In Trees, an exhibition at Christ Church Cathedral featuring photographs by Tom Kimmerer and Guy Mendes, a simple conceit illuminates pressing issues of contemporary culture. Visitors to the cathedral are presented with an abundance of images showcasing the grandeur of Kentucky’s terrain and landscapes. On one hand, this exhibition is an opportunity to bask in the beauty of local plains, hillsides, and mountains. On the other, Kimmerer and Mendes draw upon their critical aptitude to reinforce environmental concerns around the globe, as well as photography’s temporal nature.
Guy Mendes, “Monk’s Pond”, 2015, pigment print. Courtesy of the artist.
Guided by light and color, the compositions Kimmerer and Mendes generate are dynamic and arresting. In Monks’ Pond (2015), Mendes offers a viewpoint from a small body of water surrounded by towering limbs and foliage that recede into the scene. The ground the photographer must be standing on, however, creeps into the frame from the top edge, instilling a dream-like sense of place as the tall grass protrudes like a canopy. Utilizing the water’s reflection and expert cropping, Mendes fabricates a disillusioning image. Even photographs with more conventional presentation styles in the exhibit—such as one by Kimmerer of a silhouetted oak against a rural backdrop in Bur Oak Named Eilean—are striking given their emphasis on dramatic lighting and vivid hues.
Tom Kimmerer, Bur Oak Named Eilean, undated, print on satin lustre paper. Courtesy of the artist.
Several of Kimmerer’s photographs are documentary, in that they take stock of the seasons and time, monitoring the cyclical tendencies of various plant life, observing trees and their surroundings. Boy in Snow with Trees, for example, records a wintry trek across a relatively barren expanse. The trees here are witness to all that is around them: the boy and his journey, the harsh weather, as well as their own process of death and rebirth. Similar to the trees, viewers are likewise able to focus and scrutinize the field of snow.
Tom Kimmerer, Boy in Snow with Tree, undated, print on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.
These types of photographs are visually quite stunning, as their settings seem almost too grand or painterly to be real. Kimmerer’s most conceptual output, though, are those that take a position of environmentalism.
A mammoth oak looms over a blue highway sign containing local food and gas options in Bur Oak at McDonald’s. Extruding from behind the tree, a pair of bright yellow arches beckon to hungry travelers. Kimmerer places his audience at an interstate exit, denoted by automobiles, a street light, and the advertising placard. On the sign are logos and trademarks of corporations that, to varying degrees, increase carbon emissions and damage our atmosphere.
Tom Kimmerer, Bur Oak at McDonald’s, undated, print on satin lustre paper. Courtesy of the artist.
The artist may be juxtaposing the scale of the tree against the comparatively microscopic business icons to emphasize the importance of keeping the planet clean. Even if this is not his explicit objective, the conceptual weight of the pairing holds.
This reading of Kimmerer’s photographs is linked to the idea that, with the acceleration of climate change, many of Earth’s landscapes, wildlife, and waterways are assuredly doomed. In a way, photography possesses the ability to prevent destruction from happening. Photographs freeze time, as it were, and present a version of the world that is specific to an exact moment, regardless of what may happen to erode its contents in the future. Theorist Roland Barthes recognized this feature of photography during the mid-twentieth century, going so far as to connect photographing to death, even when done as an act of preservation. By the end of his influential Camera Lucida (1980), he describes how the camera, in an attempt to keep something the way it is, initiates a phenomenon in which the resulting photograph indicates eventual death. Barthes states that, “Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe.”
For a composition that places oil industry emblems side-by-side with the physical natural world, Kimmerer’s Bur Oak at McDonald’s would stand as an ominous, if not inevitable, foreshadowing for the tree.
Guy Mendes, “Buzzards’ Roost”‘, 1980, pigment print. Courtesy of the artist.
Within Trees, there are other works that also demonstrate photography’s relationship to death as Barthes describes. Mendes’ Buzzards’ Roost (1980) has served as a kind of insignia for the exhibition—the photograph is featured heavily on promotional materials and is by far the largest work. The framed print hones in on a tree looking over the Kentucky River and small canyon in Woodford County. Light beams through the tree’s leaves and stems so that their crisp shadows fall on the trunk, mirroring the direction and movement of the objects from which they are cast. The shadows and light combined with the immensity of the view make for a rather compelling image. According to Mendes, however, erosion and invasive species caused the tree to die, and such a scene can no longer be admired.
So, too, does Buzzards’ Roost fall under the guidelines laid out by Barthes. Mendes likely did not think that the tree would be entirely gone in less than fifty years, but by photographing it he especially designated it to ultimately die. Yet a photograph has that quality of recording things in a permanent state, only for its contents to continue to develop and grow outside of it. This anecdote makes one contemplate if or when other trees and plants in the exhibition will be eliminated from the areas viewers find them in.
The photographs in Trees populate the lobby area, main hallways, and multipurpose space of Christ Church Cathedral. Indeed, they beautify the cathedral in a way many other objects could not, though their social and environmental implications run much deeper than simply nice images to walk by. In addition to functioning as a testament to the splendor of our world, these works call each onlooker to think, act, and inspire on the planet’s behalf, before elements of nature are gone for good.
“Trees – Photographs by Guy Mendes and Tom Kimmerer” runs through October 27th at Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington.
On February 9th, 2019, I had the privilege of visiting the studio of artist Harry Sanchez, Jr. During our conversations we discussed Sanchez’s creative interests, the art he has been creating during the last five years, and his journey to becoming a full-time artist. Sanchez works out of his home in Northern Kentucky, and the assessments that follow derive from the interactions we shared and the insight Sanchez was able to provide, delving deeper into nuances of his work that may go unnoticed in his exhibitions or on his website.
Geographical borders seem to dominate headlines, chyrons, and posts nowadays. In America, immigration, electoral redistricting, and boundaries between metropolitan centers and rural communities contribute to the discourse around borders.
Internationally, too, trade agreements are being re-shifted and unions are breaking. As a result, the attention dedicated to the concept of borders is driving individuals and groups to consider how they feel about others who may not necessarily share their perspectives, skin color, or life experiences. Amplified by ratings-hungry television networks and social media, widespread rhetoric about those directly impacted by border debates are arguably at their most contested, violent, and perhaps uninformed, since the end of World War II.
Harry Sanchez, Jr., studio shot with printing press
Harry Sanchez, Jr. strives to critically unpack the images and messages surrounding borders, specifically as they pertain to immigration in the United States. Moreover, Sanchez utilizes a vast array of media to render the impressions of the people, policies, and activist groups tied to immigration in America, subverting familiar narratives and iconography in the process.
Yet his work considers the multiplicity of borders as a term: the sculptures, paintings, and prints he creates make plain the consequences of social regulations and rules, celebrate—for better or worse—difference and sameness, and test the potential of his materials and art’s polarizing nature in general. While Sanchez claims that “the one overarching thing my work is about is abusive power,” the most apparent catalyst for his practice is how borders affect daily life in 2019.
Sanchez is no stranger to borders, at least in the physical sense. During his lifetime, he has lived on the borders of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York, and Kentucky and Ohio, where he currently resides working as a professor at the University of Cincinnati. The border that resonates most with him as an artist, however, is the one where he was born—in El Paso, Texas, on the border of the United States and Mexico.
Sanchez maintains a dual-identity as a Mexican-American, and his work rebukes the policies and attitudes regarding immigration and people with brown-skin (like Sanchez) being advocated for by the current White House Administration and its support base. Having first-hand experience of life on the Southern border—and having lived in varied locations throughout the country—Sanchez understands the realities facing the groups being oppressed based upon their country of origin and skin color, as well as the myths about them being perpetuated by certain groups.
The themes of Sanchez’s work are complex and historical. It may be no surprise, then, that Sanchez adopts a range of media and materials, some of which are unconventional, to address the full impact of borders. He also channels his own history. His journey to becoming an artist stemmed from a prior occupation as a cake decorator, so he finds ways to incorporate the skills and tools associated with baking into his art. Notably, he applies paint using decorating bags, squeezing dollops, stripes, and flowers onto his surfaces. When reflecting on how his practice encompasses the notion of borders, he states, “It’s partly a reference to the paint—breaking the rules of painting…How can we make painting sculptural?” With baking equipment, Sanchez pushes the limit of the paint, nearing the boundary of what it is capable of doing.
Harry Sanchez, Jr. with ‘Sheet Cakes’ and ‘Torn Apart’, 2019
Elsewhere, as in Thoughts and Prayers (2016), he arranges .223-type bullets in text of the sculpture’s title on a wall or panel. This work juxtaposes the agency of gun violence with the seemingly distant and automated responses from politicians and civil leaders when acts of violence occur. Using these techniques are advantageous, insists Sanchez. “If I did my Thoughts and Prayers with paint dollops, it’s not the same as using live. 223 bullets, when these are the same bullets that are causing so much death and destruction on a daily basis in America.” Whether using non-traditional materials or not, the artist demonstrates a careful selection of medium, which often assists in generating the intended experience for his audience.
Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Sheet Cakes’ (2018-present). From left to right: ‘Deus Vult -Gen. John Pershing’, ‘Just a Fraternity of Social Club’, ‘We Thought He Was Going to Protect our Jobs, and then BOOM!’, ‘I Am The LEAST Racist Person You Have Ever Me’, ‘Why Can’t We Get People From Norway Instead?’, oil on panel.
Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Sheet Cakes’ (2018-present)
For instance, Sheet Cakes (2018-present), which visually resemble the kinds of objects Sanchez tended to as a cake decorator, are also indicative of flags, containing a variety of crests, stripes, and emblems. A single white rose rests where two black diagonal stripes overlap in I Am The LEAST Racist Person You Have Ever Met; a black border envelops the rectangular contour of an otherwise white panel. In another titled We Thought He Was Going to Protect Our Jobs, and then BOOM!, a yellow four-pronged pitchfork appears in a circle with studs protruding all around. Like the other cake painting, this work features a decorative border around a solid background. In most of the Sheet Cakes, there are moments when the paint reads as having been applied hastily, a purposeful technical feature paralleled by exposed hardware in the painting’ support frames.
The flags that Sanchez refers to are those hoisted by alt-right protest groups. Among them, he depicts the Confederate flag and the banner of the Traditionalist Worker Party—two flags flown by American groups—as well as the flag of the European-based group Génération Identitaire in Just a Fraternity or Social Club, where dollops of yellow paint form a circle against an expanse of black; a peak juts from the bottom arc of the circle. Normally, these flags and signs can be found at protest events across the world, especially events focused on immigration and border politics. They may also make themselves known to the general public as background imagery during televised rallies or in photojournalism. The intended quality of Sanchez’s craftsmanship accentuates the use of these symbols on picket posts, wherein a sign’s dexterity is often less important than content and visibility.
When asked what it means to create these images, Sanchez replies, “I’m not saying ‘this is what I stand for.’ I’m presenting these with a historical message. Cake decorating has a history of white supremacy and slavery.” He posits that by using decorating tools to produce these flags as cakes (as masses of condensed sugar), his work retains a connection to the history of the sugar industry. Particularly, his paintings recall slavery during colonial America, when slaves labored for long hours harvesting sugar and preparing food for their owners. “I’m just taking [the alt-right group’s] signs and making it what they should be made out of.” By this, Sanchez alludes to the white supremacy advocated by these groups, the palpable legacy of institutionalized racism, and the celebratory capacity of cakes—his Sheet Cakes embody the ideals of racial purity lauded by many alt-right protesters.
Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Torn Apart’ (2017-present)
Though the subject matter in Sheet Cakes is arguably inconspicuous, the series is inherently combative towards the people and groups it is about. Sanchez is unabashed in labeling alt-right groups as white supremacists; his mode of delivery—flags as cakes—is both cynical and somewhat irreverent. On the other hand, Sanchez is remarkably empathetic to individuals afflicted by border policies aligned with the ideologies of the alt-right. With Torn Apart (2017-present), a series of prints documenting deportation as political practice, Sanchez is able to express these sentiments. Here, he collects reference images of deported immigrants who have no criminal background and reproduces them in halftone, where the color of the ink is constant but the width and spacing of it vary. The end result mimics the effects of newspaper photographs. With titles carrying the names of the individuals he portrays, the prints of Torn Apart are perhaps the most effective of his artworks at achieving his documentary aspirations.
Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Torn Apart’ (2017-present)
Exactly who Alejandra Juarez is in one particular print is unclear. Three young girls appear to be comforted by an older woman—perhaps their mother—while two men in suits oversee the situation. The print reads as the final moment before at least one of the women is deported, the last opportunity for a good-bye. Sanchez’s heritage, presumably shared with the figures he introduces, is conveyed through the green, white, and red palette—the colors of the Mexican flag. But it is his method of printmaking that he believes denotes his ancestry strongest. On what viewers may not be aware of with this body of work, Sanchez asserts, “You might not know that I’m referencing my heritage as a Mexican-American. You know, the halftone,” an insinuation to his dual-identity. In other prints, such as Maribel, the green and red ink overlap, creating a hue near to black—a formal marker for the dire circumstances these people enter into, at times without warning.
Sanchez achieves the halftone technique by inking a sheet of acrylic plexiglass, then uses Q-tips to meticulously remove sections of ink. He does his best to stay true to his reference images, which have been altered on his computer, then printed from inkjet printers to match the final halftone objective. The halftone is illustrative of what is happening to his subjects, emphasized by the reductive qualities of his process. “It’s the actual erasing that’s causing these images to be made,” Sanchez says, referring to both his erasing of the ink as well as the regulated erasing of immigrants from the United States. The halftone, in a kind of double meaning, is also a surrogate for the border wall in El Paso Sanchez was used to seeing in his youth, which he recalls as being made of vertical slats placed side-by-side, stretching for hundreds of feet. His technique is at once his and his subjects’ shared identity, a reminder of their vulnerability, as well as the tangible object that stands as a testament to racial and ethnic oppression in America.
Harry Sanchez, Jr., Studio shot with his printing press
When Sanchez creates his Torn Apart series, he uses a printing press installed in a room connecting his living room and kitchen that he has converted into a studio. When producing an individual print, Sanchez places a traditional Mexican blanket under the press’s roller to protect and apply pressure during the transfer of ink from plate to paper. Lately, Sanchez’s printing practice has expanded to include plates made from small, laser-cut wood blocks. What’s more, in addition to traditional printing ink, he has begun making prints using resin powder. For Sanchez, his practice navigates the border between traditional and novel modes of printmaking, spurring discovery for himself and his materials.
Sanchez describes his process “like a dance. I try to think it’s like a symbiotic relationship.” By this, he speaks to what he is able to accomplish given the limitations of the media, equipment, and tools he uses. For example, Q-tips that pick up ink from acrylic plexiglass can only be so precise when describing the contours of a face, and so Sanchez must plan for and accept any formal imperfections that arise. Such is the case, too, when handling cake-decorating equipment, which Sanchez admits can be trying on both him and the paint. “I’m asking the paint to do something unnatural. It’s a forceful thing, creating this pressure squeezing the paint out of the bag. I’m putting a lot of pressure on this, [to] hold form, and stand up.” In his studio, any number of materials and equipment are at the ready, allowing him to flow freely between his multiple bodies of work that contain similar conceptual themes.
Indeed, there are certain characteristics shared between Sheet Cakes and Torn Apart. For one, they each address an extreme of present-day border politics in the United States—Torn Apart with those being deported and oppressed, and Sheet Cakes with the groups who publicly demand the removal of specific cultures. Formally, they are both born from work Sanchez created during his time as a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati.
Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘All for Naught? A Whistleblower Series’ (2016)
Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Edward Snowden’ (2016)
His MFA Thesis exhibition presented selections from All for Naught? A Whistleblower Series (2016), a group of portraits of figures who in recent years have exposed abuses of power, like Edward Snowden, who leaked NSA documents regarding global surveillance; Julian Assange of Wikileaks notoriety; and Samira Saleh al-Nuaimi, an Iraqi human rights lawyer captured, tortured, and murdered by ISIS in 2014. Sanchez renders the faces of these icons in halftone generated by paint dollops made with decorating bags. The halftone in All for Naught, in contrast to his newest work, does not necessarily allude to the heritage of Snowden, Assange, and others. Rather, the dual-identity pertains to the actions these individuals take to unmask corruption at the highest levels, which can draw considerable amounts of praise and discontent from different groups across the globe. They are either civil heroes or criminals, depending on you may ask.
Prompted with any risks he may be taking, Sanchez is quick in response. “One of the biggest risks is being an artist,” he claims, “Being an artist is not easy.” Drawing comparisons to his time as a college football player, Sanchez says, “Playing football and getting my ass whooped on the field helped a lot. When you physically get beat down, and you have to physically get back up…I totally understand having to get up and be thick-skinned.” As a graduate student, Sanchez endured public scrutiny with an installation called The Lynching of November 8, 2016 (2016) at a campus gallery. The artwork comprises an American flag balled up and hung from a noose attached to the gallery’s ceiling. A rather simple presentation, Sanchez nonetheless received an ample amount of criticism and local pressforthegesture. His reactions to such attention are prelude to the kind of empathetic yet staunch nature fueling his later work.
Interviewed by one media outlet about the installation, Sanchez contends, “One group is so hateful to another group and there’s such a lack of understanding[.] It seems like if we don’t get past this we’re going to crumble as a nation.” The flag installation does not concern the kind of border politics his other works address, nor does it explicitly emphasize the specific (art) historical connotations of the American flag or nooses. Instead, The Lynching of November 8, 2016 explores the boundaries of public consumption—what is most likely to garner feedback?—as well as the kind of imagery that stimulates adverse behavior and marks the threshold that instigates feelings of vulnerability when crossed.
Harry Sanchez, Jr. 2019
The trajectory to becoming an artist for Harry Sanchez Jr. was, to some degree, unplanned. His story includes time as a construction worker, cinema usher, and cake decorator, the latter igniting his desire to create in such a way that the trade’s techniques are now his preferred methods. His nomadic life along with his upbringing in El Paso are his primary conceptual departure points, yet his practice stretches across a multitude of topics and materials. While divergences between his paintings, prints, and installations are readily apparent, they align in the ways in which they address pressing issues of the zeitgeist, especially with concern to the notions of borders, limitations, and rules. Borders for Sanchez are both subject matter and vehicle for expression. His art underscores competing lived experiences, bringing to the fore the various borders we surround ourselves with, whether consciously or not, to reinforce predetermined ideologies. Sanchez urges his viewers to unlearn their biases and embrace recognizable differences.
The Great Meadows Foundation is a grant giving foundation whose mission 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.
Deborah Whistler believes fear should be confronted—and she’s not afraid to use knives. In a showing of her work entitled “Follow the Rabbit”at Moremen Gallery in Louisville, Whistler literally dissects the kinds of myths and fairytales that may incite unease. Copies of Alice in Wonderland are delicately sliced, drawings of creatures are finely trimmed, and a gamut of other figures and art historical allusions are collaged and paired. All told, the exhibition stands to interrogate the concept of linearity, and Whistler’s treatment of material generates an aggressive, yet reverent, approach to her subject matter.
The exhibition is stationed in three rooms conjoined by two narrow hallways. Bookending one side is While We Wait (2015), a graphite and cut paper drawing mounted on four hinged pieces of plexiglass whose middle panels jut out from the wall in a convex fashion. Moreover, the work is backlit and remnants of the drawing creep onto the wall. Whistler intricately combines decoratively lacerated paper with lively illustrations of abstract shapes and portraits, some of which are likely to be recognized by viewers, including Caravaggio’s Medusa, Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, and selections from Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez.
“While We Wait”, 2015, pen, ink, & paper cutting in plexiglass, 9.5’ x 4’ x 2’.
The physical characteristics of While We Wait become metaphors for the exhibition’s guiding themes. Panels of the hinged drawing hang upside down, and the dramatic sense of movement suggested by Whistler’s mark making, incisions, and placement of shapes and characters make for a whimsical visual experience. Reality has been contorted and twisted; the familiar has become obscured.
These notions continue throughout “Follow the Rabbit.” Whistler is keen in her ability to draw from already eccentric subjects, identifying their unsettling qualities and utilizing them to create dreamlike situations, which are abundant in the exhibition. Whistler’s intention is to embrace the unknown.
It is clear she hopes viewers will too. There are multiple works in “Follow the Rabbit” that call for close scrutiny. Among them, a 2008 rectangular sculpture bearing the exhibition’s title is littered with secret compartments and populated with scenes from Alice in Wonderland, drawn with segmented excerpts from the book that Whistler has deliberately arranged. The drawings that the excerpts create are parallel to the words Whistler has chosen. For example, “Alice opened the door.” appears above a depiction of the curious title character peeking into an entryway.
A copy of the book is opened atop the pedestal—from it spouts a paper chain of the books pages, carved to take the identity of young women. Alice herself has stepped out of Wonderland and entered our world. At the same time, the sculpture’s compartments, often small doors or drawers and may require viewers to bend in order to fully see them, offer breaks from reality. They are filled with mirrors, letterpress blocks, small drawings, and other objects that are capable of distorting or enabling perception.
Together, the text, drawings, and found objects, as well as the sculptural rectangle that holds all of these components, offer inventive ways to reintroduce recognizable material—in this case a well-known piece of literature and the viewer’s own self—as unusual. What’s more, Whistler breaks with expected modes of art consumption by asking the viewer to kneel, squat, and stare into her sculpture.
“Tears of Alice”, 2010, wood and steel installation, dimensions variable.
Life-size versions of Alice are the centerpiece of the exhibition in an installation called Tears of Alice (2010). A doorframe divides the work into two near identical realms, each featuring a steel cast of Alice. The contours of her head and dress are gestural. She appears to hold her decapitated head in her hands, while a head attached to her neck remains faceless. A mobile extending from the doorframe sprinkles illustrative heads, organic swirls, and wisps over the installation. The door contains a large piece of glass so that all details are exposed from any viewing angle. The doorframe and steel casts stand upon a checkerboard pattern formed by wooden slats and the gallery floor.
Tears of Alice reads as a mirror image, wherein the glass in the door can be thought of as reflecting one side of the installation, rather than providing a lens into the other side. However, as the Wonderland tales would have it, the glass functions as both a reflection of the space we occupy and a gateway into a new environment altogether. The door bolsters this kind of reading. Alice—and the viewers near the installation—peer into a separate arena, able to enter if they so choose. Or perhaps they see themselves staring back at them. In either case, Tears of Alice is meant to offer a range of interpretative possibilities through a rather simple presentation of parts, and visitors to the gallery should be unafraid of any that may materialize.
“Last Breath”, 2005, paper cutting and graphite rubbing, 8.5’ x 6’.
Mirror imaging persists at different moments in the exhibition, such as in Last Breath (2005), a diptych drawing of an abstract composition fabricated from cut paper on the one hand and graphite rubbing on the other. The two versions of the image are not identical, but are similar in shape—an elongated, vertical oval form—and value. Whistler juxtaposes finely chiseled white paper on a black backdrop, and develops a dense graphite drawing on standard paper. They are almost inverses; it is apparent they were made to function as a single work. It is unclear, however, which one would be the negative to the other’s positive.
