Jim Duncan for Cityview
Des Moines’ edgiest show this year took place at Gateway Lofts. That’s the latest G. E. Wattier building, the
architect who seems to be defining what’s edgy in Des Moines (Liar’s Club, Legends on Court, Alba,
Mitchellville Library). The crowd that Lee Ann (Conlan) attracts provides context for that definition. She’s the
rock star among local artists, a dreadlocked stylist of skulls and bones. Even her models are stars in the
Warhol tradition. One of them, erotically tattooed and nude, modeled on a bed during the exhibition while
Lee Ann worked furiously. Unbeknownst to most, visitors were being photographed while they gawked.
There’s no such thing as unobserved voyeurism anymore.
Such theatrics could become farce in the hands of a poseur, but Lee Ann carried it off. Her art dealt
emotionally and dramatically with two events that roiled the artist: “I went through an ugly divorce, and my
kids have been forced to deal with that,” and “The Virginia Tech shootings really, really affected me,” she
explained. In one series, Lee Ann posed her boys with thoughts of dinosaur carnage in their heads. In a
second series, the same children appear with their own artwork superimposed in talk bubbles. Both drew
“mommies walking out on children.” Lee Ann also painted the same model who worked the show, but with
wrist bandages instead of tattoos, as the Virginia Tech killer.