Category Archives: Arts

Arts

LexPhil Ushers in a ‘Culture of Curiosity’

In the grim and gloom of a particularly rainy September, the Lexington Philharmonic prepares to debut their 2017–2018 season. The first concert is titled, ironically, Bright. The season opening, held this Saturday (September 16th) at the Singletary Center for the Arts, has an energetic and bouncy program. In that sense, Bright’s place in the larger 2017–2018 Philharmonic season is like an opening fanfare to a  larger symphony: energetic, full of life, and the right mix of excitement and intrigue to keep listeners interested.

As the orchestra prepares to sound out its audience for the season, I spoke with the lead conductor and Artistic Director of the Lexington Philharmonic, Scott Terrell, about the upcoming concert, and about young people’s place in the concert hall.

The most notable feature of the program for Bright is the age of many of the performers. The featured soloist, pianist Joyce Yang, is a young and rising star in the classical music world, and part of the generation of young soloists who are redefining the concert hall. Maestro Terrell calls her part of “the changing face of music.” Her animated and expressive playing is a far cry from the stentorian proclamations of Gould or the other old masters of the form.

Yang will be playing the Grieg Piano Concerto. Even in a genre that is known for emotive solos, the Grieg is a particularly animated piece. (You can hear a performance of the concerto, in this case performed by Arthur Rubinstein, here to get an idea of the emotional range of the piece.) As Maestro Terrell notes, the Concerto is “a thrilling piece and a challenge for the soloist” to perform.

But Yang will not be the youngest of Saturday evening’s performers.

For the large-scale work Daphnis et Chloe, premiered over a century ago, the Philharmonic has selected the Suite No. 2 to perform. To do so, the orchestra has partnered with several area schools, including Lafayette High School. The collegiate choirs of Asbury University and Eastern Kentucky University are also joining the Philharmonic for the performance of the Daphnis et Chloe Suite. Inviting these choirs to perform with the Philharmonic, Terrell tells me, is “building audiences both on stage and as years progress.”

Terrell thinks of the audience as part of a broader community. While the old-fashioned idea of separation between performers and audience has fallen out of fashion, Terrell wants the Philharmonic to remain “ever-flexible and always relevant” to the wider community. To that end, the soloists for this season collaborate with the orchestra to serve as “ambassadors” to the world for their music, says Terrell. The incorporation of the young choruses for the performance of Daphnis et Chloe is a clear example of this musical diplomacy.

Inevitably, talk of younger performers invites talk of younger audiences. The symphony has an unfortunate reputation as a gathering place exclusive to the elder generation. While the Singletary Center, where the Philharmonic performs, is located on the campus of the University of Kentucky, a symphony is not a social event for the college on the level of a football or basketball game or Greek gathering. Nevertheless, Terrell says that the Philharmonic “is not a museum piece.” He emphasizes that there is an “openness and receptiveness of [the Philharmonic’s] audience” that makes the art of making music exciting. The Philharmonic takes full advantage of that receptiveness, he says, with the goal of creating a “culture of curiosity” among the audience. Toward that end, every concert this season will contain at least one piece by a living composer.

For Bright, that contemporary piece is a (literally) colorful composition. Michael Torke, an American composer, wrote Bright Blue Music in 1985, and the style of the piece—harmonically direct and simple, with a clear single development—reflects the emergence of American minimalism in the late twentieth century. Throughout the program, then, the Philharmonic will undertake a backwards motion, almost like a dive: from the contemporary sounds of Torke, through the early twentieth century impressionism of Ravel, and stop at the unreconstructed romanticism of Grieg along the way. In short, the concert will move quickly through a variety of tastes, and should contain something to satisfy even the most stoic listener.

The Lexington Philharmonic will debut the 2017-2018 season on September 16th, in a 7:30 PM concert held at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets range from $25—$75 dollars, with $11 student tickets available from the day before, and at the door.

(All photos by: Richie Wireman)

Arts

Scene&Heard Review: Moontower Music Festival ’17

The day of the 2017 Moontower Festival arrived as if it was custom-ordered by the folks who would soon fill Masterson Station park. A perfect blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, and a beautiful breeze like a hug from an old friend. A great day for a live music festival, for certain. As early planning for Moontower ’18 gets underway, here’s a look back on this year’s event.

Photo by Derek Feldman

The Moontower Music Festival has been evolving for four years, making adjustments from lessons learned and improving with each version. Festival co-producer and consultant, David Helmers:

Last year’s beer fiasco of overly foamy warm beer from the keg was addressed with an occam’s razor approach, cold beer and cider in cans. Perfect. Adding art installations and an architecture installment among the tents of vendors, games of cornhole and that hamster ball deal that kids and adults alike were rolling around in, the festival was so much more than just the music.

David says the festival is meant to have something for everyone: 

But oh, the music.

A little bit of everything for everyone, the two side by side stages were run consistently, with one band starting up almost immediately after the last one finished, with a few exceptions for stage setup. The day began under that perfectly sunny sky with local folks on the smaller stage: Daisy Helmuth’s band People Planet, followed by The DeBraun Thomas Trio, and Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands.

Vita and the Woolf then took over the large stage with her “Florence and the Machine”-like sound, while Tyler Childers began to set up on the second stage, his growing group of disciples loyally cheering his sound check.

Tyler Childers (left), James Barker (right) | Photo by Derek Feldman

Childer’s rousing set was followed by Elise Davis, Blackfoot Gypsies, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, The Record Company, Todd Snider with a full east Nashville Band, the Eastside Bulldogs, The Travelin’ McCoury’s, Cherub, Benjamin Booker and the headliner with their phenomenal light show, Umphrey’s McGee. The bands comprised a full spectrum of musical style, from funk to rock to bluegrass.

Benjamin Booker | Photo by Derek Feldman

Elise Davis | Photo by Derek Feldman

The music literally flowed all day long from the first note to the last, with few breaks in between.  All the booths, food and vendor, games and alcohol, were well within ear shot of the music so any wandering was still rewarded with music all the while.  The food pavilion offered quite a variety of food options, from Thai to Burgers, Bubble Tea to tacos; the choices were plenty. The hydration station kept folks energized and kid’s squirts guns well loaded, and colorful tents dotted the field as everyone settled in for a long, beautiful day of music.

Local bands included Warren Byrom and The Fabled Canelands, which that day consisted of Cecilia and Josh Wright, Scott Wilmoth, and Sam Meyer. Warren had missed last year’s festival when one of his bands, Small Batch, performed and was happy to be able to play this year.

Warren Byrom | Photo by Derek Feldman

“Felt great about our set, it was really fun. The sound is amazing. They’ve done a good job with having the two stages side by side.  The crowd just kinda moves twenty feet over.  It’s a perfect day, Kaelyn (Query) and her crew did an awesome job.” Here’s the full conversation:

Warren led his band through music from his new CD Heavy Makes You Happy and his first release, The Fabled Canelands, as well as songs from his upcoming CD which he has underway.  Moontower Music Festival precedes his appearance at the Brooklyn American Fest in September, as well as some solo gigs as he settles in to finish his third album.

Byrom sees the great value in a festival like Moontower for the small but thriving city of Lexington. “It’s helped, there’s a really good turnout for this festival and it’s getting some National traction.”  Sharing a stage with the likes of headliner Umphrey’s McGee which had a three-night run at Red Rocks Amphitheater coming up on its tour schedule, indicates the national attention Moontower is earning.

Photo by Derek Feldman

By the time the sun set on that beautiful day, a perfect crescent moon arose over the fields, so perfect and glowing orange it almost looked like another creation by the UK artists and architects, made just for the festival itself.  Umphrey’s McGee delivered a spectacular light show. Surreal is too tame a word, and when joined by the glowing necklaces, hula hoops, and glowing balls being juggled, the night ended in a colorful swirl of happy Lexingtonians and musicians who graced our fair city for one blissful day.

Photo by Derek Feldman

David Helmers on how it all comes together:

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

ChamberFest Stages Fusion of Jazz+Classical

The 2017 Chamber Music Festival of Lexington celebrates an inventive fusion of classical and jazz. And in the center of it all are two Lexington violin virtuosos – one, Nathan Cole, who animates classical; the other, Zach Brock, who travels the jazz universe.

They will fuse a Cole-led string quartet with Brock’s jazz power trio Triptych to perform a work specifically composed for the occasion by Triptych bassist Matt Ulery. The trio is rounded out by drummer Jon Deitmeyer.

I spent over an hour on the phone with Zach, discussing his role in the festival, the fusion of genres, his recruitment into the Snarky Puppy juggernaut, his most remarkable recent “bucket list” experience, and even his recommendations for anyone thinking about a music tour of New York City.

The story is best told in his own words, placed in context by brief narratives. Included are questions for Zach solicited from Lexington musicians. They include jazz guitarist Clive Pohl, Shangri La Studios owner Duane Lundy, singer-songwriter Patrick McNeese, and Maggie Lander, Lexington’s rising violin star who counts Brock among her musical heroes.

A little background on Zach

Zach Brock grew up in a musical Lexington household – his parents, Dan and Jenny Brock, met as members of the Lexington singers and have been deeply involved in the Lexington music scene. He gives high marks to the music influences of his early education in Montessori school and studies in the Suzuki Method. Graduating from Bryan Station High School in 1992, Zach went on to Northwestern University as a performance violin major and while there, met Erin Harper, the woman who would become his wife and mother of their twin daughters. They made their home in Chicago for 13 years before moving to Brooklyn. After 10 years and the birth of their children they relocated to South Orange, NJ where they currently reside. Erin directed, shot, and edited the Triptych videos. Second camera on the shoot was Lexington photographer Jeff Hoagland.

Our questions for Zach

Zach mentioned that he first became aware of the violin at age four. What brought the instrument to his attention?

View The Violin

Zach was enrolled in a Lexington studio teaching the Suzuki Method, an approach that has stirred controversy. How did it inform his growth as a jazz artist?

Improvisation can be a tightrope act – fraught with the risk of making mistakes. What if it happens during live performance?

Zach toured for four years with the great bassist Stanley Clark, recorded seven solo records, plus four records with the amazing jazz juggernaut Snarky Puppy. The most recent, Culvha Vulcha, won a Grammy this year. Snarky Puppy is a large group of highly talented individuals. Zach was asked to tell us about that experience.

In June Zach had a remarkable “bucket list” experience performing at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York with jazz violin master Jean Luc Ponty. As Zach related the story, he mentioned Eric Aceto, an Ithaca, New York master luthier who has provided instruments and violin pickups for Ponty, Brock and Lexington’s Maggie Lander.

With regard to Nathan Cole’s invitation to perform in the Chamber Music Festival, Duane Lundy asks: “was the concept presented to you or was it up to you?”

Clive Pohl wants to hear about the differences in how Zach prepares for a classical (interpretive) performance versus jazz (improvised, syncopated with a drum set). Zach responded by telling us about Matt Ulery’s piece, Become Giant, which will have its world premiere performance on the festival main stage at the Downtown Arts Center on September 1.

In response to the Patrick McNeese’s interest in his artistic process, Zach talks about the value of being open to constant change.

Maggie Lander is interested in hearing about Zach’s practice routine.

Where in NYC does Zach Brock go in search of great live music?

Chamber Music Festival schedule

Arts

Scene&Heard: Elias Gross Keeps in Touch

The Friends Meeting House in Lexington is a simple, beautiful space; a quiet A-frame housing a room of sparse furnishings and amazing acoustics.  Elias Gross chose this space for a viola recital he created as a farewell before he leaves the musical community of Lexington to pursue a Master’s Degree in viola at the University of Delaware.  His friends and fellow musical colleagues gathered together in the peaceful space to celebrate the nine years Elias Gross has helped mold the musical community of Lexington.

Receiving his Bachelor’s in Arts Administration in Music at the University of Kentucky, Elias was denied the recital performance music majors usually have when they graduate.  So, he held his own. 

Each song in the program was prefaced with an explanation of its selection for this final Lexington recital, placing the music in a more personal context.

He began with Bach’s Prelude, Cello Suite No. 5 in C Minor, a sorrowful, mournful tune that conveyed the deep resonance only the viola can create.  His fingers moving deftly like hitting keys on a piano, the song filled that serene room with music that seemed quite fitting for the space.

Elias prefaced the second selection, Spell No. 7 by Alexsandra Vrevalov, with “It’s real weird, you’re gonna love it.” It was certainly weird, with intentional movement of the bow up and down the neck of the viola.  Elias creates a full, physical emoting as he plays, making even breathing seem so relevant for a piece played on strings.  His bow performs acrobatics as he moves between simple strokes to finger picking and to deep double string strokes that resonate around the room.

He then eased into a duet with Melissa Snow-Groves on piano, Meditation by Paul Hindemith, a short sweet harmony that they blended beautifully.  From there he added Richard Young on the upright bass. Together they played and sang Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel. This was followed by Tom Waits’ Ol ‘55 which Elias played and sang as a piano solo.

The trio came together once more and blended a variation on Pachabel’s Canon into Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice.  They sang together with the tight harmony of a chorale, and Melissa kicked it up a beat to a near-rockabilly sound.

Elias then launched into his final solo, Keep in Touch by Nico Muhly – “another weird one,” he joked.  It was a very surreal song, and included electronic elements of a mostly tribal type beat that was played through a laptop and speaker supporting Elias on his viola. The experience was quite intense and transcendental, and seemed to take over his whole person as he played, as if he were channeling the composer in that moment.

According to the program notes, “Keep in Touch is a lament, a sort of chaconne divided up into sections by more freely-composed cadenzas for the viola. But the chaconne, a musical form based around a repeated cycle of chords, is not only the domain of composers like Bach and Purcell, one is as likely to hear the form on a Nina Simone record. And Antony Hegarty, the bluesily androgynous vocalist we hear in the electronic component of this piece, is a performer from the Simone school.”

Elias’ passion is to make the viola, and classical music more accessible to the community; to benefit everyone around him with all that classical music has to offer, and to make sure the music is always played. That came through clearly as the notes resonated around that wooden room with its asymmetrical window. 

In his recital program Elias quoted Zoë Madonna of Q2 Radio as noting: “Cast into the larger world, the viola is as a wanderer in an intimidatingly loud and large landscape, humming sometimes in concordance with the current, sometimes fighting against it.”

The viola is often overlooked for the flash and glory of the violins in an orchestra, or the commanding depths of the cello.  The pieces written for a viola solo take the deeper resonance of the instrument and put it out front, and often the result exemplifies the hidden space where the viola resides, and perhaps those who play it. It is a different path, often fighting for its own place in the quartet, or the orchestra.

Elias allowed himself to channel that message to his audience.  The overall effect in that tranquil space on Price Avenue was quite mesmerizing.

Elias has spent the last nine years in Lexington, not just receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Arts Administration from UK, but also helping to expand the Central Music Academy as well as the Chamber Music Festival.  Central Music Academy provides free music lessons for children of low income, and has given over 20,000 free music lessons in its existence.

Elias taught viola and violin to kids, keeping a studio of five to seven students for several years. “I definitely could have benefitted from CMA as a kid”. He said teaching music to students is what helped him find his passion again, having let his playing of music “suffer” during his pursuit of an administrative degree. “Teaching was really what kind of got me to get my priorities back together…seeing what they demand of me…I can’t just be one thing, that’s just not who I am, but if I was able to spend a lot of my time teaching I would be really happy.”

He explains that he is drawn to teaching because he truly believes in the beauty and lessons that Classical music has to share with the world. 

Elias also is executive director of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington which is about to share classical music with the city of Lexington for ten days.  Having expanded from one weekend to ten days, the Festival presents classical music in a variety venues to make it more accessible to the public.  Elias’ favorite piece of the whole, while he loves it all, is the Concert series that he moved to Al’s Bar after Natasha’s Bistro closed.

He believes that the world of Classical music has got to undo some of “these rules we’ve made ourselves” in order to bring the music out into the world and keep it alive. Different venues mean different crowds and a greater “marketing” of the music he loves, says the arts admin grad. “If we figure out how we can tear down our concert walls a little bit, and figure out who can be our allies in the music community that we could really tie it all together…I think that the stage is really important, but I think if the music is being heard and loved, then it really doesn’t matter where it is.”

Listen:

Arts

Kathryn Keller: Digging in the Local Dirt

Kathryn Keller’s landscapes at the Moremen-Maloney Contemporary Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky succeed on three scores: they are authentic in conveying a particular geography, they evoke reverie and they bespeak an eloquent silence.

Kathryn Keller, A Live Oak Growing, Oil on Paper

Keller lives near Alexandria, Louisiana, close to the center of the state. This varied sub-tropical flat land, agriculturally a mix of crops and livestock, is Keller’s subject. She succeeds in what poet William Carlos William termed “the achievement of a locus:” her vision is fresh, largely free of clichés, and works a taut balance between observation and the dictates of the oil and watercolor mediums that she employs.

Open fields, groves of trees, and the vagaries of climate and weather share the focus of attention with the flow and drag of a loaded brush against paper or canvas. Mottled passages of black-blue-green foliage fulfill the needs of description as well as calling attention to the moment when pictorial order supersedes realism, balancing abstraction and representation. Despite heavy impasto and forceful application, the paintings are well ventilated with an envelope of atmosphere and transparency of light. This part of the world comes across as Keller’s spiritual turf: she would seem to be of this place, not merely from it.

Of particular note in this exhibition are five studies of the side of a house, the artist’s home. These modest easel paintings (the largest of which is 26″ x 22″), read at first like the everyday moments in the deadpan photography of William Eggleston and William Christenberry. The side-long glancing views, the simplified architectural geometries of windows, chimneys, and rooflines, and the casually foreshortened perspectives connote an easy familiarity with the subject. But on further examination the house is invested with flat built-up surfaces of long continuous paint passages. Shadows that seem more substantial than the building and Rorschach blots of plant life provide psychological comment on life within the inner sanctum. In only one of these studies is an entry to the home depicted.

Kathryn Keller, Bleakhouse Cedars, Oil on Paper

Prolonged meditation on the subject of house is also suggested by the palette: Bleakhouse Cedars – possibly the most successful of the series – depicts an overcast sky, the building in desaturated tints of gray and yellow, flanked behind by Keller’s black-green foliage, and at the side by an acidic greenish hedge and lawn, painting in elusive variation of olive-algae hues. Overall the muted color chords of faded yellow and gray played against the varied greens convey an intense concentration on excluding everything extraneous to the artist’s narrative.

The result of Keller’s focus in all of her works in this exhibition is a sense of reverie, of something half-remembered, a predigested memory as if the viewer had already been to this home and had rich associations with the place. Keller gives us the first paragraph, and no more, of imaginary short stories echoing William Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, or Alice Walker.

