Christine Huskisson

Christine Huskisson is Co-Publisher of UnderMain, Co-Founder of the Studio Visits Project and Critical Mass Series. She is also a Contemporary Portraitist, whose media are words, pastels and oils. Her subject has been her numerous acquaintances and colleagues in the arts for more than thirty years.


A Tapestry of Talent: An Interview with Kōan Jeff Baysa

In December 2019, I met with Kōan Jeff Baysa, the elected presider over UnderMain’s fourth running of the Critical Mass Series (CMIV) as the incoming Critic-in-Residence (CIR) with the Great Meadows Foundation (GMF). As we sat in a window seat at Nyonya in Manhattan’s NoLita neighborhood, I shared details about UnderMain and why the Critical Mass Series was founded, primarily as an effort to bring a multitude of talent together in critical discourse about the role of contemporary art in the region.

I explained my original concerns about the lack of critical writing and the ongoing battle against stereotypical notions of Kentucky as a backwater, and that Critical Mass had become my passion. Over the last three years, I’d reached out to various leaders in our community and worked with interns, artists, and writers to include their voices. UnderMain funded the program in its entirety. Then, in 2019, The Great Meadows Foundation recognized our efforts and a common goal for the two organizations: Both were intent on developing Kentucky’s collective voice in the world of contemporary art and, as a result, GMF granted funding to UnderMain to support CMIV, CMV, and CMVI.

Kōan had visited Kentucky before, and from the range of topics that flowed from appetizer to entree to tea, I knew CMIV would succeed on a grander scale than in years past. Kōan’s approach was clearly global; together we began weaving an even larger tapestry.

From our meeting, two topics remained at the forefront of my mind: First, Kōan’s comments after speaking with Fred Wilson about the museological approach underpinning his installation at the Maryland Historical Society titled Mining the Museum – namely to challenge all narratives presented to us – and second, Kōan’s intrigue with The Rubin Museum, which I later toured for the first time. This was a remarkable collection of contemporary works in conversation with the collection of Himalayan art. These talking points were harbingers of what would develop in the coming months with Kōan leading the 2020 Critical Mass Series – open discourse was at the center of both.

The Wilson and Rubin discussions would also lead to an exhibition proposal that UnderMain agreed to mount in partnership with 21c Museum Hotel and the GMF, Icon Interventions, which Kōan curated and discusses further in the interview conducted with him here.

Kōan later joked that our lunch had ranged from ‘cabbages to kings’ and that was just the beginning. Under usual circumstances, he was to spend approximately eighty hours in Kentucky artists’ studios and help raise the level of critical discourse among artists in the region.

In March 2020, the circumstance was far from usual, and while the pandemic robbed us all of what we might have done together, what we could have learned first hand from Kōan Jeff Baysa, and what outcomes we may have been able to build upon for 2021, it also meant the residency spanned four months and influenced many more conversations than we had anticipated, much of which is discussed in this in-depth interview.

Kōan requested that I include the caveat that his findings revealed in this interview are in no way comprehensive of the Kentucky art scene, that all errors of omissions are his alone, and that his comments are based on limited observations with mostly personal impressions guiding him.

CH: How many artists did you visit across the state of Kentucky?

KJ: Over the two months (Feb-March 2019) that I was invited to serve as the third Critic-in-Residence (CIR) for the Great Meadows Foundation (GMF), and for the two additional months (April-May) prompted by the advent of the COVID-19, I interfaced with just short of ninety individuals in Kentucky’s creative communities. For the first six weeks these interactions were actual studio visits, then via virtual interviews, successively from the INhouse in New Albany, to a private apartment in NuLu, and then the Speed Mansion in Old Louisville.

CH: How did you determine which artists to include?

KJ: Some groundwork had been laid when I made my first visit to Louisville in 2005. I did a studio visit with Steve Irwin, was introduced to Julien Robson at the Speed Museum, met Ed Hamilton in his studio, visited Zephyr Gallery, and toured 21C in its original location. Fast forward to 2020. In the interim, Steve passed, Swanson Gallery closed, and 21C grew to nine locations, among other changes. As a curator and critic, in the fifteen-year period of living in Honolulu, Los Angeles, and New York City, I wasn’t able to keep track of what was happening in Kentucky contemporary art.

Anna Olivia Blake, GMF assistant

Chris Reitz, with Joey Yates, Henry Heuser Jr. at the Cressman Center for Visual Arts

In advance of my arrival in Kentucky on the first of February 2020, the Great Meadows Foundation let me know they hired an intern, Anna Olivia Blake, to work as my assistant. She was a pleasure to work with, a local resident enrolled in the curatorial studies program run by Chris Reitz at the Hite Institute of the University of Louisville. I told her of my interests in everything outside the mainstream art world:  the intersection of art and science, underrepresented communities, especially the differently enabled, the incarcerated, LGBTQA, Asian and native American artists, performance art, outsider art, art with novel uses of materials and surprising concepts. In retrospect, I also wish that I had been able to experience more new media, chemosensory, and sound works.

Dinner at Al’s with art community leaders

Group of artists at Al’s

Koan, Al Shands, Julien Robson

Venice Four: Sandra Charles, Toya Northington, Ramona Lindsey, Lucy Azubuike

Al Shands and Julien Robson had the foresight to host a dinner with a dozen leaders from Kentucky arts organizations and two large groups of artists. As an icebreaker, I asked individual artists to introduce themselves to the rest of the group. The icebreaker generated conversations between adjacent “strangers,” all of whom were all members of the same creative community but were previously unaware of their neighbors’ roles and contributions. I largely met my goal of meeting every artist present, encouraging each to contact me for a studio visit as Anna helped collate the lists of artists.

It was my first time meeting the group of four women artists funded by GMF to experience the 58th Venice Biennale 2019: Sandra Charles, Toya Northington, Ramona Lindsey, and Lucy Azubuike. As I settled into my role as CIR, I attended openings, panel discussions, poetry slams, and other gatherings. One of the first openings in Louisville I attended was African-American Women: Celebrating Diversity in Art at Kore Gallery, commemorating Black History Month when I was introduced to the artist Elmer Lucille Allen.

Elmer Lucille Allen at Kore Gallery opening

Lance Newman at KMAC poetry slam

At KMAC’s poetry slam Anna introduced me to visual artist Lance Newman who organized the impressive showcase of talent that evening. An invitation by Ramona Lindsey, Program Officer at Hadley Creatives, to conduct critiques offered another opportunity to meet artists. Visiting regional art collectors and viewing their collections was a good way to know works and artists in concentrated forums.

Ramona Lindsey at Kore Gallery opening

Larry Shapin and Ladonna Nicola in their home; Julien Robson

Larry Shapin and Ladonna Nicola focus primarily on collecting and displaying the works of Kentucky artists in their spacious home, and are now planning another structure on the property for art. Gil Holland, who is credited with branding and developing the NuLu and Portland neighborhoods, gave me a virtual walkthrough of his home collection. John Brooks and Erik Eaker generously shared their select private collection with me.

John Brooks and Erik Eaker; Ramona Lindsey, Toya Northington

Dinner with Susan Moremen and Gaela Erwin, Susan’s home

I was privileged to have several walkthroughs of the extensive art collection at Al Shands’ Great Meadows home and grounds. Invitations to private homes for properly socially distanced meals provided additional opportunities to see works by local artists: dinner at gallerist Susan Moremen’s with artist Gaela Ewin, and lunch with the retired pioneer photography educator CJ Pressman and the former zoo curator Marcelle Gianelloni, who have amassed an astounding collection of regional folk art and contemporary photography.

Chris Radtke in her home with work by Steve Irwin.

CJ Pressman and Marcelle Gianelloni in their home

Chris Radtke, one of the founders of Zephyr Gallery, gave a gracious tour of her home, her artwork, and extensive art collection. I was also able to view artworks collected by Henry Heuser, Jr. in the offices of the Community Foundation of Louisville.

CH: What regions of the state did you reach?

KJ: My directive was to visit artists living within the one hundred twenty counties of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and two adjacent counties across the Ohio River in Indiana. I went north to attend a panel discussion at the Kennedy Heights Art Center in Cincinnati featuring Kentucky artists John Brooks and Kiah Celeste. Venturing south to Western University Kentucky in Bowling Green, I saw artists and instructors Yvonne Petkus and Kristina Arnold.

John Brooks and Kiah Celeste, panel discussion at Kennedy Heights Art Center, IN

Yvonne Petkus at Western Kentucky University

Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator and Museum Director; Nico Jorcino23, Director Of Museum Design and Planning, 21C Museum Hotels

Josh Azzarella at home

I drove to Nashville where Tiffany Calvert and Josh Azzarella opened their joint exhibition at Tinney Contemporary, east to Morehead State University to visit Melissa and Adam Yungbluth and photographer Robyn Moore. Through the kindness of Alice Gray Stites, Chief Curator and Museum Director, and Nico Jorcino, Director of Museum Design & Planning, of the 21C Museum Hotels, arrangements were made for me to stay at and tour the current shows and collections at 21C locations in Lexington, Nashville, and Cincinnati.

Melissa and Jason Yuthblud, Morehead State University

Robyn Moore at Morehead State University

Lacy Hale, Appalachia

Robert Gipe, Appalachia

I was fortunate to get in touch with creatives and organizers working near and in Appalachia. With prior affiliations to Appalshop, Lacy Hale and Robert Gipe gave insights into the hardships of surviving as artists and art advocates in the area.

Crystal Wilkinson, Affrilachia

Frank X Walker, Affrilachia

Writers for Affrilachia, Crystal Wilkinson and Frank X Walker gave strong insights into the origins of Black art, craft and literature in Appalachia. I was able to visit the shows: Black Before I Was Born curated by Ashley Cathey at the Roots 101 African-American Museum founded by Lamont Collins; the beautifully installed solo show by Megan Bickel at the Georgetown College Gallery; the handiwork of Danny Seim and the art installed at the Portland Museum; and a chance to meet Daniel Pfalzgraf who curated the work of Eke Alexis in Permanent and Natural at the Carnegie Center in New Albany.

Curator, Ashley Cathey; Lamont Collins, Director at Roots 101

Megan Bickel, Jacob Wilson, Kōan, art collectors at Georgetown College Gallery

Danny Seim, Portland Museum

Eke Alexis’ work in Permanent and Natural at Carnegie Center, New Albany. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Center New Albany.

Given the opportunity, I would have further explored lesser-known art venues, researched more black artists and queer artists in Appalachia and visited the artist Julie Baldyga. I had plans for explorations to Paducah further to the west, Whitesburg to the east, and Covington in the north, but the pandemic truncated those travel plans.

CH: What genres were represented by the artists you visited?

KJ: All 2D and 3D genres were well represented, and I was especially interested in works that crossed disciplines and combined platforms, so I specifically reached out to Teddy Abrams, widely acclaimed Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra; Robert Curran, the iconoclastic Artistic Director of the Louisville Ballet, and Matt Wallace, the Director/Facilitator of the Shakespeare Behind Bars program at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex. In other genres, I approached Edward Taylor in fashion, Amberly Simpson in dance, and Jane Jones, a playwright. Fortunate to be given a tour of the artworks installed in the expansive UK HealthCare Center in Lexington, I am grateful to Jason Akhtarekhavari, the Manager of the UK Arts in HealthCare program.

Matt Wallace, Director/Facilitator of Shakespeare Behind Bars program

Edward Taylor, fashion designer

Jason Akhtarekhavari, Manager, Arts in HealthCare Program, UK HealthCare Center

Jenny Zeller, Visual Arts Coordinator, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

I also wish to acknowledge the art programs at outdoor sculpture parks that expand the scope of contemporary art experiences for the public, especially for school age youths and for hosting international artist-in-residence programs. I was invited by Jenny Zeller, the Visual Arts Coordinator at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest to tour artworks installed on the grounds. Besides the wildly popular Forest Giants, especially notable is Earth Measure (2013) the large sculptural installation by Matt Weir. Similarly, Josephine Sculpture Park Director Melanie Van Houten gave me a tour of the installations in the landscape.

Matt Weir sculpture, ‘Earth Measure’, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

Lucy Azubuike, Josephine Sculpture Park

Near the entrance is a remarkable installation by Lucy Azubuike whose arc of tall poles presents previews of tree-based pareidolia found in the park and constitutes the basis for exciting discoveries by children. Innovative Louisville exhibition spaces include the exhibition space Houseguest, as well as the front room of the home of artist Megan Bickel and chef Jacob Wilson. Art-related dinners are hosted in that same space. Sheherazade is the converted downstairs garage space of the studio home of Julie Leidner. On a busily trafficked street, the shows are observed through windows in the rollup garage door.

Megan Bickel, Jacob Wilson, Guesthouse

Julie Leidner, Sheherazade

CH: What are some themes or topics that the artists you visited seem to hold in common?

KJ: Identity politics of race, gender, and class are being universally addressed. Artists can be effective catalysts for change, so the crucial issues of segregation, homelessness, opioid addiction, institutionalized incarceration, toxic masculinity, the legacy of slavery, serial exploitation of Appalachia, immigration, and other hot-button topics, could be further explored. Critical discourses are hampered in part by the culture of regimented politeness and lingering segregation. Kentucky is fractured into 120 counties within which there is underrepresentation of Asian-American, LGBTQA, and indigenous artists.

Skylar Smith, Ballot Box exhibition

Brianna Harlan, Ballot Box exhibition

Jaylin Stewart

Thaniel Ion Lee, Moremen Gallery

Particularly arresting and poignant, Brianna Harlan’s installation in Skylar Smith’s exhibition Ballot Box, at Louisville Metro Hall, chronicled her grandmother being denied voting because she, on command by an election official, allegedly sang the Star Spangled Banner off-key. I appreciate the energy and dedication that self-taught artist Jaylin Stewart invests in her painted portrait series that she also executes in chalk on city streets. I was not able to experience the powerful poetry and performances of Hannah Drake but we spoke about her forceful enacted oratories on social justice. I was struck by the art of Thaniel Ion Lee that transcends physical restrictions and takes flight in highly detailed drawings, photo self-portraits, fine digital images, and instructional word-images.

CH: Does ‘Kentucky art’ have a distinguishing character of its own?

KJ: Some may look to the KMAC Triennial as an example, but I am not aware of any characteristics that would distinguish works as “Kentucky art.” When I posed the question regarding the existence of a “School of Kentucky Art” and what Kentucky art is known for, the conversation often turned to the crafts in Kentucky, especially art from Appalachia. The institution’s name – Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft – reflects its historical emphasis on craft, and evokes longstanding discussions regarding art and craft.

Letitia Quesenberry, studio

Steve Irwin, early magazine work

When conducting a straw poll on “famous Kentucky artists” the names mentioned most often included Ed Hamilton, Keltie Ferris, Letitia Quesenberry, and Steve Irwin. Hamilton is a world-renown sculptor based in Louisville. Ferris, who lives and works in Brooklyn, is known as an artist from Kentucky locally noted for having “made it” by being represented by an established gallery in Manhattan. Quesenberry has also shown in New York, lives and works in Louisville, noted for her work with light installations, and her work with the Louisville Ballet. Irwin was an acclaimed, charismatic, and beloved Louisville artist famous for his hedonistic lifestyle. Undergoing cardiac bypass surgery in his 20s, he bore a precarious cardiac status and died at age 51 of a massive heart attack. Certainly not to the exclusion of other organizations, I acknowledge the significant contributions of the Great Meadows Foundation, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the insightful leadership of artist director John Brooks at Quappi Projects, and the adept stewardship of Susan Moremen in directing her eponymous gallery. I am grateful to Warhol Grant awardee Paul Michael Brown in Lexington for introducing me to Institute 193 and its mission of championing quality relevant works over commercial viability.

John Edward Brooks in his studio

Paul Michael Brown, Institute 193, Lexington

CH: Are there a few artists whose work really stood out?

KJ:  I’m very much interested in surprising processes and the novel manipulation of material; I’m totally entranced by the approach that Vian Sora employs to initiate her stunning abstract paintings with evolving figurative references. The scale of her polyptychs approximate immersive experiences. The fabric-based series by Crystal Gregory revolve around her concept of “material interrogation” that involves the astonishing use of cloth in conjunction with glass, pewter, and concrete.

Vian Sora, home studio

Crystal Gregory, Office of Al Shands

The head of the glass program at the Hite Art Institute of the University of Louisville, Che Rhodes demonstrates his creative mettle of working outside of the mainstream glass studio practice with controlled explosion glass-within-glass pieces.

Che Rhodes, Hite Institute

Tiffany Calvert, Hite Institute

By layering digital and physical masking, digital printing and painting, a particular series by Tiffany Calvert reads as Dutch still lifes with technologic flourishes.

Ian Pemberton

Jacob Heustis in his studio

Andrew Marsh

Stan Squirewell, at home studio

Having studied traditional Asian ceramic glazing and firing techniques, Ian Pemberton challenges himself by altering the processes from engineering perspectives to produce “relics for the future.” In addition, I like the scaled-up scratched mirror pieces by Jacob Heustis, the repurposing of metal and wood, experimental cast metal work by Andrew Marsh, driven by a personal history of physical trauma and chronic pain and the brilliant epoch-collapsing social commentary collages of Stan Squirewell.

Ebony G. Patterson, large work with C21 Nashville gallery guide

Vinhay Keo, Photo courtesy Susan Moremen Gallery

Having taught as Associate Professor in Painting and Mixed Media at the University of Kentucky, Jamaica-born Ebony G. Patterson creates eye-dazzling socially conscious large-scale works that are placed in many collections, including in several of the 21C Museum Hotels. From Cambodia, Vinhay Keo creates self-referential photographs, performances, and installations that embody an important rising immigrant voice. Having completed his studies at the Kentucky College of Art and Design, the talented artist now lives and works in Los Angeles.

Penny Sisto

Cynthia Norton

Among the several artists that working with fabric, the standout is the quilted work of Penny Sisto for her exquisitely detailed large-scale portraits of select iconic individuals. I’m fascinated with the scope of concepts tackled by Mary Carothers, especially her ambitious encasing an entire car frozen in ice. I was enchanted by my studio visit with Cynthia Norton and her performances as alter ego “Ninnie Noises Nonesuch” of rural Kentucky accompanied by her self-made musical instruments.

I have yet to see the finished sculpture that Maker’s Mark commissioned Matt Weir to create. Over two separate visits totaling nearly hours, I reviewed his tremendous range of works and was particularly impressed with the specialized tools that the artist invented and built for the precision work required to execute Earth Measure and his current commission.

CH: We understand that you were able to connect artists with larger art world experiences. Can you elaborate on those?

KJ: I habitually make individualized recommendations to artists with each encounter. These include suggestions of reference articles, other works of art, and art residencies with whom I am affiliated: Omi International Arts Center, Residency Unlimited, iBiennale, Joshua Treenial (California), Fresh Winds Biennale (Iceland), Kaus Australis (Netherlands), Young Congo Biennale (DR Congo), and other connections. My written recommendations made for the artists of Hadley Creatives were copied and collected by its program officer. As CIR, I was first generously housed at INhouse, in the Silver Hills section of New Albany. I envisioned it as a meeting place for artists. Unfortunately, grand plans for a multisensory dining event fell through at the last minute. On one evening, Julien organized an introductory meeting with members of the critical discourse group Ruckus. The event that I was happiest with was an elaborate meet-and-greet event that centered around the four female artists from Kentucky who were funded by the Great Meadows Foundation to experience the most recent Venice Biennale. I coordinated a potluck BYOB event of ten artists, each of whom was asked to bring a guest. Each person was then expected to share his/her/their work with the group. The happening encouraged lively dinner conversations, enthusiastic discussions of the presentations, and the making of new friends and potential collaborations.

