Just like everywhere else around this city this year, spring's sprung early inside Grover/Thurston Gallery, with a fragile edge. Taxonomy of the Velvet Forest is Anne Siems's show of paintings, in which shapely, young Botticelli limbs and faces float on transparent lace gowns that reveal not the body, but the earth. Lace is synonymous with romance and with boundaries; here it exposes and conceals the natural environment that hosts these ghosts. There are other phantoms in the woods, too: great masters of art, with their familiar, arresting presence. The elegant, predominantly female, figures reside in a fanciful Gainsborough landscape, infused with the magic foliate of Rousseau. The miniature animals are sweet and strange, like the creatures of American folk artist Edward Hicks's Peaceable Kingdom. There is no danger in this world, but there is a lure: childhood curiosity overlaid with adult elegance.

Siems is a collector. Scattered bits of memory and history are displayed like trophies in the 10 paintings, seven collages, and three moss-and-mushroom arrangements in the new show. The German-born, Seattle-based artist cites using "whatever works" to express the "interconnectedness of everything." Her early, abstracted, organic sketches on found paper look like scientific codices; the polished oils she began to paint in 2001 diverged sharply. Her obsession with the natural and the human, the microcosmic and the macrocosmic, slowly fused; and with the birth of her daughter half a decade ago, narrative emerged. In being a mother, she has also become a spectator of childhood, and it shows.

In Papercut Kite (2009), the young girl's neoclassical face bares the blushing promise of courtship. She wields an intricate kite, in which women and their suitors dance, captive in the toy's searing, white entrails. Lines of ants woven throughout savor the sweetness of the celebration. There is commitment in the absence of knowledge—a fearless participation in the daydreams of youth.

But most dominantly in these paintings we experience the implicit harmony and discord of nature and culture. Siems unapologetically makes a case for beauty in a world that rebels against the ideal. recommended