Kathryn Keller, Front Porch, Oil on Paper

Quietude and melancholic introspection also come across in works in which two houses are included in similarly reduced views. In Front Porch, a saw-toothed shadow and black windows on the near side of a house lead perspectively to a dwelling in the middle distance beneath a bare tree. Which is the home place? We are not told. Part of the fascination of these works lies in their evasiveness: the density and weight of the bare walls, the status of light, and the air of stillness spark curiosity about the calculated privacy and secrets withheld.

They are elegiac paintings, wrestling with how past informs the present and future (their closest photographic analogy is with the cemetery scenes of Clarence John Laughlin, not the snapshot sensibility of Eggleston and Christenberry). Locked down and contemplative, these are silent pictures: silence as a moment of stopping, as a condition of consciousness, as a cultivated inwardness. Close values and a subdued timbre characterize some other painters of silence: Hammersoi, Morandi, Balthus, Hopper, Reinhardt and Rothko, for example. All share a monastic relinquishing of immediacy and spontaneity in favor or an extended awareness of presence and place.

To return to William Carlos Williams: “It is because we confuse the narrow sense of parochialism in its limiting implication, that we fail to see the complement of the same: that the local in a full sense is the freeing agency to all thought, in that it is everywhere accessible to all…every place where men have eyes, brains, vigor and the desire to partake with others of that same variant in other place which unites us all.”

Kathryn Keller: A Sense of Place, Moremen-Maloney Contemporary Gallery, 939 East Washington Street, Louisville, 40206, through August 31st.

Arts

Small is More Than Just a State of Mind

­­­In her book On Longing, Susan Stewart describes the miniature as a special type of object that speaks to the nostalgia and fantasy inherent in both childhood and history. The artworks included in notBIG(4), now on display at the M.S. Renzy Studio and Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky, typify these notions. The exhibition, juried by Transylvania University art professor Kurt Gohde, presented its entrants with only one stipulation: small scale. Working in sizes of twelve by twelve inches and smaller, artists submitted works that explore the notion that, in Mr. Gohde’s words, “bigger may not be better.”

A quick assessment of the works reveals a somewhat conservative approach on the part Mr. Gohde. Of the forty-five works, nearly half can be classified as portraits or landscapes. The miniature, especially in painted form, has a fairly consistent art historical track record. Painted portraits and small natural scenes were the affordable fine art choices of middle class collectors before the advent and wide popularization of photography in the mid nineteenth century. In a way, the exhibition pays homage to the historical miniature. Thankfully, it isn’t burdened by nostalgia for the past, but its works engage with nostalgia in order to explore and elucidate its presuppositions and effects.

The more appealing of the works in notBIG(4) represent a creative approach to the twelve inch by twelve inch limitation placed on their scale. In Mr. Gohde’s notes, he mentions one of several considerations in his selection process, that the works “NEED or TAKE ADVANTAGE OF the small scale” requirement placed on entrants. In my opinion, it is the more sculptural works that best exemplify this exploration of the exhibition’s focus on spatial limitations. Several works, including ceramic, wood, and mixed media assemblages, occupy and explore a miniature space rather than simply conform to a miniature scale. Like dollhouse models or children’s toys, they present the viewer with the possibility that within such a seemingly limited space there might exist whole worlds, imaginative or otherwise.

Rebecca DeGroot, Strain, Image courtesy of the artist

Rebecca DeGroot’s Strain is reminiscent of both Louise Bourgeois’ mammoth cast bronze spider-like sculptures and a piece of fine walnut furniture. While it could be both or neither, its mysterious nature, perhaps more akin to the micro than the macroscopic presents a fantasy grounded in reality. Similarly, one of exhibition’s honorable mentions, Critz Campbell’s Single Cloud, recalls both a wooden maquette and decorative period artifact. Again, it is a fantastical take on a natural phenomenon communicated through the imagery of both a child’s toy and technical model.

Critz Campbell, Single Cloud, Image courtesy of the artist

Another honorable mention, Rene Hales’ hazy and dreamy photo-encaustic Backyard Woods, is equal parts photographic record and pictorial fantasy. The encaustic’s wax  transforms the flat picture into an object with literally and metaphorical depth. In fact, several other works employ the use of encaustic, an application of wax mixed with resin, to create the illusions of the dreamy haze of age. Derek Ball’s Everyday Day, Every Hour (C1) offers a digital take on this aesthetic of translucent fogginess. The densely layered photographic object is equal parts knowable and mysterious.

Derek Ball, Everyday Day, Every Hour (C1), Image courtesy of the artist

Among the more traditional works in the exhibition, those of portraits landscapes, Mr. Ghode has selected pieces that run the gamut from Clint Wood’s City Corner, a colorful and somewhat flattened rendering of an anonymous street and its buildings to the nearly abstracted natural effects of Karen Spears’ Floating Foliage.

Clint Wood, City Corner, Image courtesy of the artist

Karen Spears, Floating Foliage, Image courtesy of the artist

Similarly among the portraits are several striking explorations of sizing and scaling images of the face. Irene Mudd’s Joan and Todd Fife’s Ghost Man both treat the details of the human likeness like pixelizations, though composed respectively from yarn and the stains and smudges of graphite and coffee. Still recognizable, the features point to the difficulties of certain media to accurately replicate and render the human image.

Tom Pfannerstill, Crushed Starbucks Cup, Image courtesy of the artist

Allison Tierney, 10/11/2015, Image courtesy of the artist

Of course, there are other works in the show that don’t necessarily treat miniaturization as simply an issue of size or scale. Tom Pfannerstill’s Crushed Starbucks Cup is in actuality a finely detailed painted wood sculpture that both elevates and eternalizes street trash as art object. What appears as stains and damage are the specific details of a meticulously crafted and considered totem of the vastness of urban waste and global consumerism. Likewise, Allison Tierney’s 10/11/2015, a wood panel layered with latex paint that resembles the leftover scraps of a painted canvas, is both painted object and paint as object. Like Pfannerstill, Tierney offers much more to the viewer than what is simply visible in her painting, and recalls Marilyn Minter’s early photorealistic painted floors and sculpted polaroids, playing with the discrepancies between what is seen and what is experienced.

Sean Ware, With Clouds in Sight, Image courtesy of the artist

The work awarded the exhibition’s best in show, a painting by Sean Ware titled With Clouds in Sight, seems an overly safe choice, considering its subject matter is neither a unique nor particularly engaging mediation on the miniature schema. While one of the more technically impressive works on display, it lacks the specificity that the miniature itself implies, that of the somewhat fantastic and nostalgic possibilities of they might contain. There are more interesting and fruitful works for the viewer here, works that eagerly attempt to find purpose in their relative smallness.

In the end, the exhibition and its space, though itself small and somewhat cluttered, allows the works their own room to breathe, and helps to further encourage viewers to consider the individual worlds they represent. While not everything on display succeeds in expanding and developing the rhetoric of smallness, the dollhouse specificity of many of these miniatures, especially the sculptural works, makes this exhibition seem much larger than it appears. The opportunity to enter, inhabit, and participate in the fantasies of self-contained and self-sufficient worlds gives notBIG(4) enough of a reason to be seen.

Arts

Being Safe is Scary: Learning from Germany

This year, when documenta 14 expanded its scope to include the city of Athens, Greece, an LGBTQI refugee rights group seized a sculpture from the exhibition and refused to give it back. The sculpture was Roger Bernat’s Replica of Oath Stone—a porexpan and fiberglass copy of a limestone table present at the trial of Socrates in 399 BCE. According to the project handbook, Bernat’s sculpture was to be walked through Athens in a mock funeral procession and then sent to Kassel to be entombed in the Thingplatz—a Nazi-era theatre. Bernat paid the group to participate in the performance—but this transfer of money ignited a larger conversation about debt, labor, and the effects of large-scale exhibitions. The group confiscated the stone and in its place left a ransom note that stated:

You have come to Greece to make art visible and graciously offered to purchase the participation of invisible exoticized others.  

As Kentucky continues to rethink and transform its visual arts communities, might we also begin to treat similar paradigms that exist in contemporary art? Erica Rucker’s recent LEO Weekly article discusses an optimistic present: a moment in time when Kentucky’s museums and galleries are reevaluating their exhibitions and programming. But while documenta 14 and the 2017 Skulptur Projekte address inclusivity, they also challenge the framework from which exhibitions are often produced.   

Indeed, biennales and large-scale exhibitions have made attempts to define contemporary art using a Western-centric model. Miwon Kwon, curator and art historian, argues that groups considered peripheral to “dominant culture thus [become] objectified once again to satisfy the contemporary lust for authentic histories and identities.”1 Cultures are often treated ethnographically—as objects of study to be organized by curators and contextualized by a Western framework.2

For their 2017 iterations, documenta 14 and Skulptur Projekte Münster are critical of their established transnational appeal and central European locale—but do not reject either. Rather, these issues become the central focus for their curatorial teams.  

documenta 14  

Previous documenta curators (Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Okwui Enwezor) have invited international artists to create work that considers the effects of Western institutions and globalization. As stated by documenta 14’s Artistic Director Adam Szymczyk, however: it is almost impossible “to realize a project that aims at making a political statement from within a state-subsidized cultural institution (one with additional institutional, corporate, and private funding involved, of course).”3

This year, documenta 14’s curators address issues of inclusivity and cultural objectification by dividing the exhibition between Kassel, Germany (its standard location) and Athens. Greece’s identity as both a genesis of European civilization and its contentious relationship with the European Union (most notably, Germany’s role in its financial depression) have, according to Szymczyk, resulted in “the loss of Greek citizens’ individual freedom.”4  

Marta Minujín, The Parthenon of Books, 2017

Detail of Marta Minujín’s The Parthenon of Books

Many of the artists included in documenta 14 mine the cultural significance of existing Western monuments that have come to represent concepts of freedom and democracy. The city’s central square is a warning that history is cyclical: Marta Minujín’s The Parthenon of Books, a replica of the temple on the Acropolis in Athens, is composed of 100,000 banned books from across the world—but this is not her first construction of renegade literature. In 1983, to mark the end of Argentina’s civilian-military dictatorship, she built El Partenón de libros from the confiscated books that had previously been under lock and key. Adjacent to Minujín’s Parthenon stands Kassel’s Fridericianum—traditionally the centerpiece of each documenta exhibition.

Banu Cennetoğlu, BEINGSAFEISSCARY, 2017

In place of the institution’s name, artist Banu Cennetoğlu has shuffled the large aluminum letters (and added six additional ones) to read BEINGSAFEISSCARY. Although Cennetoğlu states that the phrase is based on graffiti found at the National Technical University of Athens, it also pays tribute to freedom fighter and Kurdish journalist Gurbetelli Ersöz. Her diaries were posthumously published in Germany, and later a small Turkish press also attempted to do the same—but they were subsequently banned in 2014 by Turkey’s ruling administration. Most works that surround Kassel’s Friedrichsplatz reference the censorship enacted by fascist regimes, as the Third Reich used the park to display political power through large military parades. White smoke billows from the Fridericianum’s tower where artist Daniel Knorr’s Expiration Movement is a reminder of the Nazi’s burning of books in 1933.  

Daniel Knorr, Expiration Movement, 2017

Other sites within documenta 14 are new to the 2017 exhibition. The Neue Neue Galerie is located in Kassel’s Nordstadt—a neighborhood home to the majority of the city’s immigrant populations. Formerly the Neue Hauptpost (but renamed by documenta 14’s curators), the brutalist building was once home to city’s main post office. Its industrial use shed by increasing digital communication, the building contains loading docks that are repurposed as mini-galleries. The building’s dim lighting allows for the multiple new-media works to be viewed without interruption from sunlight, but also makes for a foreboding atmosphere. In the corner is 77sqm_9:26min: a digital investigation of the murder of Halit Yozgat—the ninth of ten victims in a racist murder series committed by the neo-Nazi organization the National Socialist Underground.  

The Society of Friends of Halit, 77sqm_9:26min, 2017

 

Skulptur Projekte Münster 

The effects of biennials and large-scale exhibitions extend beyond the contemporary art realm. The merits of such massive art events, at least for their respective local economies, are plentiful: cities have the opportunity to merge their existing arts communities with a global contemporary art discourse and foster a more robust cultural exchange. Artists included in Skulptur Projekte reference the local and regional histories, industries, and cultures of the sites they inhabit, but also consider how the a city’s reliance on cultural tourism can be an indicative feature of public art. Unlike documenta, Skulptur Projekte is free to the public. 

Michael Smith, Not Quite Under_Ground, 2017

Skulptur Projekte internalizes and embraces the merits, pitfalls, and ironies of cultural tourism. Michael Smith’s Not Quite Under_Ground“the official tattoo studio of Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017”—offers an expansive array of artist-designed tattoos ranging from past Skulptur Projekte participants to Smith’s personal friends. The shop’s name references the increased cultural acceptance of permanent body art since the 1990s, but also Smith’s observation that senior citizens are frequenting Münster as tourists (the artist produced an accompanying video that may be viewed both in the tattoo studio and on YouTube.) As a result, Not Quite Under_Ground offers deep discounts to those sixty-five and older who wish to participate. Each tattoo provides a permanent souvenir while extending the lifespan of the exhibition through what Smith describes as “the storage medium of the skin.” 

Outmoded idioms of “public” and “private” become catalysts for many artists asked to participate in Skulptur Projekte. On the other end of Münster, in the city’s inland harbor, Ayşe Erkmen has installed a covert jetty between the waterway’s northern and southern piers. Existing just below the water’s surface, the industrial sheen of ocean cargo containers and steel grates is camouflaged by the water’s silver reflections. Visitors remove their shoes and step into water—creating the impression that they are walking on Münster’s river.

Ayşe Erkmen, On Water, 2017

By linking two urban spaces, Erkmen questions the sociocultural and sociological effects of city planning. When represented on maps, waterways—whether manmade or natural—indicate geographical boundaries that can restrict pedestrian movement. Opening the city’s harbor to foot traffic, On Water is a consideration of the relationship between city planning and accessibility. Münster’s LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur is also altered—Michael Dean’s Tender Tender establishes a space within a space by installing a large opaque plastic sheet inside the museum’s atrium. Reaching from ceiling to floor, the plastic creates a canopy that alters visitors’ normal movements. Inside the canopy, Dean has sculpted the detritus of city life; trash cans, stickers, painting tape, stones, wires, and grocery bags loosely resemble street lamps and sidewalks.  

Michael Dean, Tender Tender, 2017

Michael Dean, Tender Tender, 2017

Michael Dean, Tender Tender, 2017

documenta 14 and Skulptur Projekte Münster—although they differ in size and scope—attempt to question and reform constructs that have been shaped by Western culture. This attempt, however, can fall short when it is not fully realized. The LGBTQI refugee rights group made a specific statement when they captured Replica of Oath Stone: the dangers of artists and exhibitions addressing inclusivity without unfixing dominant ideological structures in contemporary art that oppress—and in turn “ exoticize”—“others.” Kentucky’s visual arts community is slowly progressing toward a more inclusive future, but exhibition spaces, museums, and cultural institutions are still defined by regional and local ideologies. Germany’s major tourist events of 2017 are marked with failure, but these failures are catalysts for imperative discussions about otherness, globalism, and complicity.

1. Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2002), 138.

2. Paul Wood, The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s) (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012), 53-54.

3. Adam Szymczyk, et. al., The Documenta Reader (Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2017), 22.

4. Szymczyk, The Documenta Reader, 23.

 

Arts

Dark Dualities: David Kenton Kring

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

Oh man, that is so creepy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timid

David Kenton Kring, Timid, 2015, ceramic

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

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

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

David Kenton Kring, Pottery in process, 2017

David Kenton Kring, Face Mugs, 2012-2014

David Kenton Kring, Face Mugs, 2012-2014

David Kenton Kring, Face Mugs, 2012-2014

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

David Kring with Breakdown, 2016

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

Arts

Help Musicians Beat the Blues

“We are a town that likes to say we love our music and we love our musicians, and we support everybody,” says Robbie Morgan, founder of the newly-launched Lexington Musicians’ Emergency Fund. The “but” is implied in her statement, although the implication is clear.  “We kind of leave this one entity (independent musicians) off to the side…if you’re a musician, you’re kind of on your own.”

This shot across the bow of the Lexington cultural scene is more than talk, however, and Morgan now heads a small group of dedicated individuals ready to walk the walk, or, more precisely, flash the cash.

Enter the Lexington Musicians’ Emergency Fund (LMEF), a privately-funded organization designed to pick up the slack for working musicians in need of emergency assistance.

Morgan alludes to recent events involving musicians that struck a little too close to home, triggering a sense of urgency to begin building a safety net.

“That was too many people in town…that are close to suicide, or heroin addiction, or homelessness, or all of the above, and it was just like, ‘this is all just too close’.”

J. Tom Hnatow | Photo credit: Vivian Wang

J. Tom Hnatow, who has been a professional musician for the past decade, is an advisor to LMEF.

“When I lived in D.C., I was lucky enough to have a really helpful support network of people who could help me,” says Hnatow. “I’ve been helped out multiple times. And that culture doesn’t really exist in Lexington yet.”

Morgan set about creating this culture through a fund to serve as a backstop for musicians in need. She began by borrowing ideas from organizations in music cities such as Nashville, Austin, New York and even Louisville.

The Grammy Foundation served as the best model for the Lexington version, which may provide assistance for rent, utilities, food, medical bills, co-pays, deductibles and even tax or legal assistance (although criminal charges and payments on back taxes are not eligible).

Musicians in need apply by contacting the LMEF at weheartmusicians@gmail.com. The application process begins with eligibility qualification, as eligible applicants must (a) have earned seventy-five percent or more of total income during the last five consecutive years from music, (b) have three published/credited works of music, and (c) reside in Fayette or surrounding counties. A volunteer will then reach out the applicant, and requests for funds are put to a small panel of rotating advisors, which reviews the application anonymously to eliminate bias. The panel then makes a recommendation of whether to provide the funds and in what percentage.

The process sounds fairly conservative, at least in terms of disbursement of funds, and that’s before the last stipulation of the funds kicks in: the first 50 percent of the funds approved will be distributed immediately directly to whatever account needs to be settled, etc., but release of the remaining 50 percent of funds may require some legwork and homework on the part of the musician to increase her or his professional profile.

“The caveat to get that last fifty percent is that we’re going to start moving you to do the thing that you need to do in order to get professionalized,” says Morgan, who is quick to stress that these are not major strings attached to the funds. “These are smaller, little steps that start to get you going.”

“The point is not to give out handouts,” says Hnatow. “It’s really for someone who says, ‘I can’t pay rent.’ Once you take that person and you get them beyond that point, you then ask, ‘Okay, do you have insurance on your instruments?’ It’s aiding them to move beyond the spot where they are.”

The idea is to increase the career prospects of the individual as a musician incrementally, hopefully leading to better opportunities and less reliance on community support like the LMEF in the future. This is the secondary goal of the LMEF, to turn out a class of professional musicians who can, in turn, begin to reinforce the local infrastructure. 