The other large opportunity that was scuttled by the pandemic was Icon Interventions at the 21C Museum Hotel in Lexington. The concept was to have works by Kentucky artists in conversation with works in the then current exhibition Pop Stars!. Supported chiefly by 21C, Great Meadows Foundation, and UnderMain, the associated conference, Critical Mass IV – led by Christine Huskisson – was drawing audiences from New York, Cincinnati, Nashville, and elsewhere. It was a golden opportunity to showcase art by Kentucky artists, introducing them to larger audiences of curators, museum directors, critics, bloggers, and others from outside the state. I offered to support the application of a Kentucky artist with arthrogryposis to a funded position at Omi International Arts Center in upstate New York. An artist with the same condition was invited to the residency program several years ago and I shared that artist’s work with the potential applicant. Another instance was referring Letitia Quesenberry to the career of friend Eric Orr, a California Light and Space artist whose works were previously unknown to her. A further example is putting Mary Carothers, a prior visitor to the Faroe Islands, in conversation with artists Brandur Patursson and his father, well-established artists there. I met the island artist when I served as the Curatorial Advisor for the Fresh Winds Biennale VI in Iceland.

CH: How did the regions’ public/communities compare in terms of engagement and support of artists?

KJ: As a bona fide erstwhile farmer producing the gourmet goat cheese, chevre, I’ve often made the analogy of a healthy art ecosystem with a well balanced milking stool. In a gross oversimplification, the contemporary art world is made up of a several components that are analogized to the legs that support the stability of the stool: producers (artists), consumers (individual collectors, institutions), and facilitators (gallerists, critics, curators, museum directors, nonprofit facility directors, etc) that work between the two. Art activities in Kentucky are centered mainly around the more populous cities of Lexington and Louisville, and towns with colleges and universities with art departments. Kentucky has an imbalance in the components of the art world ecosystem: a pool of talented producers/artists in all disciplines, modest exhibition-promotional-sales sectors, and a limited consumer/collector base. The more “legs” equitable in position and in length, the more stable the entire structure. The ongoing challenge is how to grow the individual and corporate collector bases to support the artist communities, perhaps from younger generations with wealth, innovative concepts, and new definitions of collecting. There is a disproportionate number of exhibition venues for the numbers of artists. Admirably, Quappi Projects, Roots 101 and the Portland Museum are proactively building diverse audiences and constituencies. Real estate developers, architects, and designers should be engaged in this discussion. The dependence of the Kentucky art market as primarily in-house sales-driven should be reassessed. Critical discourse in Kentucky is ably served by organizations like Ruckus and UnderMain, and should be scaled up. The upcoming careers of curators-in-training at the Hite Institute should be encouraged and supported early on in their careers. Most importantly, active conversations between these various components of the Kentucky art ecosystem should be encouraged and sustained rather than being siloed, for that just maintains the status quo.

CH: What steps could/should be taken to strengthen the Kentucky visual arts communities?

KJ: Strive to correct the imbalances as described. This was also answered in part previously. Take initiative. “Chance favors the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur. Don’t be shy asking for help. “Not trying guarantees failure 100% of the time.” Take advantage of the resources offered by existing local resources like Great Meadows Foundation, Kentucky Foundation for Women, UnderMain, Louisville Visual Arts, and like organizations. Start with the individual artist. Professional development, available through programs and through personal initiative, is crucial. Artists should be articulate and conversant about their work from a personal perspective and within the larger context of the art world. Read, research, and experiment. Be curious. Satisfy that curiosity. Share resources and knowledge. Form, join, and participate in artist discussion and critique groups, in addition to those in academic settings, of mentors, peers, and juniors is important for personal and professional growth. Become an art collector. It’s not elitist to collect art. Herbert and Dorothy Vogel were civil servants who amassed one of the most important post-1960’s art collections in the U.S. One can start modestly by buying or trading works with other artists. Get to know art dealers and art advisors. Propose an installment plan and/or ask for discount with purchase, as many art dealers are willing to work with collectors. Be mutually supportive. Seek out and attend as many openings, receptions, award ceremonies, campus activities as practical. Introduce yourself to a “new stranger,” an artist you don’t know or whose work you’re unfamiliar with. Discover what you have in common or just make a new friend. Be voracious in looking at art.

If you feel that you’ve seen everything in your town, travel to see exhibitions whenever possible, whether actually or virtually. Proactively invite more people to your studio. If you’ve gone through the “usual suspects” regionally, find out which visiting art persons are around and approach them. Curate an exhibition. Whether solo or group exhibition, the process of mounting an exhibition will be educational. Critique an exhibition. Express yourself. If not for publication with Ruckus or UnderMain, put it on your blog and share it with colleagues. The characteristics of “Southern hospitality” include humility, courtesy, good behavior, modesty, and “knowing one’s place.” Genteel Southern upbringing discourages disparaging one’s neighbor, especially in smaller communities where everyone knows each other’s business, and particularly in the subpopulations of the art world. This is keenly impactful in the subject of critical discourse in Kentucky, where reviews may be perceived as more descriptive than critical, but commendable efforts by organizations like UnderMain and Ruckus are reversing the trend. Surprised to discover that Louisville was among the top ten most segregated cities in the U.S. along with neighboring Nashville and Cincinnati, I learned of Louisville’s notorious “Ninth Street Divide.” Acknowledging its Sisyphean challenge, I encourage and support all measures that promote bidirectional porosity and the ultimate breakdown of this physical and mental barrier. The origin of the name Kentucky as the “dark and bloody ground” is arguably ambiguous, but the double entendre evokes historical and current events of racial and gun violence.

CH: Do you feel that the artists in Kentucky have access to enough outlets (galleries, publications, critical review, collectors) to develop their work to its fullest potential?

KJ: No. But access is not just limited to these outlets, for they are moderated by psychological, socio-economic, temporal factors as well. Notably, direct person-to-person communication is effective, but vastly under-utilized and integral to professional development. Also see prior responses. And Yes. The internet is a vast ocean of information with remarkable potentials for developing access to these outlets. Also see prior responses. 

CH: What can Kentucky do to begin a collective conversation (together with the artists from all areas of the state) with the larger world of contemporary artists? 

KJ: Collective conversations have already been initiated with organizations like Great Meadows Foundation. By funding artist experiences outside of Kentucky, it has importantly extended and increased the exposure of Kentucky artists to the larger world of contemporary art. Again, I cite the funding of Sandra Charles, Toya Northington, Ramona Lindsey, and Lucy Azubuike to the recent Venice Biennale. In addition, GMF’s invitation to Dan Cameron, Natalia Zuluaga, and myself to interface with Kentucky artists exposes those artists to our respective networks, resources and conversations.

Sandra Charles

Toya Northington

By attracting well-heeled and well-traveled individuals to the various 21C Museum Hotels and restaurants, this hospitality group plays a significant role in increasing exposure to and awareness of the Kentucky artists’ works represented in its collections. I viewed my postponed curatorial project, Icon Interventions, at 21C Lexington, as a similar potential force. In addition to changing exhibitions at the museum, the KMAC Triennial, organized through a committee led by curator Joey Yates, is a welcome format encouraging further dialogues between Kentucky artists while fostering attention from beyond the state’s borders.

Group of artists at Al Shands

Joey Yates, KMAC Curator

Requiring funding and an enterprising spirit, national and international art events, including biennials, art fairs, and out-of-state group exhibitions offer more opportunities for Kentucky artists to gain further visibility. To gain further insight into the growth of the Kentucky Art ecosystem, fundamental issues require scrutiny:

        • Do Kentucky artists want these conversations or are many satisfied with the status quo?
            • What are the motivations, goals, and desired results to have these conversations?
        • A rising Kentucky artist moves away to pursue further education.
            • Will this artist return? Why or why not?
        • A talented artist moves to Kentucky for a faculty position and lower living expenses.
            • How does one encourage this artist to stay?
            • How does one attract other talented artists to come and settle here?
        • A certain Kentucky artist has the skills and reputation that could serve this artist well in larger cities like Los Angeles and New York.
            • What keeps this artist in Kentucky?
            • How does Kentucky keep this artist from moving away for other opportunities in larger cities?

To be fair, my comments are made with the presumption that artists hunger to extend their reach further. Some may not. There may be a case for maintaining the status quo. In the exhibition catalog for Here, contributor Mark Harris remarks, “Paradoxically, the circumstances that prevent this art from circulating at a national level are the same that enable it to gain its distinctive local color and depth.” Throughout my rewarding four month long experience as Critic-in-Residence for the Great Meadows Foundation, it has been a distinct honor and an absolute pleasure to work with all of you and especially with several extraordinarily gifted artists. I am invested in the creative communities of Kentucky, and offer my continued support and friendship from Los Angeles, Honolulu, and New York.

Mahalo nui loa!

Photo credits: Kōan Jeff Baysa

original works

Small Gestures

Two weeks into this pandemic with fear and uncertainty persistent, UnderMain reached out to the arts community in an attempt to reconnect. Since then, we have partnered with various organizations to help provide emergency grants to those most in need.  We have encouraged regional leaders and many of our writers to share their views of the world Post-COVID. We have invited various constituents to join our weekly meetings as we revaluate our mission and our role.

Pressed into unbearable corners physically, emotionally, and financially as the landscape continues to tilt, UnderMain supports efforts to enact systemic change to our fragile industry. Balance and sanity also direct us toward the small gestures that seed change in each of us.

This is that.

Near the end of March, we reached out to Jim Betts – a contributor to UnderMain whose words always soothe – and he shared his project, Notecard Essays. The cathartic nature of his pen to paper was clear; so, we thought it might be nice to share. Below is Jim’s methodology for making these notecards – it’s a kind of process that incorporates a ritual and serves to gently reveal personal truths and, for Jim, unlocks something even more universal.


I sit, usually following a walk, with a notecard spread blank before me.  Hopefully on the walk I have come up with a topic, a “through line” which I will pursue. Sometimes I am particularly writing to a person, sometimes he/she is just next on the list. I address the card, date it, address the envelope and, thus committed, I approach the pure white canvas. I try to have a point. I try to broach the subject from a specific example, expanding out to some universal or at least personal truth. I embellish with flowery, poetic, philosophical language depending on topic/reader. I do not write the letter to him/her, but the person receiving it colors the presentation. And that to be presented colors the recipient.  I do not/cannot edit, it is a one shot deal. So like zen calligraphy, I sit down, gather myself, write and emerge somehow transformed from the practice. That is what is known as a good day.

None of this matters. It is how I do it. It really can be revelatory. I am frequently surprised by what comes off my pen. I copy them on my printer, seal the envelope with a wax seal (Why not? It heightens the drama, gift wraps the card and lets me play with fire.  By the way, the dripping and stamping is also part of the zen practice…), stamp them and put them in my home mailbox with the little flag up to announce their merry presence.  All in all it is a good use of an hour.


Photo by Christine Huskisson from the woods above a long bend in the Kentucky River.

Here are a few of Jim’s notecards:


Dearest Mother, 3/11/2018
I watch with some amusement and lots of amazement as the mockingbird patrols the back yard. We have a line of feeders spaced 20-30 feet apart. The mockingbird zooms back and forth from feeder to feeder, flaring his wings and strafing any bird bold enough to transgress. And of course they do. He is only one bird and when his back is turned, they whiz in for a quick seed. He of course cannot allow this, so back he goes, over and over again. I can’t imagine the energy demands on both body and spirit that kind of selfish behavior must exact. The little birds still sneak in and gain a crumb and whatever joy is present in the pastoral life of a bird, seems denied the mockingbird, save that of a bully. And despite his stingy dominion, I don’t see him overrode than anyone else. How much simpler it would be, from my non-avian perspective, to sit in the gathered trees, sing the joys of spring and share in the bounty available to all. I’m sure there is a metaphor for my life glaringly present. Suffice to say, in a land of plenty, sharing with open heart would seem the path towards greater peace.
All my love, Jim.


Dear Kristine,
I’ve discovered the joys of notecards. This little rectangle of open promise provides a perfect warp for the weft of words a moment in time inspires. Not short and thoughtless like a text, not interrupted by “Get Well Soon!,” not endless like a sheet of paper (why stop at the end? Just get another sheet!) this untrammeled snowfield invites a quiet stroll, a thoughtful communion, a short exploration of an idea or occurrence. These cards are the haiku of essays; succinct, evocative, pithy yet playful. They are tailored to an individual and informed by a moment yet, if properly realized, address a broader, deeper examination of topic. Perhaps I am being overly significant, saddling this pretty stock with greater weight than it is comfortable. But I view them as a wonderful conversation with a close friend, say, like after the second glass of wine has been poured. When, while your partner takes a sip, you are free to expound on some matter of great import, to her delight (hopefully) or to the unburdening of mind. They are a short, one-sided exchange which allow me, the writer, to share the process of fleshing out an idea with a kindred soul. This little rectangle frames the thought, shaping beginning and end, allowing for creative middling. Thanks for understanding.


Photo by Christine Huskisson from the woods above a long bend in the Kentucky River.

Dear Alary,
We watched a movie the other night, a lovely, brooding film called “The Hours.” In it, one of the characters, the Poet, says something like “I spent my whole life trying to describe a single day…and I couldn’t do it!” I’ve been waking a lot, reveling in the glories of a Kentucky spring. After a bit of grumbling about the weather, I have adopted a no-expectations mantra, breathed rapturously at the start: “Show me the glories of this day.” And each day is magical. Whether it is the unexpected sighting of a Scarlet Tanager, whose bold red and black mimic the appearance of our typical Cardinal. Or the wind-driven, sun-dappled sway of the spring maples, suffused with an almost holy light. Or the buttery warmth of the sun as it wrestles it’s way through the morning’s clouds. I could brush over all these, paying sensuous tribute, but I could not begin to factor in the manifold years and years of magic sun, crisp crescent moon, summers, fall, hard frozen winters which yield with gracious tenacity to the moment I am breathing in now. And all that everythingness that informs my experience of the world is mine. It shares a passing glance, a moment or two with yours, but the vastness of your life escapes me. I feel an honest embrace of that which moves me, with gracious allowance for what moves you, is a life well lived.


Dear Nicole,
My daily walks have invigorated me such that I regularly take evening walks. And this very familiar landscape takes on an ominous hue with the coming of the gloaming. This is a different space, evoking an implicit threat, a time of stealth and shadow, Dark Magic. The sounds carry further and quicken the heart. This is the time of raccoons, opossums, owls, elves. A time of scheming, quick treachery and surprise. I contrast that with the day’s magic. Light, airy, inviting, joyful. Equally capable of seducing you from your appointed path, but with the tinkling of little bells or the gentle waving of gaily sun-dappled flowers. The birds sing lustily from the tree tops, the wind playfully rustles the gossamer and chenille of the spring wardrobe. This is the time of faeries, a glad sweet time. I find myself loosening my winter’s jacket and lengthening my stride. My spirit soars in communion. At night I huddle more, tucking myself in, still the open perception but this one more wary. During the days wave to fellow travelers as they pass in their cars. At night, I slide behind trees, shy of the headlights but more, husbanding my invisibility. As a creature of sight, I cleave to the day, savoring the visual feast surrounding me. As a creator of adventure, the night pulls in visceral ways, a Siren promising wild beauty but also potential rocks.

Photo by Christine Huskisson from the woods above a long bend in the Kentucky River.


The day broke mottled, cold winter grey punctuated by spring’s golden glory.  The sun-washed the nascent green leaves and caused one to loosen one’s jacket.  I got to the road, preparing to enter the courtly secluded neighborhood next to mine when a car drove by.  My eyes were drawn to the liquid cardinal flights all around me when I heard a sound much like a fast-food cup being run over. I looked and saw a squirrel on the verge of the road, clearly run over.  I stood, shocked, silently hoping the car had run over an already dead squirrel, when I saw it feebly twitch its tail a few times, then nothing. The speed with which spring’s joy was stifled was stunning. A certain luster to the day faded. In this time of unseen rapid death, the peace with which I walk deflated and I was once again afraid and sad. Uttering a prayer for vision and wisdom, I pressed on grimly. Birds sang and chased, squirrels gamboled, the delicate seedpods of the maples swang in the breeze like a flapper girl’s dress. A hawk groomed himself atop a light pole, blossoming like all else around. Yet not from sun and rain but flesh and blood. He was a harbinger of death, beneficiary of such like the vulture or the maggot. The roundness of life emerged, the symbiotic grace of it. From the perspective of the individual, the ego, life begins and ends, has a quality of fairness or not, but from the universal, the aggregate is beautiful.

original works

Ron Isaacs: Shelf Life

What an odd thing a shelf is. A shelf is just a shelf really, right? Put a thing on it, though, and it is immediately transformed into something else. Once we begin to populate our shelves with objects – whether with precious memorabilia, beautiful images, feathers, or found knots – the whole thing becomes something else. We put objects on shelves to somehow honor them or know them better; we may even wonder if time will reveal something more about them. We might also believe that they could withstand the test of time – simply by being placed on a shelf.

On a recent couple of visits to the home and studio of Ron Isaacs and his wife Judy – both avid art collectors – I could not help but wonder if there was some parallel between the object-laden shelves I saw there and the work of the artist himself. Was it the manner in which they were so masterfully composed or something else? Something life-giving? So, I decided to look a little closer and to listen.

The artist Claes Oldenburg once declared that the harder he looked at a thing, the more mysterious it became.  “I know the feeling,” Ron writes in his artist’s statement – quoting the Modern/Pop artist often. “Objects have voiceless, inscrutable physical presences, and memories, as well; these memories are borne on their surfaces as signs of growth or manufacture, use or care, neglect or entropy.”

Ron Isaacs was trained as a painter, receiving a bachelor’s degree in art from Berea College in 1963 and an M.F.A. in painting from Indiana University in 1965. For many years he worked and taught as a painter, and considers the period from 1969 to 1973 as one of rapid development in his artistic career. In the early 1970s, he began collaging elements, attaching three-dimensional objects to his canvases and then painting this and that to combine. They were, in his words, clunky. Then, after a little experimentation, Ron had an epiphany realizing he could make a painting any shape he wanted. He threw out the canvas and discovered instead Finnish birch plywood constructions, what is now his signature medium. For over 45 years, Ron has created nearly 15 works per year in wood.

Enormously prolific, Ron has found a home for his works in many collections across the nation, including the Racine Art Museum, the Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center, the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, the Yeiser Art Center, Berea College, and Chase Manhattan Bank to name only a few.

“My work stakes out a territory almost exactly halfway between painting and sculpture,” Ron explained as we examined an old painting and his first plywood construction. The move from Camel Ride, 1970 to Jigsaw No. 1, 1971 (the first wood construction) to Ron’s Plywood London Fog Freaks Out, 1973 clearly shows the artist’s growth toward his mature style. Where heavy black line once unified disparate elements, considerable finesse and a good deal of sanding are now employed to unite later compositions.

Camel Ride, 1970, acrylic on canvas and wood, 30″ x 22″

Jigsaw No. 1, 1971, Acrylic on fir plywood construction. 28 1/2″ x 26″ x 2 1/2″ Collection of Bert and Cherie Mutersbaugh

Ron’s Plywood London Fog Freaks Out, 1973, acrylic on fir plywood construction and coat hanger, 42″ x 30″ x 6 1/2″

In the end, his goal is to trick the eye, but unlike traditional trompe l’oeil painters, the illusion of real objects is not Ron’s primary concern. “The illusion is an interesting and useful byproduct of my attempt to make a strong image that has the authority of direct observation.  If the illusion fails, which it always ultimately does either sooner or later, you still have an image to respond to, which is pretty much what you get with any painting or sculpture.”

Why would a trompe l’oeil artist want the illusion to fail? This is one of Isaacs’ chief strategies: he sets out to render something ‘real’ and then interrupts our impression with metamorphosis or paradox – turning the final construction to a thing more surreal.

In the series of images below, the process of creating these works is illustrated. Ron moves from the composition of real objects on a grid board, to tracing paper patterns with detailed instructions for the final shapes, to contour line patterns, then transfers these shapes to varying thicknesses of birch plywood, sawing, sanding and the gluing, to compose a final form.

Trained as a formalist, composition is one of Ron’s major concerns, as his works take on freer shapes on the wall. He understands that negative space is as important as the form and shape of each of the objects included. This construction was in its beginning phase on my first visit and completed on my second, one week later. It is titled Just a Thought and is just 8 1/2 inches tall by fifteen wide.

Juxtaposing man-made garments and natural objects in most of his constructions, Ron delves deeper into the mysteries of both; for him this combination reminds us of our relationship with nature – “either being a part of it or apart from it.” Alter Ego (Waterfall), 2008 and Birdies, 2015 bears witness to these dueling realities.

