Ryan Filchak


Sing the Queen City, The Cincinnati Tattoo Project

Video provided by Artworks Cincinnati.

Those familiar with Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova’s work know that once you begin to pull apart the components of their community based projects the connections you find periscope infinitely between the simple concepts from which they are conceived and the vast networks of impact in which they create. The Cincinnati Tattoo project is no different. Those familiar with The Lexington Tattoo Project will recognize the project’s concept, lines or words of poetry tattooed onto proud city dwellers who wish to display their civic devotion, but in this third, city specific tattoo project the focus has shifted to the Queen City of Cincinnati.

Partnering with Cincinnati non-profit Artworks, the poets of Chase Public, and the tattoo artists at One Shot Tattoo, Kurt and Kremena took the tattoo project concept first conceived in Lexington, Ky across the river in September 2014, where they designed of all the tattoos, mixed the recording of the poem’s reading, processed the photographs taken of participants, and made the final video artwork to be shown at a celebratory closing party. Kurt and Kremena have staked their artistic practices on amorphous bodies of work that engage the community directly, and with this latest iteration of their tattoo series they repeat this approach to art production in order create another, successful and ongoing public piece, but here is where the citizens of Cincinnati took over. The Cincinnati Tattoo project continues to grow into what is now called CincyInk, the name now given to all aspects of the tattoo project’s core values and goals as they grow into new manifestations of public art.

Whether this latest development of The Cincinnati Tattoo Project was expected from all the various collaborators and contributors is hard to say, but as Kurt and Kremena continue to develop Love Letter to the World, a similar public art piece on an international scale, one can imagine very little surprise from the program’s originators.

You can view participants of The Cincinnati Tattoo Project and their tattoos in the slide deck below.

Emma Patty photographed for The Cincinnati Tattoo Project. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Tom Rivera photographed for The Cincinnati Tattoo Project. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Liz Miller photographed for The Cincinnati Tattoo Project. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Mike Fleisch photographed for The Cincinnati Tattoo Project. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Molly Wellman photographed for The Cincinnati Tattoo Project. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Tamara Harkavy photographed for The Cincinnati Tattoo Project. Image courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.

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Currents: Horror Amour at The Loudoun House

Currents: Horror Amour
Curated by Georgia Henkel
209 Castlewood Dr, The Loudoun House

By Ryan Filchak


Photo Courtesy of the artist and Institute 193 

The Lexington Art League’s Currents series, now in it’s second incarnation, is a group exhibition of local artists curated by a local artist. This year’s exhibition titled Currents: Horror Amour, tested the curatorial aptitude of artist and educator Georgia Henkel. Like any memorable teacher, Henkel challenged her new class of students to produce work that falls on either end of the Horror Vacui, Amour Vacui spectrum. Prompted to engage visually with either suffocating imagery or the minimalist antithesis of this theme, Henkel did well in asking familiar artists to produce something less than.

While some artists like Ed Franklin and Ellen Molle, abandoned their trademark aesthetic vocabularies in search of these extremes, or both simultaneously, other artists used their trademark styles to fit the exhibition’s narrative. Fortunately, any effort to appease the professor appeared genuine, and the noticeable departures from a comfortable studio practice gave the artists who chose this route an added layer of dimensionality, and by consequence, an extended engagement with the work from the viewer.

Foregoing the whitebox gallery, Currents and Henkel parceled out the artists amongst the various rooms and hallways of the Loudoun House. Each with their own size and light source, this interplay of installation and architecture exemplified or hid a given contribution. The large mixed media installation by Smith Townsend Collaborative, understood this concept. “View of the big nothing . . .” divided the room, forced a path around the meatiest component, and rewarded the viewer from every angle. By integrating the preexisting shelves along with the suspended gaze of the perched “God Bird”, Smith Townsend Collaborative achieved a Horror Vacui while still maintaining an inviting atmosphere through small details of surprise.

Despite Smith Townsend Collaborative’s efforts they had the room to themselves, and the exchange of ideas among the local artists selected for Horror Amour worked better in conversation than in direct contact. In the Lillian Boyer Gallery, Franklin’s optical illusion on canvas stood balanced in relation to “His Soft Fur” piece of the same size, or in joyous conflict as “Swordfight” would suggest, but opposite L.A. Watson’s large scale QR packed with guilt racking social commentary and a shiny iPad, their impact waned.

Another such feat of strength appeared in the Zygmunt Gierlach gallery room. Mike Goodlett’s sensual plaster casts made strong use of the white wall above the hearth and the blackness of the unused fireplace to counter his work, but by sharing space with Leah Crews Castleman’s interactive Rube Goldberg printmaker, these particular subtleties became harder to appreciate. Regardless, these match-ups spoke more to the increased availability, and quality of Lexington artists, and a strict, effective adherence to the curator’s purported themes in a overall wonderfully stimulating exhibition.

