse.com

Bottom line: Silliness and imagination characterize this playful show featuring sculptures of imagined animals.