“We might wind up having to tweak some of the parameters,” says Morgan. “It might be that we don’t have enough musicians who make seventy-five percent of their income [from music], and we might have to go to fifty percent.”

Robbie Morgan with The Binders | Photo by Zach Selby

The bar is set high initially to make sure the fund is not overburdened from the outset, but the question of long-term sustainability hangs in the air as well. LMEF is a privately-funded organization that relies on donations. It isn’t a standard tax-deductible non-profit, like a 501(c)(3) or similar organizations. If sustainability is a concern, it’s not one that shakes Morgan too heavily for the time being, although she is fully cognizant of what LMEF will need long-term.

“Obviously, with no revenue streams at this point other than donations, it’s going to be a little tricky,” Morgan says. “Eventually, once we start moving people into a proactive landscape, we’re going to use the Creative Capital model.”

Under this model, musicians that move on to greater success would then pay a very small percentage of earnings back into the fund for a period of time. Both Morgan and Hnatow talk about the LMEF in terms of being the first piece of a larger puzzle, with an infrastructure slowly building to make the original function of the LMEF obsolete.

“The goal with something like this is to put yourself out of business,” says Hnatow. “The goal is to become more proactive than reactive.” 

In addition to the funds, applicants and volunteers with LMEF can join a private Facebook group that exists to provide a communications network for musicians in need of assistance or even just advice.

Morgan and Hnatow point to another hoped-for benefit of the LMEF, which is to start coaxing local musicians out of the fabric of Lexington anonymity.

“Part of it will be interesting to discover people who do live here who we may not necessarily have heard of, who are making a living in the arts,” says Hnatow.

“We’re going to discover that there are more musicians in this town than the ones we see at the Green Lantern, because we’re going to find out that there are country musicians, people who write films, people who score theater stuff,” says Morgan. “And you know the exciting thing is this might provide a way for us to see hip-hop artists, Christian musicians, whatever it is…that our community is really big and we’re overwhelmed with requests because we find all these people that we didn’t know existed.”

“If Lexington is going to continue to grow culturally, then we’re going to need things like this,” says Hnatow.  “It’ll never be Nashville, it’ll never be New York, it’ll never be one of those cities, but if you can provide people with something they can’t get somewhere else, that sort of ups its game a lot. If we can be supportive of people who are making a living as musicians, we can grow.”

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Arts

Scene&Heard: Moontower ’17

Under an August sun in the peak of the sultry Kentucky summer, a gathering of great music, interesting art, inspired design and fun-lovin’ people will all come together in Lexington, Kentucky’s Masterson Station Park. For the fourth year, the Moontower Music Festival will fill the air of Central Kentucky with a wide menu of spectacular musical talent.

The brain child of Kaelyn Query and her event management company LexEffect, Moontower Music Festival started four years ago with just four bands and 1,000 folks in attendance.  This year, there will be two stages with fourteen bands in rotation, and Query hopes to top the 7000 who attended last year’s festival.

The desire to “present a new event for Lexington, Kentucky that would fill a niche” was the driver behind the festival’s origin, according to David Helmers, Kaelyn’s partner in creating the Moontower Music Festival for the last two years.

“We didn’t really have a popular music festival here in town” before Moontower, he said, and that’s what the festival is all about: bringing amazing music right into Lexington’s “backyard.”

The 2017 lineup is diverse – “from funk to blues to rock to progressive jam rock to soul to hip hop” – and full of great musical talents, both local and national. The local folks who will be sharing the stage with the touring bands are Daisy Helmuth and her band People Planet, the DeBraun Thomas Trio, Warren Byrom and the Fabled Canelands, and Tyler Childers and his band. They are four of the fourteen bands who will grace the two stages in turn, along with Umphrey’s McGee, Benjamin Booker, Cherub, Todd Snider, The Record Company, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Blackfoot Gypsies, Elise Davis, and Vita and the Woolf.  

Festival organizers have obtained a special noise ordinance waiver to allow them to extend the show until 11:30pm this year, in order to accommodate the sunset and the phenomenal light show that Umphrey’s McGee is promising as the headlining act.  And there are other new additions to this year’s plan for the ever-growing festival, according to Query and Helmers.

Besides bumping up the food options –  nearly 20 food trucks will be on hand, free cold water and more shade tents will be available to fend off that Kentucky sun. Four beverage vendors will be on site this year. West Sixth Brewing and Rhinegeist will be serving cold beer and ciders in cans, Lover’s Leap Vineyards will offer wine, and Old Forester Bourbon will be selling bourbon beverages, including bourbon slushies.

Moontower Music Festival is a grass roots, organic, home grown effort that is intended to include the entire Lexington and Central Kentucky community. A festival that is family, pet and all ages friendly, it also is bringing together different areas of the community into a collective celebration.

This year, the festival has partnered with the UK College of Design and Architecture to create a summer internship opportunity for design students.  Developed offsite all summer, the winning design will be installed as the stages go up and will be on display during the festival. Helmers is hoping this program continues and each year they can display a new Moontower installation.

Also joining in the fun is the UK Art Museum, which will be setting up an onsite art museum with pieces that follow a musical theme.  Some special pieces were commissioned just for the event, and festival goers are encouraged and welcome to view the artwork during the day.

Collectively, Moontower Music Festival and its partners have put together a community-wide event for the people of central Kentucky. Encouraging attendees from all ages and their dogs, they are hoping folks take advantage of the mass of talent available for this day in late August, right here in Lexington. “It’s an important cultural event for Central Ky that we hope is accessible to the community at large.”

Moontower Music Festival is a home-grown, central Kentucky celebration of music, art, design and fellowship. Gates open at 11 am on August 26th, and the show continues all day until 11:30 when Umphrey’s McGee and their light show bring things to a grand finale.  The ticket price increases as the date gets closer so folks are encouraged to purchase early ($45.00 now, $60 at the gate).  Children 12 and under are free, pets are welcome, water is free. 

Arts

Scene&Heard: Rhyan Sinclair

On a bright sunny day near a splashing fountain, folks gathered with their kids and dogs and variety of good foods to eat outside on a Friday night.  A white tent sat beside the fountain where kids cooled their bare feet, pink flowers hanging down and twisting in the breeze.  For the sixth year in a row, Rhyan Sinclair and her band All The Little Pieces began to warm up to play the Richmond Center Summer Concert Series.

On a beautiful day for outdoor live music, everyone clustered together in the shade and waved at familiar faces. Rhyan and her band soon took to the stage next to her ornately decorated merch table, joined by Jeff Bender on bass, Harlan Cecil on guitar, Sherri McGee on drums, her mom Toni Karpinski on backing vocals, and Brandon Bowker on guitar, harmonica, and backing vocals for a few songs.

Unique to her often country repertoire, Rhyan started her set with a cover of Jack White’s “Seven Nation Army.”  Joined in amazing talent by Harlan Cecil on guitar, the two young novices rocked that song with her voice and his electric guitar. She then took the set into diverse directions, playing originals that she wrote and also co-wrote with her mother along with other covers that are staples of her sets, including Loretta Lynn’s Sin City, Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, and her picks from the songbook of her main musical muse, Dolly Parton.

Off stage, Rhyan is a quiet, thoughtful soul, but as soon as she straps on the rhinestone guitar strap that matches her silver cowgirl boots, her musical persona takes over and you would swear Dolly herself is up on that stage. Capturing every subtle nuance that Dolly has, Rhyan is clearly in her most natural environment on that stage.

But she is not limited by genre.  Not at all.  She moves her band effortlessly from country, to rock, to an awesome almost punk version of “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles, a Dolly-esque cover of Neil Young’s “Mother Nature” and even a blues traditional by Albert King “Down Don’t Bother Me”.

Then right back to some country spunk, she belts out Lee Hazelwood’s “These Boots Ain’t Made for Walking,” Lefty Frizzell‘s If You Got the Money, and Dolly’s Applejack. Rhyan is well in tune with her band, whether seasoned musician or young prodigy like herself, All The Little Pieces is a tight band that clearly finds great joy backing Rhyan and all her talent.

Homeschooled since first grade, Rhyan has devoted her life and education to her passion for music.  She writes and composes her own songs, and has already recorded and released three CD’s, all of original songs. 

Her latest CD, The Legend of Lavinia Fisher, is a concept album inspired by a ghost tour in Charleston, SC, where she learned of Livinia, the first female serial killer in the US. She helped create a video to accompany the dark, southern gothic Livinia’s Song. Inspired by her love for Tim Burton, the video pairs well with her voice and lyrics for the song.

Rhyan is also the host of the Kentucky branch of Balcony TV, which her step-father Julian Karpinski produces. 

They record interviews and performances of local and touring bands on various balconies around the area.  This opportunity has allowed Rhyan to meet and collaborate with other local musicans.

Rhyan sings in a trio with other local musicians Melanie Bailey Pauley and Whitney Acke, covering Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Linda Ronstadt in near flawless renditions of the three original women. She also produces a Holiday Benefit for the Foster Care Council every winter that gives her the opportunity to work with other local musicians. Rhyan is hoping to work with more local musicians in the future, and has recently started collaborating on songs with her mother, Toni Karpinski, who also sang at the Richmond Center gig.

It’s clear that Rhyan Sinclair has a very bright future.  Not just for her voice, which is extraordinary in a way that gives you goosebumps when she sings.  But she is clearly a well-rounded musician in all ways. Her lyrics and verses compliment her voice and tell a story of someone you really want to know better.

Rhyan is fortunate to be able to focus so much of her talent into her musical career. Homeschooling “allows me to let the music and the art be such a big part of my life, and I’m so thankful for it.”

Maintaining her own website, managing her career with the help of her parents, recording songs and recording videos to accompany them, one thing is for certain, her focus: “Always music.”  

Rhyan Sinclar is a Kentucky talent who will endure and go far in the music world.

Arts

Duane Lundy’s Crossfade Moment

At first blush, it looks like a regular house, albeit a large and imposing one, but nothing externally gives the casual observer any indication of what takes place inside. The cinder blocks under the porch bear the dark stains of benign neglect. A small parking area might as well be a standard driveway for multiple occupants. There is no sign to denote the home of Shangri-La Productions, the local recording studio where a man by the name of Duane Lundy plies his trade.

Photo by Brian Powers

This is probably for the better. Lundy is not the sort of man to call attention to himself, despite a career that has seen an extraordinary ascending trajectory from home recording hobbyist to respected producer and collaborator, locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. That career may reach a new milestone on September 15th, when a new album by former Beatle Ringo Starr will hit the shelves (both digitally and analog…ly). On that album are two collaborations between Starr and local/national act Vandaveer, with Duane Lundy credited as the producer for both. Is this his moment?

Sitting half off a small set of steps behind the house on a sunny July day, Lundy is attired in black Converse All-Stars, black jeans, a black shirt with round Lennon sunglasses folded into the collar, and his trademark black fedora, a portrait of unflappable cool in the unyielding heat. The sense one gets is not that he’s trying to stand out so much as that he’s just outside his natural habitat.  Once he retreats into the sparsely lit confines of his home cum studio, his uniform makes more sense against the backdrop of a space designed to summon creative energies.

Photo By Brian Powers

Shangri-La Productions is not your average studio. The studio itself is a creative reimaging of the first floor of a large Victorian house. Where bespoke studios have a master control room and carefully divided spaces for enhanced sound isolation, Shangri-La favors a connected set of open rooms for collaboration, with all controls as the focus of what might have once been a magnificent sitting room with a fire place. The only “studio” decoration staples are the large oriental rugs adorning the hardwood floors, but everywhere hang bolts of various patterns of shimmering cloth and strings of white lights, giving an aura of comfort, and at times resembling a carnival. Vintage keyboards, amps, drums and guitars line the walls and halls. The atmosphere is immensely inviting to musicians, and that is by design.

“The pieces of work that I grew up on and studied a lot on were Zeppelin albums and U2 albums and Bob Dylan albums,” Lundy says. “Most of those albums were done in alternative spaces, you know, like [The] Joshua Tree, or Zeppelin albums in particular, Exile on Main Street… so I really found a lot of romanticism with the idea of being able to create a unique space that people felt comfortable in that was lived in, and also that it was a little bit sort of out of the template.”

If his studio aesthetic took cues from his favorite albums, his work process gained inspiration closer to home: Lundy’s former life as a tennis coach. That’s where he met Emily Hagihara, currently of Lexington staple Ancient Warfare, and formerly of Chico Fellini, a standout of the Lexington scene in which Lundy played guitar. At the time, however, she was a high school student taking tennis lessons where Lundy worked, and she believes that his experiences as a coach informs the way he approaches recording.

“He’s very much a coach, in a way,” Hagihara says. “He makes you feel welcome, and he encourages you to explore, but also makes you focus.”

Emily Hagihara | Photo by Cassie Lopez

“I know that I’ve gone into the studio several times and second-guessed a thing, and he just sort of makes you concentrate on doing that thing until it either works or it doesn’t. He’s just very pragmatic.”

Hagihara is part of Lundy’s increasing repertoire of consistent collaborators for mutual benefit. Her long musical history with Lundy has led to a harmonious working relationship over the past ten years or so.

“He likes, as well as I do, things that are a little rough around the edges, but I think we also like the juxtaposition or the marriage of those things that are rough but also beautiful, and figuring out how to make those two things work together,” Hagihara says.

The Lexington artist and songwriter Patrick McNeese, whose band has recorded several projects at Shangri La and is now in the process of another, credits Lundy for influencing the direction of the music scene in Lexington. “Writing a song, in many ways, is simply an invitation for other artists to contribute to the creation of a fully developed and engaging work of art. Duane is foremost another artist, one who understands this intricate and highly personal process and he has been able to develop the skills and temperament to achieve a consistently good outcomes in his studio. This is his unparalleled contribution to Lexington’s music and recording landscape.”

Patrick McNeese | Photo by Rebecca Powell

Lundy’s journey to his current role as Lexington’s music shaman took a circuitous route, with him getting a much later start than most music lifers.

“I was twenty-two and had never played an instrument before, and had always loved music,” Lundy says. “So, in starting late, I was pretty certain that being in a band or playing with other musicians that were my age was not going to be a possibility. So at the same time I got my first guitar, I also got a four-track [recorder].” 

Learning to play music alongside absorbing the fundamentals of recording allowed Lundy to gain an understanding of music from the perspective of writing and production, rather than just as a musician.

“I ended up learning really quick, which I think had a lot to do with just sort of my obsession with music,” Lundy says, “So I ended up being in bands within the first, I’d say, six months that I was starting to play.” 

For Lundy, learning to be a musician was great…

“But I really loved recording,” Lundy says.

Photo by Brian Powers

Later, after a business venture with his ex-wife ended, Lundy was at a crossroads, a not uncommon place for musicians to find themselves (see Johnson, Robert, or Clapton, Eric). It was then that his burgeoning hobby began to take shape as a career.

“A really good friend of mine who had actually taught me how to play guitar had moved from Lexington to Miami to become a music supervisor at an ad agency. So he would send me work, and that really was a pretty big crossfade* moment in my development from being sort of a local or regional recordist to doing stuff that was going to reach a more critical ear,” Lundy says.

From there, Lundy’s career as a recording engineer, mixer and producer took off, handling commercial work for various media platforms, work that saw him travel to studios nationally and internationally, honing his skills.

“There were moments where I contemplated moving to an industry market –  be it Nashville, or Los Angeles…New York. Wherever…the work is a bit more plentiful.” 

In the end, Lexington remained home, largely due to family considerations: his son, 17, and his daughter, 15, who both reside in the area.

Here’s the part where it would be easy to now try to paint Lundy as a martyr, an outsized talent duty-bound to lead a life less fitting than his skills deserve, but it’s all but impossible to nail him to that particular cross.  He doesn’t disseminate an air of self-pity or remorse for the path that he could have taken if only he could shake these little town blues; he can state matter-of-factly that Lexington is not entirely ideal as an industry town, but there’s never a sense of bitterness or confinement.

“I love Lexington,” Lundy says, and there’s not a single note of hesitation. “It has certainly created a set of challenges for me geographically, because, you know, there’s really no infrastructure of industry – music industry – here.” 

He could be a fixture in an industry-driven town, but Lundy credits the disconnect from the larger industry as a motivation for his success; he is less susceptible to trends and stagnation than if he were tapped directly in to the industry undercurrent.

“Not being in an industry town, being in a place like this, I really don’t know what the latest way that guys in Nashville are miking their drum kits,” Lundy says. ”But I like it. I think naivety is immensely important in keeping your creative flow interesting and productive.”

Lexington, however, is slowly accumulating industry credibility, if not music infrastructure, and it’s due in large part to Lundy and Shangri-La, as J. Tom Hnatow, a recording engineer, producer and musician at Shangri-La and member of Vandaveer, points out.

J. Tom Hnatow | Photo: Lithophyte

“It’s put Lexington on the map,” Hnatow says. “There’s been a level of recognition nationally and internationally. This city has been able to punch above its weight.”

Hnatow speaks from experience on that point, having been lured from more urban centers to Lexington by Lundy with the promise of work at Shangri La.

“As a professional musician, I would have not seen myself moving to Lexington if not for Duane.” 

As proof of Lundy’s expanding influence, Hnatow points to figures such as Justin Craig, who came up as a session player with Lundy and has since worked on Broadway as Music Director for “Hedwig and the Angry Itch,” among other high-profile projects.

“In Lexington, the number of people here working as a session musician is unusual for a city this size.”

The list of Lexington figures now achieving some sort of recognition on a national stage and beyond who have worked with Lundy is growing daily: Cheyenne Mize, Ben Sollee, Jim James of Louisville heroes My Morning Jacket and even newly-minted Grammy Award winner Sturgill Simpson, whose former band Sunday Valley recorded an album with Lundy before Simpson went solo.

After watching others ascend to new heights with a little help from his guidance, the spotlight may soon be focused more brightly on Lundy himself. Production credit for two cuts on a Ringo Starr album surely should bring attention to Lundy and his work, yet he downplays the suggestion that this a watershed moment for him, noting that he’s worked with legacy artists** such as Cheap Trick and others in the past. When pressed, he’ll admit to a degree of validation in the work, but he isn’t looking for the trappings of musical fame. Instead, Lundy frames his circumspect take on musical stardom with characteristic pragmatism.

“I love music to a degree that I wanted to continue to do it professionally, and I saw this as a means to continue to do it,” Lundy says. “And it just so happened I fell in love with doing it.”

“I really like what I do, and I like to think that I’ll spend the rest of my life doing it.  And that people will enjoy the time that we’ve had to work together and the people who get to listen to it, whoever that is, will enjoy what we did. No more, no less.”

‘If I reach a point to where it’s not fun anymore, then I won’t do it. Because there’s other things that you can do and make less sacrifice for.” 

Duane Lundy doesn’t need to be a rock star. He’s not jealous of the ascendency of those with whom he has collaborated. He’s content as the black-clad figure at the controls in his own personal Shangri-La, radiating calm in the center of Lexington’s growing musical storm.