Now both Georgia Henkel and her predecessor Louis Bickett have dropped their buckets down and drank voraciously from a well of local artists, as they should, but how many can get in line behind them? The Currents series continues to exalt the artistic talent living and working in Lexington, but as we graduate this class of 2015, my concern lies not in the importance, or the execution of this series, but if it survives, who will teach next year’s students? Does Lexington have enough left in the well to return a third time, or will we, like some artists of Horror Amour, learn to embrace the love of emptiness.

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The Humor Lens: Photographers Habjouqa and Nakadate Rejuvenate May Lecture Series

In a continued effort to bring the Robert C. May Photography Endowment Lecture Series to a more prominent position at The University of Kentucky, The Art Museum will exhibit the work of award-winning Jordanian photographer, Tanya Habjouqa this winter. Alongside fellow statement show Same Difference, and the community pleasing Lexington Tattoo Project, Tanya Habjouqa: Recent Photographs will bring together two of her internationally acclaimed bodies of work for the first time.

Occupied Pleasures looks at the human spirit’s amazing ingenuity for entertainment in the glaring light of turmoil, while Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots examines the “muted testimony to loss” experienced by the women of Jordan who live in exile. The first installment of the 2015 Winter / Spring Lecture series, this collection of Habjouqa’s work demonstrates an admirable ability to document the occupied Palestinian condition from the perspective of humor, absurdity and finesse.


Born in Jordan and then raised and educated in Texas, Habjouqa is a founding member of the all female, all Middle Eastern photography collective Rawiya. Rawiya, meaning “She who tells a story” presents  “an insider’s view of a region in flux balancing its contradictions while reflecting on social and political issues and stereotypes.” Habjouqa’s dissertation on narratives of resistance and suffering in Israel and Lebanon earned her an MA in political communications, and the academic qualifications to endorse such a socially progressive mission as Rawiya.

However, Habjouqa refuses to document the archetypes of journalistic conflict coverage and a population under duress, instead favoring elements of comedy and joy. For example, a grey, bullet-marked structure provides the background, but teens performing urban gymnastics serve as the subject in her photograph Gaza Parkour Team, Khan Younis Refugee Camp. In addition to these playful youth, Habjouqa’s subjects include teenage girls performing karaoke, grown bodybuilders, and whole families enjoying a meal on the beach. In another photograph, the border walls in the background appear less threatening because of what Habjouqa chose for the foreground: a man casually smoking a cigarette inside his car while a live sheep stares at him from his passenger seat in a comical moment of mutual respect, and sexual tension.

Habjouqa’s quest for these surreal moments does not occur coincidentally, but instead through a determined divergence from the “hyper narration” she saw put upon a place she now calls home.  In an article for the New York Times in 2014, she says, “ I really felt like I needed to find another way to tell a story, not only just to make sense of it for myself, but to make sense of it for how I’m going to present it to my children as well, since this is going to be their home too.” This bold choice in documentary style photography has won Habjouqa a World Press Award for Occupied Pleasures and Time magazine selected a photograph from There will be Apricots as one of the top photographs of the year.

Habjouqa is the second contributing artist in the R.C. May Lecture Series, curated by Janie Welker. In the wake of the captivating portrait series Strangers and Relations by artist Laurel Nakadate, the increased emphasis on the photography endowment is both evident and welcomed. Having previously worked with Nakadate in 2012 at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, newly hired director Stuart Horodner would place the expansion of her Star Portraits project in the recently expanded main room of the Art Museum’s floor gallery. While the Habjouqa’s exhibition hangs in the more contemplative room located adjacent to this space, her work does not feel under-appreciated by comparison. Habjouqa and Nakadate’s photography achieve narrative in very different ways, but their distinctive approaches to portrait photography equally allow both female artists to reach extraordinary heights of self-reflection through their portraits of others..

Both Habjouqa’s work, and Nakadate’s Strangers and Relations use two modes of theatre to accomplish and ultimately showcase their processes. Both artists must manipulate the technical components of the camera (composition, lighting, etc.) in order to frame and light their subject. Nakadate’s use of the night sky and one flashlight creates an intrusive and eerily sharp concentration on her subjects, while Habjouqa prefers natural light for a more forthright approach to her subjects. Regardless, both artists excel in their ability to foster a human connection prior to the moment of the photograph so that their subjects understand and participate in the documentation.

In short, the Art Museum staff has brought the R.C. May Photography Series back into a brighter spotlight. The work of these two artists alone signals positive changes in the lecture series and the Art Museum at UK on the whole, including the forthcoming exhibition of 1950s and 60s street photographer Vivian Maier.

The R.C. May Photography Lecture Series will host Tanya Habjouqa for her culminating talk about her exhibition on February 27th at 4 p.m. in the Worsham Theatre. This event is presented in conjunction with the UK College of Arts and Sciences’ Year of the Middle East and is open to the public.