Ron also admits to liking the fact that, “the garment is fixed in time and the leaves are anytime.” Although he rarely works on more than one construction at a time, he will, when necessary, turn to a natural object that will eventually fade or die and recreate it for use in a future work.

The vintage garments, on the other hand, have a more stable shelf life and Ron’s friends like to joke that he has more dresses hanging around than his wife. For Ron, these garments have rich structures, colors, and shapes which lend themselves to endless design possibilities. “They continue the life of the past into the present, and they function in my work as anthropomorphic presences which become effective stand-ins for the human figure.”

Ron Isaacs,"Alter Ego (Waterfall), birch plywood construction prior to painting

Alter Ego (Waterfall) in process, 2008, 44″ x 33 3/4″ x 7 3/4″, collection of John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Ron Isaacs, "Alter Ego (Waterfall)"

Alter Ego (Waterfall), 2008, 44″ x 33 3/4″ x 7 3/4″, collection of John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin


Birdies, Finnish birch construction, 2015, 22 3/4″ x 18 1/2″ x 2 1/4″

"Birdies," 2015

Birdies, 2015, 22 3/4″ x 18 1/2″ x 2 1/4″

“Trompe l’oeil (‘fool the eye’) could be a gimmick for an artist to show off technical skills, a fairly shallow if entertaining enterprise, but its devices seem an appropriate response to my love of the visual world.  I am still enamored with the old simple discovery of resemblance, the first idea of art after tools and shelter:  It means that an object or image made of one material can share the outward appearance and therefore some of the ‘reality’ of another.”

Sticks are crucial. In design terms, a stick is basically a line for Ron Isaacs; he frequently uses them to draw forms as in Alter Ego and Metaphor.

"Metaphor," 2005

Metaphor, 2005, 24″ x 51 1/4″ x 8″

Ron does not consider himself a conceptual artist, but I couldn’t help but see a bit of ideation playing equal part to the aesthetics in works like Coincidence from 2014. In fact, this composition had more to do with his sense of humor than anything much deeper; he commented, “It was even more fun, when the actual stick – the inspiration for both of my sticks – was still around.” Quoting from American writer and poet Joyce Kilmer’s short poem titled ‘Trees’ from 1913, Ron humbly states:

Maybe, ‘Only God can make a tree’, but I can make a pretty good stick.

"Coincidence," 2014

Coincidence, 2014, 2 parts; 26″ x 9″ x 1 1/2″, overall

Ron considers his job is to make things that are evocative and allow viewers to interpret his works as they will. While not all easily accessible, ‘simplicity’ and ‘directness’ are two terms used by Rick Snyderman, Principle of Snyderman-Works Galleries in Philadelphia, when describing Ron’s works (catalogue essay to accompany Ron Isaacs: A Retrospective in 2 1/2 D). Isaacs connects the viewer in tight constructs, but never requires a specific interpretation. The content is open content.

Muted gray, brown, and off-white are favorites in Isaacs’ palette. Just a Thought is a good example. However, given that all of this is to challenge himself, he will work in bolder colors as in Recurring Dream in Red from 2011. If a particular object requires that he push himself, he turns always to his judgment and artistic licensure. Ron does all of this because he must; he cannot really say in words exactly why. His works are visual poems, frequently quoting American realist painter and printmaker Edward Hopper:

If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.

Recurring Dream in Red, 2011, 36 1/4″ x 55″ x 3 1/2 Collection of Michael and Christine Huskisson

If only you could say it in words. “I combine imagery, often using paradoxical interruptions and metamorphoses, in hopes of creating visual ‘poems’ of sorts; these suggest metaphors for the relationships of human life and nature, memory, and the passage of time.” In fact, the inspiration for Improve Each Shining Hour from 2010 is a poem by Isaac Watts titled How Doth the Little Busy Bee.

Mediating the artistic experience in words is, we all know, a difficult thing to do. So, thank you, Ron for improving each hour by bringing to us these masterful compositions. May they sit forever on our shelves of life.

"Improve Each Shining Hour," 2010


How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower! How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

In works of labor or of skill,
I would be busy too;
For Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do

In books, or work, or healthful play,
Let my first years be passed,
That I may give for every day
Some good account at last.

– Isaac Watts (1674-1748)


Ron is represented in Kentucky by Heike Pickett Gallery in Versailles.

The artist’s retrospective Ron Isaacs: A Retrospective in 2 1/2 D was held in the fall of 2011 at the Doris Ulmann Galleries at Berea College.

Related in UnderMain: Other Lexington artists who mix mediums

Patrick Adams: Lights Mystery 

Patrick McNeese in Scene&Heard


It Just Kinda Dawned on Us

..and the sun keeps comin’ up…

This venture has been a long and healthy haul – and now our future is even more robust. When we (my Co-Publishers Tom Martin, Art Shechet and I) first launched UnderMain in 2014, we were simply having fun. We enjoyed uncovering what we thought was hidden in the shadows or living under the main thoroughfares of the then-present consciousness of art and culture in our region.

That was the way this all started: With caffeine and laughter, many morning meetings turned to their adjacent afternoons full of new ideas. Sitting at the same table at Le Matin Bakery, one Wednesday after the next, we came up with the title of our ad-free, visually rich digital magazine: UnderMain. We decided then that its primary mission would be to shine a light on artists, writers, gallerists, creative spaces and ideas, collectors, curators, and critics who work hard everyday and struggle to be heard and seen.

I am not sure why we were searching the darkened spaces or if we just felt there was not enough visibility in print publications, but no matter – because now we’ve flipped the switch in this little digital space. Whether it was passion, fatigue, frustration, ideation, or the simply act of creating, we had it and found enough of it mirrored in you to thrive all these years.

So, as your UMPrez, I am delighted to announce that UnderMain has received a three-year commitment from the Great Meadows Foundation (GMF) to continue our programming.

It should be noted that the generosity of the Great Meadows Foundation is supported by a near equal match of anonymous donations and in-kind contributions from so many. The writing, management, coordination, editing, curation of our content is brought to you by an undying commitment from our contributors and editors, many of whom work in an entirely philanthropic manner. Together we have remained consistent and fresh over the last five years and, with this three-year commitment, all that we have done means all the more there is to do.

As I elaborated in our proposal to the Great Meadows Foundation, UnderMain must now move beyond our light-and-shadows naiveté into a more prominent place of advancing the level of discourse in Kentucky about visual art and culture. These three programs are at the heart of that effort:

Studio Visit Series 

In 2014, we ventured out and into area artists’ studios. I was privileged to write and publish a few of those first visits  (“Ron Isaacs: Shelf Life”and “Dark Dualities: David Kenton Kring”) and now I spend more time connecting writers with artists and publishing their stories. There comes with that a certain reward, a specific joy in connecting two individuals who learn from one another as these writers and artists did: Keith Banner visits Michael Goodlett and Jim Fields visits Skylar Smith. Jim’s own words might say it best:

I began writing exclusively for UnderMain three years ago with a primary focus on artists, their work and what inspires them. For me, ‘the blank page is both exhilarating and intimidating and, like creating a work of art, writing is a process that requires both vision and revision. It is about making certain choices, being aware of various connections, and synthesizing information in order to give my ideas shape and meaning. Working with artists in their studio settings requires implicit mutual confidence and trust, with equal vulnerability, and being ever mindful to not be blinded by the obvious. I am honored to have been selected as one of the writers to participate in Under-Main’s Studio Visits Series under the auspices of The Great Meadows Foundation. While I am grateful for the stipend I received, my real reward for writing ‘A Studio Visit with Skylar Smith: Her Story’ came from the artist herself when she emailed me shortly after the article was published: “You gave voice to things I have not been able to articulate, yet resonate for me—thank you for this.”

In 2019, with our first funding commitment from the GMF, our focus has narrowed to Kentucky artists and we have thus far published eight studio visits, those above and the following: Miles Turner visits Mia Cinelli, Emily Elizabeth Goodman visits Melissa Vandenberg, Hunter Kissel visits Harry Sanchez, Jr. , Miriam Keinle visits Lori Larusso, Sso-Rha Kang visits Carlos Gamez De Francisco, and Natalie Weis visits Vian Sora.

Upcoming is a visit by the Speed Museum’s Miranda Lash with Louisville artist John Brooks, Paul Michael Brown’s visit with Lexington artist Robert Beatty, and Cooper Gibson’s visit with James Lyons.

In 2020, UnderMain will organize thirteen studio visits with Kentucky artists and our writers will not only be paid a stipend for their work, but – at the request of Sso-Rha Kang – I have included a small amount for travel expenses as I have always tried to connect artist and writer from different areas of this region.

Critical Mass Symposium

In 2016, we launched the Critical Mass Series, a symposium intended to advance critical thinking in the arts and promote further discussion about Kentucky’s position as it relates to the broader art community.

Critical Mass I  took place in 2016 at the University of Kentucky Art Museum and was moderated by Stuart Horodner. Then in 2018, we followed that with Critical Mass II at KMAC with Joey Yates moderating – fully intending the symposium as a biennial. The discussions however, generated such enthusiasm that it led us to rethink that idea – and in 2019 Matt Distel of The Carnegie in Covington held Critical Mass III.

Critical Mass IV is being planned for March of 202o and will feature the GMF Critic-in-Residence Koan Jeff Baysa.  So, please watch our site for upcoming details.

Critical Reviews of Local Exhibitions 

Since inception, we have held this as one of our highest priorities and, at year end, we are encouraged by the impact these reviews have had. They have exposed the curatorial work of many institutions in Kentucky and the Central Kentucky region, including: The Moreman Gallery and KMAC in Louisville; 21c Museum Hotel, Mary Rezny Gallery, Institute 193, and the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington; the Solway Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio; and the Kleinhelter Gallery in New Albany, Indiana.

Engaging critical writing from both within and outside of our state has helped to advance the level of critical discourse about contemporary art and its role in defining our regional identity. With the support of the Great Meadows Foundation, UnderMain will increase the publication of these reviews to twenty per year with an increase in pay to our writers.

Thanks to all who support our endeavor. The UnderMain concept is growing, and with new programming like UMRadio – a recurring feature of the weekly program Eastern Standard on WEKU, a local NPR station, and UMDingers, a surprise treat coming in 2020 – we continue to aim higher. And, when that big ball hits the top, we’ll move into the dawn of the dusk knowing full well how to light the way.


Critical Mass: From III to IV

In March of this year, UnderMain held its third panel discussion of the Critical Mass Series. The series was founded and is undertaken annually as a way to examine the role that criticism plays for Kentucky artists and institutions. The co-founders and regional partners believe that critical discourse can help us engage in a more meaningful dialogue regionally and with the national and international contemporary art world.

Collaboration is vital to the Critical Mass Series and as UnderMain hosts the series in a different part of Kentucky each year, we seek out new partners. Critical Mass I (2016) was conducted in partnership with the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington, while Critical Mass II (2017) was held at KMAC in Louisville. This year, we brought in The Carnegie Center in Covington with Exhibitions Director Matt Distel moderating. 

In keeping with his curatorial style known as Open Source, Distel invited five artists (Harry Sanches Jr., Joey Versoza, David Wischer, Lindsey Whittle, and Sky Cubacub) to join three curators/writers working in the region. CMIII:In The Mid (2019) specifically addressed the topic of regionalism and its impact on artists and writers working in the mid-West. Distel set out to ask: What is a healthy arts discourse and does it exist in this region? What are the practical concerns for artists that are working outside of major arts centers? What role does art criticism and critical dialogue in general play in the careers of “regional” artists?

The symposium featured The Great Meadows Foundation Critic-in-Residence and Miami-based curator, Natalia Zuluaga, who shared some of what she learned during her March residency in Kentucky where she made studio visits to the studios of more than thirty artists.  Natalia was joined by Valentine Umansky, Curatorial Fellow at the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati; Annie dell’Aria, Assistant Professor at Miami University and writer for AEQAI; and Sarah Rose Sharp, Detroit-based activist and multi-media artist and writer for HyperAllergic, Art in America, Flash Art, and Sculpure Magazine.

For those of you who could not join us, below is an interview with Christine Huskisson and Matt Distel on the WEKU current affairs program Eastern Standard explaining a bit about The Critical Mass Series, as well as a short video of the symposium itself. We hope you enjoy.

Planning for Critical Mass IV is underway. More on that soon.

Interview with Christine Huskisson, co-founder and curator of The Critical Mass Series and Matt Distel, moderator of CMIII:In The Mid.

Video and Audio

© 2019 UnderMain, Inc.


UnderMain, Inc. would like to acknowledge the following for helping us organize Critical Mass III and producing this short video:

Curation and Administration

Christine Huskisson, Co-Founder and Curator of The Critical Mass Series

Tom Martin and Art Shechet, Co-Founders of The Critical Mass Series

Matt Distel, Moderator of CMIII and Exhibitions Director of The Carnegie Center

Savannah Wills, Coordinator of CMIII and Chellgren scholar

Julien Robson, Advisor to UnderMain for the CM Series and Director of the Great Meadows Foundation

The staff at The Carnegie Center in Covington, Kentucky


Due to audio complications, the artists discussion was not properly recorded.

We value highly the visual content and the sharing of artistic practices for discussion purposes.

Thanks goes out to:

Harry Sanches Jr. 

Joey Versoza

David Wischer

Lindsey Whittle

Sky Cubacub


Natalia Zuluaga, Miami-based Independent Curator and Critic-in-Residence with the Great Meadows Foundation

Valentine Umansky, Curatorial Fellow at the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati

Annie dell’Aria, Assistant Professor at Miami University and writer for AEQAI

Sarah Rose Sharp, Detroit-based activist and multi-media artist and

writer for HyperAllergic, Art in America, Flash Art, and Sculpure Magazine

John Williams, Principal Photographer / Producer SoundART Management™



 Great Meadows Foundation is a grant giving foundation, launched in 2016 by contemporary art collector and philanthropist Al Shands. Named for the home that Al and his late wife Mary created, the mission of Great Meadows Foundation is to critically strengthen and support visual art in Kentucky by empowering our community’s artists and other visual arts professionals to research, connect, and participate more actively in the broader contemporary art world. (

The Carnegie Center provides an extraordinary venue for the arts and arts education made possible through the generosity of individuals, private foundations and businesses in our community. They receive operating support from the ArtsWave, the Kentucky Arts Council, The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Kenton County Fiscal Courts.






Published by UnderMain, Inc., P.O. Box 575, Lexington, Kentucky 40388


Critical Mass II: A Short Video Summary

On Wednesday, March 28th, 2018, UnderMain held its second Critical Mass panel discussion on critical thinking in the arts, examining, in part, what role criticism plays as Kentucky artists and institutions engage more readily with a national and international dialogue. This year, our partners were The Great Meadows Foundation and KMAC Museum, with KMAC Curator Joey Yates moderating. We conducted Critical Mass I in 2016 in partnership with the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Critical Mass III will take place in Northern Kentucky in 2020.

Our featured panelist this year was New York-based curator Dan Cameron. Dan shared his extensive experience as a curator, writer, and critic as well as the inaugural Critic-in-Residence for the Great Meadows Foundation. During his March residency he made studio visits to a number of artists in the region as part of the foundation’s goal to help strengthen and support the critical growth of Kentucky artists’ work.

UnderMain promotes robust critical discourse in our region as it aids in the development of the individual artist and an awareness about Kentucky’s position within the larger art world.  Missions aligned as these three partners believe that exposure to criticism plays an essential part in an artist’s development and a community’s growth. Dan’s thoughts were well-balanced by the insights of our three other panelists, Emily Elizabeth Goodman, Tiffany Calvert, and Vinhay Keo.

For those of you who could not join us, we have composed a short video for you. Ten minutes or so of the juiciest stuff. Hope you enjoy. 

Video and Audio
© 2018 UnderMain, Inc.
UnderMain, Inc. would like to acknowledge the following for helping us organize Critical Mass II and producing this short video:
Julien Robson, Director, Great Meadows Foundation
Joey Yates, Curator, KMAC Museum
John Williams, Principal Photographer / Producer SoundART Management™
Eric Cade Schoenborn, Designer, Culture on Demand
Raleigh Dailey, Pianist/Composer
Savannah Wills, Chellgren scholar
KMAC Staff


Dan Cameron

Along with his ongoing curatorial projects, Cameron is a widely published art critic, with several hundred book, magazine and catalog essays to his credit. Along with teaching on the graduate faculties of Columbia University, NYU and the School of Visual Arts, Cameron is a frequent lecturer at museums and university campuses around the world. He currently serves on the Advisory Boards of the Madison Park Art Conservancy in NYC and the ARC/Athens Artist Residency in Greece. He has received numerous awards for his curatorial and scholarly work, most recently the 2010 Service to the Arts Award by the Anderson Ranch in Aspen, Colorado, and the 2015 Eminent Scholar award from the American Cultural Association/Popular Culture Association.

Emily Elizabeth Goodman

Emily Elizabeth Goodman is a Lexington, KY-based art historian, curator and critic and Assistant Professor of Art History at Transylvania University. She received her B.A. from McGill University and her MA and Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego. Her doctoral research focused on the use of food culture in feminist art in New York and California during the era of the “Second Wave.” Her more recent scholarship and curatorial work — which includes the exhibition New Domesticity concurrently at the Morlan Gallery and the Parachute Factory — has focused on contemporary women artists’ examination of craft and domestic labor in the American South. She is the author of a forthcoming article in the journal Performance Research and writes for various art publications including Number magazine and Hyperallergic.

Tiffany Calvert

Tiffany Calvert is Assistant Professor of Painting at the Hite Art Institute at the University of Louisville. Tiffany’s work has been exhibited in group and solo exhibitions including Lawrimore Project in Seattle, Visual Arts Gallery at SVA New York, and Carl & Sloan Contemporary in Portland, OR.  She has been a recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Fellowship and residencies at the ArtOmi International Arts Center (NY) and Djerassi Resident Artists Program (CA). In 2010 she was awarded a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant.

Vinhay Keo

Vinhay Keo is originally from Cambodia, where he spent the first 10 years of his childhood. He earned his BFA from the Kentucky College of Art + Design at Spalding University. He received the Ellen Battell Stoeckel Fellowship to study at Yale Norfolk Summer School of Art, a Great Meadows Foundation recipient, participated in workshops such as Anderson Ranch Art Center and Anne West’s writing reflection. His work has been exhibited throughout galleries in Louisville, Kentucky with a recent solo exhibition at Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery.

Vinhay Keo, “Model Minority” from the Confront 2017 series shown at the Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery, Louisville, Kentucky


UnderMain, Inc. – a Kentucky 501(c)(3) – is an arts, cultural, and topical online publication that has a wide bandwidth. Cultural affairs is a big basket. Arts of all kinds, community issues, controversies, contests, events, people, and critical reviews. UM is serious and fun. We love playing in the digital sandbox and presenting vivid content to you, ad-free, as we offer support to some of Kentucky’s most talented writers, artists, and performers. (

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The Brain and Baya: The Grey Art Gallery

On a recent trip to New York, I decided to visit the Grey Art Gallery at New York University, located in historic Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. The mission of this university gallery is to collect, preserve, study, document, interpret, and exhibit the evidence of human culture.

My mission was simply to check out the exhibition titled “The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal” after reading a review by Roberta Smith in the New York Times. I ended up seeing a second show that made me realize that if we are each to be seen as one of the humans that makes up that culture, we must first be visible.

“The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal”

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Synaptic contacts in the cerebellum, 1930s, Ink and pencil on paper, No. 9

The drawings in this exhibition are small and enormously captivating. Based on microscopic observations of cells, neurons, and gray matter of the brain, they morph into surreal abstractions. The compositions grow into poetic – even tragic – realities with descriptive titles like “pathways mediating the vomiting and coughing reflexes”, “a cut nerve stump of a rabbit six hours after damage” and “neurons in the cerebellum of a drowned man”.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, “Axons of Purkinje neurons in the cerebellum of a drowned man”, date unknown, Ink and pencil on paper, No. 66

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) is considered the father of modern neuroscience. He was also an artist. Working with a microscope, pen, pencil and paper, he drew these images freehand as a way to evidence his scientific discoveries. As a neuroanatomist working at the turn of the century, his work is equal in stature to Charles Darwin or Louis Pasteur, albeit relatively unknown to the general public.