Perhaps it can be either possibility, or maybe none at all. Whistler creates objects that are not concerned with determinants. Instead, they are grounded in the mystical, or at least Whistler overloads viewers with text, content, line, and materials such that even the most recognizable forms read as incomprehensible. Such is the case in Siren’s Revenge (2018), an eight foot long cut paper drawing on plexiglass that may initially appear entirely abstract, but with close examination features numerous organic forms, human faces, and snakes made using a small blade.
This is surely a thread in “Follow the Rabbit.” Whistler meticulously selects portions from notable works, framing them as unknowable through a combination of collage, drawing, and cutting. She welcomes viewers to learn again, even if it means trekking into the dark.
“Follow the Rabbit” is on view until January 19that Moremen Gallery, located at 710 West Main Street in downtown Louisville.
Exploration into material, form, and process drives Joan Tanner’s donottellmewhereibelong, an exhibition of the artist’s drawings and sculptures made during the last three decades, currently on view at the University of Louisville’s Cressman Center for Visual Arts. Tanner, who was born in Indianapolis but has lived in California since the 1960s, is dogged in her pursuit of spatial inconsistencies, visual ruptures, and structures that are at once architectonic and organic, often breaking from conventional perspective.She is seemingly unconcerned with aesthetic appeal, and the objects she creates can be compositionally unbalanced or rudimentary in nature.
“Drawing Focus #1”, 1999, oil stick, metallic powder, and ink on Strathmore, 34.75” x 27”. Courtesy of the artist.
“Drawing Focus #2”, 1999, oil stick, metallic powder, and ink on Strathmore, 34.75” x 27”. Courtesy of the artist.
In a range of four numbered drawings entitled Drawing Focus, thick rings made with an oil stick envelopsmudges of earth tones and line drawings of vessels, some of which are incomplete. Drawing Focus #2 (1999) contains an elongated vase whose body is interrupted by a dripping blotch of sienna, powdered throughout by a pale turquoise. An opaque black oval has been padded around the vase, its structural integrity unsettled due to the irregular manner of its application. Here, Tanner investigates the limitations and inherencies of her selected media and, especially in works such as Drawing Focus #1, assesses to what extent spatial relationships can be stressed before they read as incoherent.
Tanner’s probing of process and material continues in a series of drawings carrying the exhibition’s namesake, standing as opportunities for the artist to identify and translate concepts, combining architectural and scientific forms that effectively distort vantage points and create perceptive disarray.
“donottellmewhereibelong #19”, 2014, oil stick, pencil, chalk, colored pastel, 22” x 30”. Courtesy of the artist.
Such is the case in donottellmewhereibelong #19 (2014), a multi-perspective diagram populated with an assortment of browns, blues, and greens that invoke landscapes of the American west. The drawing is strikingly topographic, though viewers may find it difficult to determine if donottellmewhereibelong #19 provides an aerial or frontal viewpoint; it may not matter—Tanner provides enough incongruity for drawings such as this to operate abstractly.
With her materials as guide (the work is listed as a cellophane collage), Tanner transforms the empirical into the whimsical, the geometric into the organic. Moreover, works comprising the donottellmewhereibelong series—which can resemble charts, blueprints, or layouts—invariably map Tanner’s wrestling of ideas and the processes she undergoes to describe them.
donottellmewhereibelong is curated by Julien Robson, who has known Tanner for nearly 30 years and has worked with her on multiple projects, including a solo show of Tanner’s work at the Speed Art Museum in 2001 as well as an interview for the catalog accompanying On Tenderhooks at the Otis College of Art and Design’s Ben Maltz Gallery in 2006.
In the interview, Robson wonders to what degree Tanner’s practice is informed by political positions, to which Tanner replies such inquiries are not “off-base, but posturing a moral or political stance is not [her] intention.” If anything, Tanner maintains undertones of pacifism, as the objects in donottellmewhereibelong are subtle in the ways in which they critique the detrimental characteristics, irreversible ramifications, and destructive nature of global capitalism.
“donottellmewhereibelong #15”, 2014, oil stick, pencil, chalk, colored pastel, 22” x 30”. Courtesy of the artist.
By depicting an abstracted power plant—complete with five smoke stacks emitting an impenetrable fog—in donottellmewhereibelong #15 (2014), Tanner draws attention to environmental decay and the tangible sites spearheading climate change that are, for many viewers, frequently omitted from everyday life. In this drawing, the artist employs murky gray tones and deep crimsons to suggest harm that is both contaminating and corporeal, yet terse sections of blue imply that Tanner maintains optimism regarding humanity’s ability to correct course.
Containing some of the more overt, singular subject matter in the exhibition, donottellmewhereibelong #15 possesses a formal connection with other drawings in the gallery through the layering of various media, contradictory perspectives, and structures—in this case, the smoke stacks—that resemble geological formations above all else. Although Tanner admits that her works are not designed to function politically, it may be likely that her social, economic, and cultural tendencies seep into her creative processes. In donottellmewhereibelong, this occurs in disparate ways.
“Screen Hat”, 1990-2010, wood, Xerox, cloth, metal screen, casters, acrylic, 12” x 17” x 17”. Courtesy of the artist.
Indeed, political implications can be inferred at numerous points in the exhibition. In each instance, Tanner retains a pacifist demeanor. Screen Hat (1990-2010), a small found object sculpture of headwear floating above a two-dimensional rendering of a face, can be framed as an imagined post-apocalyptic scene. The sculpture’s parts are unclean and corroded, as if they had been pulled from the remnants of a fire or combat.
By assembling these incongruous parts into a unified form, she removes them from the meaning they may have once had. More palpably, violence is recalled in a visceral sense by certain components and the ways in which they are attached: thumb tacks puncture the sculpture’s base, nails drive into the wooden frame, a chain bears down upon the face, and a metal screen spurs from atop the hat.
Screen Hat operates as both an index and representation of destruction, as well as a moment to reflect on the consequences of a world order fueled and sustained by invasion, war, and physical dominance. Moreover, the sculpture is anchored to four wheels, insinuating that violence and the forces that extrude it are capable of mobility.
Destruction is a thematic thread in donottellmewhereibelong, albeit not always in a manner relating to discerned subject matter. After all, Tanner states in the 2006 interview that she believes “we are hard-wired toward received perceptions, impressions, and readings of the world.” Instead, as Tanner allows her work to inform itself, the destructive moment in the process becomes a focal a point. Tanner embraces the collapse of utility, formal composition, and connotation. It is as if her exploration of material and form portends a breaking down, anticipating the erosion of deduced meaning.
As a result, donottellmewhereibelong consists of familiar shapes and objects that have gained any number of possible contexts. Viewers are able to apply their own experiences in interpreting what Tanner has created, which perhaps centers their imagination as the primary focal point of the artist’s work.
The exhibition is on view through October 27th at The Cressman Center Gallery located at 100 East Main Street in Louisville.
Hunter Kissel is an arts administrator, writer, and curator based in Louisville, KY. He received a Master of Art in Critical and Curatorial Studies as well as a Master of Public Administration from the University of Louisville in 2017.
About two hours south of Atlanta in Buena Vista, one of America’s prominent folk art destinations and environments showcases brightly painted buildings, walls, and other structures, decorated with iconography borrowed from religions and spiritualties of all kinds. It is called Pasaquan and was created by artist Eddie Owens Martin (1908-1986), also known as St. EOM (pronounced like the Hindu “Om”).
“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism,” installation view, May 4 – June 22, 2018, Institute 193, Lexington Kentucky. Courtesy Institute 193.
At Institute 193, Pasaquan is enshrined and sampled in an exhibition called “St. EOM: Pasaquoyanism.” The organization has transformed its gallery space to offer a taste of Martin’s compound, most vividly by painting the longest gallery wall sky blue, radiating to passersby on Lexington’s North Limestone street where 193 rests. The gallery is adorned with paintings, drawings, and other objects that, in tandem, emanate the kind of images, craftsmanship, and experience visitors to Pasaquan may encounter. As a system, the artworks in “St. EOM” function less as a presentation of select examples of an artist’s output and more as an archive or record of their creative trajectory.
“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism,” installation view, May 4 – June 22, 2018, Institute 193, Lexington Kentucky. Courtesy Institute 193.
According to the exhibition statement, Martin moved to New York at the age of 14 and spent his early adulthood working as a hustler, gambler, oracle, and drug dealer. He was sent to the Federal Narcotics Prison Hospital in Lexington in the early 1940s after it was uncovered that he ran a small gambling and drug enterprise out of his home in Harlem. Martin began painting frequently upon returning to New York in 1943, notably creating scenes of ancient cultures out of discarded woods and other materials, but also developing a traditional skillset, as illustrated by the presence of a small oil painting of a home interior.
Eddie Owens Martin, no title, no date, oil on canvas. 12” x 16”. Courtesy Institute 193.
The inspiration for his paintings derived from visions he had experienced since his twenties. In them, Martin claimed to speak with spirits who took the form of tall, elongated, androgynous humanoids. These beings appear in many of the works at 193; they have ambiguous skin tones and hair colors, are depicted in groups, and, in some form or other, are surrounded by geometric patterns.These figures instructed Martin to return to his native home of Georgia in 1957 to build Pasaquan, which still functions today and is scattered with shrines, pagodas, temples, and other structures.
The culmination of Martin’s visions, his life experiences, and the construction of Pasaquan led to the formation of Pasaquoyanism, a religious doctrine that combines elements of Eastern and Western faiths and spiritualties from multiple centuries. Perhaps more of a lifestyle than anything, Pasaquoyanism—the exhibition’s namesake—is succinctly documented in “St. EOM.”
“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism,” installation view, May 4 – June 22, 2018, Institute 193, Lexington Kentucky.
The notion of the archive is bolstered by the unifying power of the blue wall. Two pedestals are placed against it are also painted blue, practically going unnoticed if not for the single objects that sit atop each: a beaded necklace with alternating wooden cylinders and spheres, and a gourd whose bulging and elongated shape could easily spur a critical reading with sexual implications. Both objects are presented as if they were votive. In concert, they, as well as the nearby paintings and the bright wall, embody the kind of symbolism and participatory elements of Pasaquoyanism.
“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism,” installation view, May 4 – June 22, 2018, Institute 193, Lexington Kentucky
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a mesmerizing, brilliant constellation of dots, diamonds, triangles, and rings orbiting around a single vermillion circle, the full diameter of the work as tall as the blue wall on which it is painted. It is a beacon for visitors, indicating the arrival to the sacred land. The pattern is reminiscent of Mesoamerican calendars, marking the passage of time cyclically and precisely. Despite most works in the exhibition lacking dates and titles, the mural is the conjoining factor in “St. EOM,” connecting all themes, palettes, and subjects. The mural amplifies the spirit—indeed, Martin’s spirit—that runs through every object on display.
The mural is a duplicate of another located at the Pasaquan compound. These kinds of images are rampant there, populating the interiors and exteriors of buildings, concrete fences, totems, and a vast array of other surfaces. The design at 193 may be unique, but it is far from the only mandala-like shape Martin painted. Yet its singular nature in the gallery may prompt a moment of pause for viewers, not only due to its size and striking color. With three paintings and a pedestal to either side, the mural is the moment of balance within the exhibition. It is the equalizer. Without it, the works included in “St. EOM”would seemingly lose their grounding as interconnected revelations.
Eddie Owens Martin, no title, no date, oil on plywood, 22” x 39”. Courtesy Institute 193.
