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Arts

The Art of Collage and Assemblage Take Wing

In his Rooftop Soliloquy, Roman Payne states that “All forms of madness, bizarre habits, awkwardness in society, general clumsiness, are justified in the person who creates good art.”  Collage and assemblage artist Carleton Wing could take umbrage to this statement but I doubt that he would. When he began making art in the early 1980s, he considered himself an introvert, a shy person with low self-esteem and his art was a safe way for him to assert himself quietly.

Wing is no stranger to the Lexington arts scene where he owned and operated Wingspan Gallery for several years on the corner of Jefferson and Second Street.  He sold the gallery six years ago after being diagnosed with leukemia and his only option for survival (20 percent) was a bone marrow transplant. Facing better odds (70 percent) in Florida than in Kentucky, he moved to Tampa where he received a stem cell transplant from a 20-year-old male donor living in Germany. Now back in Lexington, his life has undergone a transformation and his art a transfiguration.  Both speak the unspeakable. They shine.

Wing in his studio getting a big hug and kiss from Bella for being a good boy and sticking to his schedule. | Photo by Jim Fields

Wing creates his collages and assemblages by “removing familiar images and objects from their original context and rearranging them to illustrate a new notion or idea.” Although his subject matter is serious—gender, religion, war, politics, and class, he often uses satirical titles and humor to further engage his viewers, to make them think and maybe walk away with a smile on their face.

The Cownolfini Wedding, a take-off of Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding, is prime beef. George Orwell’s Animal Farm came to mind when I first saw it. The pigs, Snowball, Napoleon, and Squealer may be missing from the scene but Animalism still rules the day. The period garb of the two central figures is borrowed directly from van Eyck, and Wing’s crafty placement of the mirror on the tree not only reflects the rear-view image of the original painting but also serves as a reminder that we occasionally need to take a closer look at ourselves—even hindsight will do.

The Cownolfini wedding took place on a pleasant October day in New Hampshire. Her two children, from a previous marriage, look on as the Magistrate enjoys the sun and the Mayor sings Ave Maria

Unlike the bride in Cownolfini, Katrina is not the marrying kind. A hurricane of a woman, she is more like Brunnehilda who, in myth, could be approached only by a man able to surpass her in strength. Wing’s title provides levity and perspective to a perplexing and unsettling work because it imposes a different order on our preconceived notions of reality and sexuality. It is ambiguous and symbolic; it is the surreal inner voice of a bizarre dream.

Katrina has little use for men.

Wing has a definite kinship with artists like Salvador Dali and Renne Magritte, contending that surrealism can actually bring us closer to reality because it mimics the contradictions and absurdities of the “real” world.  And there is method to his madness. Had he given this piece a different title such as The Lady or the Tiger, it would have altered the narrative and the way we look at it.

At the outset of his career 35 years ago, Wing relied on countless images from glossy magazines such as National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Architectural Digest for his constructions.  However, the translucent multi-layering effect that characterizes his more recent work was not possible with opaque paper cut-outs. The Internet, Adobe, and archival quality digital printing now provide him with endless resources and creative possibilities, bringing his story-telling to new level.

So for Wing, making art is about making choices and then seeing where it leads.  His process begins with a single image or object that interests him and then he subconsciously adds other images until he discovers what he is trying to say or until a story emerges, at which point he consciously takes control and works with intent based on how he wants the narrative to unfold as in Jesus Wanders.

Jesus wanders the wilderness on the best he could get from Steeds-R-Us Rentals

Here, Wing brings the Temptation of Christ into the 21st century and Jesus is not exactly slouching toward Bethlehem. He sits upright on a humble beast that travels slightly faster than the speed of a turtle, so he will have plenty of time to absorb the wilderness of modern civilization.  It is a complex composition with a penetrating sense of perspective and perception.

The desert is dotted with vignettes, each with its own story.  Is that Mary Magdalene sitting there in the lower left with her greyhound?  Every line and object, particularly the road and buildings, contribute to the visual depth of the image except for the decorative figure of Christ on the rhinoceros. It is flat, non-dimensional, and stops the eye before it can wander any farther into the landscape.  He stares directly at us perhaps leaving us with that single all-important question: What will (not would) Jesus do?  I suspect he may stop in at Jax’s for a round with the locals before he heads into town.

But In the Great Hall poses a different question—one of self-examination. Evoking consternation rather than a smile, it demonstrates Wing’s power to draw in viewers with his process of digitally layering multiple images with such translucency that it is next to impossible to feel you are looking at a single work of art.  From the dogs guarding the chicken-footed framed faces that haunt the foreground and the diaphanous swooning females on each side of the background to the pair of eyes overseeing all, the artist presents an allegorical narrative on human nature—we, too, get to make choices.

In the Great Hall of Consequences, Grief and Atonement

The rather stern Miss Sturgehill, however, appears to be propelled by a lot of confidence and few regrets.  Besides never having lost a road rally, she never misses a photo op either.  Wing’s wit, sarcasm, and humor come to the fore in this collage and, being a cat lover, I like to think it began with the single image of the devoted and fearless feline, Mr. Whiskers.