*For those unaccustomed to the recording lexicon, a crossfade is a transition between sound clips, where one clip fades out as another fades in.

**A professional way of saying “rock star.”

Arts

Beyond Twangy: Southern Accent at the Speed Museum

Three current exhibitions in Louisville, Kentucky offer an opportunity to assess a southern aesthetic in the visual arts. Two of the three shows define their topics narrowly, providing a specific critical viewpoint. The third invites something altogether different.

“Provoking the Uncanny: Ralph Eugene Meatyard”  (Schneider Hall Galleries, University of Louisville, through August 14th), curated by Hunter Kissel, zeroes in on Freudian implications of the Lexington photographer’s use of blurred and prolonged exposures while photographing masks, dolls, as well as child and adolescent models. Meatyard’s inventive Southern Gothic conveys the combination of fright and anxiety Freud believed arose from recognition of imagery associated with traumatic memories of a childhood long suppressed in the subconscious. The psychoanalytic concept of the uncanny provides a fresh critical view of Meatyard’s ability to tap into a hallucinatory merging of reality and fantasy.

Comparably focused is “Southern Elegy: Photographs from the Stephen Reily Collection” (Speed Art Museum through October 14th). Reily assembled a connoisseur’s selection of Louisiana-centric images starting from the premise that “southern photography is often inspired by its own sense of captured memory, self-aware of the losses that underlie the landscape before us as well as target the losses that will transform it once again.” Staving off oblivion is a risky endeavor, but the collection evades the obvious risk of mawkishness, first through the extraordinary quality of the work, and secondly through the selection of photographs which are broadly poetic representations of the South rather than documents. The most affecting photograph in the collection is Sally Mann’s sun-struck shot of the bank of the Tallahatchie River where the murdered body of Emmett Till was heaved into the water. Mann has written that she finds the South “death-haunted, pain-haunted, just haunted, period…I was looking for images of the dead as they are revealed in the land and in its adamant renewal.”   “Provoking the Uncanny” and “Southern Elegy” are both tightly conceived, coherent bodies of work that provide excellent complements to their larger counterpart.

In contrast, “Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art” (also at the Speed Art Museum through October 14th) is a grandly multifarious affair, an exhibition that leads in multiple directions. It promulgates, in its various threads, the argument that the South is in the throes of revolutionary evolution. Yet, the exhibition’s ambitions go beyond simply tracking that rapid change: the mind, the culture, the zeitgeist, the possible personal meanings of “the South,” are addressed through the works of art, the accompanying audio library of southern music, and the 275-page catalogue, which variously includes scholarly essays, artists’ statements, poetry, anecdote, a cultural chronology, a music library, and a reading list. The show broaches “the complex and contested concept of the American South through the lens of contemporary art” in this sweeping (and ultimately affectionate) effort at “enacting and interrogating southern identity.”

The title “Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art” is therefore not about a distinguishing twang, but accentuation on a trenchant and consequential moment in American art played out in a particular region of the United States. Time is not a continuum in this show, but a mechanism for looping back to the past – not as the object of a long, fond, lingering look, but as a departure point that posits a more benign future. And unlike earlier regionalisms, the art seldom aims to find the universal in the local, but rather to demarcate and hail its particularities.

The co-curators, Miranda Lash of the Speed Art Museum and Trevor Schoonmaker of the Nasher Art Museum at Duke University, subvert the magisterial authority of the curatorial voice in resetting the parameters of inquiry into American regionalism, and reformulating traditional imagery of southern identity. There is no acoustic guide sequence for touring this exhibition, allowing for individual pathways of discovery. To me, it prompted a train of musings about nature and sense of place, cool and anti-cool, art as witness, speaking truth to power, and finally, the possibility of prototypes for a new sectional iconography.

Thornton Dial, 1928-2016, Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers, steel, wood, wire, twine, artificial flowers, ax blade, glass bottles, animal bones, cloth, tin cans, paint can lids, and enamel 76 x 138 x 46 inches, Courtesy of the Artist and the William S. Arnett Collection of Souls Grown Deep Foundation, Atlanta, Georgia, © 2017 Estate of Thornton Dial / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The introductory work in the exhibition sets the tone for much of what follows: Thornton Dial’s “Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers” is a screen relief as rigorous and formally elegant as any by the late Sir Anthony Caro. A self-taught (or indigenous) artist, Dial arranged wrought iron floral plumes on the screen, adding to this scavenged assemblage plastic flowers, an ax blade, animal bones, glass bottles, tin cans, paint can lids, enamel paint and scraps of cloth. Some of these additions are associated with traditional African-American burial practices and are believed to have protective powers. Dial’s sculpture performs a sacerdotal memorial to the creativity as well as the dangerous lives of African-American steel workers. At Sloss Furnace National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama, where Dial lived, one learns that black workers had the hottest, most arduous and most dangerous tasks in the foundry. Sloss Furnace is locally believed to be haunted because of the many workers’ deaths during its years of operation (1882-1971).

“Monument to the Minds of the Little Negro Steelworkers,” in aesthetic disguise, conjures up a propitiatory tribute to marginalized mill hands. In the broader context of southern icons, Dial turns on its head the clichéd views of New Orleans’ French Quarter balconies and transforms associations with the conventionally picturesque into a potent argument for the moral intelligence and pertinence of a disparate group of repurposed objects.

Sense of place is not directly addressed in this exhibit but it is continually manifest in the imagery of climate and vegetation. The searing, unforgiving intensity of summer sun and heat is conveyed in Benny Andrews’ fabric collage of a stalwart woman passing a row of workers’ cabins, her black obelisk-shaped shadow competing for attention with the figure herself. Like heat, vegetation is a place marker but there are no grand allées of live oaks festooned with Spanish moss and no genteel borders of azalea. Plant life is mystically profuse in the wonderful pairing of watercolors by Walter Anderson and crayon drawings by Minnie Evans. Jim Roche’s photographs with text and Howard Finster’s tree of life “vision of the angels feed on the fruit of a farren [sic] land” share a vitalist sense of a benevolent plant world. These stand in contrast to the malevolent, inexorable advance of kudzu in photographs by William Christenberry or the eerie algae scum in Jessica Ingram’s forbidding photo of a cypress swamp.

Southern Accents: Seeking The American South in Contemporary Art, Speed Art Museum, FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Henry Harrrison Mayes, Untitled, n.d.; Howard Finster, Vision of the Angels – Honey Without Bees; William Christenberry, Building with False Brick Siding, Warsaw, Alabama, 4 photographs, 1974-1994; Benny Andrews, Down the Road, 1971; Romare Bearden, Profile, Part 1, The Twenties: Mecklenburg County, Sunset Limited, 1978; Romare Bearden, Watching the Good Trains Go By, 1964, FOREGROUND (Left) Beverly Buchanan, 1940-2015, Family Tree House, 2009, cedar and acrylic, 2009, 17x10x14.5 inches, Courtesy of the Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York, New York (right), Moonshine Man’s House, wood, 12×16.75×18.5 inches, Courtesy of the Andrew, Edlin Gallery, New York, New York Installation View Photo Credit: TL Dickman

The uses and moods of a pressing natural world find little concordance with depictions of the built environment. Over 50 of the 125 works in the exhibition feature structures of some sort, but outdoor views vastly outnumber interiors. Neighborhood, family and street life vanished: boarded up after Katrina, obstructed by segregation, wealth or ethnic distinctions, or abandoned because of economic shifts, misplaced governmental policies, or migration away from the South.

Beverly Buchanan’s miniature cabins made of scrap wood are cenotaphs – tomblike monuments- for generations dispersed from farmland but poignantly and equivocally are also loci of longing for a fixed and familiar home place, however impoverished. Douglas Bourgeois’ ironic interiors-without-walls, as in “American Address,” depict in hallucinogenic detail the unreality of that pining. Curator Trevor Schoonmaker observes “the acts of leaving and coming home seem an integral and commonplace part of southern life.”

Douglas Bourgeois, b. 1951, American Address, 2006, oil on panel, 20 x 16.75 inches, Private Collection

I perceive another sub-theme in the expression of cool and anti-cool. First used by jazz musician Lester Young in the 1940s, “cool” denotes a defiant assertion of individuality, independence, and rebellion. Cool is sartorially resplendent in Barkley Hendricks’s 1971 painting, “Downhome Taste”, and echoes the theme of black masculine empowerment in Blaxploitation films of the same era – downward tilted hat, sunglasses, cigarette, leather jacket and woven belt – costumed as if in a film still. Cool exists on a continual gradient. In Fahamu Pecou’s self-portrait as a high-stepping vaudeville performer, the words CHIT’LIN CIRCUIT celebrate the show people of that segregated tour while an Outkast lyric sprayed across the top of the canvas offers an ironic comment on the circumstances of those performers’ lives. Pecou’s engagement with an obsolete version of cool induces a searching dialogue with historical versions of black male identity.

Cool as a personal style, a way of being in relation to a particular time and place, is deeply interwoven and intrinsic to Southern identities. Hats, headdresses, and hair-dos proclaim the with-it-ness of those depicted as in Willie Birch’s monumental and joyous drawings of the Storyville Stompers Brass Band and Second Line and the Big Nine Social Aid and Pleasure Club. Anti-cool is signaled again and again in the exhibition by hats: helmets, snap-brims, police caps and Klan hoods. Although the concept of cool is historically African-American, the inextricable mix of southern identity and cool go beyond the black-white binary. Diego Camposeco’s portrait of a fifteen-year-old Mexican-American North Carolinian in a flouncy blue gown is one example of how “southerner” now has multiple modifiers beyond African-American or Caucasian. Other ethnicities and sexual orientations manifested in the exhibition include Native American southerner, Afro-Native American southerner, Vietnamese-American southerner and lesbian southerner. Multiple cool southern identities are conjoined in Jeff Whetstone’s portrait of “Caitlin,” a teenage hunter, posed in the woods wearing camouflage, shotgun across her lap, made up with polished fingernails, lipstick, eyeliner and pearl earrings.

Art as witness and speaking truth to power parallel different concepts of self outlined above: there is an implicit revolutionary bias in many of the guises adopted in “Southern Accents” portraits. Of all the adversarial forces to be overcome – hurricanes, economic hardships, prejudices, or, for some, godlessness – racism takes center stage. In terms of visual imagery the archetype is the Civil Rights protests of the last half of the 20th century. Two contrasting marches, seen in Michael Galinsky’s chilling edit of 1987 video footage, “The Day the KKK Came to Town,” and Hank William Thomas’ installation of sixteen photographs on mirrored surfaces of the Bloody Sunday march in 1965, encapsulate curator Lash’s description of “the region’s layered history of racism and oppression.”  Speaking truth to power underlies William Cordova’s “Silent Parade: Or the Soul Rebels Band Vs. Robert E. Lee,” a video depicting the jazz troupe’s musical jeer at the New Orleans monument to the Confederate general. (The monument has since been removed).

Finally, there are works in the exhibition that invite (at least theoretically) performance and decoding: set as stage sets, like good drama, they offer if not a healing catharsis, then the extended reflection that follows adept provocation. The struggle against privileged legacies takes many forms. Theaster Gates’ “Soul Food Rickshaw for Collard Greens and Whiskey,” a beautifully crafted pushcart made in part from recycled desk drawers, is a rolling tabernacle for a ritual African-American meal. It is accompanied by two stools implying shared sustenance.

Sonya Clark, b. 1967, Unraveling, 2015-present, Cotton Confederate battle flag and unraveled threads, edition 2/10, 70 x 36 x 7 inches, Courtesy of the Artist

Sonya Clark’s “Unraveling’ is a Confederate flag, the threads of which have been picked asunder to straggling tatters. Part of the magic of Clark’s invention is that we are accustomed to seeing ragged and worn flags in history museums. Clark signals that a new battle has been enjoined and new purposes may be found for the salvaged threads. In his interactive video projection, Hank Willis Thomas recolors the Confederate battle flag into the colors of pan-African liberation, black, red and green. There is a microphone placed before the screen. The video morphs into kaleidoscopic star bursts when the viewer sings along with Thomas’ playlist of R&B classics, thereby enlisting the viewer as part of the implied call to action.

Hank Willis Thomas, b. 1976, Black Righteous Space (Southern Edition) 2012, DVD (Play list and video installation), microphone and Mac Mini, runtime continuous, Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York

More complicated metaphors provide syntax for a subtly inflected diction of psychological emancipation. “Southern Comfort” by Sam Durant juxtaposes a gray army blanket, an ax handle and a pint of the sickly sweet liquor, Southern Comfort. A symbol of staunch segregationism, ax handles were given away by Georgia Governor Lester Maddox at his fried chicken restaurant. The Confederate gray of the blanket and the Currier and Ives steamboat on the Southern Comfort label collude to cast into doubt the universality of the concepts of southern hospitality and comfort to strangers.

Radcliffe Bailey, b. 1968, Up From, 2015, Canvas tarpaulin, velvet, Georgia clay, wood, rock, thread, rum and tobacco, 132×72 inches, canvas tarpaulin, velvet, Georgia clay, wood, rock, metal, thread, rum, and tobacco; 132 x 72 inches Courtesy of the artist and the Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, New York

Radcliffe Bailey, Up From, 2015. Detail Photo Credit: TL Dickman

Radcliffe Bailey’s “Up From” is a canvas tarp rubbed with Georgia red clay dirt, Caribbean rum and tobacco, like African sculptures encrusted with sanctifying liquids, but also substances associated with the history of slave labor. An iridescent black head wearing a battered top hat sits on a rock in the upper half, like an intercessor or divine guide for the tracks or ladders stenciled on the tarp. Miranda Lash associates the diverse array of symbols stitched on the tarp with signs from the “Underground Railroad, Yoruba and Kongo cosmology, Haitian Veve  and black Southern artists and craftsmen.” The title may reference Booker T. Washington’s 1901 autobiography “Up From Slavery,” which advocated black advancement through skilled trades. The ladder and snake imagery on the tarp may also reference the ancient board game, Snakes and Ladders,  in which players endure the perils of continual reversals and slipping backwards from the start (bottom square) to the finish (top square) – a potent metaphor for the uncertainties of black American lives in the 20th and 21st centuries.

On May 17, 2017, the statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from its pedestal in New Orleans. On that occasion, Mayor Mitch Landrieu remarked, “I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us…Centuries-old wounds are still raw because they never healed right in the first place…We justify our silence by manufacturing noble causes that marinate in historical denial.” Surely his statements go a long way to explaining the reasons for and the power of this show.

In effect, the slate is clean and cleared for a new iconography of the South. Does “Southern Accent” offer a proto-history of that stylistic evolution?  Think of Eastern Europe after Glasnost, South Africa in the Mandela Era, or Ireland in the years leading to and after their Civil War with the revival of the Gaelic language, popular song, the Abbey Theater, the paintings of Jack Yeats. If the American South were a foreign country (and it some ways it is), it might be easier to recognize the pivotal character of the present moment.

“Southern Accent: Seeking the American South in Contemporary Art” is foundational, essential viewing for anyone with an interest in regional American art and culture.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Moontower Fest | Rhyan Sinclair

Cara Blake Coppola’s latest Scene&Heard column previews the Lexington summer celebration and reviews singer-songwriter Rhyan Sinclair and All the Little Pieces.

Moontower Music Festival 2017

Check out Cara’s preview of this amazing day of music, art, design and fun at Lexington’s Masterson Station Park.


Rhyan Sinclair and All the Little Pieces

Cara reviews Lexington singer-songwriter Rhyan Sinclair.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Derek Spencer

Sometimes, there’s just that singer with that voice. That is Derek Spencer, the man behind The Rooster’s Crow.

With a deep, soulful voice that immediately demands a crowd’s attention, Spencer’s lyrics draw you into a world of spirituality and sin, and a life of a different, lost time. 

Infusing his image-rich lyrics with an Eastern Kentucky upbringing in the small town of Beattyville, Spencer’s music delivers the room to a time of moonshine and stills, Bibles and damnation, and rich a capella hymns that echo through the hills of Appalachia.

Having had various incarnations over the last eight years, The Rooster’s Crow met in its most recent and steadfast form on the night of July 1 at Willie’s Locally Known to debut Winter’s Limbs, a CD encompassing the first era of Derek Spencer’s musical career. 

With Maggie Lander on fiddle and harmony vocals, Chip Minks on bass and Spencer’s cousin Justin Wall on drums, Derek and the band gave the packed house a fun, loud, tight quality night of great Eastern Kentucky talent.  “I think for a couple of country boys and girls, we did pretty good.”

Growing up in a small town of 1,100, Spencer was the boy by his mom’s side in a tiny fundamentalist congregation ministered by his uncle.  His mom “was the lady in the church that always sang a little louder than the rest of the congregation, and she had a beautiful voice.”  He gives credit for his love of singing to his mother and that voice, rising up over the others in the a capella hymns.  This influence is the foundation for his music in The Rooster’s Crow.

“I’ve always had a passion for old-timey, Scotch-Irish music, and the concepts that are associated with it.  Some kind of spirituality, which, being from Eastern Kentucky I’m very familiar with. It’s a big part of Appalachian culture…people’s religion. And I’ve always, like so many people from the area, had a conflicting relationship with it. I think these songs are just a manifestation of that. There is a big presence of God but there’s a big presence of doubt, too.”

Many of Spencer’s first songs took the form of poetry until he discovered Jean Ritchie and realized he could more fully express himself through music.

“Eleanor’s Ghost” was his first song and poem; the tale of a lamented murder of passion, and the inevitable haunting that became of it.  Murder ballads are Appalachian gold, and heavily prevalent in The Rooster’s Crow repertoire.

From there Spencer fell heavily into the songs of Townes Van Zandt, which opened his mind to the power of rich lyricism – and his songs are full of them.

Also working on a solo record that he hopes to begin recording soon, Derek Spencer follows in the footsteps of his idols with a trove of intense songs.

Winter’s Limbs is the culmination of Spencer’s first eight years of writing and performing his songs. His band has performed them together and were clearly excited to share the CD with a crowd.  The room was full of fans and family and friends, and many stood behind the tables the entire show to move with the rhythm, and dance with Derek and Maggie and the band as they made music for everyone. 

With Lander on backing vocals and fiddle their voices blend to create a dark, spiritual world that takes you with them. For a few songs Josh Nolan joined the proceedings on guitar and vocals, crowding the stage with solid talent. A few covers were shared as well, including Johnny Cash’s “If You were a Lady” as an encore.

It was a good night for Derek Spencer. The house was packed until the last song was played; merch was sold; CD’s signed; and lots of friends got hugs.

“It went really well” he commented after, with a humble smile. Another gem in Lexington’s rich music scene.

Folks, check your favorite live music calendar, get out of the house, enjoy and support. There’s something for everyone in Lexington’s music scene.

Arts

Scene&Heard: Scott Whiddon

 On July 22nd at The Green Lantern, Lexington will be treated to a unique show of some of the city’s best and diverse talent.  The occasion is the official release of Scott Whiddon’s first solo CD project, In Close Quarters with the Enemy.