The figures that visited Martin in his visions are described in many paintings in “St. EOM,” including in a red and violet dreamscape containing six incomplete faces, four snakes, four floating pairs of lips, and a penis that appears to be attached to a figure’s forehead. The work carries obvious phallic invocations. Yet the symmetry, color, repetition of the same facial features, and association with animals suggest this figure is deeply connected with the world around them—a deity, perhaps. It could be that they are someone Martin knew or dreamed up. In any case, the portrait functions as a representation of a force larger than a single human—could this be an embodiment of nature that Martin offers? If it were, the fleeting qualities of the painting, such as the isolated eyes, lips, and genitalia, likely imply that the figure is not wholly human and thus something else altogether.
Another figure is the focus of a different painting; their gender, ethnicity, and age are undetermined. The shirt they wear possesses a rigid interspersion of triangles, rectangles, and circles in bright turquoise that matches the color of the figure’s hair and pupils. They are haloed by fire-like streaks of orange and interlocking diamonds.
Eddie Owens Martin, no title, no date, oil on canvas, 25” x 33”. Courtesy Institute 193.
Unlike the six-faced painting, this work peers at the viewer, as if it were inviting them into Pasaquoyanism, much like a separate painting of three sitting figures in a pyramid formation. Both paintings are of figures who acknowledge the viewer with their stares, ignoring the setting—whether atmospheric or scenic—in which they are placed. Visitors to Institute 193 are their main focus, and they seem intent on drawing them into their world. These paintings, like “St. EOM” itself, are a preview of what Martin’s religion looks like and how it visually behaves—as a lively, enigmatic mode of living, made manifest in the beings and landscapes Martin portrayed.
“St. EOM: Pasaquoyianism” is on view until June 22, 2018 at Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky.
Part of the mission of Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky is to bring forth intellectually challenging work which addresses relevant issues and concepts in a manner that is both provocative and accessible. With Yvonne Petkus’s Witness: Bosnian-influenced Paintings, visitors are met with images that resonate, largely due to striking, straightforward representations of the enduring impact of the Bosnian War and sociopolitical conflict in the Balkan region. Through a combination of subject matter and visual redundancy, Petkus provides a somber reminder of the ways in which identity and place are affected by warfare.
Petkus’s work in Witness follows the artist’s immersive study of and living in Bosnia and Herzegovina during spring 2017. Upon being granted a fellowship through the Zuheir Sofia Endowed International Faculty Seminar program at Western Kentucky University (where the artist teaches), Petkus travelled to the Bosnian region last May. In her statement for Witness, she describes the opportunity as “intense, beautiful, emotional, at some times difficult, and at all times supremely interesting and inspiring.” The resulting exhibition is a visual extension of the internalities she also expresses in writing.
Witness contains fifteen oil paintings, rendered on either plexiglass or board, dispersed throughout three rooms. The material on which each image is amassed affects the quality of how it is seen: for example, small areas of untouched plexiglass function as apertures exposing the wall behind a work to reveal shadows cast by the paint itself, simultaneously emitting backlight that often contributes to a painting’s ocular depth. Petkus’s application of paint is expressive, and the resulting surfaces are—save for the uncovered segments of plexiglass—dense and active, possibly reflective of an artist and creative stimulant that are both unsettled. The inherencies of Moremen Moloney, as a house-turned-gallery space, encourage viewers to imagine living with the work in their own homes, a sentiment apparent in the display of Raw (Siege of Sarajevo) (2018) over the mantelpiece.
Every painting in Witness features at least one specific figure: a nude woman with long dark hair and apricot colored skin splotched with deep reds, typically with mouth agape, and showing obvious indications of distress and exhaustion. The repetition of the woman, in addition to the blue atmospheric background she normally appears within, generates a sense of narrative throughout the exhibition and this particular body of work.
It cannot be assumed that these are self-portraits, though they do transmit a kind of personal affiliation Petkus has with the figure she construes. Raw (Siege of Sarajevo) contains the figure in double; the painted woman locks hands with, and seemingly calls out to, another. The scene suggests the two are attempting to pull their counterpart nearer, as if both are in need of saving. The women, despite their hand-in-hand connectedness, are largely removed from each other. As an output of Petkus’s research and study, Raw (Siege of Sarajevo), titled after a prominent event of the Bosnian War, captures the intensity of the siege itself as well as the legacy of the communal trauma it spurred.
Yvonne Petkus, ‘Caught’, 2017, oil plexiglass, 36” x 30”
Throughout the exhibition, the figure is in some state of incompletion. For instance, in Caught (2017), a woman stands in an unknowable substance, turning her back toward the viewer and reaching outward from her left side. Except her arm dissolves, or rather, is consumed by the surrounding area. The woman looks over her shoulder, but offers no gaze towards the viewer—her eye sockets are deep cavities. Caught evokes Petkus’s perception of the degree to which local history resonates in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. Here, the woman is a metaphor for the artist’s own interactions with the region and people who inhabit it.
Notions of distress are embodied in the woman Petkus portrays, enhanced by the characteristics of the locations the woman is placed within. Petkus, at most, will afford viewers with just enough directional contours or value shifts to indicate depth, but more frequently paints the figure amongst a sea of indeterminate objects and forms.
Yvonne Petkus,’ Raw II (Siege of Sarajevo)’, 2018, oil on plexiglass, 30” x 36”
Raw II (Siege of Sarajevo) (2018)is a case of the former. Like the previously mentioned Raw (Siege of Sarajevo), this second iteration holding allusions to the siege of the Bosnian capital features two women joined at the hands, pulling the other in anguish. In the distance, the pretense of another figure, standing and facing away from the women, can be seen amongst impressions of architectural structures. Yet these components are minimal, and could just as well be interpreted as abstracted shapes. Petkus is sure not to give too much away—these faint gestures retain a sense of uncertainty, as if they are memories of the women in the foreground, remnants of their shared pasts.
Witness is, in addition to being a record of lingering feelings of political upheaval Petkus sensed during her Fellowship, a trial of the viewer’s endurance. Indeed, just as Petkus marks the pervasive aftermath of the Bosnian War, the exhibition at Moremen Moloney, through the persistence of a specific figure and locality she occupies, may fatigue viewers with recurring palettes and forms.
‘Witness’, 2018, oil and acrylic on plexiglass, 11” x 14”
Petkus intends for this, surely. Witness (2018), the inclusion possessing the same name as the exhibition itself, not only stands as an emblem of Petkus’s observations, it is a reminder that the viewer is also under scrutiny. Witness is one of few up-close portraits in the exhibition, presenting the same women as before in a more intimate fashion. She watches visitors to Moremen Moloney, waiting for them to experience the same sensations of depletion she feels. As she travels from painting to painting, her fatigue evolves, at times accompanied by others.
By describing the struggles of others, the artist prompts viewers to recall their own harrowing encounters. In Witness: Bosnian-influenced Paintings, Yvonne Petkus employs a lively handling of paint to both illuminate an aftermath of violence and contest viewers’ own perceptive capabilities. While her paintings may only reflect a portion of the condition of the Bosnian region, they are testaments to collective struggle and, eventually, restoration.
Two recent exhibitions in Lexington, Kentucky operate as a collaborative undertaking that sheds light on an artist left to historical obscurity, yet one whose creative fervor and technical skill equate with his contemporaries. Edward Melcarth: Rough Trade at Institute 193 and Edward Melcarth: Points of View, on view at the University of Kentucky Art Museum through April 8, delve through the canon of American Modernism and uncover a lost gem: Edward Melcarth (1914-1973).
Melcarth left his hometown of Louisville in his youth for New York, where he would spend most of his adult life and made the majority of the paintings in the two exhibitions. And it shows—Melcarth’s canvases describe the nuanced intersections of maritime industry, physical labor, and leisure time experienced by the working class in many of America’s booming coastal hubs during the mid-1900s.
On view are an abundance of portraits and figurative scenes created during a historical moment when abstraction reigned as the premier American style. Yet a visitor who enters Institute 193 or the UK Art Museum is sure to detect traces of certain methods employed by abstract painters, especially in the expressiveness and vitality of Melcarth’s brushwork and handling of paint.
Installation View, Edward Melcarth: Rough Trade, Institute 193, Lexington, KY. Courtesy Institute 193.
Indeed, Melcarth depicts his subjects with an apparent responsibility for the preservation of their individual identities. At Institute 193, a display of thirteen solo portraits indicates the nature and implications of Melcarth’s identity as a homosexual man living during an era when overt, often physical demonstrations of masculinity domineered nearly every social realm (recall Hans Namuth’s photographs of Jackson Pollock in his studio forcefully flinging paint onto canvas in 1950).
As for Melcarth’s paintings, rarely are the men looking directly at the viewer. In “Man Leaning on a Windowsill”, a shorthaired, shirtless man folds his arms as he diverts his stare downward out of a white frame. He is muscular and young, and Melcarth captures the light that hits his skin in a rich spectrum of warm tones. The man is literally and figuratively undressed, removed from labor and the outside world; here he is himself, and Melcarth is seemingly cognizant of the man’s identity as well as the potential for his painting to serve as reflection of the artist’s own sexuality.
Edward Melcarth, “Man Leaning on Windowsill”, oil on canvas, 20 x 16”.
Not all of the men featured in Rough Trade, however, are as evasive or exposed as the subject in “Man Leaning on a Windowsill”. The majority are clothed with their heads raised, and Melcarth utilizes numerous formal elements to evoke the social pressure he—and presumably the men he paints—endured to conceal their homosexuality from the public eye, not least of which is the application of stark lighting.
Light in Melcarth’s portraits frequently discloses, whereas shadows are vehicles for concealment. In addition, Melcarth at times positions the bodies of his figures away from the viewer, as if to represent the pressure he and the men he painted felt to shutter their identity from the public realm. The man in “Blond Youth with Brown Jacket” turns his head over his back towards the viewer, careful not to make eye contact. He whistles, denying conversation, and his reversed position implies his intention to move beyond the scene. Although his stature is unmoving in the painting, he signals uneasiness or perhaps surprise, seemingly taken unaware by the viewer’s presence.
Edward Melcarth: Points of View, Installation view, University of Kentucky Art Museum
Edward Melcarth: Points of View, Installation view, University of Kentucky Art Museum
At the UK Museum, themes shift from intimate portraiture to Melcarth’s life and vast capabilities as an artist. In Points of View, Melcarth’s breadth of expertise is showcased in paintings, sculptures, and drawings of still lifes, physical labor, bar scenes, and more. The array of artworks exemplify why, according to the exhibition’s statement, collectors during and after Melcarth’s life, such as Peggy Guggenheim and Steve Forbes, were drawn to his divergence from the periodic norm of abstraction. Melcarth’s ability to work in large-scale is arguably the focal point of Points of View; his monumental paintings marry classical themes and mid-twentieth century ways of life.
In “Excavation”, two men tend to a sea vessel’s floor. One man holds a large rope in his hands that is seen snaking over the boat’s edge in the background, while another man in a white sleeveless shirt rushes to his shipmate’s aid. The painting, like many other artworks in the exhibition, focuses on men engaging in a physically demanding activity, the contours and motion of their bodies exaggerated to the point of fascination. What’s more, what “Excavation” shares with it’s neighboring objects is a unique, inward looking viewing angle. Melcarth’s expert translation of this seafaring task is compelling in both its simplicity and accuracy, but “Excavation” is most intriguing as an indication of the artist’s capability to mold a remarkable composition.
Edward Melcarth, “Excavation”, oil on canvas. Collection of Timothy Forbes, New York
Melcarth pursues visceral movement as subject matter throughout Points of View, as evinced in works like “Rape of the Sabines”. The title of the painting refers to a well-known Roman myth that carries motifs of abduction and calamity; artists throughout history, including Giambologna and Picasso, have employed the myth as inspiration for their art. The iteration on view at the UK Museum, which contains figures twisted amongst themselves rendered with anatomical accuracy, is a testament to Melcarth’s dedication to precision when illustrating the human form.