Tanya Habjouqa Review

On Display January 24th  – April 12, 2015

The Art Museum at The University of Kentucky

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Victory without Fanfare, Image with Purpose

By Ryan Filchak ~

Victory without Fanfare displays the culminating body of work from a three-month residency at the Lexington Art League’s Loudon House by artists Lori Larusso and Melissa Vandenberg.  Guests were invited each Tuesday during the residency to see how the artists had transformed into their personal studios space typically reserved for exhibitions.  These studio visits allowed guests the opportunity to preview the works, meet the artists and observe the art-making process prior to installation.

Although the Lexington Art League is familiar with summer residency programs, this year curator Becky Alley handpicked two artists whose works compliment each other in a gallery space. Vandenberg and Larusso work with two different mediums – each artist uses imagery ranging from the tragically inane to the overwhelmingly significant to reveal the purpose of representation.  “Both artists work with themes of nostalgia and sentimentality in a way that questions the mythologies of the idyllic American Dream, patriotic pride and duty, and the way in which we culturally and systematically romanticize a history that was no more perfect than our present,” she writes in her curator statement. Larusso’s paintings and Vandenberg’s sculptures complicate the image at hand (the American flag, a life jacket, an ice cream clown, etc.) either through process or form to add new meaning on a personal or national level that causes the viewer to reinterpret the familiar.

Larusso’s shape paintings use imagery of the home to address the separation between an attempted idealized domesticity and a more common reality.  A women’s studies minor while attending the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, Larusso uses her paintings to acknowledge a return to the perfectly manicured lifestyle images of the 1950’s housewife. “We have a curated existence on social media: it’s still edited and you’re not showing the real stuff,” Larusso says in an interview with LAL. Instead of painting a solitary cup of coffee, perched perfectly on a windowsill from where one may gaze stolidly into a distant mountain range as one might expect to see in a lifestyle magazine, Larusso’s ‘To-Go Coffee Spill’ and ‘Homewrecker’ depict misfortune and broken dishes.

Interestingly, Larusso makes these moments of imperfection in her paintings more subtle in their disruption of the picturesque through a unique layering process of color.  Each layer of paint is first drawn out and then taped so as to prevent upon application any bleed-over from one section of color to the other. This results in crisp lines that seem to lay one on top of the other.  When you pair this technique with how Larusso literally cuts the negative space out of her paintings with a jigsaw, she ironically creates paintings devoid of the same spontaneity of the subject matter.

Vandenberg’s sculptural works transform the readymade (a lifejacket, handkerchief, sewing machines) to create an alternative interpretation of the image at hand on a political level in the same way Larusso’s shape paintings of spilt coffee and broken dishes express a present dichotomy of perception and reality on a social level.  The sculpture Rapunzel for example – a braid of fabric that stretches from high on the wall down to the gallery floor – contains not only the preexisting connotations of patriotic imagery because it repurposes torn American flags, but the fairy tale allusion turns a symbol of pride into one of distress.  Vandenberg repeats this theme with her series of photos in which she covers a female face with temporary tattoos culled from a bygone bicentennial celebration.  Entitled Red, White and Blue in the Face Vandenberg photographs her model wearing a string of American flag lights.

Forget Me k(not), Melissa Vandenderg

Forget Me k(not), Melissa Vandenderg

Red, White, and Blue in the Face, Melissa Vanderberg

Red, White, and Blue in the Face, Melissa Vanderberg

In addition to these political sculptures and paintings, Vandenberg weaves themes of eastern philosophy into traditionally western artifacts through her larger installation pieces.  For example, Forget me (k)not is an installation piece of 800 used handkerchiefs collected from deceased family members and estate sales.  The handkerchiefs hang both inside and outside the gallery in formations that mimic the Tibetan prayer flags found on Mt. Everest.   With her performance installation Mandala Machine – eight sewing machines arranged in a circle, sewing thread onto a continuous piece of fabric with a finite amount of thread – Vandenberg again infuses domestic objects with Buddhist ritual.

To quote Vandenberg, “I think we both feel the irony and have an appreciation for the clever when it comes to mid-century idealism”, and this is most evident with The Cold Charmer Series by Larusso.

The Cold Charmer Series, Lori Larusso

The Cold Charmer Series, Lori Larusso

These paintings of ice cream sundaes made to look like clowns do not contain the political gravity of the American dream unrealized, but instead they serve a crucial purpose to remind visitors that these artists seek a reinterpretation of familiar imagery in their work that can also be playful and lighthearted.

Visitors can see Victory Without Fanfare at the Loudon House located at 209 Castlewood Drive until October 5th.  Gallery hours for the Loudon House are Tuesday through Friday, 10-4, Saturday and Sunday, 1-4.

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