Scott is among the many who have come to proudly call Lexington home.  A professor at Transylvania in the Writing, Rhetoric, and Communication program, Scott has been an active part in the local music since he moved here in the mid-2000’s. A member of Palisades, along with Neil Bell and Mark Richardson, Scott has also been in The Wags, and has performed with other locals at several fundraising shows around town over the last few years.

The new album of originals is a “batch of songs that kind of didn’t fit” with any of the other projects.  So, he decided he needed a solo record. “I’ve always been a band guy…but I’ve always been a band guy in someone else’s band.”

Produced and recorded with J. Tom Hnatow, along with Robby Cosenza and Cecilia Wright, In Close Quarters with the Enemy showcases Whiddon’s strong literary and composition background. The title quotes the Walt Whitman poem, Democratic Vistas. His voice is low-key, a much softer timbre than is found in the music he plays with Palisades.  He tells the listener a story, carrying through vivid images and visceral sensory descriptions that one can almost feel, touch, and taste.

Listen: Faster Than We Hoped

Scott is a storyteller, and his songs are stories that invite the listener along with an easy approach.  His soft steady voice creates a picture, like the Catskill mountains in “Holidays.”  The light guitar creates a pace for walking along with him as he describes the setting, the “empty pools and rusted carousels.” The listener can feel what the characters feel. His guitar is joined comfortably with the music of Hnatow, Cosenza and Wright, creating a setting and mood for each song.

Whiddon speaks reverentially of Hnatow and Cosenza and Wright, as a brain trust of talent that provided a foundation for his songs, which is fitting, as Whiddon speaks often in carpentry metaphors.  In tribute to his father, the maker of the door he used for a desk, which is the name of Scott’s artistic website (ADoorforaDesk.com), he sees songwriting and creativity as a craft.  “You get a hammer and a nail and a saw, and you make a thing…”

“I don’t believe in inspiration,” says Whiddon, “I just don’t. I think it’s a bullshit word.” Rather, he sees creativity and songwriting as a craft. “I try to block off “x” amount of time every day, and that time can wax and wane depending on what’s going on. You sit there, at the same place, with the same tools every day and you throw your antennae up.”  It’s a commitment, and you have to be willing to put in the work. “For me it’s all about craft, rather than any sort of inspirational artistic mysticism,” he says.

Scott has been putting together shows with his fellow local musicians to benefit Habitat for Humanity, honoring the elder Whiddon’s dedication to the organization’s works in the last decade of his life.  The first was a Velvet Underground charity show at The Burl with Robby Cosenza, Kim Smith, Tim Welch, Willie Eames and Sam McWilliams. Two months ago he held a Pink Floyd show at Cosmic Charlie’s, recreating the entire Dark Side of the Moon album with Kevin Holm-Hudson, Mark Richardson, Thomas Hatton, Jim Gleason and others.  More Habitat benefit shows will follow, with two already in the works.

Scott attributes much of his contribution to a deep bench of talent in such a small city, with so many great songwriters, technicians, musicians. Considering the “Ratio of talent to numbers…we’re lucky.”

Indeed.

Come out and support some of this Lexington talent on Saturday July 22nd.  The Volare String Quartet will open the evening with a set of experimental classical music.  Then Scott will take the stage, solo at first, later to be joined by Cosenza, Hnatow,Wright and Jimmy Early of Frigid Kitty. Italian Beaches will close out the night; a unique line-up curated by Whiddon himself. 

The Green Lantern is located at 497 W 3rd St. Lexington, Kentucky

(Photo credit: Ann Sydney Taylor Photography | Album Cover by Neil Bell)

Arts

Helene Steene: An Aegean Journey

In her artist’s statement, Lexington mixed media artist Helene Steene says she is intrigued by “the tension between forms, lines, and colors that ultimately can resolve in harmony.”  She is also captivated by the resistance of the wood on which she works, to which she can apply multiple layers of glazed oils, attach strips of sanded metal, and into which she can hammer roofing nails if she pleases (and she does).  She works boldly, never from a palette, mixing her colors directly on the prepared surface to create depth and to allow her medium to take her where it will. 

Steene is tenacious and extremely sensitive in her approach to making art: “If my work can slow someone down to contemplate something within her or himself – if the work can add a moment of focus on their inner peace in this absurd world – then I have reached the viewer.  We, the viewer and the mark maker, would be connected through that ephemeral magic that is all around, as I am convinced that one’s range of intellect is so trivial in the face of greater mysteries.”

Helene Steene with Work in Progress | Photo by Jim Fields

One of these “greater mysteries” is fully embodied in her Moon Sentinel I.  I was smitten by its transcendental glow as I stood in her studio and gazed at it.  Socrates was the first to insist that the moon is made of stone, and so is Steene’s—white marble, or marble dust to be exact, which gives it its pitted luminosity, creating a tranquil tension akin to the moon’s gravitational force on the earth’s tides.

Moon Sentinel I (7’ x 4’)

The magical effect of the marble dust and the peacefulness of the blues, turquoise, and greens stand in sharp contrast to the reflective pieces of metal symmetrically placed on each side of the moon, creating a gateway into the night sky. Even though night’s guardian stands guarded, it still has the power to stir our innermost spiritual natures, to “pull” us in. 

The artist’s orbs do no less. We usually don’t think of circles and squares as being necessarily complementary, (square peg in a round hole) but because they are considered traditional forms that most artist work with, Steene challenged herself to create a structural harmonious relationship between the two. Her mission was accomplished with her orb series which include Oculus 1 & 2.

Oculus 1 (48” x 48”)

Oculus 2 (48” x 48”)

They, like the moon sentinels, are also intriguing studies in symmetry and mystery. You may see an eye when you look at them or you may see a planet at the very core suspended in a square universe.  Be what they may, the artist stays true to her philosophic intent by granting her viewer the latitude that frees the “ephemeral magic” to take precedence over “one’s range of intellect,” and to open the door to a more personal experience and connection with her art. 

Steene’s finely-tuned process figures prominently into her success as an abstract impressionist.  She applies thin layers of liquin oil, or glaze, which stay wet allowing for extended manipulation as she sprinkles on powdered pigments made from crushed minerals. The intense colors you see in Aegean Nine as well as Aegean Blue Fresco I are the result of building up the canvas with the desired mix of pigments and oil, glazing layer upon layer until the desired effect is achieved. Consequently, the word fresco appears in many of her titles.

Aegean Nine Beaufort (48”x42”)

She states, “If I go too dark, I can sand back between the layers of colors to get to the marble dust to bring out more of the luminosity. So a very blue piece may actually have 20 different layers of blues on it and because it is applied in different ways and sanded off in different ways, it glows. The light actually travels through and the translucence remains regardless of the number of layers.”  She uniquely refers to this occurrence as “the linguistics of light.”

Aegean Blue Fresco I (48”x42”)

The Aegean paintings and Antiquity Dive I & II do not possess the symmetry of the moons and orbs. But they do demonstrate an impressionable delicate balance, vertically and horizontally, created by the irregular size and placement of the metal plates and strips on the canvases as well as the irregular lines (or horizons) that establish the spatial relationship between the striking combination and mixtures of brilliant colors.

You may even reel a little as you look at the Antiquity Dives and are pulled into the depths of their raw, natural beauty. The metal at the bottom of the composition is almost like a thin barrier reef protecting the viewer from these sometimes foreboding and potentially destructive elements but without creating a sense of detachment or alienation from the scene. The effect is a bit like snorkeling—where you are still able to safely breathe as you immerse yourself and become a part of what you see.

Antiquity Dive I (7’x4’)

Antiquity Dive II (7’x4’)

If you detect a slight Rothko feel in some of Steene’s art, you would not be wrong. She says she has recently come to appreciate the simplicity of his work and employs some of his techniques.  Yet in that simplicity, there is a certain complexity that makes her work particularly expressive and engaging for her viewers. Other influences include Kenzo Okada, a Japanese/American painter who uses encaustic, a translucent wax, to lend a mysterious layering to his art.  And she admires the paintings of contemporaries such as Richard Diebenkorn and Marsha Meyers in addition to the old masters like Titian and Vermeer because of their use of color and glazing.  Her mastery, however, is guided by her intuition, training, personal life experiences, and observations of nature.

Steene was born in Sweden and lived in other parts of Europe (England, Germany, Spain, and Greece) before coming to the U.S. in 1976 where she received part of her art education at George Washington University in Washington, D. C., and then obtained her MFA from the University of Kentucky in 2004.

Although she has lived in Lexington since the early 80s and is enchanted by the beauty of the Bluegrass, Greece is her passion and has been her source of inspiration for the last thirty-two years. It’s the call of the Aegean—the wine red sea of Homer, and of Helios—the god of the sun who drives his chariot daily across the Grecian skies.  It’s the call of Asclepius—the god of healing, and the call of her summer home on the island of Paros, known for its fine-grained, semi-translucent, pure white marble.

The Wine Red Sea, Paros (12”x12”)

In a portion of her statement for her Aegean Echoes exhibit at the Headley-Whitney Museum in the fall of 2013, Steene speaks of Paros as “A place where I have experienced great passion and a place where I asked for a divorce. A place where my child learned to swim like a fish and the place of utmost sadness when the sea took my best friend’s child. A place where I skinny dip in the golden sea when the rising morning sun comes flashing over the water . . . a sea that gives and takes with equal powers.”

The scene was captured by musician-composer Rusty Crutcher in music written specifically for the Aegean Echoes exhibit.

Crutcher, it turns out, was one of several Lexington artists who gravitated to Steene’s tribute to the Aegean. She recalls how it all came together.

Steene’s triptych, Archilochus’ View crisscrosses and etches into her viewers’ hearts and minds an emotionally mixed empathic sense of place.

Archilochus’ View (78”x48”)

The following lines of this great poet who lived on the island of Paros in 7th century BCE echo and illuminate her reflections on her home away from home: “Take the joy and bear the sorrow, looking past your hopes and fears: / learn to recognize the measured dance that orders all our years” (Archilochus: To His Soul). Also, the quality of light that bathes Paros holds special interest for Steene as it spills from Helios’ chariot into the sea and is reflected back onto the landscape from the waters of the Aegean—an ever-changing horizon that appears in most of her paintings.

Steene’s art is not only concerned with the language of light, but also the language of the heart. Her Visual Poetry is a series of collages on paper—a collaboration with a friend who writes the poetry and she then chooses the words that represent the essence of what the poem means to her.  It’s a two-way street between the artist and her viewer as well: “If I gave you myself in an unguarded moment . . . would we leave our marks on one another’s hearts?   I think we know the answer to this question.

If I Gave You Myself (34”x30”)

Steene has participated in over 200 exhibitions worldwide in the last thirty-five years and has exhibited her work in most of the major galleries in the Lexington area and throughout the state. She is gaining more national and international attention as well. With her concentration on nature and the healing effect of art, private collectors, corporations, and medical institutions are beginning to show an increased interest in purchasing and installing her work. They, along with Steene, recognize the truth in Aristotle’s words that “In all things of nature, there is something of the marvelous.” Visit her website (www.helenesteene.com) to see her CV and portfolios.

Currently, Steene is an award-winning participant in this year’s Art Santa Fe Expo (A Spectrum Art Show—July 13-17) which will include some of her new work as well as pieces from Aegean Echoes. She also received the honor of having her painting, Mesimeri, selected for the event’s full-page ad running in the July issue of American Art Collector.

Mesimeri (29”x25”)

This fall in Lexington, Steene will be exhibiting new work, such as Oculus 3, in a duo show with sculptor Julie Warren-Conn at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center at 141 East Main Street. The opening reception for the show, Complex Simplicities, will be on October 6th from 5-8:00 p.m. with a Gallery Hop reception on November 17th from 5-8:00 p.m. The exhibit runs through December 3rd and the hours for the City Gallery are as follows: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.  You may contact the gallery by phone (859-425-2562) or email (clewis2@lexingtonky.gov).  The eye of the universe is upon you. Catch the glow—go see the show.

Oculus 3 (oil, marble dust, and metal on wood 48”x48”)

(Images of all artwork are courtesy of the artist.)

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

Scene&Heard: Josh Nolan

In a setting that once knew no electricity, in pastoral a village that was built by hand and faith and love and rang out with the a capella songs of the unique Shaker faith, on a picturesque sun-soaked day, the serene landscape suddenly came alive with the electric sounds of rock music. Starting his set down on one knee, twisting the knobs of his sound-shaping foot pedals to send a drone-like rhythm bouncing off the two-hundred-year-old buildings, Josh Nolan commanded the attention of the blissing crowd and took over the soundwaves for his part of the fourth annual Well Crafted Festival.

Josh Nolan band at Well Crafted Festival | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Born and bred in Stanton, Kentucky in the foothills of the Red River Gorge, Josh is the essence of rock and roll.  His sound is pure and real, and just damn rockin’.  His premiere CD Fair City Lights opens with Josh’s main instrument, his guitar, strumming hard chords while his deep voice delves into a story you are immediately sucked into as you start moving your hips and head to the beat.  It just rocks, and then keeps getting more intense. “If you’re gonna do me wrong, do it right”. Lyrics as smooth as Springsteen, with the gravelly gentle voice to match, Josh Nolan is a solid sound.

Multi-instrumental from a young age, most of the instruments and all the vocals on the CD are Josh himself. At Well Crafted, however, Josh appeared with his band consisting of Chris Brown on bass and harmony vocals, Riley Mulholand on lead guitar, Ryan Allen on keys, and Josh Anglin on drums. Well Crafted is a daytime festival, Josh and his band took the stage mid-day as the sun filtered through the trees.  People clustered like cows under the shade trees, filling their customized Well Crafted glasses filled with cold craft beers and ciders as delicious smells from the various food trucks wafted by in the warm air.

For four years, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg has hosted Well Crafted, one of the prettiest festivals in the Bluegrass. The site is nestled in the village itself, and the rolling landscape provides a gorgeous backdrop; the addition of amazing music and local craft beer is almost too much. Having previously boasted artists such as Ben Nichols (of Lucero), Lera Lynn, Langhorne Slim, Margo Price, Kelsey Waldon, and John Moreland; this year’s lineup was another offering of great music.

Main Stage at Well Crafted Festival | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Every year, Well Crafted provides two stages.  The main stage hosts larger touring bands, often with one or two local bands included.  The second, smaller stage presents all-local artists displaying original songs, with a few personalized covers thrown in. The stages alternate so there is never a gap in music during the day. This year’s local stage hosted David Napier, Chelsea Nolan, Senora May, Ethan Hunt and Brian Combs, each winning over the crowd with unique and meaningful original songs that testified to the wealth of musical talent we have here in the Bluegrass area.

The main stage this year opened with William Matheney and the Strange Constellations, followed by Lexington’s beloved Coralee and the Townies. The touring lineup also included Nikki Hill, The Dexateens, and Tyler Childers finished off the night as the sun set gloriously behind the stage.  The second local band to grace the main stage that stunningly sunny day was Josh Nolan and his band.

Some folks say America is apple pie and fireworks. I don’t know about that; not exclusively anyway.  To me, it is cold drinks and rocking live music out in the sunshine on a summer day. The crowd at Shaker Village that day definitely agreed.

Mixing in a few new songs from a promised second CD, Josh and his band hit all his crowd’s favorites from Fair City Lights.  The beat brought out the dancers into the sun, and the band responded in that beautiful relationship between bands that love to play live and the folks who love to be in their crowds, singing back every word they may know, moving with joy to the musical energy the band gifts to them. 

The mixture is truly addicting to the festival goer. So true are the memes and jokes about the devotion to being in a favorite band’s crowd; of selling plasma for concert tickets; of knowing every word and singing them back during the shows; of knowing the musicians you love and buying them a beer and thanking them for the work they do. Well Crafted this year was a serene backdrop to witness that love. 

Josh Nolan and his band are friends, neighbors, family; he and his sister Chelsea, who played the local stage, know and play with several other of the musicians there that day, and the intertwining of the relationships, both personal and especially musical, made for a very comfortable, familiar and extremely talented reunion that represented some of the region’s best. A patchwork of phenomenal Appalachian talent, and just darn nice people as well.

Josh Nolan | Photo by Cara Blake Coppola

Josh is in the midst of producing his second CD with plans to release it early next spring. He is self-producing in his home studio and hopes to tour not just regionally but nationwide.  “I’ve put all my life into this.  I’ve spent a lot of time and women and love and houses…I’d like to make it my profession. It’s a long road…I don’t understand the business but maybe one day I will.  I’m trying to get a gang of people together who understand different parts of it, take over the world and whatever.”

Josh Nolan is a musician. Some folks in this gig do it after work, on nights and weekends when their life affords it; but some make it their entire lives.  Josh has the talent and the drive to do that, and to take his love for and songs of the hills he grew up in out in America, to share his stories and his rocking sound and hopefully come back home to the hills often to recharge and write new songs and see old friends and family.

For Josh, songwriting is very personal, very spiritual. “Even if it’s not a personal song, it’s a personal process.” It is an “organic” process that he likens to serious fishing. “It’s like fishing.  They’re always there, you’ve got to know where to find them, and they always move so you can’t just go to one place, you have to know how to do it.  You have to know what you’re doing.  You have to know how to tie the lure and throw it in your bucket. It’s easy to miss a song”

I wish Josh many successful fishing expeditions.  And America loves and needs more great festivals like Well Crafted, with friends dancing in the sunshine and simply feeling good.

Listen in as Cara chats with Josh:

Arts

Junk Stories of a Broken World

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

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

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

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

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

The Oracle, 2017

Saint Martha’s Dark Night

Saint Martha’s Dark Night, 2017

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

The Green Man

The Green Man, 2017

The Embrace

The Embrace, 2017

Taratoma

Taratoma, 2017

The Crow

Arts

Scene&Heard: The Sway

When you are in the absence of any light, in absolute darkness, you sway.  Apparently, the body cannot stand erect, it sways in some primordial need to find its center.  When we humans are lost and blind, we find an internal music, and we sway. That notion became inspiration when it came time for Melanie Pauley and Chris Floyd chose a name for their band, The Sway, which had their first CD premiere at The Burl this last Thursday.

Their CD, which followed an EP done last year, both at Shangri La studios with Duane Lundy and Tom Hnatow, is a creation of love for The Sway, in every way.  An engaged couple who have three kids between them, music was not the foundation of their relationship, but soon evolved into becoming a driving force in their busy lives as parents. Inevitably as they spent more time together, they shared their love of music with one another, and then his guitar met her voice, and The Sway was born. 

A guitar player for years, Chris Floyd, formerly of VooDoo Symphony, had written songs solo, but they weren’t quite complete. Melanie, a church and wedding singer from childhood on, had been writing lyrics and melodies, but hadn’t found the music.  Then his music found her words, and serendipity did her thing; they were a perfect match.  Evenings would pass by sitting out on her back stoop writing songs after kids were in bed, sometimes three songs in one night. As engagement and cohabitation evolved in their relationship, writing songs became only more convenient, and the momentum carried them all the way to Thursday night.