Edward Melcarth, “Rape of the Sabines”, oil on canvas. Collection of Steve Forbes, New York
Where Melcarth breaks from other artists’ versions, however, is the portrayal of men—not only women—as victims of violence committed by other men. Possibly a subtle invocation of suppressed sexuality Melcarth and some of his subjects endured during their lives, “Rape of the Sabines” stands as a definitive expansion of timeless material.
Edward Melcarth, “Last Supper”, c. 1960s, oil on canvas, Collection of Steve Forbes, New York.
But it is Melcarth’s “Last Supper” that draws considerable attention in the museum. Painted on a canvas that is elongated horizontally, Melcarth’s take on Jesus’s final meal before his crucifixion allows viewers to act as witnesses to a crowded bar of young, working-class men in bustling conversation, dodging other bar patrons, and attempting to hail the bartender. The countertop is scattered with bits of food and spilled mugs, and viewers are able to peer into the shelf below the bar’s surface accessible only to servers, which contains a range of food and dishes.
Historically, many artists make clear which disciple is Judas when describing the Last Supper, usually by turning him from the viewer or filling his hand with a sack of coins. In Melcarth’s scene, the man in the yellow shirt, with his left tricep flexed toward viewers, potentially fits this mold, but his role as bartender—the one serving others—arguably positions him as Jesus.
Melcarth, here, appears to imply that good and evil function not as a binary but as a spectrum in which the difference between the two is difficult to detect. An insight to his personal experiences, perhaps: Melcarth was an outspoken communist during his life whose sexual orientation and political views combined for reason enough for the FBI to keep a close eye on his activity, as noted by the exhibition statement at Institute 193.
Leonardo Da Vinci’s interpretation of the Last Supper is possibly the one that resonates most in public consciousness. In it, Jesus is situated at the center of the table, arms spread in an upside-down “V” formation. In the far right of Melcarth’s painting, a man in a red shirt mirrors Jesus’s position. Although he overlooks the scene, rather than frontally facing the viewer as Jesus does in Da Vinci’s work, his arms descend in the same arrangement. Were this hunched man in red Jesus, Melcarth’s scene would only simulate half of Da Vinci’s composition—viewers are only able to see the left half of the famed Renaissance fresco. Under this reading, Melcarth omits a crucial section of a dominant trope. His work is, inevitably, incomplete. Totality is withheld—a recurring theme as it pertains to the representation of identity in both Melcarth exhibitions.
The statement for Points of View calls the project a “homecoming of sorts, a chance to assess and appreciate” Melcarth’s work and career. Although the forces that have omitted Melcarth from the history of art are called into question with a critical eye, exhibitions at Institute 193 and the UK Museum function most pertinently as a joint celebration that posits Melcarth as an artist deserving of substantial recognition. As Rough Trade and Points of View indicate, Melcarth necessitated a conceptual break from popular forms of mid-century artmaking. These exhibitions are departure points for exploring why Melcarth diverted from abstraction, ultimately reexamining what we know about the trajectory of art.
Edward Melcarth: Points of View runs through April 8, 2018 at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Edward Melcarth: Rough Trade showed at Institute 193 from January 13 – February 17, 2018. Both institutions are located in Lexington, KY.
In her essay, “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag calls into question the stability of the ways in which the likes of history, art, and theory are understood. To interpret something, Sontag argues, is to comprehend it, and she posits that the process of interpretation typically spurs from a network of social myths and beliefs. “Interpretation is not (as most people assume) an absolute value,” Sontag states.
Interpretation must itself be evaluated, within a historical view of human consciousness.
For many artworks, even those that are born out of experimentation or spontaneity, to be interpreted is to be considered successful in some sense. But how would an artwork behave, look, and exist—and how should it be interpreted—when failure is the predominant driving force in its creation?
Failure in Progress, Zephyr Gallery’s latest exhibition featuring works by five regional artists, expands the conceptualization of failure and all its implications, specifically the presumption that failure is temporary or liminal and rarely a sought out conclusion. The exhibition, curated by Jessica Bennett Kincaid, stands as an opportunity to evaluate what it means for an artwork to succeed or not, and how failure can be utilized as an aspiration or primary component in making a work of art.
Melissa Vandenberg, Conflagrate, 2015, sparkler burn on Arches paper, 22” x 30”. Courtesy Zephyr Gallery and the artist.
Allusions to failure are ubiquitous in Melissa Vandenberg’s Conflagrate (2015), a drawing—or perhaps more accurately, an imprint—of the American flag singed onto a piece of paper by sparklers. Some burns are so severe that holes in the paper have formed, or certain charred areas are so vast that the rigid contours of the flag’s stripes have vanished. Failure is prevalent through the use of materials: the act of burning something is inherently detrimental, and the drawing itself lacks many of the standards common in depictions of the flag such as color, geometric accuracy, and, most noticeable in Vandenberg’s work, stars. This particular rendition of one of America’s most striking emblems is filled with void. Additionally, the combination of iconography and material is charged with political and social connotations. Vandenberg submits a symbol of national unity in a destructive manner to imply that American stability is an illusion maintained by such images. Conflagrate, much like the conceit of Failure in Progress, suggests that deficiency is always present and, in some cases, inescapable.
Josh Azzarella, Untitled #125 (Hickory), 2011, 120:00:00, HD video, 5.1 sound, 1 custom computer, Edition of 3.
Deficiency is further explored in a black box on Zephyr’s upper-level, which projects Josh Azzarella’s Untitled #125 (Hickory) (2011), a video excerpt of the Wizard of Oz beginning when the tornado first enters the film and ending when Glinda the Good Witch greets Dorothy in Munchkinland. In Azzarella’s version, the segment has been extended to last five days, or 120 hours, inevitably blurring the clip due to limitations of technology. In developing the work, Azzarella layered his selection on top of itself multiple times, delaying the start time of each so that every frame is present at any given moment through the duration of the work, some more perceptible than others. The end result is a vague retelling of one of the film’s most pivotal scenes—Azzarella obscures familiar imagery to the point of illegibility.
It is the technological components of Untitled #125 that most pertinently incorporate notions of failure, but the references to failure permeate the content of the piece as well. For some, failure is an intermediary stage on the path to success. Similarly, the clip of Dorothy entering Oz is a fleeting yet crucial shift within the film’s narrative. Azzarella has completely fixated on this point, allowing the transitory moment to run on end, paralleling the thematic persistence of failure throughout the gallery.
Josh Azzarella, Untitled #142 (Bob Coe from Wasco), 2013, 2 HD video channels (4:00, 3:18), Seamless, endless loops, 10.2 surround sound, 2 custom computers, Edition of 3
Like Untitled #125, Azzarella’s Untitled #142 (Bob Coe from Wasco) (2013), a two channel video work playing edited loops from Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, centers on the moments surrounding the main action. Both screens in Untitled #142 display two characters from the film facing each other, standing with their backs near the edges of the screens. The characters bustle in place but their feet never move, effectively halting Hitchcock’s plot. Azzarella’s works in Failure in Progress compliment others well, including Vandenberg’s Conflagrate, which shed light on the ways in which fragments of popular culture are capable of holding divergent, conflicting meanings.
Alex Serpentini, Almost Something, 2017, survey responses visible through augmented reality interface, dimensions variable. Courtesy Zephyr Gallery and the artist.
Alex Serpentini, Almost Something, 2017, survey responses visible through augmented reality interface, dimensions variable. Courtesy Zephyr Gallery and the artist.
Collective memory is again at the fore in Almost Something (2017), an interactive virtual work by Alex Serpentini that activates when visitors maneuver an iPad to face various directions in the gallery space. Serpentini creates a program that projects disclosures of personal failures on the walls of Zephyr, depending on where the holder of the iPad chooses to move it. The admissions are frequently striking, and invoke experiences with college courses, romantic pursuits, and rugby teams that reveal insecurities and loss. Discontent is ever-present in Almost Something, which is at once the most aesthetically minimal and arguably the most powerful work in the exhibition due to the straightforward presentation and nature of its subject matter.
Gautam Rao, Everything Happens for a Reason, 2017, aluminum, steel, dimensions variable.
Outside in Zephyr’s courtyard, Gautam Rao’s Everything Happens for a Reason (2017) is amongst the most playful works in the exhibition. Rao offers what seem to be six regulation road signs: the shapes, aluminum, and colors deceptively operate as everyday warnings to stop, merge, or the like. But it quickly becomes apparent that Rao’s diamonds and octagons are instead covered with twisted lines or contradictory arrows that would prove unhelpful for drivers. Everything Happens for a Reason, as its name suggests, simulates the threshold dividing success and failure—these signs represent those endeavors that fall short of routine objectives. What’s more, Rao’s outdoor sculptures test our perception in a manner similar to the artist’s Sorting Cube Revised (2017), a modified version of a children’s learning toy that requires trial and error to complete.
Andrew Cozzens, End Game, 2017, mixed media (wood, electronics, motor, clay, time), dimensions variable.
There are many compelling reasons to view this particular exhibit on numerous occasions, not least of which is Andrew Cozzens’s End Game (2017), a series of six platforms lining the gallery’s widest wall, each holding a ceramic vase. Every platform is connected to a timer that, upon counting down to show all zeroes, triggers a lever, collapsing the platform so the vase plummets to the floor to crash and shatter with disorder. The timers are set in intervals that equally divide the exhibition’s duration into sixths.
Andrew Cozzens, End Game, 2017, mixed media (wood, electronics, motor, clay, time), dimensions variable.
Cozzens, fatally, demonstrates the ways in which interpretation is, in some cases, dependent on the notion of time. As for End Game, failure is both unavoidable and the goal. Success and failure are achieved by the same outcome. Indeed, Failure in Progress, with an exceptional array of artworks that contemplate insufficiency in varied manners, asks visitors to rethink their learned modes of interpretation. Failure is hardly a desirable feat, but the five artists currently showing at Zephyr have discovered methods of pursuing, facing, and adapting to setbacks with success.
Failure in Progress is on view at Zephyr Gallery in Louisville, KY until December 30th 2017.
Dora Natella’s Await (2017), a bronze sculpture of a sloping unclothed woman reaching behind herself to steady her position on a stool, functions as a metonym for Manifest’s ninth annual NUDE exhibition. It is unclear whether Natella’s figure is in the process of mounting the seat onto which she holds, readying herself as an object to be depicted, or if she is in descension from serving as a thing to be studied, drawn, or sculpted. In any case, Await maintains a degree of uncertainty regarding its subject.
Dora Natella’s Await (2017)
Like Natella’s sculpture, the exhibition at Cincinnati’s Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center, which is on view in two of the organization’s galleries, intends to perplex. That is, the twenty-one works by sixteen artists on display, selected from over 500 submissions, render the human body in a manner unfamiliar.
Bodies are obscured in the drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs occupying Manifest in a multitude of ways. Limbs are severed by either strategic incompletion or the edges of a frame, and non-bodily objects are often utilized as a means for distortion, as is evident in Stephanie Grenadier’s Not Waving But Drowning (2017), wherein a woman is nebulously disconnected by ripples in water. Rarely in the exhibit are bodies in full view, a testament to the jurors’ commitment to representations of concealment and fragmentation.