In 1906 he received The Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his discovery now known as the Neuron Doctrine. As Roberta Smith sees it, Cajal was famous for uncovering the fact that “neurons were in touch, without touching”.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Astrocytes in the hippocampus of the human brain, Pen and ink,

There are more than 80 of Cajal’s drawings in the show, selected from over 2500 drawings, made between 1890 and 1933. Originating at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, this show opened in January of 2017, arrived at NYU this year and will remain on view there until March 31, 2018. The following dates then fill out the tour for this traveling show.

  • MAY 2, 2018 – JANUARY 1, 2019 | MIT Museum, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  • JANUARY 27 – APRIL 7, 2019 | Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

While solely dedicated to Cajal’s work, the show also includes adjacent galleries with more colorful, technology-driven imagery made by neuroscientists working today. These images demonstrate the validity of many of Cajal’s arguments – explained in wall text and in a 207-page catalogue with an essay by Janet M. Dubinsky titled, “Seeing the Beautiful Brain Today”.

In the digital image below, Dubinsky provides evidence of one of Cajal’s foundational arguments. The synaptic vesicles (small white spheres) that release chemical messages at each synapse are shown in the axon branches (transparent colors) surrounding the dendrite. Dubinsky states that:

Synapses strengthen or weaken with practice or disuse, a property that underscores learning at the cellular level. This variability is referred to as synaptic plasticity, an idea Cajal embraced as necessary for mental function

From “The Beautiful Brain: Seeing The Beautiful Brain Today” by Janet M. Dubinsky. with 3-D view of synapses on several spines along a cortical dendrite in a mouse cortex.

The “Glass Brain Flythrough” demonstrates how information is carried through the brain and was captured by MRI brain scans of the cerebral cortex (gray matter) and bundles of nerve fibers (white matter).

Glass Brain Flythrough, 2014, Short clip of the animation, Gazzeley Lab and Neuroscape Lab, University of California, San Francisco, with the Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience, University of California, San Diego, Syntrogi Labs, Matt Omernick, and Oleg Knoings, Lent by Adam Gazzeley

In an attempt to stimulate a little grey matter, I had visited a few other shows on this trip, including: Auguste Rodin, Michelangelo and David Hockney exhibitions at the Metroplolitan Museum of Art, Carolee Schneemann at MOMA PS1, and Laura Owens and Jimmie Durham at The Whitney Museum of America Art.

For intriguing content that made me want to learn more, “The Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal” was on the top of my list, until I decided to take the stairs to the lower level of the Grey Art Gallery.

Baya: A Woman of Algiers

At the bottom of the steps, I found a quiet gallery filled with color and familiar shapes. At first glance, it looked like five or six covered pedestals held Picasso-esque ceramics and on the walls hung vibrant paintings of various women in long dresses with fanciful hats and/or hair.

The introductory wall text clearly explained that this exhibition is about Baya Mahieddine (1931-1998), known as Baya, a female artist who was orphaned at age five. An artist who had never been the focus of a solo exhibition in North America until now.

Baya: A Woman in Algers, installation view at the Grey Gallery at New York University

Pablo Picasso, Bearded Man’s Wife,1953, White Earthenware clay, decoration in engobes, knife-engraved under partial glaze, 500 copies produced, Grey Art Gallery, NYU, Gift of Homer Kripke

Curated by Natasha Boas and accompanied by a 57-page catalogue that describes Baya as a woman veiled, a woman trapped in traditional roles, marginalized as a painter in her own country of Algiers, a woman who even by her own signature is enigmatic, a one-eyed woman peering out from behind her own multi-cultural identity and the denial of labels like “outsider artist” and “art brut”. A woman who, according to Boas, by seeing, is finally seen.

Femme sur fond bleu (Woman on a blue background), 1947, Gouache on board, Collection Isabelle Maeght, Paris

Boas’ essay, titled “Baya: The Naked Eye” introduces us to Baya, who was “born Fatma Haddad in 1931 outside Bordj el-Kiffan, a Mediterranean beach-town suburb of Algiers, to a small rural tribe of mixed Kabyle and Arab heritage that relied entirely on an oral tradition of storytelling and folklore”.

Later adopted by a French intellectual, she was encouraged as an artist and given access to prominent figures in the art world, including Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, André Breton, Jean Dubuffet and Joan Miró. During this time, Baya entered a rare period of recognition for an artist of her training, one that could be viewed, so the curator states, as “Baya stepping into the visible”.

Boas states that, in 1945, Amié Maeght, a prominent French art dealer discovered Baya, and that her work – created largely from her imagination and her dreams from a very young age – was subsequently included in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in July of 1947.

Due to her success in Paris, she was later invited to an artist-in-residency program at the Madoura ceramic studio in Vallauris in the South of France, where she met Picasso.

Derriére le Miroir (Behind the Mirror), sixth edition, 1947

Pablo Picasso, “Jacqueline’s Profile”, 1956, White earthenware clay, engraving accentuated with glaze, and black-patinated ground, 500 copies produced

From the wall text for “Jacqueline’s Profile” we learn that from 1948 to 1952, Baya spent her summers in the French coastal town of Vallauris working alongside Picasso, who attributed his work in ceramic to her influence. Later, embarking on his seminal “Women of Algiers” series (1954-55), Boas reiterates,

Picasso again cited Baya as his inspiration.

Was it Baya or Baya’s artistic style that influenced Picasso? Why does this show not include the ceramics made by Baya during her time in Vallauris?

In 1953, Baya left France and her adopted mother to return to Algiers. She married a traditional Muslim, who was thirty years her senior, and settled into family life giving birth to six children. According to the curator, Baya did not show work again until 1963 and then exhibited annually until her death in 1998.

Femme allongée au visage bleu (Reclining woman with blue face), 1947, gouache on board, Collection of Isabelle Might, Paris

From one of the supporting essays in the catalogue it is suggested that this image is self-portrait of the young Baya who, lying down to sleep, contemplates her sad and lonely state as an orphan.

If the date on this painting – and all of the paintings in this show – is accurate, 1947, might not Baya have been thinking something entirely different than about her sad and lonely condition? Was inclusion in the Exposition Internationale and her residency a blue period for this young artist?

Was there something that forced her back to Algiers? Could it have been life as a creative in a male dominated world of art wherein she could be little more than muse? Was she, in fact, lying down to sleep? Why did she return to a life removed from making art? Does this show help us see who Baya really was?

Boas makes a final point that Baya’s paintings could be read as culturally subversive in that they “can look back on modernist art history from today’s vantage point and be seen”. But is that with both eyes wide open or through the single lens of another?

These two exhibitions, Cajal and Baya, are inaugural exhibitions making visible for us a kind of brilliance in the human species and, in doing so, adhere to the mission of the Grey Art Gallery. Both will strengthen your synaptic plasticity and are on view through March 31, 2018.


Dark Dualities: David Kenton Kring

David Kenton Kring, Get Out of Your Head, 2016, ceramic

Oh man, that is so creepy!

This, David Kenton Kring acknowledges, is a common response to his figurative works and that makes him feel just fine.

Kring is after a response from the viewer with his figural works and no apologies are needed if your first reaction is to be creeped out, turned off, or experience an unpleasant feeling of fear or unease. His motivation, however, is much deeper than mere shock value.

Kring wants to get your attention and then hold onto it long enough to present his intended juxtapositions – dualities that he likes to butt right up against one another. He pairs darkness with humor, contrasts smooth, brightly-patterned surfaces with blemished, crackled and peeling ones. And, with a broader brush, he hopes to examine the dual cultural realities of folk versus high art.

The artist’s figurative work is multilayered with metaphor and mystery, but the characters themselves come from specific memories of the ‘blue-collar folk’ that used to hang out in Kring’s family-owned clothing store in Frankfort, Kentucky.

While working his first summer job at Mitchell’s Clothing Store – where his father always had pot of coffee on – guys from the neighborhood would stop in looking for a little work. They’d tell dirty jokes and tall tales and, like the character referenced in I Can Do It Myself, always seemed to be just scraping by.

David Kenton Kring, I Can Do It Myself, 2014, ceramic

Kring admits that there is a little of himself in the figurative works as well. “Timid, for instance, recalls a specific point in my life when I was working non-stop in the studio,” Kring told UnderMain in our recent interview. “I was ramping up to begin a new and extensive body of work and I found myself too timid to go out and be with people – when I tried to take a break from myself, it was hard to take a break from myself.”


David Kenton Kring, Timid, 2015, ceramic

David Kenton Kring makes a living as an artist in Kentucky and getting to this stage in his artistic career had everything to do with taking it ‘slow and steady’. When asked what advice he might give other young artists trying to break onto the scene, he suggested that working for free – in the beginning – is necessary if you want to get connected.

At a critical juncture in his career, Kring found a job with Kentucky Mud Works where he realized that he could pay the bills by selling his pottery – coffee cups for the most part. But, he acknowledges that the figural work enables him to connect with his viewers in a much more meaningful way; they offer Kring the needed motivation to make art.

I am paying my mortgage with my pottery and then balancing my life with the figurative work, which inspires me most.

David Kenton Kring, Pottery in process, 2017

David Kenton Kring, Face Mugs, 2012-2014

David Kenton Kring, Face Mugs, 2012-2014

David Kenton Kring, Face Mugs, 2012-2014

Because Kring works in ceramics, many people consider him to be a folk artist and this puzzles him as he is professionally trained having graduated from Transylvania University where he studied under Dan Selter. The artist’s newest body of work titled Masks, examines the duality of folk art versus high art.

David Kring with Breakdown, 2016

In my artwork, I focus on the figure using the outlets of ceramics and mixed media. My art offers an emotional charge through gestures, facial expression, and painting techniques. My surfaces are extremely worked; I rely on bends, folds, and crevasses to create depth and character in my work. I tend to work metaphorically, narratively, and autobiographically with the inspiration I find in various styles of music, entertainment, and history. Raised in a small family owned men’s work wear business, I became obsessed with the stories people would trade with each other. Because of this exposure, my work tends to convey themes of the disturbed and delusional personality, the duality of good and evil, the supernatural form of being, and dark humor. The goal of my work is to provide a narrative, offering the viewer a chance to connect with the characters I depict. – artist’s statement. Visit the artist’s website. 


Junk Stories of a Broken World

Last month Art Shechet and I visited Robert Morgan to learn more about his artistic practice. Morgan has been making art since he was a very young boy and shared a story about standing up in the third grade during introductions and stating, “I’m Bobby Morgan and I am an artist.” Everyone laughed because, Morgan believes, they did not really know what that meant.

He jokes that the same claim elicits a similar response today: laughter, nervous laughter prompted perhaps by a fear of the unknown, but more likely because Morgan’s artwork demands that we visit some of the darkest corners of the human experience.

Morgan’s mother was a self-taught artist from Troublesome Creek, Breathitt County and she always told him that he was an artist too. “We did not have a nickel, but we had art every day using only found objects.” Back then and still today, Morgan makes art as catharsis for what he has witnessed in the broken worlds of the drug addiction and HIV/AIDS.

Morgan weaves Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Byzantine, pagan and African iconography with mythology to tell stories of real people that have come in and out of his life over the last sixty years. He allowed us to record some of these stories about a series of works that he is completing for an upcoming show in Nashville later this summer.

Self-effacing at times, Morgan’s sense of humor about all that he does cannot disguise the fact that he is truly fighting the forces of evil and darkness – willingly armed with only the ‘glitteriest of glitter’ and a couple of plastic lightsabers.

The Oracle, 2017

Saint Martha’s Dark Night

Saint Martha’s Dark Night, 2017

Saint Martha had a vision of her own mortality and rather than turning to self-centeredness, she gave everything away to love – that was a real turning point for me. It was then that I realized that the worst things that happened to me were the greatest blessings.

The Green Man

The Green Man, 2017

The Embrace

The Embrace, 2017


Taratoma, 2017

The Crow


A Blueprint for What?

President Trump’s proposed Make America Great Again Budget Blueprint eliminates funding for both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Both entities – created by the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 – are being lumped into a category of programs ‘that just don’t work’, according to White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

“A lot of those programs that we target, they sound great, don’t they? They always do. They don’t work. A lot of them simply don’t work. I can’t justify them to the folks who are paying the taxes. I can’t go to the autoworker in Ohio and say ‘please give me some of your money so that I can do this program over here, someplace else, that really isn’t helping anybody.” – Mick Mulvaney.

Also included in the list of programs that ‘just don’t work’ are the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

For the moment, let’s focus on the NEA. According to Americans for the Arts, the NEA’s annual appropriation supports a $730 billion dollar arts and culture industry, 4.8 million jobs and a $26 billion trade surplus for the nation. For Kentucky, the elimination of funding for this entity would result in a cut to programs supported by the Kentucky Arts Council – which, according to Nan Plummer, President and CEO of LexArts, would mean “a dramatic overall decrease in funding for the arts in Lexington, Kentucky.”

The Kentucky Arts Council (KAC) receives state partnership funding from the NEA (the only agency that so authorized). The KAC grants a combination of state monies and these NEA funds in the form of unrestricted operating grant to support to fifteen Fayette County organizations:

  • Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning
  • Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra Society
  • Central Music Academy
  • Explorium of Lexington
  • Headley-Whitney Museum
  • Institute 193
  • Kentucky Ballet Theatre
  • LexArts
  • Lexington Art League
  • Lexington Ballet Company
  • Lexington Chamber Chorale
  • Lexington Children’s Theatre
  • Lexington Philharmonic
  • Lexington Singers
  • and the Living Arts & Science Center.

Plummer further notes that while “these are not necessarily large percentages of these organizations’ budgets, a typical KAP grant of about $20,000 represents half a salary, which may represent an entire position. No people, no programs.”

Plummer acknowledges that we have been fortunate here in Lexington to have received a number of direct grants from the NEA. “In the last few years LexArts has been the successful applicant for funding for public sculpture and creative place-making like NoLI CDC LuigART Makers Spaces.”  Other area organizations receiving NEA funds directly in recent years include Central Music Academy and Lexington Children’s Theatre.

The influence of art and the humanities is seen, heard and felt throughout the economy. An example is the Lexington marketing and branding company, Bullhorn Creative. Brad Flowers is its co-founder (along with Griffin Van Meter) and oversees day-to-day operations. He spoke with UnderMain’s Tom Martin:

Jane Chu is the 11th appointed Chair of the NEA nominated by Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2014. She states, “We are disappointed because we see our funding actively makes a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation.”

Apparently, a number in Congress feel the same. As noted in ArtForum, a bipartisan group of 24 Senators submitted a letter to the President calling for continued support of both the NEA and the NEH.

“Access to the arts for all Americans is a core principle of the Endowment. The majority of NEA grants go to small and medium-sized organizations, and a significant percentage of grants fund programs in high-poverty communities. Furthermore, both agencies extend their influence through states’ arts agencies and humanities councils, ensuring that programs reach even the smallest communities in remote rural areas.” -from the letter written by twenty-four bipartisan United States senators

The NEA and NEH cannot advocate for themselves as independent agencies of the federal government. We must do it for them. Arts professionals around the world are uniting in protest to Trump’s Make America Great Again Budget Blueprint. Americans for the Arts has issued a ‘Save the NEA’ Action Alert, encouraging each of us to contact members of Congress and reminds us that it takes only a few minutes of our time to do so.

President and CEO Robert L. Lynch states, “President Trump does not yet realize the vast contribution the NEA makes to our nation’s economy and communities, as well as to his own agenda to create jobs ‘made and hired’ in America. We know that the work on the FY2018 budget will continue until at least October 2017. Along the way, there are many points in the process where Americans for the Arts, with arts advocates and partners from across the country, will be united in communicating with Congress and the American people to make sure they know the impact of the arts in their states and districts and in our nation.”

The American Association of Museum Directors (245 art museum directors in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico) has also put out a statement in support of cultural organizations for whom these funds are vital.

“The arts are a shared expression of the human spirit and a hallmark of our humanity. Art touches people throughout their lives—from toddlers first learning about the world, to those with Alzheimer’s disease reconnecting with someone they love. Museums offer art programs to help teachers and homeschoolers prepare lessons, to train medical students to be better doctors, to ease the suffering of veterans with PTSD, and to share with people across the country the best of creative achievement.” – AAMD.

UnderMain is interested in your thoughts and comments, particularly if you are an arts professional working in Kentucky. Here are just a few additions; we will update as they arrive.

“Trump’s plan to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, directly reflects his careless treatment of our country and all that we hold dear. The Arts provide an important space where diversity, inclusion, creativity, innovation, and risk-taking are celebrated and encouraged. Art is a reflection of our country and all of its people in the purest form. To cut funding for the Arts, is a statement on what this administration values, as they try to eliminate the very source of brilliance that has defined civilization since its very beginning.”  – Stephanie Harris, Director (Lexington Art League)

“For half a century the American government has been using the NEA to fund and promote our best artists, writers, musicians, dancers, performers, filmmakers, educators, and an ever-widening class of creative thinkers. It is an honor to receive support from the NEA, which has helped to foster generations of artists who admire the US government for contributions toward strengthening American culture. The agency is a vital tool for maintaining positive relations with our most imaginative citizens. It would be a massive loss to our cultural legacy to see it lay dormant” – Joey Yates, Curator – KMAC (Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft)


Naked existence again.

Night encourages aggression.

Nothing engages anthem.

Nipple event announced.

Nausea exhibition anticipated.

Never endure absence.

New entertainment atrophies.

No excrement available. 

Nudge abstract eating.

Nitwit executive asphyxiated.

Now eagerly applaud.

Stuart Horodner, Director, University of Kentucky Art Museum


Guy Mendes: Unframed Play

If you know Guy Mendes, you may know some of the things I am about to share. If you are familiar with one of his three publications – Local Light: an anthology of 100 years of photographs made in Kentucky, (1976), Light at Hand (1986), or 40/40  40 Years, 40 Portraits (2010), the same might be true.

You also may have run across reference to the man’s genius in Yale University Press’ new catalog that accompanies an exhibition of the same name at the Cincinnati Art Museum: Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community: 1954-1974 (2016). Guy Mendes’ life’s work is being framed in many ways.

But the life of a creative person is never static and we who publish stories about them are always limited by the confines of our medium. Whether it be an essay, a book, a catalog, a video, or even an exhibition, we know too well that singular frames often cut short the contributions of artists who work in multiple disciplines as did Guy and many of his colleagues while working as members of the Lexington Camera Club.

When that frame is broken, when no preconceived notions are placed around creative thought and experimentation is encouraged, that’s when things start to happen. Guy Mendes admits that he learned this from his mentors, particularly Ralph Eugene Meatyard, in the Lexington Camera Club. Play. Search. Make something new.

This free-wheeling mindset was a far cry from Guy’s work as a journalist for both the Kentucky Kernel and later the underground paper known as the blue-tail fly (1969-71). Both publications were deeply immersed in the issues surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and covering campus protests against the Vietnam War. The deaths of student protestors at Kent State in Ohio occurred during this period. Not playful stuff.

Guy Mendes has had work published in The New York Times, Mother Jones, Playboy, Smithsonian Magazine, Aperture, and Newsweek. His photographs are in collections that include The International Center for Photography, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the High Museum, and Aperture Gallery, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, and many other local institutions. His career includes the production of numerous documentaries while working for nearly thirty-five years at KET. His life’s work needs nothing more than a straightening on the nail every now and then. Right?

Wrong. He still loves hours of play in the dark room. So, within the confines of this frame and along with Part I: For Guy Mendes, It’s What You See, it is our hope that UnderMain is able to introduce a little something new, then ‘get it souped, get it dried, and print it’ – a phrase Guy uses for the reportorial mode of production. We have invited Guy to play with us and send along a couple of new images before the end of the show at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Something that we can add here for your enjoyment.

Kentucky Renaissance, The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community: 1954-1974 is on view through the end of December.  If you have not seen this show, we encourage you to go. Also, see Hunter Kissel’s new narrative titled, Kentucky Insurgence.

