Hunter Kissel

Arts

Destructing Meaning: Joan Tanner at the Cressman Center

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 envelop smudges 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.

Arts

Fragment of Another World: Eddie Owens Martin and Pasaquan at Institute 193

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. 

 

Arts

Ever-Present: Yvonne Petkus at Moremen Moloney

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.

WITNESS: Bosnian-influenced Paintings, 2018, Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery, Louisville, KY.

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.

Installation view with ‘Raw’, WITNESS: Bosnian-influenced Paintings, 2018, Moremen Moloney Contemporary Gallery, Louisville, KY.

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.

Arts

Illuminating The Underrepresented: Presenting Edward Melcarth

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.

Arts

Accomplishing Failure

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.

Arts

The Human Body, Reconsidered

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.

Arts

A Unique Pairing: Teri Dryden at B. Deemer

A Review: Out of Line: New Works by Teri Dryden

at B. Deemer Gallery, Louisville

Sketchbook2, 2017, collage, 8×8

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.

Arts

Kentucky Insurgence: The Lexington Camera Club at the Cincinnati Art Museum


Quick Look

  • 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



2016Kentucky_Renaissance_installation view horizontal
2016Kentucky_Renaissance_installation view horizontal
People_Section
People_Section
gierlach_abstract_1966
gierlach_abstract_1966


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.

SEE ALSO: Part I and II on Guy Mendes: Its What You See and Unframed Play.

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. 

Arts

Plenty to Consider: Sparks & Marks at Arts Place Gallery

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

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.

Arts

Ways of Validation: Lawrence Tarpey at the University of Kentucky Art Museum

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.

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Lawrence Tarpey (American, b. 1957), Creation Demonstration, 2015, oil and graphite on clayboard. Courtesy of the UK Art Museum.

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.

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Lawrence Tarpey (American, b. 1957), Rush Hour, 2009, oil and graphite on clayboard. Courtesy of Ron and Judith Isaacs.

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.

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Lawrence Tarpey (American, b. 1957), Tex Mex, 20176, oil and graphite on gessoed plywood. Private Collection.

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.

Arts

Process as Subject, Materiality as Guide

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.

Forest Portal

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’s Sublimination (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.

RoughVase

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’s Rough 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.