Photo by Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center
Indeed, the selection of artworks in NUDE emphasizes the body as necessarily unstable rather than as an object substantially grounded in the physical world. Some of the more effective works in the exhibition illustrating this conceit are photographs, since photographs rely on reality in the process of making an image. Annie Gonzalez’s Formation (2017) presents two enveloped bodies. Their torsos extend in opposite directions from what could be conceived as the epicenter of the photograph: the groins of each figure, which are touching, yet remain unseeable. Viewers perceive the backside of the figure in the foreground and are able to observe the left hip and side of the second figure peaking above his/her counterpart. The figure closest to the camera bends his/her head and arms so that neither appears in the image. The contours of the bodies in the photograph, as well as a protruding leg jutting from the lowest point in the composition, are disorienting, and Formation reads more like an abstracted dreamscape than a combination of human forms.
Whereas certain junctures in NUDE stress motifs of unfamiliarity and incompleteness literally, such as Nick Reszetar’s mixed media diptych entitled Virum Muliereum (2017), others investigate how these themes can be expanded to include implicit notions of protection.
A nude woman reclining on her back extends her left arm towards the viewer in Martin Beck’s The Hunter (2016). A dog rests at the foot of the platform from which she lies and a shotgun is settled next to the figure. Beck’s pastel drawing evokes certain classical trends through the incorporation of fabric as both a prop and cropping mechanism, the use of a direct light source, and the insertion of the dog—a dog symbolized fidelity in many nude paintings made in the pre-Modern era.
Left: Martin Beck, Color Field, pastel on prepared paper, 2017. Right: Martin Beck, The Hunter, pastel on prepared paper, 2017.
What distinguishes Beck’s portrait from those by old masters, among other elements of the drawing, is the depiction of the shotgun placed near the woman’s hand, pointing away from her, seemingly ready to be grabbed and employed. An overt insinuation of protection, the gun in this work may imply that to be nude is to be vulnerable. What’s more, with his inclusion of classical tropes, Beck suggests that the nude genre itself is possibly more susceptible than one may think, protected by the likes of museums and history books, and in actuality able to be redefined or modified. The Hunter assumes that historical precedents are merely guidelines and not rules. The portrayals of bodies in NUDE prevail as reminders that nothing is certain, particularly when it comes to ourselves.
If multiple artworks by a single artist are featured in the exhibition, they are displayed in the same gallery, yet not always adjacent. Visitors to Manifest will enter NUDE by first making their way through an exhibition called MONOCHROME, and the transition from one exhibition to the next is made smoothly—the first gallery of NUDE features works that are largely monochromatic or grayscale. Consequently, the second gallery of NUDE contains the more vibrant depictions of bodies, forcing viewers to negotiate between brilliant palettes and compelling subject matter. Alex Spinney achieves a fluorescent quality in Fakefood_1~Lobster/Oyster#prop (2017) and Realfood_1~freckles/Bolognese (2017), two paintings that allude to, in addition to concealment, consumption and pleasure through their combinations of food and the human form. Yet Spinney’s conceptual premise is dwarfed by the artist’s application of paint as well as the vividness of nudes by Beck, Chris Corson, and Martha Gaustad in the same gallery.
Alex Spinney, Fakefood_1~Lobster/Oyster#prop (2017) 2017.
Were each gallery holding no more than a single work by an artist, NUDE would perhaps stress the thematic interests of the jurors in a more concrete fashion. In other words, integrating the monochromatic and color artworks would unify the exhibition in a mode that cannot be accomplished under its current layout. Yet such an endeavor does not come without a cost: there is a distinct elegance, especially on an aesthetic level, enacted by the curatorial decisions that resulted in the exhibition’s format.
Besides, the blatant differences of the artworks in the two galleries provide a kind of dualism when it comes to conceiving the ways in which the human body is capable of being rendered.
On one hand, the body is treated with reverence and precision in most of the monochromatic works. On the other, the use of color permeating the second gallery denotes an enthusiastic celebration of the human condition. This exhibition acknowledges the legitimacy—indeed, the history—of such representational strategies, but sensibly declines to favor one over the other. Like Await, viewers are encouraged to gauge the numerous ways of capturing and perceiving the nude genre. NUDE, therefore, posits an indeterminacy that resonates conceptually and corporeally.
The 9th annual NUDE exhibit continues at Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center in Cincinnati, OH until September 15th, 2017.
Installation shot, 9th Annual Nude exhibition, Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center, Cincinnati OH. Photo by Manifest Creative Research Gallery and Drawing Center.
Abstraction, unlike figuration, is enigmatic, fleeting, and, in some cases, uncertain. Abstract artworks seem to channel the human condition in ways that figurative works cannot. They connect with viewers on a purely visual level; there is no narrative to be read or bodies to identify. On the contrary, abstraction thrives purely on emotion and instinct. Teri Dryden’s abstract paintings and collages offer viewers a moment to reflect and reevaluate themselves and the world they occupy with rich colors and forms. Dryden’s art serves as a remedy for the hustle and bustle of daily life—a breath of fresh air, as it were.
Out of Line, an exhibition of some of Dryden’s most recent artistic output at Louisville’s B. Deemer Gallery, showcases the artist’s dedication to abstraction, medium, and color, specifically the ways in which color is perceived and internalized in viewers.
Installation view, Out of Line: New Works by Teri Dryden, B. Deemer Gallery, Louisville, KY.
Dryden received an undergraduate degree in theatre from Towson University before touring with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a clown for two years. She moved to Los Angeles thereafter and was an accomplished stage actress, but she quit acting after the birth of her first child. Dryden maintained an interest in self-expression and turned to painting and drawing—after a brief exploration in quilt making—for creative release. She now resides in Louisville and is represented by galleries in Kentucky and Mississippi, though she continues to show work across the nation.
Dryden begins the majority of her paintings with a single line and builds them up in a series of reactions to the medium and the individual marks she makes; Viewers can easily determine how materials are applied. It is evident Dryden does not simply brush and drip paint onto her canvases; she also utilizes reductive techniques such as sanding and sgraffito, a technique of scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of a contrasting color.
In addition, the varied opaqueness and transparency of her paints create a sense of depth capable of spurring a multitude of interpretations. Indeed, Dryden’s paintings function as planes for viewers to look at and intake. The records of her actions—those marks always at the fore in her paintings—offer a sense of directionality so that viewers survey the entirety of each canvas in constant movement. Some of the artworks in Out of Line are inspired by Dryden’s recent journey to India and her engagement with India’s visual culture as well as the Holi festival. There, she collected materials from her daily activities that were to be incorporated into her art upon her return home.
Moon Gate, 2017, collage, 8×10
Dryden undeniably invokes certain well-known figures of art history. Her emphatic treatment of the canvas’s surface is suggestive of paintings by abstract expressionists such as Joan Mitchell, and Lenore “Lee” Krasner -particularly her broad, vivacious brushstrokes. Yet, the shapes she creates and their interrelationships within the canvas’s frame alludes to paintings by Clifford Still, who invoked the vast stretches of land of his native North Dakota through from and color. Dryden’s most abstract paintings, with their soft violets, blues, and greens, capture the essence of natural light and terrains that prevail in locations like Los Angeles and Louisville.
Sun Gate, 2017, collage, 8×10
There are certain examples in Out of Line that borrow techniques from the likes of neo-Dadaists, such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, who used quotidian imagery and materials to marry art and life. Johns prepared the surface of his iconic American flag paintings with newspaper clippings before applying paint. In a similar manner, certain examples in Out of Line, such as Sun Gate, contain fragments of posters, magazines, and newspapers that represent the ways in which Dryden’s life experiences permeate her art.
In this sense, Dryden’s creative process begins not in her studio but in the world she (and we) roams. Rauschenberg believed that:
There is no reason not to consider the world as a gigantic painting.
Dryden seems to share this sentiment. With insinuations to such figures, Dryden seemingly approaches her art making academically.
Rishpal’s India, 2017, collage on panel, 24×24
Dryden breaks most poignantly from these historical precedents when she includes materials accumulated from her time spent in India, as well as other mediums, into her art, which subsequently become collages and mixed media pieces. Especially in works like Rishpal’s India where portraits of Indian people and stylized words from the Hindi language appear, Dryden emphasizes the parity of cultures that are all too often distinguished by economic and political difference.
In the most refined examples of Dryden’s collages, it is unclear whether her materials derive from America, India, or anywhere else, a testament to both comparable aesthetic trends on a global scale and the artist’s ability to render them equal. These are completed on either panel or paper and can be presented on walls or, as in the case of Pink City, on pedestals. The edges and overall condition of Dryden’s collages and mixed media pieces are awry and more uneven than her paintings—indeed, these represent fragments torn from Dryden’s life and creative practice.
Pink City, 2017, collage, 11×14
Out of Line is thus informed by art historical movements, but earns its distinction from its celebration of global communities. Consequently, this exhibition is arguably comprised of two separate bodies of work. On the one hand, there are objects that can be classified strictly as paintings: these are the abstractions that showcase Dryden’s intuition and patience in regard to process. On the other, her collages and mixed media pieces exemplify her interest in foreign cultures and her aptitude for allowing her experiences to influence the subject matter of her art. It is as if some of Dryden’s twenty-five objects displayed in B. Deemer Gallery represent her studio practice while others illustrate her life away from the easel. This makes for a compelling exhibition, as divergent as the selected works may seem.
Viewers are able to consider the ways in which combinations of Dryden’s techniques, color palettes, and materials can invoke multiple interpretations. Out of Line effectively characterizes Dryden as an artist with a range of abilities. Yet this exhibition may leave some wondering if a more condensed selection of objects would more prudently illustrate Dryden’s most distilled ways of art making. If the gallery were filled with only her collages, let’s say, perhaps themes of biculturalism and globalization would more fully prevail. Instead, we go back and forth between Dryden’s intimate explorations of color and the eye-opening takeaways from her time abroad.
Out of Line: New Works by Teri Dryden is on view through July 5, 2017 at B. Deemer Gallery in Louisville, KY.
Exhibition of luminous, inventive era of Lexington Camera Club
Reveals a daring, supportive, experimental group of photographers
Works by Meatyard, May, Mendes, Baker Hall, Merton, and other lesser known members
Curated thematically by Brian Sholis
At Cincinnati Art Museum thru December
During its heyday, the Lexington Camera Club was one of the more experimental groups of photographers outside of art hubs like New York or Chicago. What’s more, the club’s members—comprised of opticians, lawyers, and writers—differentiated themselves from their counterparts in bigger cities by allowing the idiosyncrasies of their environment to inspire their photographic explorations.
Club mentors Van Deren Coke and Ralph Eugene Meatyard encouraged their peers to employ multiple exposures, out-of-focus techniques, and compositions that deliberately made use of the play between light and shadows when making photographs. The resulting images often incorporate aspects of life in Kentucky: family, nature, and daily life are recurring themes within the club’s work.
The distinctions of the Lexington Camera Club are the subjects of Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community, 1954-1974 currently on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum. The exhibition is a testament to the club’s profound dedication to expanding the definition of photographic output, often through publications and partnerships as well as the photographs themselves. In the exhibition, works by Meatyard and Coke are presented alongside images made by Zygmunt S. Gierlach, James Baker Hall, Robert C. May, Guy Mendes, Thomas Merton, Cranston Ritchie, and Charles Traub.
Rarely in the museum’s gallery are any one photographer’s works presented alone. Indeed, Curator of Photography Brian Sholis carefully constructed pairs and groups of photographs by multiple club members to help inform visitors the extent to which the club’s activities were collaborative. It is Sholis’ curatorial decision-making that effectively illustrates the interrelationships between club members, their geographical surroundings, and modernist photographic trends.