What intrigues me most about the exhibition and catalog – both authored by Brian Sholis, then Curator of Photography at the Cincinnati Art Museum – is Brian’s observation about what happens when creatives work closely together as they did during the years of The Lexington Camera Club. Brian calls it genius that emerged in that time. Not only did photographers encourage and challenge one another, but they also played with new ideas, ideas that came often from writers in the region such as Wendell Berry, Guy Davenport, Thomas Merton, and James Baker Hall.

Such collaboration was of particular interest to Guy Mendes as a very young photographer and writer. Falling into the soup that birthed the Camera Club altered his vision forever – the talent and ideology of not only photographers and writers, but of sculptors, printmakers and multiple small presses like Gravesend Press, Gnomon Press, and The Jargon Society. Numerous contributions merged ‘words with pictures’ in a way that jelled for Mendes as a young photographer and writer.

Here are a couple of clips with Guy discussing what he refers to as the ‘cross-pollination,’ particularly with writers in the region, what was going on between members of the Lexington Camera Club.

Guy Mendes learned a great deal from his mentors, beginning with his introduction to Wendell Berry (see Part I) while he was working as a journalist for the Kentucky Kernel. Later, in 1971, Guy served as an apprentice to James Baker Hall and was thereby connected to writers like Gurney Norman, Ed McClanahan, and Bobbie Ann Mason, all of whom benefitted from a strong literary presence in Lexington, Kentucky at the time.

A keen awareness of what was taking place on the national level in photography grew, much of which was learned by attending lectures and visiting national exhibitions in New York and Chicago. According to Guy, photography was just coming into its own with movement in earlier decades prompted by Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, Edward Weston, Imogen Cunningham and Ruth Bernhard.

Mendes also recalls the influence of Jonathan Williams, who had attended Black Mountain College and studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind –  ‘a hotbed of modern art in the hills of North Carolina.’ Williams was highly influential in connecting club members to this national scene in photography.

Today, with all the years of experience behind him, Guy Mendes recalls with great fondness the years of 1968-70 when he drove the countryside with Meatyard and Bob May – it was a time when he learned the value of play. He learned to search, but never with preconceived notions and while that play may have revealed the ‘uncanny’ or things that for some may even seem ‘dark’, that play was freeing. His recollection of that time is here:

UnderMain would like to thank Guy and KET for assisting us with presentation of a special insight into those times. In 1974, Guy Mendes, Martha Chute, and Stanley Maya created this film on Ralph Eugene Meatyard 1925-1972. The voices are those of Guy Davenport, Bob May, and Minor White.

Guy currently shows with: The Ann Tower Gallery and Institute 193 in Lexington, and POEM 88 in Atlanta and his website is:


For Guy Mendes, It’s What You See

Recently, I had the pleasure of traveling to the Cincinnati Art Museum for the opening reception of Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community 1954-1974. Joining a large contingent from Kentucky, we celebrated photographer and writer, Guy Mendes.

His work along with that of his contemporaries Van Deren Coke (1921-2004), Zygmunt S. Gierlach (1915-1989), James Baker Hall (1935-2009), Robert C. May (1935-1993), and Ralph Eugene Meatyard (1925-1972), Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Cranston Ritchie (1923-1961), Charles Traub (b.1945), and Jonathan Williams (1929-2008) numbered nearly 150.

All of the photographs, chosen by curator Brian Sholis, were made while these men worked along side one another in Lexington, Kentucky as members of the Lexington Camera Club. The exhibition brings to light many things, including how a connected and collaborative community raised the bar for all involved. In fact, in the accompanying exhibition catalog, the curator uses the term ‘genius’ to describe the inspiration of that time.

Curious about Guy’s thoughts on the matter and what intrigues him still today about Lexington, Kentucky, I decided to talk a little more in-depth with him. Our interview was lengthy and UnderMain will bring portions of it to you throughout the duration of the show – January 1, 2017.

After hearing Guy’s thoughts on so many things, I began to wonder about that genius thing – if real genius emerges only when you are wise enough to open yourself to it, so humble as to never admit you possess it, and honest enough to be generous with it. We are very fortunate to have Guy in our midst.

Here is just an introduction to my interview with Guy Mendes. Listen and learn how Guy went from being a ‘Kitten’ to realizing – late in life – that he is a native Kentuckian.

Guy Mendes as Kitten, 1966-67, Photo by Rick Bell

When Guy Mendes arrived in Lexington as a young man he intended to play basketball (who knew?) and study journalism. He landed a job with the Kentucky Kernel and, at the same time, walked onto the 1966-67 Kittens – the University of Kentucky’s junior varsity/freshman basketball team.

Guy was uninspired at the time by the classes in journalism, but highly intrigued by his work at the Kernel. The Kernel was – in Guy’s words – ‘a pretty radical paper back then’. It was a daily paper and part of the United States Student Press Association, a nationwide organization that shared a teletype machine from a network of colleges including Berkley, Harvard, Michigan and North Carolina.

His journalistic endeavors led him to cover many noteworthy things including the Vietnam War and Civil Rights, but for the sake of this interview, I was particularly intrigued by his story about the Fall of 1967 – when his interest in journalism led him to meet two men who would change his life forever: Wendell Berry and Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

It was an eye-opening time for Guy Mendes. What he learned then, he still lives by today: it is not what you look at in life, but what you see.

Guy Mendes, Photo by Dick Ware, 1970

SEE ALSO: Part II in this series: Guy Mendes: Unframed Play.

Guy currently shows with: The Ann Tower Gallery and Institute 193 in Lexington, and POEM 88 in Atlanta and his website is:


Kentucky Renaissance: Then and Now

In the coming weeks, UnderMain will release a full interview with Guy Mendes on the topic of an upcoming exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum titled Kentucky Renaissance:  The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community, 1954-1974.  

The exhibition, which opens on October 8th and runs through January 1, 2017, was curated by Brian Sholis, curator of Photography at the Cincinnati Art Museum, and is accompanied by a catalog published by Yale Univerity Press with the assistance of FotoFocus.

After sitting down with Brian Sholis and then Guy, I learned more about what happened during the years between 1954 and 1974 when a group of extraordinary individuals collaborated so well together within The Lexington Camera Club that they, according to Sholis, turned on a light so bright that Lexington, Kentucky now shines as an important region in the history of photography.

In the full interview, Guy talks about his entree into the Lexington community (as both kitten and blue tail fly). He recalls the influence of key members of the Lexington Camera Club and the writers who inspired them, including Van Deren Coke, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Robert May, James Baker Hall, Wendell Berry and Thomas Merton. He also describes his present day interactions with the newly re-formed Camera Club (2014).

Here is just a sampling of Guy Mendes addressing the theme of my interview with him, a theme inspired by Brian’s brilliant observations about a unique moment in time, about the importance of collaboration and community, about the fact that ‘artistic genius rarely develops in isolation’ – a moment that may be present again today and visible only if we look through the proper lens.

I hope you will watch for the full interview and visit the Cincinnati Art Museum to see Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community 1954-1974 .


A Simple Gift

This is our fourth installment of the Louis Zoellar Bickett Series produced by UnderMain in collaboration with AEQAI and so many others. For the first three installments visit: By The Hand of a Conceptualist, A New Broom Sweeps Clean, and Collapsing Art and Life. 

The series was inspired not only by Louis’ life and work, but also by the encouragement of Daniel Brown of AEQAI, a Cincinnati-based, on-line journal that has been publishing Louis’ poetry and photographic essays for many years. I would like to thank Daniel for that suggestion and Neil Kesterson of Dynamix Productions for the comfortable and accommodating recording sessions. Thanks also to Guy Mendes for the many photographs he has shared and permitted UnderMain to publish.

The original plan was to conduct one interview; but, Louis’ body of work is so expansive that we are now on our fifth. The podcasts and the recorded poetry readings published on UnderMain will hopefully add to our understanding of the humble brilliance behind the man, particularly as Lexington prepares to launch a citywide retrospective of his work.

Stuart Horodner of The University of Kentucky Art Museum, and Phillip March Jones of Institute 193 are leading this endeavor. The museum will kick things off on August 27th, 2016 with the exhibition titled Saving Myself. Other venues include: Institute 193, The Lexington Art League, 21c Museum Hotel, and The UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital.

On five nearly consecutive Tuesdays this summer, Louis and I met at Kesterson’s North Ashland Avenue studio in Lexington, Kentucky and discussed many things: his family, his influences, his artistic projects and practice, and a sizable body of poetry to be bound in a manuscript he has been pulling together for over 40 years. We also talked, at his invitation, about his recent diagnosis of ALS.

Candor present and courage aside, it is with just plain matter-of-factness that Louis engages us. The majority of the podcast titled A Simple Gift (inspired by a poem Louis shared) centers on The Archive; with commentary on 10,000 Selfies, Back Bar, and What I Read, demonstrating the modular way in which Louis has constructed The Archive.

These same projects were integrated by Julien Robson into the 2015 Zephyr Gallery exhibition titled: Project 7: Louis Zoellar Bickett – the third and most recent attempt to show or re-create The Archive. The actual archive resides at 820 West High Street in Lexington, Kentucky. The first two exhibitions of similar nature were at Institute 193 in 2009 and at Land of Tomorrow in 2011 with Philip March Jones and Joey Yates curating respectively.

This fall The UK Art Museum will show sections or modules of The Archive with accompanying curator remarks that align Louis’ work with other significant artists who utilize ‘accumulation strategies’ and merge art and life. But, through the course of my interviews, I began to wonder what Louis is saving and why? Is it just himself or something more? Is his body of work a harbinger, an avant la lettre of something we do not yet know, something we cannot yet see?

Louis with crosses, 2001-2, Photo by Guy Mendes

Louis’ confirms that his work is done in the construction of identity and is autobiographical in nature. As auto-portraiture the work reveals many things about the artist – sometimes in very literal fashion. With Back Bar the artist bottles his own urine, acknowledging that it is, in fact, a collection of his own DNA. In What I Read, he documents what texts he reads whether it be The Holy Bible, James Joyce’s Ulysses, or Madame Bovary.

Louis even dutifully snaps a Selfie on a day when he might ‘look like hell’ while working on 10,000 Selfies – and firmly states that ‘the Selfie is the most important photographic development since the Polaroid.

Through The Archive and all of its related modules, which incorporate photography, sculpture, mud, postcards, and neckties, we know Louis. We know how he engages the world, how he has embraced history, family, politics, sexuality, humor, racism, and religion since the early 1970s.

During our interview, Louis recalled the precise moment when The Archive began in 1972, while watching his mother sort through a large box of photographs that included selections from every era of photography from 1839 to the 70s.

Louis’ recollections anchor our understanding and the influence of photography in his life. At an early age he was conscious of the power of the medium to capture a precise moment in time, a particular place. Whether contemplating the Daguerreotype or the Polaroid, Louis sensed long ago that it was not only the subject in the photograph that mattered; his own photographs taken in Paris, New York, or Kentucky had as much to do with him being there – in that precise moment in time – as they did with anything he was photographing.

LZB II, Selfie from An Auto-portrait Everyday in 2009, Auschwitz, February 26, 2009

Perhaps it is fitting or even ironic then that during the artists’ life the Selfie would emerge. The photographer turning the camera on himself, he documents his presence in the here and now as we all do. But, for Louis this is not a narcissistic endeavor; he willingly admits it is more of a dutiful chore – and from my vantage point, as though he were bound to the completion of a much larger portrait.

Although Louis never suggests such, I wonder if someday we will look back and realize that through all these self-reflections, we have in fact done very little. We snap, smile, find the right tilt of the head or placement of hair and lips, but we cannot discern if it is ‘autumn or a dying July.’

LZB II, Selfie on Brenda Arnold Mattox-Rapp’s B-day, 2016

Louis Zoellar Bickett II, through his life’s work, has captured key events and happenings at the turn of the 21st century. He has done so through the lens of his own life, saving everything in a very responsible manner so that knowledge does not fade. He has done so with diligence, persistence and dedication, but never with presumption or arrogance.

What he has now amassed through The Archive is large, it is multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted. It is ugly and beautiful and sometimes funny, cumbersome and very well organized. Yet, from all, I could discern that in Louis’ mind, what he has given us amounts to nothing more than a simple gift.


Our fifth interview with Louis Zoellar Bickett:

Coffee outside,
the sun slowly builds strength.
It is early,
There is little traffic, little sound.
Sitting under a large but leafy,
adolescent tree
a comfortable breeze
wraps loosely around me.
It could be autumn
instead of the end of a dying July,
that until today, baked everything
thoroughly done.

A bearded man, behind me,
sitting on an ancient,
rusting glider
gently moves in time
with the music he is making,
plucking on a mandolin.

–July 30, 2010-June 27, 2016

Louis Bickett reads A Simple Gift:

Topmost photograph is by Guy Mendes. Louis in The Archive, 2001


Louis Zoellar Bickett II In Conversation with Christine

Early this summer, UnderMain’s Christine Huskisson began a series of interviews with Louis Zoellar Bickett II. Louis’ work is the subject of a city-wide retrospective in Lexington, Kentucky this fall.

Louis’ candor in discussing his life’s work with Christine –  a friend and long-time collector of his work –  as well as his recent diagnosis of ALS is more than generous, it is enlightening and inspirational.

For the the full series visit these installments: By The Hand of a Conceptualist, A New Broom Sweeps Clean, Collapsing Art and Life, and A Simple Gift.


Collapsing Art and Life

(Photo by Guy Mendes)

At the beginning of this month, UnderMain began a series on Louis Zoellar Bickett, a Lexington-based artist who has made his life his canvas. For the first two installments of the series, please visit the links at the bottom of this post.

In this short podcast, Stuart Horodner and Louis Bickett share with us the details of the upcoming retrospective of Louis’ work. Stuart, the director of The University of Kentucky Art Museum, and Phillip March Jones of Institute 193 are leading this effort in collaboration with The University of Kentucky Art Museum and Hospital, Institute 193, The Lexington Art League, and 21c Museum Hotel.

Louis Zoellar Bickett in The Archive, Photo by Guy Mendes – commissioned by Oxford American, 2016

Also in this Series:

By The Hand of A Conceptualist

New Broom Sweeps Clean


A New Broom Sweeps Clean

Born in Clark County, Kentucky, Louis Zoellar Bickett was raised Catholic and knew at a young age that he was an artist. Louis recalls this realization as a common story, one that might have happened to other children who showed artistic talent; his teachers – mostly nuns in Louis’ case – recognized that he had a gift and encouraged him in many ways. He won awards for drawing and other creative projects on a regular basis as a boy.

Louis' First Communion, he is pictured at the far right, front row.

Louis’ First Communion, he is pictured at the far right, front row.

What may have been a bit uncommon, was that moment in 1972 when Louis’ largest and longest running artistic endeavor began. While sitting with his mother who was saving and discarding alternate piles of old family photographs, he grew curious about the pile of photos that were to be thrown out or torn up, because she had no earthly idea who was in the photos – so, ‘why hang onto them?’

Louis asked then if he could have the photos that his mother did not want and that is when his interest in retaining – or containing – random, seemingly meaningless, objects began. Since that time, nearly forty-five years ago, Louis has been collecting, labeling, and storing every object in his life, whether it be a t-shirt or a love letter, a toothbrush or his own urine. He has collected thousands upon thousands of objects that together have become known as The Archive.

Object from The Archive, Courtesy Louis Zoellar Bickett

Throughout his career, Louis has constructed hundreds of projects, some object-based, some objects contained within other objects, many performances and all highly conceptual in nature. Each project may have been done in the construction of identity – he now acknowledges. Although he is unsure if it is all entirely autobiographical, pondering the question that it could be multiple identities or even commentary on our collective identity that most piques his interest.

Pregnant Landscape, The Totem Series,

Louis’ mode of working is seamless, moving from one thing until something new emerges from it. Throughout his life he has transitioned from The Totem Series to the Cultural Mudman Rituals, from Ten Thousand Selfies to his photographic essays like Sam Foy with Broom and even into poetry. Whether it be the wrapping of an object or the construction of a performance or the collection of his life in words, Louis continues to weave an intricate fabric.

Sam Foy Project, Sam Foy at Shaker Village, Mercer County, Kentucky, 2015

Sam Foy Project, Sam Foy at Shaker Village, Mercer County, Kentucky, 2015

Knowing now at sixty-six years of age that logically ‘the existence of God as defined by organized religion is remote’, Louis says that he is guided by science and the heart. Gently, he still sows; aligning what he has wrapped, tagged, shot, and jotted down on paper, never imaging that it needed to mean a thing to us. In fact, he confides, that even if you get nothing from his art, that is what you got and that, at least, is something.

In the end, Louis acknowledges that what he does – all he does – is a laborious thing, a duty or calling and, ‘quite honestly a pain in the ass.’ Understandably. Afterall, constructing a single identity is one thing, trying to piece together the newly broken thing we have become – sweep it clean so that we might be free to write a new label – is something entirely different.

The Cultural Mudman Rituals, 2015, Al’s Bar.  Photo by Guy Mendes

Here from my second interview with Louis is the artist talking about The Totems and The Cultural Mudman Rituals.

Featured Image in topmost position is by Guy Mendes. Also part of the mudding performance at Al’s Bar in 2015.


By The Hand of a Conceptualist

For many years, Louis Zoellar Bickett – a Lexington-based, self-taught, conceptualist with extraordinary bravado – has been recording his thoughts and feelings through poetry. In a recent interview with me, Louis stated that it is the writing of a literate sentence that thrills him above all other modes of artistic expression. This may come as a surprise to those of us who know him for the 10,000 Selfies, The Archive or his performances like the Cultural Mudding Rituals.

In December of 2015, Louis was diagnosed with ALS. We have wept at the news and whispered aloud our concerns for the difficult road he now faces, and we’ve made plans to celebrate the life and work of this profoundly prolific artist. This series will follow those plans as they unfold. Spearheaded by Stuart Horodner, Director of the University of Kentucky Art Museum, five spaces will mount a city-wide retrospective of Louis’ work beginning in late August: The UK Art Museum and Hospital, Institute 193, 21c Museum/Hotel, and the Lexington Art League.

Among the many things that I learned from our four-hour interview was that Louis was honestly relieved to finally learn what was ailing him. As an Existentialist ‘not about to have a conversion now’, Louis did not have a ‘go-to-pieces’ when he heard the news. Instead, he has decided to bring some finality to the many projects he has been working on for over forty years. He also spoke of the manner in which he will enter his own body into The Archive, a near forty-year endeavor to label, organize and categorize every object in his life.

The poetry, which is part of a larger manuscript, has become an essential and cathartic exercise. With it he openly addresses the physical and psychological challenges he now navigates. Louis has been sharing these poems with me and small group of ‘readers’ for many years; however, it was not until I began recording him reading these that I realized that they too might be cathartic for us.

Here, with the reading of My Right Hand, we introduce a series of short podcasts of Louis reading aloud. UnderMain is committed to bringing you the rest of these extraordinary interviews with Louis in a series of podcasts over the next several weeks. We do this at Louis’ invitation as part of what may be his final work.

Aaron Michael Skolnick, Right Hand, 2014

Aaron Michael Skolnick, Right Hand, 2016

This project is done in collaboration with AEQAI of Cincinnati, an on-line journal dedicated to critical review. Daniel Brown, editor, has been publishing Louis’ poetry for more than a year. UnderMain extends its appreciation to Aaron Skolnick and Neil Kesterson of Dynamix Productions for their assistance with these many recordings. Full disclosure: the author/interviewer and her husband have collected Louis’ work for many years. 

Topmost Featured Image: Photo: Aaron Michael Skolnick. Drawing: Christine Huskisson


Females on the Figure

I frequently find myself searching for inspiration to get back to drawing the human form. These 20 female artists are a few of the voices that have spoken to me over this last year; their artwork navigates many things: our ultimate purpose, how we untangle our daily lives, and even simple stories of people from their own communities.

“I find it fascinating that the things our ancestors were most obsessed with are the same things we as so-called advanced scientific thinkers are still obsessed with: Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we here? How was the universe made? The figures in my work operate as carriers of these musings.” – Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum – b. 1980, Mochudi, Botswana. Lives and works in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“I started incorporating the figure into my work as a way to navigate my own sense of identity, particularly because I came from a place that didn’t fit into one specific narrative. It was a way for me to untangle what I was going through on a daily basis.”  – Firelei Baez – b. 1981, Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, Lives and works in New York, New York.