Another proud creation of the studio production services of Tom Hnatow and Duane Lundy at Shangri La Studios, Floyd and Pauley could not say enough about the strong sense of community and support they experienced there during their first real studio experience. Studio musicians Robby Cosenza and Blake Cox created and played the parts for the drums and bass that are on the CD with Chris’ guitar, with Tom Hnatow on keys, though on Thursday Chris’ former bandmate Kyle Morgan sat in on keys. Maggie Lander also plays violin and cello on the CD, and played violin Thursday for the opening. The studio time that went into the creation of their baby Everything That Happens Here was an amazing experience for Chris and Melanie.

“They were able to take our songs and really make them grow to what they are, put some muscle to them” said Chris, noting how humbled they were when Robby and Blake and Maggie insisted on joining in on their premiere night. That offer, he said, solidified the strong feeling of support and community they felt during the entire recording process, how much fun they had in the studio creating and loving their CD into being.

That fun and sense of family was more than evident Thursday night. The crowd was warmed up by the soulful songs of Derek Spencer, then followed by the enigmatic Kristofer Bentley, before The Sway took to the stage. They started out as they had first started, just Chris and Melanie up there, her voice and his guitar.  And they began.  And though just two, that guitar helped lift Melanie’s amazingly powerful voice and soon the room was filled with the strength of their connection through music.

Later joined by Maggie on fiddle, then Robby and Blake and Kyle, soon the house was full and the sound was powerful. The lyrics to their songs are clear, and often as easy to hear as a morning conversation over coffee. The comfortable intimacy of their life comes through the lyrics. The singing, though.  Melanie Paulie has a voice that makes you sit up and take notice.  Reminiscent perhaps of Joan Osborne, Janis or KT Tunstall, her voice is quite astounding. Chris knows her well, and his smooth, intricate guitar playing accompanies her perfectly.

Add in the professionalism of the Shangri La musicians, and the musical backdrop they created for The Sway.  They create the easel that holds the canvas, the altar that supports the ritual. That energy took over and soon the stage was full and the crowd was in awe, and those musicians were all having fun up there.

The songs they have written have a depth to them, a maturity perhaps that comes with life and kids and a melody that reflects that wisdom. 

Dive In”  has an intricacy of songwriting and Melanie’s voice that is intense, and the crowd cheered heartily after she mastered that one.  Life and other Fleeting Things is a sweet song written for their three kids, pictured on the CD art that is a combination of Melanie’s concepts and the talent of Cricket Press. In Blackbird her voice searches out with confident desperation with notions of loss and perhaps anger.

In a grand ending that included all members back up on stage, Melanie absolutely slayed Ramble On by Led Zeppelin and brought the whole damn house down.  A powerful ballad song on any night, she took Plant’s part and completely owned that song.  The whole crowd joined in, the stage full of energy, and the night came to a blissful end right after.

From there, The Sway has plans to take their baby and “get out of town” to play their music regionally in Louisville and Cincinnati, playing for folks they do not know, sharing their music as far and wide as they can, and sooner than later, getting back into Shangri La with their new musical family to keep the momentum going. “I’m addicted, I want to record another one” says Chris. And Melanie notes that they already have songs toward a second CD.

The momentum and energy of Thursday night will surely carry this talented couple far and wide.  Lexington has another amazing local band to be quite proud of.

Listen in on Cara’s conversation with Chris and Melanie before showtime at the Burl:

Arts

Scene&Heard: Maggie Lander

If you’re going to have a bar and music venue in Lexington, you need one that works in the rain.  I’ve seen more shows during storms than not, because, well, it’s Lexington.  It rains four seasons here, and life has still got to go on.  Musicians must play on, and folks need to hear the music.  Luckily, The Burl works in the rain.  The dampness soaks into those wood walls and makes them sweat delicious vapors.  Tables are brought in so folks can sit and relax and watch the rain pelt the luminescent stained glass tree behind the stage that holds two inviting guitars and two chairs.  As the room fills in, Maggie Lander moves to the stage, takes a seat, tunes her guitar and gets ready to start the show.

Opening for the headliner Elizabeth Cook, and followed by hilarious storyteller Darrin Bradbury, Maggie holds the crucial task of starting the night off right, establishing the tone.  It’s a tough gig, the opener. The crowd is still filing in while the opener is pouring their soul out on stage, drinks are being ordered and coats are shed.  That night rain had to be wiped from glasses and dabbed from eyelashes. 

Tough spot to take.  Maggie, working solo this particular evening, takes it with grace and style, and her solid and confident voice quickly fills the room and making everyone want to focus, settle down and listen to her stories.

A native of Henry County, Maggie Lander had a childhood most of us only dream of; two siblings and a big farm, school work and violin lessons, catching fish and crawdads and hunting for arrowheads when the work was done.  She speaks of her youth with a happiness and joy that the image suggests. Having started young with the guitar, she quickly moved on to violin, then cello, piano and mandolin.  Her strong musical background has created opportunities for studio work and gigs utilizing all her instruments, including her voice. Violin is her dominant instrument, but she uses her guitar for songwriting.

Her songs are personal, mostly autobiographical in background.  Songwriting for Maggie is a way of healing and release. To “create something that reaches people and in the end can be a cathartic way of healing for me… Suddenly you just feel so much better afterwards.  You can only carry things for so long and you just have to get it out.”

(Image by Ben Keeling)

The emotions driving her songs are evident when she takes the stage.  Maggie engages the audience and pulls them into her story.  Her solid guitar playing creates a foundation of melody to walk along as she holds your hand and tells you what happened.  She played her new song, “All in my head” which is very biographical, about “The point where I’m at in my life. I finished it and then a weight just lifted.” 

A sad tale of loss and confusion, her new song captured the audience and broke their hearts. You can hear why the weight lifted for her when she wrote the song – it clearly “exorcised the demon” when she wrote it.  Writing songs is like that for Maggie Lander. “99.9% of the time it just knocks me over the head, falls in my lap.”  Songs tell her to “sit down and shut up…get a guitar, get a notebook and just do it.”

The room was full by the end of Maggie’s set, and all were pleased.  The attention from the crowd was humbling, she later commented; how intense but nice it is to have full awareness from the full room.  She received many accolades as she left the stage for the next act. The room, and the rain, and the dried-off crowd of pleased customers and listeners all mixed with the savory smells from the food truck to create a very pleasant evening of listening to amazing songwriting.  Maggie started that night off just right.

Cara chats with Maggie…

(Performance photos by Cara Blake Coppola)

Arts

Ron Isaacs: Shelf Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ron Isaacs, "Alter Ego (Waterfall)"

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

"Birdies"

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

"Birdies," 2015

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

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

Sticks are crucial. In design terms, a stick is basically a line for Ron Isaacs; he frequently uses them to draw forms whether they be partial, as in Alter Ego, or whole, shelved forms as seen in Metaphor, 2005.

"Metaphor," 2005

Metaphor, 2005, 24″ x 51 1/4″ x 8″

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

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

"Coincidence," 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Improve Each Shining Hour," 2010

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labors hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes.

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

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

- Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

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

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

Related in UnderMain: Other Lexington artists who mix mediums

Patrick Adams: Lights Mystery 

Patrick McNeese in Scene&Heard

Arts

Patrick Adams: Light’s Mystery

Art, poetry, and music are basically cut from the same cloth—a fabric of the imagination inspired by the “real,” a concept as impalpable as any of the artistic processes that strive to represent it (reality). Goethe wrote that “Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.” While this expression may make our wheels of cognition wobble a little, it is comprehensible, it is imaginable, and it is poetic. If you listen to Debussy’s The Sunken Cathedral, or if you look at any of Monet’s several paintings of Rouen Cathedral, the beauty, the emotion, and the lyricism that Goethe’s words and these great works of art share become magically palpable. So the formidable and rewarding task of any successful artist, regardless of the discipline, is to internalize his or her perception of the world and deliver it to us in a way that helps deepen our own experience and understanding of our place in it, of what it means to be human. 

Lexington artist Patrick Adams has stood on the cliffs of his imagination and stepped up to this easel many times. He lives and breathes his art as he continuously endeavors to explore the parameters of possibility and to realize the full extent of his creative potential.

30" x 22" acrylic on paper, 2013

Etude No. 206 – 30″ x 22″ acrylic on paper, 2013

Adams grew up in the rural farming community of Worthington, Minnesota, a landscape that ignited his spirit and became the dominate subject matter of his work with its “tall-grass prairies, vast horizons, dramatic light and thousands of natural lakes.” Since moving to Lexington over two decades ago to obtain his MFA at the University of Kentucky, he has come to recognize and acknowledge an equal love for the Kentucky landscape as well.

In a recent article published in The American Scholar (March 20, 2017), Adams says of his work and process that, “When people ask me, ‘Are these real places?’ I say, well, yes and no. They begin there, but where they end is somewhere else . . . The memory is part of my process. I like what the memory does to the image. I want the details to slip away . . . I like how the memory distills or exaggerates things, or remembers in the landscape something really essential, just the dominant essence of the scene.”  

Hilltop and Lavender Sky is an awe-inspiring example of what Adams is aiming for. And it hits the mark. Everything about this composition epitomizes the “essence of the scene” from the soft shapes and ethereal hues of lavender, yellow, and green to the sparse, deeper terrestrial tinges of white, red, and blue. Its subtle power and strong spirit make it an extremely important work of art because each time we look at it, it speaks to us in a different way, deepening our appreciation of it and strengthening our connection to it. It speaks of something beyond the physical world, of something eternal within nature and hence within ourselves. It enables the soul to take flight. For me, it brings to mind the countless times I climbed the hilltops near my childhood home looking at the layers of mountain ranges stretched out before me and standing in awe of the infinite space above me thinking this is probably as close to heaven as I will ever get.

60" x 40" oil on two canvases, 2016

Hilltop and Lavender Sky, 60″ x 40″ oil on two canvases, 2016

This piece was a part of Adams’ diptych series, In Two Worlds, exhibited at the Ann Tower Gallery, January – March (2016), a body of work that probably best represents his poetic and abstract concept of art as metaphor. Each diptych incorporates two canvases of equal size placed flush one above the other, doubling the surface space of the painting. But Adams explained in his artist statement for this show that the idea behind the diptychs goes far beyond the materiality of the canvases: “I have divided the landscape image along the horizon into two physically separate paintings: the lower half (earth), representing the physical realm, and the upper half (sky, the ‘heavens’) representing the metaphysical, or spiritual realm. These two parts, seen separately, appear flat and incomprehensible, but once brought together, they form an image that acquires an unexpected unity of light, depth and meaning . . . the physical and spiritual worlds are brought together as one, each illuminating and clarifying the other.” 

Meadow Stream succinctly illustrates this point. The individual sections are completely abstract but as with all the paintings in this series, when combined, they are like the yin and yang of art—complementary elements coming together to create a harmonious whole.

Meadow Stream, 24" x 36" oil on two canvases, 2015

Meadow Stream, 24″ x 36″ oil on two canvases, 2015

My first encounter with Adams’ artwork was at an earlier exhibit, Real Presence, at the Ann Tower Gallery in 2004. From that point on, I was sold although I couldn’t really afford to buy. A couple of years later, though, I lucked out and was able to purchase a small matted and framed oil on paper, Prelude 23, at a silent auction for the annual Art in Bloom event at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Then, as either serendipity or synchronicity would have it, about a month ago I managed to meet with him in his studio for an interview and to learn more about what lies behind his prolific and successful career as an artist and the philosophy and influences that govern his approach and style, a little of which we have already touched on.

Patrick Adams with Work in Progress | Photo by Jim Fields

Patrick Adams with Work in Progress | Photo by Jim Fields

Adams went to school at the height of post-modernism, but said it did not have a big impact on his painting because he felt it would not sustain him for very long. It appears he took the high road—and the open road—by absorbing specific concepts, subject matter, and technical nuances of some of the greats: “The kind of artists I’ve been responding to over the last 20 years have been somewhere between late romanticism and impressionism all the way up to contemporary artists. Corot (French) and Kensett (American) paid a lot of attention to light and atmosphere and even though they were romantics (mid-19th century), that’s where the seeds of impressionism and expressionism were sewn.” While both these artists still have a strong influence, Adams says, “Abstract expressionism (abex) pretty much describes my work. If you put those two ideas together, that’s really what my work is. If you took these two words [abstract and expressionism] and put them in a bag and shook it, my work would come out.” He admits a partiality to Van Gogh because his own markings, which he characterizes as jittery or fragmented surfaces are sometimes quite similar. This can easily be seen in his diptych, Pleasant Hill. Yet it is distinctly his own.

Pleasant Hill, 40" x 40" oil on two panels, 2015

Pleasant Hill, 40″ x 40″ oil on two panels, 2015

Here Adams draws on the tremendous energy generated from the good earth and the big sky. The scene vibrates with motion and color and the elements are bold, and the gestures grand and striking. The luminosity and atmosphere that emanate from this painting can only be revealed by natural light, or the memory of it, regardless of where it was painted—in the studio or outdoors (plein air). The reality of this landscape has been deeply internalized, merged with the artist’s inner self, and he has allowed this integration to charge his imagination and guide his brush and his palette knife over the canvas time and again, layering the scene into existence. It is abstract expressionism simultaneously contained and gone wild. It is a landscape that refuses to stand still.

Besides giving a lot of credit to his former professors for helping him see and be, Adams did not ignore the influence of Monet’s later, more abstract and heavily textured works with which few of us are familiar, the ones we don’t see in art history books. He also paid homage to the late modernist Richard Diebenkorn (American colorist and structuralist) as well as the images of the contemporary Danish geologist, artist, poet and filmmaker, Per Kirkeby. One of Adams’ most abstract and most recent small pieces, Break, speaks volumes as an amalgamation of these influences and his own experience—a synthesis where the conscious and subconscious work in tandem to create a presence that is one thing when seen up close, but quite another when viewed from a distance. A genuine mark of artistic vitality.

Break, 10” x 10” oil on canvas, 2017

Break, 10” x 10” oil on canvas, 2017

Adams explains, “I use a ton of paint and paint over a lot of other good paintings that I’m not satisfied with to create this effect.  I lose a lot of good paintings to get to the one I eventually keep but I think this approach is pretty indigenous to the abex genre.”  And he remarks that regardless of the canvas size, “the landscape for me is an arena to address other things such as light, space, movement, color, and even smells and feelings.”

The sentiment he expresses in his artist statement is congruent in all his work and he challenges anyone who looks at his paintings to see the poetry too: “I want people to see the natural world not as a backdrop to their lives, but as the very heart of their lives. The beauty of these forms is not just to delight us (though it does), but also to give us life. Beauty is not simply an ornament, a surface phenomenon, but the essence and power of being. And, if beauty is accompanied at all times, as many great thinkers both ancient and modern have asserted, by goodness and truth, then we ignore it to our peril.”  Then let us not ignore the beauty, goodness, and truth of Ascent of Light.

Ascent of Light, 48” x 48” oil on canvas, 2013

Ascent of Light, 48” x 48” oil on canvas, 2013

Light is a crucial element in all of Adams’ work, as many of  his other titles suggest: Light Under Pressure, Light and Fog, Shaker Light, Veil of Light, Where Light Dwells, First Light, Uplight, and most important—Goethe’s Light. His philosophy that inquisitiveness is vital to being a creative person led him to the German poet and artist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s treatise on Theory of Color published in 1810, in which he (Goethe) hypothesizes on color as an interaction between light and darkness, why we see color, how we experience it, and how it affects us psychologically and emotionally.

Maria Popova in Goethe on the Psychology of Color and Emotion, observes that “One of Goethe’s most radical points was a refutation of Newton’s ideas about the color spectrum, suggesting instead that darkness is an active ingredient rather than the mere passive absence of light.”

“Light and darkness, brightness and obscurity, or if a more general expression is preferred, light and its absence, are necessary to the production of color,” noted Goethe. “Color itself is a degree of darkness.” Goethe’s Light may not contain the stirring brilliance you see in Ascent of Light, but it faithfully renders the more obscure “active ingredient” of color not uncommon in abex art.

Goethe's Light 30" x 30" oil on canvas, 2016

Goethe’s Light 30″ x 30″ oil on canvas, 2016

When he was working on Goethe’s Light, Adams said he saw a different kind of light, a luminescence emerging from darkness:

For Adams, these forces also include music – he plays a number of instruments and composes as well.  While Pythagoras’ theory on harmonics is more exact than Goethe’s on light and color, the effect that music has on us is just as powerful. So I asked Adams to elaborate a bit on the connection between his art and music, and he jumped right in.

He has been painting (and selling them) since he was ten years old, and his interest in music at this young age was also well beyond that of a neophyte. He was awarded both an art and music scholarship (trumpet performance) his first year in college at Winona State University in Winona, Minnesota. But because of an injury he received while playing in college marching band, he had to quit playing for a while.  He says that hiatus was actually fortuitous because it he made him focus more on his art, eventually allowing him to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree at the University of Kentucky where he was awarded a full scholarship and a teaching assistantship. And he hasn’t looked back.

In considering his love for making music and its connection to his art and creative process, it’s easy to see how one inherently feeds the other, even though he has chosen painting and teaching as a profession.  He emphatically states, “If I had another career, I would like to write film scores because there’s a direct link between the music and the image.”  As for his painting, he muses, “The ideal show for me would be where I would write a soundtrack for it that would be atmospheric and simple and spacious, similar to a landscape where you are the thing in the space.” I say go for it!  It may not be a new concept, but it is most definitely a rare experience for gallery goers to be engulfed visually and aurally by the work of a single artist.

As we listened to some of his compositions in his studio, Adams pointed out that both his paintings and his music “are the result of a very intuitive and improvisational process where an idea begins to assert itself and is then embellished and refined, yet neither is without structure. Just as paintings derive from the landscape, the songs are structured in a traditional jazz format . . . The intended result is simplicity.” Because he plays each of the instruments himself, he records his music in layers (or tracks) similar to the way he constructs a painting: “Same process. I am building different layers and colors and textures, and the way they interact lets you ultimately see a single image or hear a single piece of music.” Take a listen to the title cut from his album, Solipsis, while viewing his Etudes (201 – 206) and experience it for yourself.  Before you start, though, keep in mind that the titles have a bearing on the processes involved as the work was created.

Solipsis relates to the inner mind, thought, voice, feeling, and wanderings, in this case, as expressed through Adams’ individual and yet integrated performance on the electric piano, organ, drums, acoustic bass, and trumpet. Etude, a term mostly applied to a short musical composition that helps a player become more proficient on a given instrument, also refers to small studies that artists create as they formulate ideas for a larger work. Adams, again, hits the mark on all counts and here is a rare opportunity for you to get inside his head and bask in the reverie.