Kentucky Renaissance, Installation view at entrance, photographed by Rachel Ellison
Kentucky Renaissance contains three primary themes: People, Place, and Experimentation. The Lexington Camera Club had many well-known figures among its members, yet individual achievement is hardly ever the focus of this comprehensive exhibition. Sholis emphasizes the club’s collectivism by erecting a wall at the gallery’s entrance featuring a salon-style presentation of photographs by all included artists, albeit without accompanying image labels. Here, visual connections are forged between similar uses of composition, content, and style.
James Baker Hall, Gene and Michael, ca. 1972, gelatin silver print, 8 1/4 x 12 1/2 in. (21 x 31.8 cm), Courtesy of James Baker Hall Archive
Walking behind the introductory wall will deposit visitors into the first of the gallery’s three thematic enclaves, which fixates on People. Sholis makes clear the affinity each club member reserved for their colleagues: some photographs—such as Hall’s Gene and Michael (c. 1972), which offers an intimate moment between Meatyard and Hall’s son—allude to familial relationships shared between club members.
Robert C. May, Chris Meatyard, 1973, gelatin silver print, 7 x 7 in. (17.8 x 17.8 cm), Collection of the University of Kentucky Art Museum; bequest of Robert C. May
Chris Meatyard (1973) by May serves as an instance wherein other club members’ families assisted in making photographic experiments exploring how light propels itself across different surfaces. The proximity of many of these various portraits within the gallery suggests that nearly all stemmed from the similar creative inputs—indeed, they did. Sholis’ ability to mold the club’s complex profile out of interconnected parts prompts a realization one may only be able to experience upon visiting the exhibition and seeing these objects in person: that this group of Midwestern photographers was indeed working as a unit.
Van Deren Coke, Thou Shalt Not Steal, 1963, gelatin silver print, 6 1/16 x 8 1/4 in. (15.4 x 21 cm), Collection of the University of Kentucky Art Museum; gift of the artist
The theme of Place occupies the middle section of the gallery and it is here where Sholis’ selections accentuate certain regional characteristics. Specifically, the photographs that embody the club’s dedication to depicting nearby places exceed typical representations of home. Coke’s Thou Shall Not Steal (1963) presents a newspaper rack stocked with copies of the July 21, 1963, edition of The Lexington Herald-Leader. The rack’s nameplate is flipped so that the stamped relief of the newspaper’s name appears backward in the photograph. The backside of the nameplate faces the viewer and contains handwritten prices for the Herald-Leader while offering the photograph’s eponymous warning to potential thieves; the warning even cites its source—Exodus 20: 3-17. Some editions of the paper appear upside-down, forcing one to concentrate on the photograph’s content if they wish to gain a sense of the printed headlines and stories.
The varied texts in Coke’s image marry political, religious, and colloquial musings in an attempt to capture local interests in 1963. While the biblical excerpt stands out amongst smaller text, it yields to the overabundance of legible words and phrases. Thou Shall Not Steal exemplifies the attention Club members paid to the environment, noting how some ideologies can shape local culture.
Thomas Merton, Untitled, ca. mid-1960s. Archival inkjet print from original negative, Lent by the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University. Used with permission of the Merton Legacy Trust
Under the guise of Place, Kentucky Renaissance also includes photographs that could be appropriately categorized as landscapes, but even these examples break from stereotypes of the landscape genre. Thomas Merton’s Untitled (c. the 1960s) displays a close-up view of water ripples near the point where water and rock meet. While it is unclear where Merton was when making this photograph, the rocky features mirror elements from works such as Cranston Ritchie’s Untitled (Hands on Rock) (1956-61) or Meatyard’s photographs of Eastern Kentucky’s Red River Gorge that were published alongside Wendell Berry’s prose in The Unforeseen Wilderness (1971).
Merton’s image serves as a visual intersection of photographic experimentation and spirituality. Some club members found inspiration in facets of Zen teachings after Coke and Meatyard learned about Zen from Minor White during a 1956 workshop at Indiana University, Bloomington. Merton’s photograph is exemplary of the distribution of White’s expertise. It should be noted, however, that Merton—who was ordained in 1949 and lived in the Abbey of Gethsemani in Bardstown—was already a person of faith when this photograph was made. He likely used White’s insight as guidance for incorporating his mantras into his preferred photographic techniques. In any case, Untitled captures in detail subtle features of Kentucky terrain in a manner akin to one of the twentieth century’s most prominent photographers. Merton’s photograph may allude to isolation, but the Lexington Camera Club was not a group unfamiliar with the broader photographic community.
Familiarity with White and mainstream photography (Coke had in his personal collection photographs made by White, Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, and other well-known artists) did not stop members of the Lexington Camera Club from pushing the limits of the photographic process in innovative ways. Experimentation becomes the focus in the gallery’s third area, the one furthest from the exhibition’s entrance.
James Baker Hall, Chairs, ca. 1973, gelatin silver print, 6 1/2 x 6 7/16 in. (16.5 x 16.4 cm), Cincinnati Art Museum; Museum Purchase: FotoFocus Art Purchase Fund, 2016.28
Here, People and Place serve as subjects from which to explore the steps one takes when making a photograph. James Baker Hall used a film camera when making Chairs (c. 1973), in which he re-wound the film to expose the same negative multiple times. Different viewpoints of the same group of wooden chairs are layered on top of each other, some more in focus and opaque than others. A ghostly aura characterizes the photograph’s content, but it is Hall’s process that is the actual subject of the work.
Zygmunt S. Gierlach, Abstract, ca. 1966, gelatin silver print, 6 3/4 x 7 in. (17.1 x 17.7 cm), University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center, Lexington
Experimentation culminates in images such as Gierlach’s Abstract (c. 1966), which is reminiscent of Man Ray’s radiographs. To achieve the aesthetic in both Abstract and Ray’s radiographs both artists laid objects on top of light-sensitive paper before exposing the paper to light. Gierlach, a radiologist by trade, created multiple works like Abstract that also appear in the exhibition. Sholis likely felt obligated to include images like Abstract in the exhibition, yet his placement of them within the gallery was undoubtedly a deliberate choice: Gierlach’s experimentations are on the gallery’s back wall—Abstract and its equivalents are the last works to be seen.
Visitors are then compelled to exit the gallery via the way they entered; Abstract then becomes only the midpoint of one’s journey through the gallery. Enhanced by the dispersion of publications featuring prints made by club members throughout the room, one’s revisiting of the exhibition’s themes continues to build the intended narrative around Coke, Meatyard, Gierlach, and their peers. That is, the Lexington Camera Club stands as one of history’s most self-supportive, exploratory groups of art practitioners.
Kentucky Renaissance: The Lexington Camera Club and Its Community, 1954-1974 runs until January 1st, 2017 at the Cincinnati Art Museum. A full-length catalog by Brian Sholis, accompanied by John Jeremiah Sullivan, is available for purchase through Yale University Press.
TOPMOST IMAGE: Cranston Ritchie, Untitled [Hands on Rock], ca. 1956–61, gelatin silver print, 7 x 9 in. (17.8 x 22.9 cm), Cranston Ritchie Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hunter Kissel is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Critical and Curatorial Studies as well as a Master of Public Administration at the University of Louisville. He has held fellowships at the Speed Art Museum and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft and has curated exhibitions at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, the Hite Art Institute at the University of Louisville, and the Huff Gallery at Spalding University. His MA thesis will focus on the life and career of Ralph Eugene Meatyard.
Sparks & Marks, an exhibition on view at Arts Place Gallery in downtown Lexington pairing works made by local artists Gordon Gildersleeve and Lawrence Tarpey, offers two individuals who are to be regularly counted amongst local artists of caliber. Gildersleeve creates an array of sculptures and furniture from a combination of wood, stainless steel, and other metals while Tarpey’s two-dimensional works earn their distinction from their miniature sizes and expressive marks. Both artists incorporate fantastical as well as figurative elements into the objects they make: it is this commonality that is the foundation of Sparks & Marks.
Lawrence Tarpey, Red’s World, 2016
Indeed, the similarities between Gildersleeve and Tarpey are prime for a lively duet. The majority of sculptures on display contain abstracted faces made from minimal amounts of metal scraps and barn wood. Likewise, the selection of Tarpey’s etchings is largely grayscale and comprised of individual scenes featuring small numbers of figures, animals, and undetermined shapes. Tarpey’s approach to storytelling is modest and vague: large areas of his etchings are dedicated to materiality and texture, exemplified by works like Red’s World (n.d). In Sparks & Marks, deliberate use of negative space is pressing here. The exhibition positions Gildersleeve and Tarpey as masters of their chosen materials who understand the visual footprint of each object they make.
Installation view, Sparks and Marks, ArtsPlace Gallery
Although these two artists are alike in the ways in which they incorporate negative space into their objects, they differ in their chosen subject matter—Tarpey’s scenes provoke feelings of ambiguity and transcendence while Gildersleeve’s sculptures push the boundaries of abstract figuration. Yet this difference cues another comparison. Tarpey’s dreamy depictions resemble compositions made by modern masters such as Marc Chagall and Joan Miro. Additionally, Gildersleeve seems to channel famous cubists like Picasso and Georges Braque. For this reason Sparks & Marks serves as an exploration in how the lineage of these notable art historical figures is continued on a local level.
With 49 objects in total, Sparks & Marks fully allows the idiosyncrasies of each artist to be present in the gallery. Those familiar with Tarpey’s practice will recognize many of his works in the exhibition employ the techniques and content they are used to seeing, including additive and reductive processes as well as amorphous forms. These and more are on display, as are examples of Tarpey’s recent experimentations in digital painting. Gildersleeve’s expansive practice is marked by metal renderings of human figures, birds, and everyday objects as well as pieces of furniture. Sparks & Marks emphasizes the abilities of both Gildersleeeve and Tarpey by means of an eclectic checklist, ensuring that each visitor realizes the extent to which these two artists deserve notoriety.
In the gallery, however, visitors are likely to feel crammed as they move through the space due to the amount of works on display. Arts Place Gallery is an accommodating gallery split in two sections, but the room is unable to maintain its spaciousness when it holds nearly fifty works. The exhibition design limits the audience’s ability to move freely around each work and consequently visitors are subjected to minimal viewing angles. While the checklist for Sparks & Marks demonstrates the impressive talents of each artist, it makes for a congested arena for art and viewer to interact.
Additionally, the checklist includes what seems like multiple bodies of work from each artist. Notably, Gildersleeve’s diverse subjects—human forms, faces, birds, and furniture—assist in preventing Sparks & Marks from making the strongest connection possible between its two featured artists. At times, this all-encompassing exhibition feels more like a showcase for two artists who are relatively similar and less like a study in specific regional aesthetic trends.
In spite of this, the number of works in Sparks & Marks detail the trajectory each artist has taken with his own work to arrive at their current states. The gallery acts as a roadmap that highlights Gildersleeve’s and Tarpey’s progression with subject matter, materials, and craftsmanship. Specifically, Tarpey’s path as a small-scale painter to a digital artist is encouraging and compelling—it is a humbling moment for those who have closely followed Tarpey’s career. In the same vein, the 49 objects are on loan from galleries, collectors, and the artists themselves. Gildersleeve and Tarpey clearly have support from members of the greater community, and Sparks & Marks sets out to make that known. It is a vague connection between the two artists, however, that is the exhibition’s shortcoming.
Sparks & Marks runs from July 14th to August 27th, 2016 at Arts Place Gallery, Lexington, KY.
Standing alongside one of the region’s most distinguished research universities, the University of Kentucky Art Museum is as an educational resource whose exhibitions are more than just presentations of artworks—they are institutional endorsements that can spearhead an artistic career. When an institution like the UK Art Museum, located inside of the Singletary Center for the Arts, selects an artist for a one-person exhibition, particular questions arise regarding its conception: Why this artist? What is it about their practice that is worth investigating? Why now?