“I am most interested in sharing sensitive, humanistic, and honest stories of my community.” – Jordan Casteel  – b. 1989, Denver, Colorado. Lives and Works in New York, New York.

While I am still a student of the figure, I’m searching for what questions I might ask. What humanistic stories I might tell. What answers I might find to the universal questions of life. Regrettably, I cannot turn off the news or stop reading the papers.

Dreaming of colorful intent may be all I can do in this moment of extreme darkness.

Christine Huskisson, ‘Misogynist Rhetoric’, pastel on paper, 48″x36″, 2017.

TOPMOST Image: Christine Huskisson, Dreams of Drawing in Color, 48″x36″, 2017

original works

Twelve Trees

It was a crooked tree with one large limb that bent almost to the ground. It grew alongside the property near my girlhood home in Kentucky in a new subdivision that my mother named ‘Twelve Trees’. The tree stood strong for its age on a bit of yet undeveloped land – unaware of the role it would adopt as my parents laid plans to live out their dream.

The lowest limb on this tree gathered great character as my six siblings and I got older and more daring. It held many adolescent bodies all at once; it took on feathers, scales and fur; it grew the body parts of dragon and panther depending; it grunted and growled and sighed and soared as the first to arrive declared what large creature it would be for the day.

Laughing, joking, and making up rules to welcome newcomers to the neighborhood, we shoved each other off the limb and pulled one another back on again.

For many years, we won and we lost all sorts of imaginary battles and the tree played along: resting when we left, but – I frequently thought to myself  – always longing for our return the next day.

On days when we could not visit the tree, it was still visible from the bay window over our newly varnished hardwood deck. Through the years, the tree grew ears as the varnish on the deck faded. It crouched and leaned in to hear my elder siblings sitting on splintered benches searching for ways to win at a different game, a game my parents seemed to be losing, a game I no longer wanted to play. I know this, because together, the tree and I heard them.

The tree was different when I visited it alone; I was unable to make it move under my tall, thin frame. It did not have a head or a tail. Its bark was just bark. Settling in the crux between trunk and limb, I could only rest on the back of all those daydreams, usually with a journal in hand.

Not even on angry days would the tree pretend to have scales or breathe fire. Even when I held onto the trunk, pushing and shoving on the limb, the tree would still not buck or run or fight back.

One day, I was so determined and jumped so hard and long that I slipped and my bare, upper leg got caught between the trunk and limb of the tree. I knew then how strong we had made that tree: neither part would budge so that I could free my leg. I was not hurt, but I was stuck and alone until my older sister and brother returned from school.

When they did, they helped me push the limb down far enough that I could climb out of that predicament. They laughed. I cried. Through my tears, the tree then did the oddest thing: As they let go of the limb so that it could bounce back up, it bent further downward instead, like a creature taking a knee to lower its back for a rider to mount.

I felt my sister’s hand and then my brother push me up onto the limb. They climbed on too and between them I grabbed tightly onto what felt like thick fur growing under my hands. We stayed for a long time that day and I don’t remember much else, but I do recall the ground moving beneath us, wind on the thin skin of my closed eyelids, and the feeling that this tree knew far more than me.


Come on in…

UnderMain is pleased to launch our new virtual gallery showcasing works by one of Lexington’s own, Lawrence Tarpey. Lawrence was kind enough to work with us on multiple occasions to make this new experience a reality. We are excited at the possibilities this presents and for the opportunity to curate future on-line exhibitions.

Visit the Virtual Gallery

Click on the link and enjoy from your desktop, mobile, or tablet (be sure to check it out on mobile).

Also, how about a little feedback? Let us know what you think by emailing us at or commenting on our related Facebook post.


Congratulations Phillip!

UnderMain sends heartfelt congratulations to Phillip March Jones on his appointment as the new Director of the Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Edlin and Jones have a long working history with ties to Lexington, Kentucky where Jones opened the Jones Shop in 2006. “The Jones Shop, a curated exhibition space and retail store, existed only briefly on Maxwell Street in Lexington but culminated in an exhibition at Andrew Edlin’s Chelsea gallery in 2007. I’ve worked with Andrew in different capacities since that time: as an artist, curator, consultant, and now director of his new space which opened this past week at 212 Bowery. It’s a long way from Maxwell Street but feels like a very natural place to be working on new ideas and engaging a wider audience.”

In all things, Jones remains dedicated to the notion that important work in the field of contemporary art happens in many places be it New York City or Lexington, Kentucky – where he remains Editor-in-Cheif of Institute 193.  As Phillip March Jones continues to build connections in art markets hither and yon, UnderMain and Lexington wish him well.

The Andrew Edlin Gallery is located on 212 Bowery between Prince Street and Spring Street.

Institute 193 is located at 193 North Limestone Street in Lexington, Kentucky.

Photo Credit: Louis Zoellar Bickett


To What Do We Belong?

Morlan Gallery, Transylvania University

HOME AND FIELD: Digital Explorations of Community

September 11 – October 16, 2015

Work by Michelle Jaffé and Stevie Morrison

Titled “Home and Field: Digital Explorations of Community,” the current exhibition at Transylvania’s Morlan Gallery, situates the work of two artists in the most mesmerizing way. Hollow and occasionally firm sounds from the show’s two clearly separate multi-media installations chase over and around a partition wall and successfully generate meditations on belonging and place.

The subtle movement in the work by budding artist and recent Transylvania University graduate Stevie Morrison challenge our relationship to familiar surroundings. A small house constructed of images from Google Maps taken at the 900th block in various neighborhoods around Lexington, Kentucky invites us to reexamine our relationship to place.

Morrison keenly sets up three vantage points – her two-by-two inch paper house hangs by a thin wire, it is also a large, off-kilter wall-projection, and a third image of the same house is present on the flickering screen of the recording projector. How do we know the place to which we belong? Can we be certain about any of it given subtle alterations in our vantage point? For sure these two audio-visual immersions allow us to contemplate a multitude of interweaving.

The occasional sound echoing from the static metal helmets in Michelle Jaffe’s “Wappen Field” move in the same way – in and out of our complete understanding of them. We catch this and that voice or phrase and try to hold onto it only to find something else around the corner. It is at the same time disparate and communal. Dissonant and familiar.

Brilliant in it’s pairing of these two artists – one nascent, the other established on the international stage – the curator of “Home and Field: Digital Explorations of Community” builds a small community of her own – one that deserves enough time to really experience.

NOTE: The Morlan Gallery will hold evening hours October 8 and 9. For more information, please visit their website.


Raising the Bar

UnderMain is again partnering with The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky and The Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning to promote more art criticism in our community. Our partners know that to do this well, we have to commit to quality writing and to achieve this, we have to keep raising the bar. So, on Saturday, September 26th, from 10:30 am – 1:00 pm, Stuart Horodner will conduct a class in writing critical review. Below, he answers a few questions about purpose and process.

UM: What do you hope to accomplish with this class?

SH:  I’d like to give an overview of why art criticism ( in the form of reviews of exhibitions) is important, and who are some of the best practitioners today. We will discuss  what makes them so good, and how local writers can cultivate their skills to contribute arts-related writing to local and national outlets in print or online formats. We’ll look at a range of short reviews and analyze them, and then do some short writing exercises based on Lexington exhibitions.

UM: How in your opinion can art criticism contribute to a growing arts community such as the one we have in Lexington?

SH:  Art criticism is a healthy thing for all arts communities, as it provides feedback for artists about how their work is being understood, and helps those interested in discourse to have a public opinion to discuss (to agree with or argue about).

Thoughtful critical writing helps audiences understand art and can serve to inspire them to visit galleries, museums, art centers, fairs, etc. If local artists and exhibitions are not written about, an important part of the professional development of individuals and institutions cannot mature and succeed. Can you imagine the films, books, plays, restaurants, or sports teams in Lexington or any other vital city,  not being written about regularly? I can’t. So who will do this writing, where can it appear, and who will read it?

UM: Will the structure of the class be lecture-style or more of a workshop?

SH: The class will combine lecture, conversation, and workshop aspects. We will address a range of philosophical and practical aspects of art writing, locally and beyond.

UM: How can UnderMain facilitate you in attaining your goals?

SH: UnderMain can invite individuals to attend the class, and continue to serve as a platform for emerging and established voices. One aspect of art criticism locally that we must address is the timeliness of response, and the differences between journalistic coverage and critical assessment.

UM: Any expectations on academic training or experience needed for those who enroll?

SH: The class welcomes people who have an interest in the topic regardless of their training. Most important is that those who enroll are excited about art and writing and want to learn new skills. Something I might ask of those who do enroll is to bring a list of what arts-related writing you currently read, why you read it, and how you use the information/opinions to further your own interests and activities.

The class will take place at The Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning located at 251 West Second Street, Lexington, Kentucky, 40507. The cost is $20. Please sign up today! We look forward to seeing you there.


And Her Name is Jazz!

Les McCann with Jazz Whatley Cole, the very first scholarship recipient of the Les McCann School For the Arts

This past Saturday night, my husband and I headed down to the Lyric Theater to hear Les McCann again! Les and Javon Jackson rocked the house and occassionally cradled us too. Mike has fond memories of hearing Les play when he was younger; those memories take him back to his early years in Lexington, Kentucky. For your listening pleasure, here is one of his favorites: Every Time I See A Butterfly.

That same night the Les McCann School for the Arts (LMSA) announced their inaugural scholarship recipient and her name is Jazz Whatley Cole.  Jazz is an amazing young woman, a theater major in SCAPA since 4th grade where she concentrating much of her time with the extracurricular activities in the costume department.

She is an aspiring fashion designer, starting Jazz Cole Designs during her freshman year at Lafayette High School. Last year as a junior, she was accepted into the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles, CA. This scholarship will help her make that transition.

It was a big night for both her and the namesake of this award; that same day Les McCann was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Kentucky. UnderMain would like to thank Chester Grundy, Everett McCorvey and Dave McWhorter for all of their hard work in honoring this jazz great.

Also to Gus Puerdikakis (Les’ mean cowbell brother) whose generosity has made this award possible along with the teaching of music, photography, jewelry making and fashion design to so many in our community.

Overall, I believe creativity doesn’t just occur by it’s self, something has to catch your eye, something has to inspire you to whatever it is that you do and are truly passionate about. Therefore, if you can conceive it, and you believe it, then you can achieve it! – Jazz Cole

For more information on the School for the Arts, contact Denise Brown, artistic director for the LMSA. at


A Delightful Bath

On some basic level, every exhibition is an opportunity to contemplate and maybe even escape a little. Delights: Bathing in Another World – Paintings and Sculptures by Elissa Morley on display at the Ann Tower Gallery through May 10th gives us the chance to immerse and discover.

Elissa Morley, Installation View at Ann Tower Gallery

Morley’s twelve watercolor and graphite drawings, along with seven hanging tissue sculptures transform this gallery, now located on the second floor of the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington, Kentucky, into something quite unique. To visit is almost as though you were stepping into the illusions Morley depicts within each of her poplar frames.

Central themes in her work are quietude and contemplation. In this space, Morley successfully asks us to relinquish momentarily the known world overrun by the mating call of Twitter, push notifications from Facebook, and the ever-present ephemerality of Instagram.  Rarely alone long enough to contemplate our surroundings and what we are doing within them, we take little time to consider how our actions might impact this world – or even worse – that while forever caught in the flutter we do nothing to alter any of it.

calderButtonMorley’s Alexander Calder-esque mobiles hung from the ceiling
make no sounds as they react to our movements within the gallery. Initially this is a very calming sensation. On deeper contemplation, the soft, tattered tissue shapes like that in Blue, White, Pink Wings – tenuously held together with wire – might be remnants of something we once knew, something that is now only moments away from falling apart entirely. Other works like Yellow Wings hang so low that they occasionally penetrate the viewer’s personal space beckoning us to reconsider our complacent gaze.


Blue, White, Pink Wings (above) and Yellow Wings (video), steel, watercolor, tracing paper

Within the framed objects hung along four walls, pacific blues, wisteria purples, and persimmon oranges painted on tracing paper – sewn together in multiple layers – blur any overt intent or heavy import. Yet their presence in this multi-media installation encourages deeper inquiry. Fields of multiform abstractions are punctuated with architectural elements and the occasional tree-like shape as though to signal some specific place, a place not yet known as in a drawing or idea that is still churning in the mind and at the hand of its creator.

But there is a creator at work, one who resists the confinement of others’ imagined boundaries perhaps but is still mindful and present. Stepping into and back out of these drawings allows us to renew our perceptions of this world by bathing briefly and delightfully in another. Delights: Bathing in Another World Paintings and Sculpture by Elissa Morley is on view through May 10, 2015 and is well worth a visit.


Elissa Morley, Frigidarium watercolor and graphite on layered paper 27x34

Elissa Morley, Frigidarium watercolor and graphite on layered paper 27×34

Elissa Morley attended Asbury University and the Slade School of Fine Art in London, England.  She has lived in Lexington for several years, teaching at Georgetown College, Eastern Kentucky University and Asbury University.  She is also a recipient of a 2009 Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment Grant.


Kuhn in the Congo – who knew?

UnderMain would like to acknowledge the work of another one of our own: Christine Kuhn. Last year Kuhn was among four muralists to participate in a cultural exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Kuhn worked with Congolese artists and students from November to December 2014 to create murals in Kinshasa, Matadi and Bukavu. Back home in Lexington, Kentucky, we knew nothing of it – Kuhn received no coverage.

For more on her experiences, check out her blogpost.

Kuhn is a working artist, art teacher and activist specializing in using art to empower non-artists and to promote liberal social change. She holds degrees in biology, chemistry and diplomacy and is a graduate of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Training Program.

“My art focuses on expressing right-brain, non-rational experiences–emotion, passion, humor, fear, symbolism, in short, the magical and mystical elements of existence,” Christine told us. “I have exhibited widely throughout the Southeastern US, in Central America, Africa and in Bulgaria and have received numerous grants from the Kentucky Arts Council, LexArts and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.”

If you are not familiar with Kuhn’s work or you just need another dose, stop by Source on High during LexArts’ May Gallery Hop for her solo exhibition – that’s Friday, May 15th – or, find these murals in and around the Lexington area. Do you know where they are? UnderMain would like to know that you know. Find them, take selfies, send them to and watch this article grow!


Nam June Paik

Buddha Face with Red Background

Golden Buddha watches us watching ourselves. Check out the highlights of the Art Basel Hong Kong. According to Sarah Douglas with ArtNews, Nam June Paik may have stolen the show.

Did you know that Nam June Paik received significant help from the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati very early in his career? With his retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1982 Paik was already recognized as a pioneer, however he was in need of supplies and a studio and Solway provided this beginning in 1983.


Artist Finalists To Present Proposals for Oliver Lewis Way Bridge Public Art

LexArts Inc., in association with 2nd District Council Member Shevawn Akers and the LFUCG Corridors Commission, earlier this year issued a call to artists to create public art that enhances the Oliver Lewis Way Bridge, located just south of the intersection of Main Street and Newtown Pike.

The three finalists, Blessing Hancock, Guy Kemper, and Christopher Weed, have created site-specific proposals (links below) and will present them to the public at 5:30pm today (2/11). The presentations will be made at the MS Rezny Studio and Gallery at 903 Manchester Street in the Distillery District, a fitting location as the bridge, designed on a volunteer basis by Lexington brother-architects Graham and Clive Pohl specifically to accommodate art, is within eyesight and most guests will travel the Oliver Lewis Way bridge to arrive at the venue.

Over the past two weeks, the proposals have been on display for public discussion and voting at ArtsPlace, the Downtown Arts Center and the LFUCG Government Center. After the public presentations, a final review of the site-specific proposals, with consideration from the public’s votes, will be conducted by the selection committee and one artist or artist team will be selected to realize their proposal.

The budget for the project is $100,000, making this one of the largest public art projects the city of Lexington has ever commissioned. While the timeline for completion will not be known until the selection of the winning design, the intention is for Lexington’s newest public art project to be unveiled and dedicated in time for Keeneland and the city of Lexington to welcome guests to the Breeder’s Cup World Championships, one of Thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious international events. That event is scheduled to take place on the final weekend of October of this year.


Christopher Weed

Guy Kemper

Blessing Hancock


White Ring: Reflections on the words of Wendell Berry

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

(Photo provided by the Carnegie Center for Learning and Literacy)

‘The survival of literacy in an age of illiteracy may require us to remember how physical, how much of the senses, the life of literacy is.’ – Wendell Berry (courtesy of the Carnegie Center, Lexington, Kentucky.)

I was sitting on the only piece of paper within reach – an oversize name tag reserving my chair for the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony of Wendell Berry. The paper was beige, dull, and heavy – not really of a character to form any sort of story. The letters of my name were nicely printed on it, each had serifs that matched the decorative embellishments framing the length of my name top and bottom.

Like a mother hen to egg; I guarded it as though it was something very special. The piece of paper was after all saving a chair for me in the front room of the Carnegie Center amidst some of the most dedicated writers, journalists, editors, and publishers in all of Kentucky. Equally important: I knew the opposite side of it was blank.

Guy Davenport (1927-2005), Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007), Effie Waller Smith (1879-1960), Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996) and Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) were inducted that night too. Excerpts from the writings of each was selected as carefully as were the readers of them.  Ron Whitehead read Hunter S. Thompson’s words with a volume that was maybe intended to mimic Thompson’s humor but played more clearly as the rawness of life in the absence of his long-lost friend.

Mary Ellen Miller whispered through weaker vocal chords; reminiscing – with a melancholy that each of us could sense – on her late husband’s work.  Neil Chethik’s clear articulation as he introduced Wendell Berry removed any need for us to explain why we were there.

For me, each of the voices that spoke that night resounded more intently than the words spoken. There was something in the act of reading them aloud. They were comforting, familiar, communal sounds that we all know and I hope will continue to know.

Then, it was quiet as Wendell Berry – the first living inductee to be honored into the Hall of Fame – stepped up to read what he must have prepared as an acceptance speech. But, his cadence, his tonality, his sincerity and humility, and the words that filled the then hot room in the Carnegie Center on that cold January night in Lexington, Kentucky were a marked call-to-action.

No electronic devices, scratchings of pen on paper or the turning of pages interrupted as Berry made reference to many urgent public issues. He emphatically stated that in Kentucky we have no way to vet our concerns, no public forum, no healthy outlet for the a much needed dialogue about many things including the writings of Kentucky authors. There was only silence as he spoke of the ‘cloud of silence’. Postures shifted. I gently pulled the piece of paper from its resting place.

Berry continued noting that here in Kentucky ‘we have a sufficiency of writers of books, publishers of books, and readers of books, but no space for related public discourse.’ We roost with eyes closed, content on expressing our opinions in what has now become our public – the semi-private world of the Facebook and Twitter. As Leon Wieseltier notes in Among the Disrupted (New York Times, January 7, 2015) what we prefer now is a ‘twittering cacophony’ where alacritous and terse one-liners grant the highest of merits – a like, a comment. Cackling hens that only ding.

As the co-publisher of a young, fully digital magazine dedicated to arts and culture in Kentucky, I left feeling a keen sense of responsibility – not to explain what Wendell Berry had said, but to more fully understand it for myself. How much time do we have before something more significant is lost? What is my responsibility in the digital age? How can I help move us beyond what Wieseltier describes as the ‘lag between invention in the apprehension of its consequences’?

We cannot explain it fully, but my fellow UnderMain-ers and I have agreed to bring to our readers and our listeners reviews of books by Kentucky authors as well as the occasional reading. Just as in Berry’s move back to Kentucky, we might find sustenance in a new iteration of the sounding pages.

We thank the Carnegie Center for hosting the induction and for inviting us to attend. For a copy of the full text of Wendell Berry’s speech, click here.

For The Explainers
Spell the spiel of cause and effect
Ride the long rail of fact after fact;
What curled the plume of the Drake’s tail
and put the white ring around his neck?