View Patrick’s work and listen to his composition, “Solipsis.”

From having worked on this piece for the last several weeks, the association of music with Adams’s painting has become fully ingrained in my psyche. With Harbor, for instance, I can see the interconnected layering and I can hear the music—music that I am creating in my own head as I stare at the essence of what a harbor looks like under particular circumstances or with its reality broken down into its basic components that become abstract, unrecognizable to my cranial dictates in relation to what I think a harbor should be or how I think a piece of music should sound simply based on its title. This is the beauty of the challenge in all of Adams’ work. It requires that you be with it, allowing it to permeate your senses. 

In his words:

Harbor 36" x 84" acrylic on canvas, 2016

Harbor 36″ x 84″ acrylic on canvas, 2016

Despite his musical accomplishments, painting comes to the fore as Adams’ first love and he is very forthright with what sustains his creative spirit: “I love to paint. I like the physicality of it combined with the images I create. I’ll never get it perfect and that’s what keeps me going. There’s also something about the struggle and not knowing where you are headed.  When I start painting [or composing], it’s like bumbling around in the dark and the more I can stay in the dark and stay lost, the more I like it in the painting [and the music]. Within certain boundaries, it’s exciting and to be lost in a work is good. The poetry of the creative act is in the struggle. The struggle makes art and art redeems the struggle.” Sounds a little like life, doesn’t it?

And then, there is the matter of the medium:

Through the on-going cycles of redemptive struggle necessary to the creative process, Adams has built up an impressive CV and portfolio.  He has been a professional artist for over 25 years and is currently an Adjunct Professor of Art at the University of Kentucky, Asbury University, and Eastern Kentucky University teaching courses in drawing, painting, art appreciation, art theory and criticism, and others as his schedule permits.  He is a two-time recipient of the prestigious Al Smith Fellowship in the Visual Arts awarded by the Kentucky Arts Council, and his past is awash with major exhibits (solo, two-person, and group), all over the country dating as far back as 1999. You can check out the details and his spectacular portfolios on his website, patrickadamsart.com.

His most recent exhibit of New Work was at Aberson Exhibits in Tulsa, OK last month, and he is participating in an upcoming group show (May 4-19), Dirty Pictures, at the Atrium Gallery – Studios on the Park in Paso Robles, CA.  I bet that got your attention, didn’t it?  Chill.  It’s all about landscapes—the good earth! We wouldn’t expect anything less from Patrick Adams since many of his paintings can be found in a number of private and corporate collections, such as the James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (Columbus, OH), Mayo Clinic (Jacksonville, FL), Hilliard Lyons (Louisville, KY), and Gaylord International Convention Center (Washington, DC).

I don’t think we have to worry that these successes will prompt Adams to stop painting and composing. He couldn’t if he wanted to because he seems to subscribe wholeheartedly to the idea in T. S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men that “Between the conception / And the creation / Between the emotion / And the response / Falls the shadow.”  Without both darkness and light, between which that shadow lies, there can be no color, no landscapes. Adams’ knowledge of this means he can look forward to a great future—struggle and all! He himself declares, “My plan is to keep throwing paint at my canvases until something sticks that I can call good. I will likely die trying.”

Solipsis_Cover_Exterior_LINES

(All images and music courtesy of the artist)


Related in UnderMain: Other Lexington artists who mix mediums

Ron Isaacs: Shelf Life (Painting, sculpture)

Patrick McNeese (Painting, music)

Arts

Scene&Heard: Kim Smith

The show had already begun to exceed expectations when I was asked to leave my shoes at the door.  The Source on High is a peaceful space, used for yoga and meditation. In a side room: sensory deprivation tanks invite one’s restless soul.  Punched-tin lights hang from the ceiling and beneath their glow we settle in on pillows and woven blankets. 

Before us: a promising array of instruments, silently awaiting the Lexington band, Frigid Kitty.

IMG_2600

They do not remain silent for long. It’s early on a Sunday evening in April.  This is not your typical night of live music at a bar; not at all.  Every month, the fantastic diversity of music available in this city excites me, whether at a festival, an established venue, someone’s living room, or a yoga space, Lexington provides.  The Source on High is just such a promising space.

Frigid Kitty takes the stage, with Kim Smith at its center.  She introduces her bandmates, a new and different arrangement of Frigid Kitty for this special evening.  Along with Kim on keys, flute and guitar are her husband Chris Smith playing bass and guitar, Sam McWilliams on guitar and vocals, and guest Garret Spear playing percussion and flute.

While the first song emphasizes Kim’s keyboard skills, the immediate impression is of a beautiful layering of instruments. It’s a notable characteristic found throughout this collection of songs. Smith’s keys are joined by McWilliam’s gentle guitar picking, the bass carries the foundation while the cajon drumming provides cadence and momentum.  Throughout the set, each musician changes instruments at least once, showing adept musical versatility.  At one point we’re treated to a flute duet with between Kim and Garret.

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The music Frigid Kitty performs on this night is quite ethereal, and fitting in this unique space.  As the springtime sun begins to set, the lights provide a subtle glow as the room becomes enclosed in a softening darkness.  The orchestral arrangements of the instruments drift and mingle like an impressionistic painting.  The lyrics, a collaborative effort from Chris, Kim and Sam, are conversational, carried easily along by the arrangements.

The set ends with Kim back on lead vocals and guitar, singing “Keep it to Yourself”, a Smith original with a cute, flirty, old-time sound that brings the set to a close with a light, easy vibe.

Cara chatted with Kim about the show and what made it special…

The effect of this marriage of music and performance space is surreal.  The Frigid Kitty set is followed by the twelve string dexterity of Sarah Louise, and finally the spiritual creativity of Everyone Lives, Everyone Wins.

In retrospect, magic happened that night at The Source, and beauty was created.  Lexington never fails to deliver to those who seek such in the various spaces around town.

Kim Smith has played in many of these spaces.  Her life has been a long journey of music, even when she set such pursuits aside to explore academia and travel. The conversation moved beyond the immediate…

Raised by accomplished musicians, her father a band director, her mother an orchestra and chorale director with her own piano studio, Smith is a musician by definition.  She moves effortlessly between piano, flute, guitar, and cello, having played piano and cello as a child. She sings and plays in a growing collection of bands, including her own Frigid Kitty. 

Formerly the keyboard, flute player and vocalist in the now-defunct Bear Medicine, in the last year Smith has immersed herself in numerous musical projects around town.  Besides Frigid Kitty, Smith is in Big Fresh (click to listen to the new song, Paralyzed.) She fills us in on the band’s latest project…

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Desperate Spirits- LR: John Ferguson, Trevor Tremaine, Rob Theakston, Kim Smith

She also is a member of ATTEMPT.  Sharing several members, these two bands host a wealth of musicians who all contribute diverse talents.  Trevor Tremaine, John Ferguson, David Farris, Nick Coleman, Dave Cobb and Ashley Smith all join Kim Smith in ATTEMPT, while Big Fresh consists of John Ferguson, Ben Fulton, Ben Phelan, David Farris, Nick Coleman, Faith Diamond, Brian Connors Manke, Bryan Gore and Matthew Clarke.  With some crossover in members, both groups coexist and will be heading out on a large, eleven person tour this June to include performing with Lexington’s beloved Matt Duncan and his band in NYC. 

Here’s more on the tour…

Big Fresh and ATTEMPT are both represented by Desperate Spirits, a label started by Kim Smith along with John Ferguson, Trevor Tremaine and Rob Theakston.  The label is releasing several EP’s this year for both bands as well as Italian Beaches. 

In addition, Smith also keeps in touch with her classical roots as a member of The Rosemont Trio.

Kim Smith is a force to not be contained, and she represents the Lexington music scene with adept ease.  With her hands in numerous projects that help foster and collaborate with so many other local musicians, she is a pivotal aspect of the strength of our city’s live music scene.  With her bands, the label she has helped start to help other local musicians get their music out into the world, the lessons she teaches weekly to children and adults seeking more music in their lives, as well as side projects such as the local all-female LP she is organizing to raise money for Planned Parenthood, Kim is one of those women who just keeps on persisting, and doing Lexington proud.

What’s next?

You can catch Kim Smith with Big Fresh at Al’s Bar Block Party on April 29th, and ATTEMPT will be playing the Tahlsound Music Festival on Southland Drive in May. 

Frigid Kitty hopes to be in the studio this year working on their first CD. 

~0~

Arts

Cautious Optimism

Patterned tentacles burst from the wall of Louisville’s 21c Museum. They are suspended in motion, paused in the act of wriggling free from the gallery’s white wall. Viewed at a distance, Frances Goodman’s Medusa (2013-2014) appears wet. Each tentacle seems coated by a glossy residue, projecting a luminous sheen. A few steps closer and scales begin to take shape—the tentacles’ patterns have been meticulously constructed from thousands of acrylic fingernails.

Frances Goodman, Medusa, 2013-2014

Goodman recodes these mass-produced ornaments, turning a beauty industry commodity against itself. The decorative becomes subversive—often overlooked as a mere form of bodily artifice, these acrylic prosthetics have been tightly assembled to encase phallic wall protrusions. Medusa is a three-dimensional creature that stretches its mythological ties to masculine aggression and feminine seduction, yet also mines the meaning of an object that—through fashion advertising—has come to signify femininity.

In their 1973 article in Womanspace Journal, Judy Chicago and Miriam Shapiro asked: “What does it feel like to be a woman?”[1] 21c Louisville’s current exhibition, The Future is Female, takes inspiration from this legacy of feminist writers, artists, and activists of the 1970s, exploring the varying trajectories of craft-based practices, mythology, ecology, and identity. What resonates most, however, is the exhibition’s timing. In the United States, the resistance to women’s rights has encountered a social and political acceptability unseen since the years of the Reagan administration.[2]

What does the phrase “The Future is Female” mean in the age of Trump? 21c Louisville’s latest exhibition does not ask this question—at least not explicitly. At a time, however, when the spectacle of reality television has merged with sexism of politics, when misogyny is dismissed as “men being men” (and then rewarded with a presidency), when government funding for the National Endowment for Arts hangs in the balance, when a large majority of politicians view gender as biologically determined and not socially constructed, and when the leader of the so-called free world flirts with a nuclear arms race, futurity—specifically a future that incorporates women and the arts—seems optimistic. Yet this optimism and political energy is partly what fueled the artists of the Women’s Liberation movement in the 1970s.[3]

Nandipha Mntambo, Umfanekiso wesibuko, 2013

A prominent thread connects many of the works in The Future is Female—mortality is referenced not only through the human body and the abject, but also through a consideration of globalization’s slow decay of both cultures and ecological systems. Nandipha Mntambo blurs the line between skin and clothing by structuring cowhide into rigid human-animal hybrids. Cast from the artist’s body, two ghostly figures rest on their arms and legs—frozen in the act of crawling. As the cowhide slowly melts down the figures’ backs, its stiff ripples condense and begin to resemble folds of human skin. Tails protrude from the gathered hide.

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Naomi Safran-Hon, W.S. Pink Sweater (with other trash), 2016

In the mixed-media work of Naomi Safran-Hon, the human body is present through detritus—remnants of clothing intertwine with obliterated concrete, capturing the bulldozed homes of Wadi Salib, a neighborhood once home to Palestinians and Mizrahi Jewish inhabitants before its confiscation by the state of Israel in 1948. Safran-Hon inserts lace and concrete directly into an archival inkjet print, layering a third dimension onto what is normally flattened by camera and printer.

To be clear, the phrase “the future is female” is not a recent addition to feminist discourse. It first appeared on a T-shirt in the 1970s.[4] The original design was made for Labyris Books—the first women’s bookstore in New York City. Liza Cowan photographed her then-girlfriend, Alix Dobkin, wearing the shirt in 1975. Forty years later, in 2015, the image of Dobkin was posted on h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y—an Instagram account that documents “herstoric lesbian imagery.”

E.V. Day, Waterlily, 2011

E.V. Day’s striking Waterlily (2011) pulls anatomic imagery from the artwork of her foremothers—Georgia O’Keefe and Chicago. Through enlarging the vivid fuchsia water lily that she collected, pressed, and then digitally scanned during her residency at The Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny, Day reclaims past histories of feminist investigation. The flower’s fleshy texture and prominent reproductive organs are magnified through the scanning process, and its enlarged form is both foreboding and seductive. The print’s pigment is so concentrated that it casts a light pink glow on neighboring works.

On the wall parallel to Medusa, three circular hand mirrors are individually framed by hot-pink resin Venus symbols. The mirrors are lightly etched with a single word in all-capital typeface: FEMINIST, EQUAL, or POWERFUL. Michele Pred’s Reflections (2015), as they are displayed across from the acrylic-nail monster, reexamine the mythological tale of Perseus and Medusa.

Michele Pred, Reflections (Powerful) and Reflections (Feminist), 2015

When approached at a specific angle, the mirrors can reflect Medusa with the addition of Pred’s positive language—a clever positioning that references Perseus’s use of a mirror to evade Medusa’s fatal stare, but also pushes against stereotypes of women in classical mythology and their prevailing societal effects.

The Future is Female is a careful selection of important works by emerging and established women artists: Jenny Holzer, Monica Cook, Kiki Smith, Sanell Aggenbach, Gaela Erwin, Nina Katchadourian, Carrie Mae Weems, Vibha Galhotra, Alison Saar, Tiffany Carbonneau, Kathleen McQuade Olliges, Hanna Liden, and Julie Levesque. The exhibition includes artists from Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America, but Katchadourian’s homage to David Bowie and Freddie Mercury—Under Pressure (2014)—takes place 35,000 feet above ground.

Nina Katchadourian, Under Pressure, 2014

In an airplane restroom, she “recreates” Mercury and Bowie’s 1981 duet, using a standard polyester airline blanket, toilet paper, and the contents of her carry-on luggage to construct costumes. Under Pressure merges Katchadourian’s humorous performance with a poignant critique, as Mercury and Bowie rejected gender constructs rooted in patriarchal standards. The Future is Female embarks on a similar mission by pushing against the grain of normativity and advocating for a future that surmounts the current sociopolitical climate.

The Future is Female is on view through May 2017.

[1] Whitney Chadwhick, Women, Art, and Society, 5th ed. (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2012), 378.

[2] Chadwhick, Women, Art, and Society, 378.

[3] Linda Nochlin, “’Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ Thirty Years After,” Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader, ed. Maura Reilly (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2015), 311.

[4] Marisa Meltzer, “A Feminist T-Shirt Resurfaces from the ‘70s,” The New York TimesNovember 18, 2015,

Arts

Scene&Heard: “God Help the Sincere Man” | The Patrick McNeese Band

In the end, perhaps the greatest part of the foundation of my love for this beautiful, small city is the knowing that on any given night, there is great quality music hiding in every corner. On a March Saturday, as the sun set hidden behind grey clouds over the dark, occluded Lake Fontaine, the Lake Shore Village Clubhouse began to light up. Within was the promise of an evening of music that boasted some of Lexington’s finest musicians.

Nestled in the corner of glass windows and backdropped by one of the prettiest views in the city, the Patrick McNeese Band settled down to a full backline of instruments to entertain the eager guests. Folks had filed in with serene smiles, carrying offerings of delicious homemade foods of every origin. Bottles of wine lined up on the counter, which was quickly overloaded with a delicious bounty. I felt quite settled in for a blissful evening, definitely one of the luckier Lexingtonians on that beautiful cloudy night.

Patrick McNeese

Patrick McNeese

Patrick took to his stool and his guitar, and his band followed suit. Tom Martin on keys, Tripp Bratton on a full set of drums back in the glass corner framed by waves all around; Miles Hanchett on bass and Jesse Pena on lead guitar. I was surrounded by some of my favorite instruments: Patrick’s pretty electric-acoustic that he uses as much as a percussion instrument as a guitar; Tom’s Roland and Nord keyboards; Jesse’s Fender Strat; Miles’ ’85 Gibson Explorer bass. Notably absent on this particular evening due to a scheduling conflict was violinist/vocalist Maggie Lander. The instrumentation in the Patrick McNeese Band is perhaps its greatest quality, though the lyrics are in great competition. They are a solid package, indeed.

The sofas, chairs and even the overly shaggy rug covered with pillows soon filled to a comfortable capacity as we all nestled down with plates of goodness and cups overflowing. 

The band started off their long list of McNeese originals with “Lucky Boy”, a tight, layered piece with ethereal keys that invite thoughtful drums and guitars. Patrick began his lyrics, singing in his characteristic style, layering his words of poetry and imagery sometimes above, sometimes with the instrumentation.

Patrick’s lyrics are almost conversational; he paints an image for his listener that is a visual story. Like his own paintings, colors and shapes form to create “a theater in the mind.” The band is the vision of McNeese, his love for the “collaborative, multi-layered aspect of music” apparent as the master musicians delved deep into their craft. The conversation that took place between them was tight, yet fluid and smooth, “which comes out of a jazz approach.”

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L-R: Jesse Pena, Miles Hanchett, Tripp Bratton

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Tom Martin

Martin sat next to McNeese on his double keys and joined in the conversation, with Pena sending in warm, buttery sounds from his Fender electric. 

The sun began to set as Lexington traffic sped by across the lake, off on the horizon.  Waterfowl glided by on the lake. The band was soon backed by darkness as McNeese moved his players into “Light Up the Night.”  Bratton sometimes offered backing lyrics along with his amazing drumming, bouncing his voice off the glass windows now black and reflective. Hanchett’s bass wrapped the players together, providing a foundation. The crowd couldn’t help but be moved.

The near orchestral arrangements, which touched upon so many genres of music, some Latin, some Middle Eastern in sound, certainly jazz and blues, even a touch of country, create staging for McNeese’s provocative lyrics, a flow of spoken word and layered images that trip around the notes with practiced ease. 

McNeese creates a sound for his audience that draws the room together. The positive house show environment of willingly captive attention fed the band beautifully, and all were grateful. 

Viewed from his perch behind the keys, Martin enjoyed the reaction. “To look up and see how people are responding to the music; there is something very rewarding about being at a keyboard and making a sound and seeing a positive response to it.  The whole idea is to move people and allow them to escape with something.”

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Moving into a phase in their musical careers where the band has decided to perform almost exclusively for intimate shows such as this one, and to focus more on getting back into the studio with Duane Lundy over at Shangri-La to create the band’s third album and Patrick’s sixth, this night was special and unique. The audience had come to listen and in many cases to lose themselves in the music. This created a welcoming canvas for the band to paint McNeese’s lyrics and music. “A beautiful example of community in a small, intimate way,” he later reflected.

An artist in many forms, that is the beauty of the thing for McNeese,“That is the joy of the artist, giving birth to something.  It’s a very maternal process, nurturing and passing something from inside to the outside world.” 