Lawrence Tarpey: Figures and Ground, a solo exhibition featuring works made by Lexington-based artist Lawrence Tarpey, answers these questions primarily through the stark presentation of selections from Tarpey’s most recent body of work. With little accompanying wall text, Figures and Ground relies on the ambiguity of the artist’s methods, the peculiarities of Tarpey’s subject matter, and neighboring exhibitions to illustrate Tarpey’s uniqueness amongst his contemporaries and cement his rightful place in broader conversations about current art world trends.
Tarpey is currently represented by Heike Pickett Gallery in Lexington and his paintings and drawings—he refers to them as “etchings” because the aesthetic he achieves evokes modes of printmaking—are typically shown in small numbers as parts of group exhibitions. As Figures and Ground demonstrates, however, his works are best viewed in large collectives and without a thematic umbrella, for Tarpey is a world-builder who uses his art-making to create dense scenes that explore notions of rebirth, apocalyptic anxiety, and dreams, as well as the nature of art-making itself. By surveying a generous selection of Tarpey’s etchings, secondary motifs, such as systematic ordering and the quotidian, also become clear.
In Figures and Ground, some eighteen of Tarpey’s etchings taken from the artist’s studio, Heike Pickett Gallery, and local private collections are hung in a row at eye level in one of the museum’s most conventional gallery spaces. This string of images keeps one’s attention with all-over compositions, human and animal subjects, as well as bulbous—almost venereal—shapes and forms. Moreover, Tarpey’s miniature objects distinguish themselves from many other works in the museum based on size alone: The average dimensions for all works in the exhibition measures at 9.5 x 12.6”–Tarpey’s figures and shapes from his body of work are consistently scaled across pieces. Although specific narratives in Figures and Ground are altogether missing from the works on display, the exhibition’s design helps articulate a connection between each image.
Yet there is one break in the otherwise continuous line of works, which almost serves as a modest suggestion from the curatorial team as an entry- and exit-way into the exhibition’s scope. On the wall to the left of the gallery’s entrance, Back to School (2013) floats above Another Fly By (2010-2013), wherein the exhibition’s standard for eyelevel is found within the few inches of exposed wall between the two similarly dimensioned images. But this break goes unnoticed until one is fully inside the gallery and does not function as a visual rupture from the exhibition’s evenness. Rather, by taking two etchings with comparable blue-tones and stacking them without interfering with the show’s design, this unquestionably emerges as one of the exhibition’s more successful moments. This covert pairing is a checkpoint for the viewer’s trajectory.
Once inside Tarpey’s world, a viewer will encounter Creation Demonstration (2015), a monochromatic scene filled with humanoids cohabiting within the same atmospheric space. But without a definitive foreground or background for the multitude of its figures to recede into, Creation Demonstration fails to privilege any one figure over another. Instead, the etching’s lack of depth combined with the horde of faces—all of which seem to stare in different directions but never at each other—insinuates a kind of spatial and temporal disorientation. Indeed, Creation Demonstration, with detailed inclusions of UFOs and floating heads, maintains an uneasiness that prompts notions of physical embodiment and unfamiliarity.
Like Creation Demonstration, another etching by Tarpey, Rush Hour (2009), features an asymmetrical, all-over composition. But whereas the former is crowded with discernable faces and bodies, Rush Hour is a staging of abstract forms that leads to an uncertainty of the scene at hand. This work stops short of affirming a decisive foreground or background, ground or sky, and some of the forms depicted will surely inspire anthropomorphic readings (this could very well be what Tarpey intended). But without an accompanying label to guide one’s viewing or an apparent focus point, it is impossible to know for sure if these are more than just shapes floating in an unspecified space. Here, Tarpey allows the visitor to determine what exactly is going on. Rush Hour, with its heightened sense of ambiguity, can be framed as a test of perception—our viewing habits inform our ability to generate meaning. Artworks that challenge traditional conventions of looking undoubtedly belong to creative trends developed in the 20th and 21st centuries, and Rush Hour is yet another example that does just that.
Tarpey’s world also includes nods to popular culture. Tex Mex (2016) contains a highly stylized map partially blocked by figures in the foreground, one of whose forehead is labeled with the latter of the work’s title. Tex Mex personifies the relations between the United States and Mexico but—in a manner similar to Creation Demonstration—Tarpey only provides the beginning of a story. He allows the viewer to complete the narrative based on how they interpret what is presented. In a less representational setting, the meaning implied in The Weather Channel (2016) hinges on the obsessive use of blues. It could be that Tarpey means for feelings associated with rain—gloominess, melancholy, and cleansing—to be appropriate implications upon seeing the etching. But as the figures in The Weather Channel interact with the content from other works in the exhibition, it becomes just as plausible that Tarpey’s titling methods are only gimmicks that further the sense of ambiguity linked with the world the artist creates.
The objects in Figures and Ground were made by drawing, painting, and scraping on panels, making for both additive and reductive techniques—a true push-and-pull process. Tarpey is constantly taking and giving, destroying so that he can create again. By allowing a substantial amount of Tarpey’s objects to occupy the same space, Figures and Ground highlights the degrees in which Tarpey’s renderings allude to more than their depicted scenes. With the endorsement of a solo exhibition, the subtleties of Tarpey’s art are able to reveal themselves in ways they could not had only a few of his works been included in a group exhibition.
Lawrence Tarpey: Figures and Ground is positioned alongside an exhibition featuring works made by Natalie Frank, a notable contemporary artist who also incorporates fantastical elements and figurative subjects into her art-making, as well as a two-person show that pairs the staged photographs of Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Duane Michals. Tarpey’s validation as a noteworthy artist is enhanced by the accompanying presence of these three artists whose careers are marked by exhibits at major museums and galleries. While Figures and Ground serves as an endorsement of a cherished local artist, it is also a means of situating Tarpey amongst the broader art community.
Lawrence Tarpey: Figures and Ground runs from May 6th to July 31st, 2016 at the University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington, KY.
Ceramics, as a process, is the transformation of dirt into something tangible through a series of construction techniques, firings, and the application of appropriate glazes. Objects that are made from the clay can be eclectic in regards to form and function: ceramists are beloved for making tableware, wall hangings, sculptures, and more. But dirt is fundamental—and so ceramists must respect the intrinsic qualities of clay and its properties if their objects are to be materially stable. As the capabilities of the ceramics becomes more inclusive, some artists working in clay find refuge in pushing the boundaries of the medium so that their final results are less likely to be material objects and are instead representations of conceptual thinking.
Zoe Strecker, Forest Portal, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Morlan Gallery. Photograph by Katelynn Ralston.
Dirt Poets, an exhibition that recently ended its run at Transylvania University’s Morlan Gallery, was an exploration into how ceramics can to tend to conceptual practices and what the products of these practices may look like, all while remaining committed to dirt as material. Lexington-based artist and Transylvania University faculty member, Zoe Strecker, curated the exhibition that ran from March 1st until March 30th. Dirt Poets was the second in a two-part series of ceramic exhibitions, following last year’s Functional Clay: Works that Contain that was curated by Strecker’s husband, Michael Frasca. Whereas Functional Clay channeled the functionality of ceramics by exhibiting an assortment of vessels made for everyday use, Dirt Poets was a presentation of non-functional ceramic objects that addressed the circumstances in which they were generated. The artworks featured in the exhibition reflected innovative or involved processes that maintain a responsibility towards clay in realizing concepts.
Dirt Poets expanded the working definition of conceptual ceramics—mediums on view in the gallery included videos, hand-sculpted forms, slipcasts, and found objects. Strecker and the Morlan Gallery team built strong connections between the objects on display by creating multiple stations for each artist throughout the space that transitioned seamlessly between one another: a visitor had to journey through the entire gallery in order to understand each body of work, as well as the scope of the exhibition. For example, David Cushway’sSublimination (2000)—a video time lapse of a bone-dry cast of the artist’s head deteriorating underwater—played on a screen on one end of the gallery while his Fragments (2012)—a slow-motion loop of a dropped teapot edited to run forwards and backwards so that the teapot would shatter and subsequently fix itself—was projected on a wall on the other. These videos acted as bookends for all other objects to rest between.
Upon entering the gallery one was immediately met with Ashley Lyon’s Pillows (2011), a pair of cast bed pillows hovering a few inches off the floor on a small pedestal. Pillows, shaped with naturalistic lumps and folds, evoked the tradition of trompe l’oeil, fooling the viewer into believing they were looking down upon two frequently used headrests. Each pillow was hand glazed and painted—one donned thin, elegant stripes and the other was covered in what appeared to be brown sweat stains. The shapes and finish of Pillows made clear that these objects were about the human figure, albeit through its absence. Lyon’s sly craftsmanship was humbling—spending time with Pillows allowed for a moment of reflection on the roles we assume when away from our most intimate spaces. Lyon could have easily presented real pillows to address similar issues, but her use of the medium underscored the history of the ceramics and the idiosyncratic nature of the material.
Positioned catty-cornered in the same entry space as Pillows was Strecker’s Forest Portal (2016), a kaleidoscopic video-montage of photographs the artist took while on a retreat in Pine Mountain, a ridge in the Appalachian region. Images of landscapes interchanged endlessly, appearing then vanishing within seconds and disrupting any opportunity of visual cohesion. Strecker furthered this sense of unfamiliarity by creating a flat disk of slip on the floor at the beginning of the exhibition’s run for the video to project on. While the slip was smooth and damp immediately following its transfer on to the floor, it eventually dried and began to crack, leaving a mound of fragmented clay bits by the closing of Dirt Poets. Strecker’s work emphasized the fundamental material that both the slip and the landscapes are made of—dirt. Forest Portal was a manifestation of Strecker’s interest in sustainable practices that addressed concepts like ephemerality and cyclicality.
Sharan Elran, Rough Vase series, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and the Morlan Gallery. Photograph by Hunter Kissel.
Standing next to Forest Portal was Sharan Elran’sRough Vase (2014-15) series. Elran subverted the notion of quintessential vessel design by using molds made from 3-D printers. Each mold was a puzzle of randomized parts: Elran divided a digital model of a vase into vertical and horizontal quadrants and then allowed a computer to randomize the arrangement of the separate pieces. The objects made from these molds were on display in the Morlan Gallery, each standing atop a thin pedestal. Whereas the impurities from the casting process would traditionally be scraped off to achieve a cleaner shape, Elran left them intact on his vases—he even exaggerated them by allowing the mold itself to retain spaces in which the liquefied slip could spread itself to dry. The artist was deliberate in allowing his craftsmanship to show in the Rough Vase series, and in doing so he exposed normal ruptures in a specific process that are typically unknown to the viewer. By stopping short of a more refined object, Elran posits the artist’s creative thinking as the subject of each object, rather than the functionality of vases themselves.
Dirt Poets advanced the understanding of how clay can be employed by presenting conceptual ceramic works that communicated intimately. Moreover, the exhibition managed to challenge traditional conventions of how clay can be utilized under the guise of fine art. Here, medium seemed like a beginning rather than an end—it assisted in articulating an idea instead of standing as the product of one. Strecker’s curatorial intuition carefully considered how this conceit could be realized. Indeed, the primary subject of each work was the method in which it took to generate it as well as each artist’s commitment to process. If this were an exhibit of canonized conceptual art practices, one may have had expected to see language used as the primary medium. Dirt Poets, however, was a presentation of conceptual ceramics—one that placed emphasis on how a commitment to materiality can take many shapes, forms, or ideas.
Dirt Poets ran from March 1st to March 20th, 2016 at the Morlan Gallery at Transylvania University in Lexington, KY.