– Wendell Berry


Our Conversation with Nan Plummer – First of Many

UnderMain would like to welcome Nan Plummer to the position of LexArts President and CEO.  What you are about to read is a recent and very casual conversation between Nan, my UnderMain colleague Tom Martin, and myself. Nan is a new-arrival on Planet Lexington and there is so much to discuss with her about the arts in our community as well as the broader Central Kentucky region. UnderMain is committed not only to opening this dialogue, but to continuing it in a series of discussions throughout the year. In future interviews, I hope to expand upon some of the concepts raised, including the viability of a United Arts Fund model for raising and granting monies and what that means for area arts organizations large and small; the role of the non-traditional arts from dance to music to the visual arts; the current state of theater; our specific history with public art; and our present and future opportunities for both the public and private sectors. Just as we consulted some of you about questions for this initial interview, your opinions and input are necessary for this conversation to evolve. We invite your thoughts via the UnderMain Facebook page.

Nan with her daughter, Maggie.

Nan with Communications Director Maury Sparrow and Operations Manager Alma Kajtazovic.

Nan with Nathan Zamarron, LexArts Community Arts Manager, and J. David Smith, Jr., Stoll Keenon Ogden and LexArts Grants Chair

Nan with Liz Swanson, artist, designer, and Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Kentucky College of Design

Nan with Allison Kaiser – Executive Director, LexPhil

Christine: Welcome Nan, and thank you for joining UnderMain today. Let’s begin by learning a little about your background and what attracted you to this position with LexArts.

Nan:   There are a bunch of things that drew me to this position. My whole career has been in the arts, mostly the visual arts, and in museums with really strong performing arts components, performing arts, and music especially. I’ve been on a diversion into being a full-time, frontline fundraiser for Arkansas Children’s Hospital – a place I have adored for a long time. And, it was just time for me to get back into the arts and take what I’ve learned in the training ground that was ACH back into something where I knew a lot more. I’ll be 60 on my next birthday and I know what I know and I do what I do. And, it occurred to me that not only would this make me happier, but I think that my best contribution will be taking what I’ve been doing for all this time and combine it with what I know and love in the arts. LexArts, because it helps so many people and so many organizations in such a broad context, just looked delicious and – you know – it just seemed like the perfect thing.

Christine: Yes, the role of the organization appears very broad in general. Do you see any real successes that you would like to continue or anything that you would like to eliminate with regard to LexArts’ recent history and its role in supporting the arts in our community?

Nan:  The big task ahead of us – because there are so many things that organizations like LexArts can do and does do across the country – is to find out what Lexington and Central Kentucky need LexArts to do right now. There are a lot of things we are very good at. The United Arts Fund model of raising money, for instance, for general operating support is not what it was in the 60’s and 70’s, but it isn’t broken and it’s still generating lots of income. So, raising money for the arts is something that I think LexArts needs to keep doing.

Tom: In that regard, LexArts has not seemed welcoming to the non-traditional music community in Lexington and I’m not sure why that is. I’m not finding fault, because I’m sure that there is some structural reason for that. Speaking for those of us who are not classical players, but nonetheless are working musicians with significant investment of funds and time and creativity, we do not feel supported by LexArts.

Nan: What would support  mean to you? Money? Which is important.

Tom: Well, it is, but it’s more than that. The compensation for what we do has to come from the market. I think we need help with marketing to the masses the fact that we have an historically vibrant music community here. Lots of songwriters, lots of musicians across a wide spectrum of genres.

Christine: It has been noted that for some in our community it appears that LexArts’  holds a primary allegiance to larger, more established organizations.

Nan: And here is the second thing I think LexArts needs to do, along with being clear about its mission: to remind people about its history. United Arts Funds were established to fund those big, grand, pillar organizations. In the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s those were the organizations that communities believed needed support in order for the arts to thrive. I think as time has gone on, people in general in UAF have figured out that an art scene is not only those great big organizations. But what would the arts be like in Lexington if those ceased to exist? So, the trick for LexArts is to remind people, this is how we got started. We don’t sit in the room and pick favorites. This is how we got started and we have to now broaden that. We tend to broaden our support maybe less quickly than the arts community springs up around us. So, while it may appear that way, it’s not a bias. Here is where we started and we can’t change where we started. That’s historical fact.

Christine: Let’s turn to our attention to the annual fund. The actual amount of funds raised for the annual fund, aside from the city’s contribution, seems very limited for a city of our size in a region as wealthy as ours. Nan, Is there anything that you think we could change to generate more giving?

Nan: Oh, absolutely. I think that there is a lot of potential to raise more money and I think that’s one of the reasons I was brought here, so that I’d spend a long time learning how to raise money. I’ve raised a lot of money for the arts in my other roles. So, sure, let’s go. There is no perfect leader for an organization, ever. No one is perfect.  Organizations, boards over time hire a series of imperfect and incomplete people whose strengths we hope  match the needs of the organization at that time. How many – have there only been two other directors?

Christine: Jim Clark was director for 14 years.  Dee Fizdale prior to that.

Nan: And the organization has changed a lot. It was founded under Dee, Jim changed it a lot. And so, they brought things that certainly I couldn’t have brought. I’m not the founder type and I’m learning everyday what my predecessor was good at that I’m not quite so good at. But, what I hope to be good at is fundraising and growing – growing the funding base and maturing LexArts’ fundraising ability so that it’s on par with the artistic activity here in Lexington. I think there’s a lot of potential. And getting back to the first question: why did I want to come here?Potential is really the core word; there is so much waiting to happen here. I’ve never seen a downtown like this, I really haven’t. It’s just the right size. I’m thinking about the skyscrapers and the lawyers and the bankers and, oh my gosh, all these artful places within walking distance. I know that there are other places like this, I’ve just never been this close to one.

Christine: And this growth, this particular sort of vibrancy is very new for Lexington. In fact, it has changed the conversation in Lexington about LexArts as a funding organization and specifically about transparency. Do you see how that that might be addressed in a more formal way? For instance, many non-profit organizations supply a 990 (a Form 990 is an annual reporting return that certain tax exempt organizations must file with the IRS).

Nan: Oh, we all must.

Christine: To my knowledge, LexArts does not make that readily available.

Nan: Of course we do – we must. If you walk into the building and ask for it, I am legally required under federal law to provide that to you within twenty four hours. You can also get it from the IRS website and you can also go to GuideStar and get it, so it’s publicly available.

Tom: This question came from somebody who’s been looking at the websites of similar organizations and found their 990’s readily available.

Nan: Oh, some organizations put it on their own website?

Tom: Uh-hm.

Nan: Making a note. Yeah, this is public information and I guess that what it always comes down to for me is, it’s not our money. If you work in a non-profit organization, it is not your money. And neither is the city money that we re-grant or the state money that we re-grant or the federal money that we pass through the other organizations or the federal money that we spend on public art projects. It’s not our money. And that’s why non-profit boards really need to take their fiduciary duty very, very seriously. I take it very seriously. And so I think part of the misunderstanding about LexArts’ affection for non-traditional arts groups is a lack of proactive transparency – education about how we make grants with the money that we raised and the money that we received.

Tom: That’s a two-way street. There will be those who just love to complain.

Nan: Yes.

Tom: But when you say, “Okay, what are you going to do about it? What are you willing to invest?” they often seem to disappear.

Nan: That’s human nature.

Tom: I think it would be really interesting to see what would happen if LexArts were to put that challenge to the non-traditional community and say to them, “We want to engage with you, you have to tell us how and you also have to tell us what you bring to the table; what can you do – you want us to do for you, what can you do for us?” Which creates…

Nan: It is a collaborative…

Tom: I’d love to see what would happen.

Nan: I’ve had a couple of conversations where arts group leaders have essentially said LexArts has favorites, ‘you sit in the room, you pick the big guys, you just – you like classical music to the exclusion of just about everything else.’ That’s not how the process goes. It’s an open grant process. There are five general operating support partners who are the core going back to when the organization was formed. And then, other organizations of almost every size may apply for project and program support. We serve as fiscal agent for organizations that aren’t even incorporated as 501(c)(3)s yet to help them get going. And so, if we’re not supporting you or we don’t seem to be interested it might be because you’ve never come to talk to us or looked into the process.

Tom: Would you say that those organizations who would like to see support from LexArts are not stepping forward and basically need to sharpen their pencils?

Nan: I think so and I think that that process, the way I understand it is that process has been ongoing – that Jim (Clark) did a great job at that, really professionalizing the application process because again, it’s not our money and when we give it away we aren’t just saying, “Oh, we love you, here you go,” “Oh, you bother me, go away.” No. They are as objective as we can make them. It’s not who we like better and who we don’t. Everybody who works at LexArts and everyone who sits on the grants committee – and it’s a committee, not the LexArts staff who makes the decisions – is a human being, last time I checked.  And so, we – we have emotions and preferences and are not immune to the things that other human beings respond to when they made judgments. So that’s why there is this process.

I’ve told my colleague, Nathan Zamarron who’s our programs guy that I think he’s brilliant, that he is a very, very good bureaucrat and that is a compliment. In fact, I would like to restore the nobility of that term. It’s a French term like amateur and dilettante that’s gotten a bad rap. A bureaucrat is someone who practices the art of the office, the art of administering public goods for the common good. And we are trying to do that really well at LexArts.

Christine: I have a specific interest in public art and have for a very long time, from Dynamic Doors in 2002 to Horse Mania to the Outdoor Mural Project and more recent developments like the murals being installed by PRHBTN. Do you have any insight there as far how LexArts might encourage more conversation about public art?

Nan: Great, great question. I am not hearing, “Okay, we’ve got enough public art, you can stop now.” I’m seeing a lot of enthusiasm and it was really exciting to me that that article in Herald-Leader, which I was looking at online in the period between my hire and my arrival, that the lead story on Sunday above the fold with a big color picture is about art, I thought, woo-hoo! So it’s controversial.  Art is a topic about which thoughtful, intelligent, loving, well-educated, wonderful people can and will disagree. That’s the point. So, not everyone is going to love everything that goes up in a public or publicly visible private space. I don’t think everybody loves Bernini either. I’m not sure everybody thought that The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel was totally thrilled with it at first. So this is a process. And contemporary art is a conversation and while it can be absolutely beautiful, most artists are really asking you to engage with their idea, not to admire their technique.

Tom: One recent development that has received publicity is LexArts sponsoring a new theater group. Isn’t this a conflict of interest for an organization that has community arts organizations vying competitively for funding from LexArts?

Nan: Supporting a new theater group?

Christine: Athens West.

Nan: Support is a spectrum at LexArts and financial support for competitive grant process is not the only way we support arts organizations. Maybe some folks think it should be the only way we do that. I guess that’s the question, but it hasn’t been. And so, the short answer is: it’s not a conflict of interest, it’s a different interest. It’s a different way that LexArts supports the arts here. And it kind of goes to the question of well, how many things can you be to how many people? There are lots of resources that LexArts brings to the arts community. One of them is funding, and another is expertise. We’re a staff of five at this point, so every function has somebody’s name on it. The community has invested us with this (and by the community, I mean the whole nation) IRS tax-exempt status – it is conferred upon an organization by the people. So we use that to benefit organizations that don’t yet have them. So, that’s a long answer to that question.

Christine: The question arises at a very tumultuous time for other theater organizations.

Nan: Oh, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Tom: Theater, like many art forms in Lexington, ebbs and flows and at the moment we have some new companies that are beginning to rise. And then, there’s Balagula Theatre which has brought really provocative content to the stage.

Nan: Yes, they have been a general offering support partner at LexArts. Part of my job is getting out to see all that I can. Imagine getting paid to do that. In December, my daughter and I got to see Venus in Fur on a Friday night before the announcement of (co-director) Ryan Case’s resignation. And I was just flabbergasted because it was so good. I’ve been a theater kid all my life and while I don’t see nearly as much theater as I would like, I like to call myself an expert. I like to think I know what’s good. That was really good. I thought it was wonderful. That’s me as an arts consumer. My next task is to really get to know them as an organization and learn how can we help.  So, yeah, lots of ebb and flow at the moment and I guess Lexington should consider itself lucky that there are folks who are coming to theater.  Not everything succeeds and that’s one of the reasons that LexArts exists: to level the playing field. One of the things that I would love to see happen with increased funding to LexArts is to fund artistic startups – entrepreneurial creative endeavors.

Christine: Sure. But one of the things I think is a very serious problem is the development and retention of audience. Frequently it will be to the downfall of the organization because there’s nobody coming, there’s no one attending. Goes back to marketing…

Nan: Yeah, Michael Kaiser who wrote The Art of the Turnaround and then two more books – a kind of trilogy on arts organization management, has brought forward a model to every organization that he’s helped: great arts, aggressively marketed. The two need to exist together for success. You could have something that is aggressively marketed and if it’s no good the audience figures that out pretty fast. So, they go hand in hand. I’m not sure what that would look like in Lexington, but  think that’s something that – we already do work at, you know. For the visual arts, for example, Gallery Hop has been going on for a long time, it’s one of our oldest programs, I think.

Christine: Very successful.

Nan: Very successful. We talked about how – like every arts organization, perhaps – we need to upgrade our website.

Tom: See if my impression is correct just of your vision because I think I’m hearing something here that’s a little…

Nan: I hope I’m being consistent.

Tom: You are.  It sounds to me as if you view LexArts’ role as one which creates that level playing field and makes it possible for individuals, groups, organizations to merit consideration because they are good at articulating what they want to do. It makes it possible for them to receive support based on merits versus ‘who you know.’

Nan: Um-hm. Yeah. I like the way you said that. I think that the call from the community is: we need more, we need more, we need more. And growing an arts organization – even one like LexArts that has a long history and is sort of an institution – is a little like building Brunelleschi’s Dome: you build one course and you stand on it to build the next. It’s incremental. So, it’s matter of learning what needs most to be done next and then being able to build the resources to do that, because the temptation is to say, “Sure, we will. Oh, we’d love to do that. Yeah, let’s try.” And then, you’re not doing well at anything for anyone. And, so we need to avoid that, resist that temptation and really learn strategies about saying no to a whole bunch of good ideas. And so,  figuring out our strategy based on what we can do and who are. ‘We’ are five people, ‘we’ are this board, ‘we’ are an arts organization, ‘we’ are the organizations that feed into us, ‘we’ are our donors. You know?

Tom: One last question that was raised during the search for new leadership: Is LexArts strictly about fundraising? Or is it, in addition to fundraising, also about advocacy for the arts? And can those two things be balanced without conflicting?

Nan: (LexArts board chair) John Long has said that LexArts’ mission and vision came under scrutiny at this transitional point and they thought about it a lot. Funding and advocacy are there together. And that conflict is the nature of human existence I think and again, transparency is the best solution for when those conflicts appear. If they appear, you name them: ‘uh-oh, these things are in conflict.’ That’s not necessarily bad. Conflicts get resolved all the time. And so, if there’s a perceived conflict, call it and look at it.

Christine: Under Main exists to examine things a little more thoroughly – take them a little deeper. In fact, I would love to see a series of meetings with you that incorporate video or audio about the various topics that we’ve only broached today. We thank you Nan for your time and your dedication to the arts and look forward to what lies ahead.


Do the Write Thing: Read Between the Lines

by Paul Michael Brown ~

October 30-December 21, 2014
Christian Berst Art Brut (Klein and Berst)
95 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002

The desire to communicate with others, to externalize thought in some way that is cohesive or comprehensible, is deep and universally human. Language provides a vehicle by which to do so, albeit in imperfect and often frustrating one. The 19 artists on display in Do the Write Thing: Read Between the Lines, the inaugural exhibition at Christian Berst Art Brut’s NYC location (helmed by Lexington’s own Phillip March Jones), engage with the necessity and inadequacy of language in the form of text.

The methods and materials employed by the artists in the show are wide-ranging, reflective of the disparate challenges encountered in the attempt to make oneself heard. In her introduction to the extensive catalogue that accompanies the show, critic and poet Lilly Lampe groups the works into three broad and overlapping categories: predictive or communicative, cataloguing or mapping, and asemic or wordless writing. It is worth noting that many of the artist’s work straddle multiple categories, or occasionally deal with themes outside these three most immediate groupings.

Of special interest to me were the works that fell into the last category. Asemic writing, by definition, is work that has no observable semantic consequence, at least in the way we are generally trained to ingest information from text. It is wordless, bypassing traditional methods of signifying through recognizable characters and instead uses forms reminiscent of language to communicate in novel ways. The asemic art in the show can be further divided into two modes, works that begin with legible text that is eventually obfuscated by other forms or marks, and works using marks that resemble text, but are nonsensical; in these works, meaning is either destroyed, erased, or not present in the first place.

Harald Stoffers
Brief 160, 2009
Waterproofed Feltpen on cardboard
19.67 x 27.5 inches
Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut

Brief 338 (2014) by Harold Stoffers is an expansive work, spanning the vertical length of a thin wall towards the rear of the gallery. It is made up of tightly packed groups of parallel horizontal lines resembling muscle fascia that obscure text written in jerky cursive script, often addressed to the artists’s mother. The work is comparable to the structure of a musical staff, allowing reference to both written and musical language simultaneously, but not functional in communicating either in a traditional sense. It draws the viewer near with its intricacy. Varying densities of line, text, and free space pace the speed at which it is taken in. The accelerations, decelerations, and breaks encountered while ‘reading’ this work are not unlike those signaled by punctuation, paragraph, and page break found in more traditional texts.

Beverly Baker
Untitled, 2014
Ballpoint pen on paper
16.25 x 23 inches
Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut

Likewise, Beverly Baker, of Lexington, obscures her original text, but to an even greater degree. Baker’s works in ballpoint pen start as legible writing, copied from a small number of source materials. These fragments are layered one upon the other until the paper is completely covered and the content of the text is rendered moot. Baker’s methodology is analogous to that of Zhang Huan in his work ‘Family Portrait’ (2000), a series of photographs tightly cropped in on his own face, increasingly obscured by the names of his family members until his visage is entirely blacked out by ink. Baker’s use of ballpoint pen, coupled with the force of the marks utilized, form divots and peaks, creating a variegated and even three dimensional abstract landscape of dense color and surprising intensity, a suggestion echoed in the horizontal presentation of her work in the show. 

Yuichi Saito
Mo letter (Doraemon), circa 2005
Ink on paper
15 x 21.5 inches
Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut

Yuichi Saito utilizes superimposition in similar ways to Baker and Stoffers, repeating the titles of his favorite TV shows over and over until they converge into densely populated clusters of characters against a stark white background. The effect here is a bit like what occurs when one says a single word aloud repeatedly until it loses meaning and begins to dissolve into its phonetic constituents, warped and distilled by repetition .The work is also an exercise in documentation, as Saito creates the each piece the day that the show airs.  They are restrained in composition, the clouds of text compliant in the chaos they make up, bearing mild visual reference to animal herds, birds in flight, and other natural phenomena (linking them to the grandiose landscapes of Xu Bing rendered in Chinese text).

Jill Galliéni

Jill Galliéni
Colored ink on paper
9.45 x 6. 3 inches
Courtesy of Christian Berst Art Brut

Blocks of differently colored inks made up of lines of cursive like curley q’s make up Jill Gallieni’s work. According to a statement provided by the gallery, she began to create these works as prayers with meaning only discernible by her, addressed to Saint Rita, patron saint of lost causes. The brightly colored inks conform to blocky shapes often configured into abstract compositions that look somewhat like crochet or weave. The more heavily fragmented pieces bear unlikely but adequate resemblance to Coogi sweaters, a material used by Jayson Musson (aka Hennessy Youngman) in some of his recent work. The lines of text are continuous, interrupted only by the limits of the page. Gallieni’s prayers are ceaseless, constrained, and intensely private.

Although not in the way we expect, these works communicate strongly. Within them, compulsions to express, document, copy, obliterate, and even to enact divine intervention, can be found, all without the utterance of a concrete word. Here we find language, stripped of its explicit functionality, being used as a completely experimental and untested tool. These artists operate outside of normal syntax to establish new patterns of (a)textual expression, creating enigmatic and nonsensical readings that provide openings for us to push what and how we communicate, a necessary and admirable endeavor.