Miss Sturgehill has never lost a road rally with Mr. Whiskers as her navigator.

In most of Wing’s collages, as apparent in Miss Sturgehill and Christopher’s Pastime, the heads are a bit too big for the bodies; the size of various objects are not in direct proportion to others far or near, and the perspective, in general, is a little off-kilter. No, you are not suffering from Alice in Wonderland syndrome (AiWS), but you are experiencing Wing’s playful Lewis Carroll effect where both the familiar and unfamiliar are distorted to make us rethink what we think we see or know—or to simply make up our own stories. 

Christopher’s favorite pastime is playing with his friend Randy.

Wing embarks on a similar journey with his assemblages, beginning with a single object and then improvising until it takes a form that dictates what he should do next.  His Warrior Turtle began with a turtle shell, a doll’s head mold, and a pair of bronzed baby shoes.  The rest came from whatever he had on hand that knew it belonged to the warrior.

Turtle Warrior (front view)

The codpiece is actually a corn husker; the arms, forks; the weapons, a spear and a kosh; and the headgear, mangrove seed pods. The pieces of leather overlapping the shoulders, the leopard skin fabric, the beads, and the iconic crosses strengthen the ceremonial primitive spirit of this warrior king.

Turtle Warrior (rear view)

The back of the warrior is flanked with seashells and adorned with a deer’s tail.  The anklets which look like chainmail are made from gutter guard.  I think you get the point. Question: When is a potato peeler not a potato peeler?  Answer: When it gets into the hands of Carleton Wing. 

Two years into recovery from his stem cell transplant Wing came back to his drawing board and it renewed his spirit, aided his healing, and improved his outlook on life.  His recent collages of secular mandalas, 10 of which now hang in the Markey Cancer Center, further demonstrate to us an artist who sees the infinite in the finite, who sees many worlds within the one we all share.

Bee Eater

These mandalas, geometric figures that represent the universe, also signify our search for completeness and self-unity. They have no beginning and no end. The patterns and designs are as infinite as those of the snowflake and as limitless as our imagination when we are not afraid to open our eyes. This is the perspicacity Wing shares with us through amazing works of art such as Bee Eater and Orchid.

Orchid

I had some questions for Wing:

And…

Wing has two upcoming shows. The first, Short Stories from the Near Side, at the Carnegie Center’s newly renovated Skydome – 251 West Second St. (859-254-4175), opens on Friday, March 16 with a Gallery Hop reception from 5-8 pm, and closes on May 14, 2018.

The second, Sharing Time and Space, an exhibition of his Mandalas in a duo show at M.S. Rezny Studio/Gallery – 903 Manchester St. (859-252-4647), runs from April 10 through May 26, 2018. An artist’s talk is scheduled on May 12 from 11:00 am – 12:30 pm, and a closing Gallery Hop reception 5-8 pm on May 18, 2018.

(All images courtesy of the artist)

topical

White Ring: Reflections on the words of Wendell Berry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Wendell Berry

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts, Music, Uncategorized

Cross-pollination on the rise in Lexington

Broken Queen – Photo by Mark Cornelison

This is not to suggest that it hasn’t always been there, but networking or “cross-pollination” among various arts disciplines seems to be happening with more frequency lately in Lexington.

As some wise person once said: “more ‘o that!”

Writing in ACE Magazine several years ago, Candace Chaney noted Lexington’s rich literary history and the presence of a serious, if struggling, theatre community and suggested that cooperation and collaboration between the two might give rise to homegrown playwrights. This inspired idea remains a long way from yielding onstage results – although we have seen growth and development in local theatre production. But the concept has taken hold in other areas and we think it’s worth noting.

Recent examples include the mid-June production at the Downtown Arts Center of The Broken Queen, a multi-disciplinary collaboration between Blackbird Dance Theatre and a reunion of the Lexington band Chico Fellini.

And Story Magazine has launched its “Story Sessions” series – intimate concerts that engage a variety of talents and skills ranging from music and sound production to communication and publishing.

Coming up later this month, on June 27, is the Lexington Art League’s CSA LIVE: An evening of story and song, billed as a convergence of Lexington’s literary, music and visual arts scenes.

These productions and events join The Carnegie Center’s Carnegie Classics, and Balagula Theatre in inviting varieties of artists to share talents and skills in collaborative settings.

This departure from limiting our arts scene to the pitting of one discipline against another to grovel for scarce financial lifeblood is healthy and promising.

The question is, what does it take to establish a “go to” network to enable vital communication between, perhaps, a videographer and a sound-designer, or a performance artist and a sound and lighting talent? Is this a function of some independent non-profit? Or should our municipal government establish such a role?

Wouldn’t it be great if we figured out how to sustain arts production in Lexington?

Please offer your thoughts on our Facebook page.

Thanks!

Arts

Arts Criticism Class invites acclaimed critic Diane Carvalho

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

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

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

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

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