Takeshi Murata, featuring Robert Beatty at Salon 94, Bowery

by Paul Michael Brown ~

Last week, I braved the rapidly approaching winter to see ‘OM Rider,’ (2013) a short video work by Takeshi Murata, with sound designed by his frequent collaborator, Lexington based artist/musician Robert Beatty, at Salon 94. The project may be familiar to Central Kentuckians and frequenters of local contemporary art bedrock Institute 193, as they, along with Glistening Examples, produced ‘Soundtracks for Takeshi Murata,’ making Beatty’s dense, brooding, and lonely retro-futuristic accompaniments to Murata’s work previously only heard in gallery settings available for stand alone consumption.

The two artists work effortlessly in tandem, likely shaped by roughly a decade of collaboration and conversation between the two. The profession of their collaborative work seems to have even engaged a kind of osmotic exchange between the two, ideas bleeding into their individual practice as well.

Murata’s work can be generally grouped into three overlapping categories

His early animations, consisting of hand drawn, computer aided, forever melting layers of candy colored lava as in Melter 2 (2003, 3:50 min, color, sound) which took over the gargantuan monument to consumer culture, Times Square as a part of their Midnight Moment series. The works are bright, hypnotic, and absolutely enjoyable.

Next, the artist uses the limitations and manipulative ability of readily available video editing software to produce glitch heavy, constantly shifting assemblages of occasionally recognizable footage, creating a dizzy, fragmented, psychedelic space of occasional object discernment among pulsing chaos. The mood is reminiscent of a synthetic drug come down, misfiring synapses and fading abstracted vision, a vague hollowness drowned out by the low bass beat of an overworked central nervous system and the occasional cringe of biting into aluminum foil.

Night Moves, Takeshi Murata

Last, the uncomfortably smooth surfaces, flawless gradients, and vague narrative most recently exercised in OM Rider filled with dark, empty landscapes, references to pop and consumer culture, and impeccably rendered plasticine and gelatinous textures. Murata’s renderings and animations in this mode are often hyper real, sparsely populated, strangely tense settings that seem at once impossible and familiar.

Likewise, Beatty’s visual work is rife with gradient super smooth texture, differentiated from Murata’s video works by both a muted palette and a visible grain, rendering them seemingly older. Viscous fluid reminiscent of a Goosebumps cover or a Floam infomercial spells out text and spills out of Bosch-like eggs set against backdrops of rigid, too perfect geometries lit by dubious and multiple sources.

His audio work, often released under as ‘Three Legged Race,’ combines found sound, retro synth licks, and heavy digital manipulation to create aural landscapes that feel like dripping neon space caves of indeterminate size, constantly growing and shrinking, seeming to glow gray and saturated green.

In ‘OM Rider,’ Murata weaves a dark, moody thriller, dwelling on the inevitable meeting between two characters of unclear relation. The first, a pot smoking, motorbike riding, synthesizer playing half wolf half man, wanders aimlessly around a flat, deep purple desert populated mostly by rocks and trash.  The second, a sour faced, despicable looking, elderly gentleman paces all alone in his dimly lit home outfitted in dark wood and imposing but infrequent furniture and a seemingly infinite spiral staircase.

Both spend the early portion of the video in contemplation of an unclear, but  serious immediate fate, heralded by Beatty’s soundscape dominated by the anxiety inducing rev of an airplane engine, on loop, and in increasing volume as the work reaches its inevitable conclusion, and the meeting of the two figures involved.

The work is tense. The vagueness of Murata’s narrative, the uncomfortable smoothness and his not quite real objects and figures, coupled with Beatty’s anxious and hypnotic soundtrack, broadcast a dark, nervous, and occasionally humorous mood that is effective and absolutely worth seeing.


I Might As Well Bathe In Cheese

Oh, if only I had made that deadline for Lexington’s first ever Flash Fiction Contest, here is what I would have submitted.

Cheesy Mouse#2

Searching for her teeth, I went into the kitchen and found a pot of soup they must have forgotten when the ambulance came. It was cheesy soup, probably cream of cheddar, yellow and gloppy. Already angry, I jerked the pot toward the sink only to nearly drop it at the site of a mouse sitting chest deep in what must have smelled like a good idea at the time.

My phone buzzed again with more text messages from my six siblings. I threw up my hands. This was too much! As if a possible accidental overdose of sleeping pills, missing prescription drugs, and the ensuing argument that either the help took them or mom literally took them, was not.

I snuck back into the kitchen and peaked over the rim of the oversize pot. He was just a baby. I knew I had to get him out, despite having spent the prior week reading Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner and coming to the conclusion that I would no longer over-function in stressful situations.

Mom’s house is in a quiet neighborhood with no real side door and a dangerous back exit. I picked up the old crusty spoon in one hand, the pot in the other. I walked out the front door to the small flower bed that we planted last Easter when mom showed signs of recovering from the last hospital visit.

Gently I scooped the cheesy mouse up and placed him under some purple flowers. I took the pot back in and threw it in the kitchen sink and filled it with soapy water. Just to get even, I decided not to wash the thing, because I meant business this time.

An hour later I headed back to the hospital to take mom’s lunch. I was feeling like a failure, having not found her dentures that disappeared the night of the 911 call. Another text came in and mom was getting out. ‘Wait she was supposed to…’ ‘Stay, who can stay with her?’ another text bleeped.

This time I would set my boundaries with my family. I would say ‘no’.

I arrived in room 5404 only to find my mother shaking a little, so I sat with her while she ate her cheese sandwich and fresh fruit with a Diet Coke.

It felt good; mom was going home like she has the last hundred times. It was so refreshing that I decided to share my story. With my second-eldest sister on the phone, my six-foot-five brother crammed into the chair in the corner of the room, and mom in her hospital bed, I told the story of the cheesy mouse. We laughed nervous but genuine, gut-wrenching laughter – the kind that has let us pass through such major dysfunction in the past, many times over.

Collecting ourselves, my sister asked when mom was being released, just what the doctors were saying and what to do about her medicines when she got home. Oh, and most importantly, she finished with, ‘Sis, did you wash the cheese off the mouse?’


Firing Bullets in the Museum

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By Paul Brown  –

In early 2012, a Navy SEALs sharpshooter fired multiple shots that rang through the Great Hall at the Cincinnati Art Museum. There were no casualties.

Crown, an installation by Todd Pavlisko, commissioned by the Museum and now on display, has been criticized by some members of the Cincinnati community and representatives from the board of the museum itself as being an inappropriate fit for the institution.

To create the work, Pavlisko hired a professional marksman to fire 19 rounds from a high-powered rifle through the Great Hall, an area housing a survey of some of the museum’s most prized and historically-relevant works.

Each bullet found it’s mark, ripping through the front of  a bronze cube modeled after a Donald Judd sculpture held elsewhere in the museum and leaving dimples in the opposite side. The title ‘Crown‘ is marksman lingo for the shape bullets create when they pierce an object.  Several inches of ballistic gel, in which the bullets are now permanently lodged, cushioned the force. Footage of the bullets whizzing past the Great Hall’s collection has been slowed and transformed into an eight-channel video to accompany the affected object.

Pavlisko conceived the piece as a metaphorical odyssey through art history.  As patrons follow the shots’ trajectories past the famous works, centuries are compressed into a fraction of a second.  We rush from antiquity to modernity faster than you can say ‘Soup Can.’ However, firearms are symbolically freighted with heavy cultural baggage requiring a deeper reading of this work.

Regardless of the artist’s intention, the piece strikes a nerve for many, given the United States’ complicated historical and present day relationship with guns, and their interaction with public space. This is especially relevant given the sheer number of recent mass shootings.

The massacre at Sandy Hook occurred just a few weeks after the piece was created in 2012. And the recent shooting at Fort Hood, the second to have taken place there in the last decade, happened just a few weeks after the show finally opened in March, with the most recent tragedy at Isla Vista occurring as the exhibition winds down before closing in mid June. There were, of course, many others in the two years spanning these events, which polarized and fortified many Americans’ feelings towards guns, and how they should or should not be regulated

In ‘Crown’ we not only have a government-sponsored rifleman, but, if examined through the lens of Michael Fried’s analysis of Donald Judd’s work, the bronze box is a human body.  The figure is vaguely human in proportion, forcing us to relate to the piece and engage with a ‘silent presence of another person,’ according to Fried.  The hollow cavity of the original indicates an intangible space contained within a kind of shell, the human soul within the body. In Pavlisko’s replica, this space is appropriately filled with a more fleshy component; nineteen bullets encased in ballistics gel serve as a grim reminder of how very not impermeable we people are.

Pavlisko’s work is a relevant and necessary conversation starter. Pavlisko, whether or not it was intentional, manages to open dialogue while neither passing judgment nor providing clear answers, a delicate touch necessary when handling such an incendiary topic without alienating either side of the argument.

Crown detail


Another Rainy Day

This will wake you up! Fast and fun, it is Colin Doherty in a new short shot and edited by Ian Friley.


Colin Doherty is a painter among many things, who loves living and working in Lexington, Kentucky. His paintings are on display at the Living Arts and Science Center in an exhibition titled The Edifice in Front of Us: Explorations in Architecture and Identity until May 8th.

The Living Arts and Science Center is located at 362 North Martin Luther King Boulevard

Phone: 859-252-5222



Arts Criticism Class invites acclaimed critic Diane Carvalho

The arts writing course at the Carnegie is off and running and we want to invite you to join acclaimed visual arts critic/curator Diane Carvalho as she shares insights about how to write Visual Arts Criticism.

The talk is Thursday, April 17, from 5:30 to 7 pm at the Carnegie Center, 251 W. Second St., Lexington. Ms. Carvalho has curated art projects in New York, Poland, and the Czech Republic. She is Critic Emeritus at Art Omi International Arts Center in New York. Her visit is sponsored by UnderMain, a new Lexington website about culture, arts, and community. This event is FREE.

UnderMain is pleased to announce this collaboration with the Carnegie Center that brings to you an Arts Writing Class offered at the Carnegie Center located at 251 West Second Street. The class began on April 10th and runs from 5:30 to 7 pm. The instructor is a dynamic teacher and well-published arts critic, Candace Chaney. You’ll see her reviews in the Herald-Leader regularly.

The class and speakers are being sponsored by UnderMain and AEQAI, an online journal dedicated to critical review.  The Center is charging only $20 for the six-week class – a significant discount given the UM sponsorship.

If you are interested, please sign up as soon as possible via the Carnegie Center website or by phone at 859-254-4175 Ext. 21.


Talk To Me Please: New York City, March, 2014 (NSFW)

WARNING: This posting contains nude images.

by Christine Huskisson

I am not a blogger by nature; I prefer to tell stories. I love a good metaphor and the occasional innuendo as a way of processing what I chose to write about: the world of art. It is a topic that I am now convinced could make you sick, if not mildly insane if it were not for stories and someone to share them with.

Arts Week in New York began in early March this year with events like the Armory Show, which is America’s largest fair for the most important art of the 20th and 21st centuries. Art lovers, or should I say carnivores like myself, gorged on everything from paint to profanity, installation to styrofoam sculptures, and enormous photographs of far away places with camel bone bicycles and beautiful bullets.

I arrived early in the morning to see the sixteenth iteration of The Armory Show, which was held on Piers 92 and 94 on the Hudson River. That is where I met Oliver, my guide for the day. We had a good deal in common: those impressions on your upper nose from wearing heavy glasses so that you don’t miss a thing and the odd mix of degrees in business and art history.

Together we decided to delve into the tales told by a countless number of artists represented by 200 galleries from 29 countries. The artworks that I share with you here were not chosen because they are the most successful, the top ten, the most notable by academic standards, or the hottest items on the market today. I am sharing these with you for the simple fact that they told us – Oliver and me that is – some kind of story or allowed us to listen in on a conversation that someone else was having in another part of the world. In them, we found plenty to make our day palatable and the entire experience a bit saner.

We began on Pier 94 chatting about what most in the art world know as the ‘blue chip’ artists, well-established artists with impressive resumes represented by world renown galleries. You have to joke in the midst of this crowd. So we decided that Tony Cragg’s Distant Cousin and Georg Baselitz’s Leyk dede var were having some fun together. Imagine Baselitz’s figures, while hanging upside down in a field of tangerine oil paint whispering to one another: “Hey, how do you suppose that hunk of steel sold for a million dollars this year?” Which it did.

Tony Cragg and Georg Baselitz2

Tony Cragg’s Distant Cousin, 2008 and Georg Baselitz’s Leyk dede var, 2013

In this same area, we turned to find our images reflected in Robert Longo’s enormous photo-realist drawing depicting a Burning Man. Our reflections were standing behind the man in a cowboy hat watching what must have been a gruesome event taking place. Burning Man sold for $380,000 and these are only two of the sales made by the Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac of Paris and Salzburg. It was enough to make us want to move on to a greener crowd.

Robert Longo, Untitled (Burning Man)

Robert Longo, Burning Man
Hayal Pozanti | lithograph created during her Tamarind residency; photo courtesy of Logan Bellew
Hayal Pozanti, original print for larger work titled Sacred Canopy, 2014

Among the newer galleries in a section titled ‘Armory Presents,’ we found the Jessica Silverman Gallery from San Francisco. The works here by Hayal Pozanti, a native of Istanbul, who received her MFA from Yale University in 2011, were imbued with a sense of color, spacial relations, and humor that I found very attractive. I wanted to buy and Oliver and I had our first disagreement. Oliver snapped back at me, “The fact that the artist is so young and working with a young gallery too might end up thwarting a career.” Fact is: this young woman’s work was big talk at the show.

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Serge Alain Nitegeka, Fragile Cargo X, 2013

Another biggie was from one of the curated booths in the Contemporary section, the Marianne Boesky Gallery brought us along the journey as told by Serge Alain Nitegeka, a South African-based artist of painting, sculpture, and installations. After hesitating just a bit due to the obvious effort involved in this installation, Oliver took my hand and we wondered into the booth climbing over and ducking under painted two by fours with heavy crates nailed all around, but mostly above our heads.

Once through the small space that felt unbelievably oppressive, we discovered Fragile Cargo X, Exterior, Silence, Tunnel VIII, enormous objects constructed of the same material through which we had to pass, only far more rewarding in their composition and presence. Oliver knew the artist’s story and shared it with me in this intimate space removed from the crowd. This was the first time Nitegeka had been shown in the United States and every work in this space sold to museums around the world. There is now a waiting list for his work at the Marianne Boesky Gallery. “This is a find!” he said. “New artist to the markets with solid representation from an established gallery.”

Polidiori 2

Robert Polidori’s Enfilade, Salle les princes royales, 2010

Standing in front of another visual wandering, fully set within a frame this time by Robert Polidori and inspired by the Palace of Versailles, I had a chance to share with Oliver a bit about my hometown in Kentucky. He was more interested in making sure I realized that Mr. Polidori is a staff photographer for The New Yorker Magazine.

Historical incident masked by beautiful color and form took us to Bullets Revisted. Moroccan artist Lala Essaydi stacked bullets in different ways to create the imagery in this chromogenic print. Oliver shared with me that the markings all over the woman’s body were Islamic calligraphy applied by hand with henna. This work in particular was part of an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston titled She Who Tells A Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World curated to challenge stereotypes and refute the notion that all Arab and Iranian women are oppressed and powerless. Instead, they are telling their stories and, as with Lalla Essaydi, they are making some of the most significant work in the region today.

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Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012

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Liang Shuo’s, Fit No. 8, 2014

On entering the Focus China section curated by Philip Tinari, Liang Shuo’s Fit No. 8 from 2014 represented by Gallery Yang is clearly not a sign or signifier of China – Shuo’s China is China. The sculpture is made from mass produced, found objects. The artist did not use any adhesives to assemble this contraption. He worked until he found one piece that fit perfectly into the next, numbering each intersection so that they were clearly mated. He also provides us with a diagram of how to assemble this work.
Fit NO. 8

Liang Shuo’s, Fit No. 8, How to Assemble, 2014

Oliver and I had too much fun in the Focus China section, there was a good bit of humor there and we found it most refreshing.  Deciding to wrap up our day, we happened on Miguel Angel Rogas’ David/Quiebramales. It was so powerful and honest that our conversations turned to a whisper and then nothing really, not knowing what to say about the young Army vet posed as Michelangelo’s David. His left leg was missing from the knee down, presumably lost to a land mine.
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Miguel Angel Rogas, David/Quiebramales, 2008

In our silence, I just stood next to Oliver and realized how much I really liked the time we spent together. I could imagine that if I had been standing in front of the statue of David with him, we might discuss Michelangelo, the Italian Renaissance, a contrapposto pose, the Medici Family or the Florentine Republic. At that precise moment though, all of that seemed vapid, my mind went blank and I could not even find the right words to describe ‘hero’.

Folkert de Jong, Conference Art, 2013

Folkert de Jong, Conference Art, 2013

We wandered off to end our day with a bit of levity and found Folkert de Jong’s Conference Art, which was carved from a single piece of styrofoam. All an illusion. It was just the metaphor I needed to end my visit to the Piers 92 and 94. Without the stories told by each of these artists and shared with Oliver, I might not have been able to balance Arts Week in New York with the grace and style that I felt as I left.



Biennial 2014: A Trio of Outsiders Inside the Whitney

UnderMain’s Christine Huskisson recently was in New York for the Whitney Biennial 2014. Beyond the event’s interest to all artists working in America and beyond, there is another bit of relevant information between the Whitney Museum and Lexington. For many years Barbara Whitney Henry Peck, wife of George Headley and daughter of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art, lived on La Belle farm in Lexington. The farm is now home to the Headley-Whitney Museum. (Full disclosure: Chistine is a member of the Headley-Whitney Museum Board of Directors.)

New York, N.Y. – For its 2014 Biennial, New York’s Whitney Museum selected three curators, non-New Yorkers all, each provided an entire floor in the museum’s Breuer building to work solo.

We found Anthony Elms on the second level, ascended from there to the third floor domain of Stuart Comer, with Michelle Grabner on the fourth.

There is, by the way, an important connection between the Whitney Museum of American Art and Lexington, Kentucky.

Check out these images of what’s happening in American Art – shots limited not to the galleries on floor after floor of the Whitney, but captured in some unexpected spaces, as well.

Second floor

Third floor

Fourth floor

Artists/works pictured here include:

Charlemagne Palestine (stairwell),

Sheila Hicks’ Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column, 2013-14

Peter Schuyff, Sans Papier 2004-2006

Terry Adkins,

From left to right:

Aviarium (Dickcissel), 2014

Aviarium (Mourning Dove), 2014

Aviarium (Seaside Sparrow), 2014

Aviarium (Grasshopper Sparrow), 2014

Aviarium (Broad-winged Hawk), 2014

People in Pain Gretchen Bender and Philip Vanderhyden
Gretchen Bender and Philip Vanderhyden, People in Pain

Here is what the wall text in the gallery states about People in Pain. I thought it relevant given the array of media that, in sum, is the essence of UnderMain. 

In a 1987 interview, Gretchen Bender said: “I think of media as a cannibalistic river. A flow or current that absorbs everything.” Bender’s work in photography, film, and installation addressed this incessant stream of information and images emanating from movies, television, and advertising. From the beginning of her career in the 1980s, Bender was closely linked to artists of the so-called Pictures Generation, who took preexisting images, texts, and concepts from the culture and repositioned them in their art as a way of reading and deconstructing complex cultural codes. Although her work was exhibited and discussed widely in the 1980s, Bender did not receive lasting critical or commercial success relative to that of her peers.

Over the past two years, New York-based artist Philip Vanderhyden has worked to reconstruct and exhibit a number of Bender’s video performances and artworks. People in Pain, originally exhibited in 1988, presents a crumpled field of vinyl backlit with neon illuminating a series of movie titles, gesturing to the cultural and narrative meanings of the films while equalizing and flattening them.

The original work never found a permanent home; it fell into disrepair and was discarded after Bender’s death in 2004. Vanderhyden remade People in Pain with an interest in how the piece’s “reappearance” illustrates the way “our cultural experiences live and die.” The flowing titles, invoking decades-old movies, reference a cultural moment that is past if not forgotten; at the same time, Bender’s comment on all-encompassing flows of information has only become more relevant in our present day.