Performing before a small, intimate house show completes the package for his lyrics and music, and the musicians agree.  Weary perhaps of crowded, loud bars and competition from now ubiquitous televisions, or standing solo in corners or at pianos in hotel lobbies, these experienced musicians appreciate the settled quiet of clubhouse setting.  The attentive audience.  The sincere appreciation. As Martin said, “Music in its best environment is that organic connection between player and the listener. It’s almost existential without the listener.”

What transpired that Saturday night was a special gift. A night of balanced perfection; dedicated, seasoned musicians of great quality, lyrics and music from a foundation of a life of music and art, a room filled with eager and attentive friends who brought food and drink and joy. The dreamlike music wrapped around us all and together we shared in the band’s creation, the evening itself a work of art.

Indeed, all were quite fortunate to be there and share in the experience.

Interviews

Patrick McNeese Band Albums

Big Fish Moon 

Hallelu

Arts

A Blueprint for What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEA

Naked existence again.

Night encourages aggression.

Nothing engages anthem.

Nipple event announced.

Nausea exhibition anticipated.

Never endure absence.

New entertainment atrophies.

No excrement available. 

Nudge abstract eating.

Nitwit executive asphyxiated.

Now eagerly applaud.

Stuart Horodner, Director, University of Kentucky Art Museum

Arts

Experimental Film With Live Music at Farish Theater

The Lexington Film League (LFL) is presenting on March 21, at 7PM in the Farish Theater of the Central Library, Our Heavenly Bodies, a technological marvel of the silent film era. The film, by German director Hanns Walter Kornblum, was released in 1925. The showing of the film, which has been digitally-restored, will be accompanied by live music by Coupler, a Nashville-based “creative organization”. WRFL is the presenting sponsor, and there is no charge for admission to this special film and music event.

Our-Heavenly-Bodies-Poster-1

Kornblum’s ambition for the film was to present the astronomical and scientific knowledge available at the time and to wondrously imagine what the future of exploration of the cosmos might hold. He used the most advanced film technologies of his era, utilizing nine cameramen and fifteen special effects technicians.

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Coupler was founded in 2012 by Ryan Norris of Lambchop. It is “an exploration of the intersection of man and machine, live and recorded, composed and improvised, stasis and flux”. The experimental techno-ambient music of Coupler will undoubtedly add to the trippy nature of the film.

Sarah Wylie A VanMeter, one of LFL’s Co-Producers, said that LFL is very excited to have the opportunity to present this special film and music and is very grateful to WRFL for its willingness to sponsor interesting and innovative programming. The film curator at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville encouraged the Film League to present “Our Heavenly Bodies”.

Coupler is touring with the film to a limited number of locations, including the Speed, the Wexner Center in Columbus, and six other locations. For film aficianados, this is a special opportunity to see a pioneering effort in experimental film. But others are sure to enjoy the unique combination of a visionary early film effort and the music of a forefront techno music group.

Arts

The Chrysalis

Chrysalis House in Lexington, Kentucky is a non-profit organization that “specializes in treating substance dependent expecting mothers, allowing them to keep their newborns and toddlers with them while in treatment.” The organization chose the name, Chrysalis, because it “represents the protected stage of growth the caterpillar must enter before emerging as a butterfly.” This designation, though, goes far beyond metaphor and into the realm of hope because Chrysalis House “provides a safe, nurturing environment where recovering women may reside while undergoing a similar life-changing process” (chrysalishouse.org).

Chrysalis is not a word we hear very often, yet it exemplifies one of nature’s most incredible metamorphoses. Let’s consider the Monarch, which lays its eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf. Feeding voraciously on the leaf that protected it before it hatched, the caterpillar sheds its skin five times, growing a new and bigger exoskeleton or instar each time. On the fifth turn, it morphs into a chrysalis—a hard jade-like protective shell that virtually disappears as it slowly gives birth to another life form—the butterfly, a magical transmutation and universal symbol of hope.  Hope with wings.

1-Chrysalis 014 (5323)

Chrysalis 014

To say that the Monarch’s stages of development, patterns of migration, survival instincts, and self-destructive reproduction propensities are mysterious and perplexing is an understatement. The above photo is one of 18 images that comprise photographer John Stephen Hockensmith’s The Chrysalis Project, a magnanimous undertaking that artistically depicts the remarkable phenomena of the Monarch butterfly’s life cycle and the ramifications it has for us in the modern world, both social and natural.

Hockensmith’s project was born in September, 2016 when a client gifted him a chrysalis in a small terrarium and asked him to watch the miracle that was about to happen. While he did not actually witness the emergence of the butterfly, it inspired him to pursue and document the wonders of this transformation as an art project. He started by going to an arborist who had a garden in his backyard that served as a way station for Monarchs.  There he obtained some milkweed and an additional caterpillar to add to his terrarium.  He closely observed the caterpillar as it munched on the milkweed, growing quite large in a relatively short amount of time.  It then found a twig, formed a silk connection and went into the hooking stage and molded itself into a chrysalis, the emerald green casing you see on the left—Chrysalis 013. This is when Hockensmith pulled his camera out of the bag and went to work.  In its own good time, the chrysalis turned to gossamer as a Monarch butterfly wiggled its way into existence and posed with its ancestor, the caterpillar, in the image on the right—Chrysalis 016.

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Chrysalis 013

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Chrysalis 016

As he began photographing this transformation in his studio, Hockensmith employed a digital-imaging technique known as photo stacking where multiple images are taken at varying focal lengths at very close range. Then using special software, these images are compilated into a single photograph that results in a particular desired depth of field. In Chrysalis 013, for example, all the key elements—the milkweed leaves, the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the floating silver strands from the milkweed seed—are in sharp focus despite the distance between them. And Chrysalis 016 exhibits the same compilated depth-of-field qualities as well.  These are extraordinary works of art not just for the miracle of nature they so exquisitely portray, but because of the experience, knowledge, and technical skills required to create them.

You may not know that it takes a village to create a work of art, particularly a body of work such as The Chrysalis Project, but it does. On discovering that some Girl Scout groups had created five Monarch gardens in Georgetown within the vicinity of his studio, Hockensmith was able to obtain more caterpillars, harvest more milkweed, and build a larger terrarium so that by the end of the season he had witnessed ten caterpillars become butterflies. He was then inspired to take his camera into these gardens and those at Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary near Frankfort to observe and capture Monarchs in various stages of flight, landing on milkweed, and interacting with each other and other insects. He said, “It was an alien world that emerged in front of me that was magical, mystical, and scientific as well as undefinable, really.”

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Chrysalis 002

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Chrysalis 003

As you gaze on Chrysalis 002 and 003, the brilliant ethereal glow and translucent fluidity of these images make you think these dainty nectarines could easily flit out of sight at the blink of an eye. Seizing moments like this is more than just a matter of determination.  It requires instinct and passion, a lot of patience, and a willingness to explore and seek out the feeding and breeding grounds of these transitory spirits of nature.

It’s always advantageous to be in the right place at the right time, but that’s not the whole of it.  Hockensmith used the latest mirrorless technology and long, light-weight lenses in learning to track and capture the butterfly and other insects in flight. The photographer’s intuition and ability to anticipate motion, however, are elemental factors that cannot be mathematically or logically determined. It’s a matter of prescience. In Chrysalis 017, the Monarch has landed on a Zinnia and waits its turn to partake of the sweet nectar. This is obviously a stop-action shot, but the essence of what you see continues long after the shutter has been released.  These co-existing partners of pollination commune, feed, and then move on to continue to fulfill the purpose of their short lives.

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Chrysalis 017

When the Monarchs in his terrarium matured, Hockensmith released them one by one out the back door of his studio saying to each as it took flight, “I’ll see you in Mexico.”  His experimentation and intense interest in these delicate-winged creatures led him to study their migration habits from the Northeastern United States and Canada to eight different sanctuaries in the Sierra Madre Mountain Range of Central Mexico where they gather in ornamental fir trees, the oyamel, on the top of these mountains.  He chose the sanctuary of Cerro Pelon in Mancheros and planned his own migration southward for mid-January. He could not be fully prepared for what lay ahead of him and he could only dream that one of these bronze angels had once inhabited his studio.

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Chrysalis 010

After his arrival in Cerro Pelon, Hockensmith rode up into one of the sanctuaries on a small Spanish Mustang known for its sure-footedness on the mountainside. Waiting for him at the top of the mountain was the third generation of Monarchs that had completed the relay of the migration north the year before.  They dangled in the fir trees in such great numbers that the limbs sagged downward with their weight. Pretty amazing when you consider that the average adult Monarch weighs only half a gram. These trees are critical to their survival, sheltering them from inclement weather and sudden drops in temperatures.  The ability of the Monarchs to even move is slowed down considerably at 55 degrees or below.  But as the temperature rises, they too rise like small kites that have been freed from entanglement and begin their migration northward for another season.

Hockensmith commented that “It appeared as a fantasy to be there with a camera and to be able to record this phenomenal event.  It made me want to incorporate it somehow into the seasons of my own life, to photograph and punctuate the existence of the Monarch in its Kentucky environment, to create my own butterfly gardens, and to have my own communion with these kings and queens of the insect world.” The citizens of the region celebrate the annual return of the Monarchs on “The Day of the Dead” and make offerings to the souls of their departed ancestors who have come back to commune with them.  This is oneness with nature at its best.

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Chrysalis 001

Each generation of Monarchs that migrates back to North America and Canada in the spring lives only a couple of months at most. Once the female lays her eggs on the milkweed leaf, she dies and her offspring continue the journey. The third generation, however, that returns to Mexico in the fall may live as long as seven to eight months, providing they survive the 2,000 to 3,000-mile flight in order to begin the cycle all over again.

Monarchs have few natural enemies other than the elements.  Their biggest threat is humankind.  Although the sanctuaries in Mexico are protected by the government, illegal logging is quickly destroying large portions of their habitat.  Also, the use of herbicides, such as Roundup, is decimating milkweed, the only plant on which the Monarch lays its eggs and on which the caterpillars feed.  Then there is climate change.  The Natural History Wanderings blog site recently posted (February 10, 2017) a release from The Center for Biological Diversity declaring that the Monarch population has dropped off by one-third in 2016 alone, and decreased by 80 percent over the last few decades (naturalhistorywanderings.com). It’s probably safe to say the Monarch butterfly is an endangered species.

The prophetic words of the Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, written over 200 years ago still ring true:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”

So what Hockensmith demonstrates through his art and his first-hand experience is that we can perhaps regain our hearts—that the story of the Monarch’s migration is indeed one of beauty, wonder, endurance, and, yes, sadness. But above all, it is one of hope—the same hope that Chrysalis House has for the disenfranchised mothers and children who are in its care.  In the spirit of rebirth and renewal, Hockensmith has made a commitment to donate a portion of the proceeds from The Chrysalis Project to Chrysalis House. He stated that the integral philanthropic component of his project “metaphorically illustrates the transformational nature of how humans can escape some of the difficult positions we find ourselves in as life changes and insists that we become something other than what we are.”

John Stephen Hockensmith – Fine Art Editions Gallery and Press – Georgetown, Kentucky

John Stephen Hockensmith – Fine Art Editions Gallery and Press – Georgetown, Kentucky

Although the venues are yet to be determined, The Chrysalis Project will be travelling beyond the gallery walls to foster awareness throughout the state regarding the important role these cross pollinators (butterflies and honeybees) play in our lives.  The official launch party is on April 6th from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at Fine Art Editions, 146 East Main Street in Georgetown, Kentucky.

May the great spirit of the Monarch move you to come see this astonishing art work while indulging yourself in some wine and light hors d’oeuvres. And trouble yourself to memorize this line from another great Romantic poet, John Keats: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever!” After seeing this show, which runs through June, you are not likely to forget it.

The museum-quality, limited edition prints of the 18 images included in this exhibit are available framed (31 x 41½ inches) or unframed (19½ x 30 inches), and you can sneak a peek at finearteditions.net

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(All images courtesy of Fine Art Editions)

Arts

Circling Back

From UK Press Release:

During the construction of the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital Pavilion A in 2007 chain link fences were used to separate the construction site from pedestrians. To give the site a more appealing look, digital images depicting what life would look like inside the structure were printed on vinyl and displayed on the fences surrounding the construction site.

Shortly before the completion of the project, Dr. Michael Karpf, UK executive vice president for health affairs, approved a request from Arturo Alonzo Sandoval. Sandoval, an internationally recognized fiber artist and UK faculty member, wanted to take the images that had been displayed on the fences and recycle them into beautiful works of art for patients to enjoy.

Sandoval, Alumni Endowed Professor of Art in the College of Fine Arts’ School of Art and Visual Studies, has been repurposing what some might consider “industrial junk” into pieces of art since 1965. He decided to use this same medium to create something beautiful from the construction of the new facility.

As soon as he saw them on the fence, Sandoval was attracted to the construction sites’ digital vinyl images. “I kept my eye on the main construction wall with the vinyl digital images mounted on it along Limestone,” he said.

Sandoval and studio assistant Sean Fitch selected pieces of the vinyl images based on their dimensions, colors, cropped forms and visual textures. The goal was to design the salvaged material into circular abstract designs. Those designs will soon be displayed in the very building the images once depicted.

“Circling Back” was installed in The Chapel Gallery on the ground floor of Pavilion A on March 1 and can be visited over the next six months.

This installation represents one of the many benefits of the University of Kentucky campus: the ability for two seemingly unrelated entities, health care and visual art to collaborate to create something that is beneficial for both programs as well as patients.

Arts

Between Pictoralism and Polaroids

Drawing comparisons between images of two disparate periods in the twentieth-century history of photography—and the artists who worked in these respective moments—is a precarious curatorial endeavor. Face Value: Photographs by Doris Ulmann and Andy Warhol is akin to a tight rope walk, as the exhibition attempts to connect the portraits taken by Ulmann (1882-1934) and Warhol (1928-87) without addressing major shifts in photographic practice.

Beginning in the early twentieth century, a new wave of artists became increasingly critical of the camera’s efficacy of truth telling. These artists subscribed to the idea that reality—as depicted through the lens of a camera—had collapsed on itself. The photograph became increasingly self-reflexive; artists sought to prioritize the medium’s visual disconnects rather than construct a banal narrative around the image of a static landscape or individual.

In Face Value, the historical and analytical gap between Warhol’s snapshot-style photographs and Ulmann’s highly stylized portraits is a source of both contention and intrigue. The exhibition’s exclusion of medium-specific history results in a distinct emphasis: the individuals Warhol and Ulmann chose to photograph. Although strikingly different in composition and method, Ulmann and Warhol’s photographs document musicians, friends, lovers, dancers, celebrities, and writers.

LEFT: Andy Warhol Jock Soto, n.d. Gelatin silver print Gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts RIGHT: Doris Ulmann, American Michio Ito, 1919 Platinum print mounted on cream laid tissue paper, mounted on cream mat board Gift of Thomas M.T. Niles and John Edward Niles

While the majority of Ulmann and Warhol’s portraits in Face Value are thematically grouped, specific photographs have been intentionally coupled and presented as side-by-side comparisons, illuminating the artists’ adherence to—or disavowal of—medium-specific traditions. Warhol’s black-and-white photograph of the legendary ballet dancer Jock Soto—presumably taken in the late 70s or early 80sis paired with Ulmann’s 1919 portrait of choreographer Michio Itō. Warhol’s image of Soto pushes against its “portrait” categorization, as the subject’s hand is rendered the central focal point.

Indeed, Warhol’s “portraits” often reveal the artist’s concentration on fragmented bodies—hands, torsos, and arms supersede his subjects’ faces. Two horizontal lines interrupt the image’s top-right corner, accentuating Warhol’s interest in the vernacular traditions inherent in amateur photography. On the contrary, Ulmann’s Michio Itō is posed, specifically, for the camera’s lens. The choreographer’s body is shroud in thick dark fabric, leaving only his face exposed.

Ulmann and Warhol’s photographs are aesthetically and analytically incongruous—yet their juxtaposition in Face Value exemplifies Modern photography’s historical break from Pictoralism and “straight photography.” Challenging what the American photographer Edward Weston had described as the “quality of authenticity in the photograph,” Warhol’s images break from former practices that relied on expensive equipment, precise lighting, and staged compositions.[1] Instead, the artist used inexpensive cameras, including The Polaroid Big Shot and Olympus Quick Flash.[2]

Doris Ulmann Untitled (Mulungeon woman at Washtub), n.d. Platinum print mounted on cream mat board Gift of Thomas M.T. Niles and John Jacob Niles

Comparing Warhol’s snapshot aesthetic and Ulmann’s painterly photographs exhumes complex issues rooted in the medium’s evolving methods, but also presents a more nuanced reading of the instability of class consciousness, constructions of identity, and artistic subjectivity in twentieth-century photographs. Ulmann’s Melungeon Woman at a Washtub (n.d.) is constructed to portray Appalachian life through a specific lens—that of a wealthy, educated, New York woman. Posed with washboard and basin, Ulmann’s subject does not confront the camera. Rather, her gaze is directed outward in meditative contemplation. Ulmann, in her chauffer-driven Lincoln, traversed the rural United States seeking subjects that could best condense rural life into a singular image. As a student of the Ethical Culture Movement, her interest in rural subjects stemmed from a humanist tradition: she sought to capture “vanishing types” whose way of life was under threat in an increasingly industrial America.

Clockwise: Doris Ulmann Woman and Child from Line Fork, Kentucky, n.d. Gelatin silver print Purchase: The Robert C. May Photography Fund; Doris Ulmann, American Untitled (Young girl holding doll), ca. 1925 Oil pigment print Gift of Thomas M.T. Niles and John Edward Niles; Doris Ulmann Untitled (South Carolina), 1929-30 Platinum print mounted on cream mat board Gift of Thomas M.T. Niles and John Edward Niles; Doris Ulmann Will Durant and his Daughter Ethel, n.d. Platinum print Purchase: The Robert C. May Photography Fund

Ulmann adhered to Pictorialist traditions that included the use of various blurring techniques to mimic features of painting, in addition to an intent concentration on compositional simplicity. Lighting effects, often produced through a greased lens and soft focus, provided a luminescent atmosphere.[3] For Pictorialists, idea, message, and emotion were paramount to a photograph’s construction. An emphasis on “traditional beauty”—an indeterminate concept that, for the Pictorialists, was seemingly universal but vaguely defined—was often used to dramatize portraits or landscapes.[4]

To connect the approaches and photographs of Warhol and Ulmann seems, at best, a forced marriage—a coupling based on superficial traits. The value of Face Value, however, lies within the irony of its title in relation to the subject of portrait photography: portraiture can never be taken at “face value”—the photographer’s framing of people and events presents a constructed version of reality. Face Value recognizes this tension—at least partly—through the exhibition’s wall text. Warhol and Ulmann’s respective socioeconomic backgrounds (Warhol from blue-collar Pittsburg, Ulmann from an affluent New York family) profoundly influenced their choice of subjects. Both oscillated between paparazzi and voyeur—Warhol and Ulmann’s subjects often served as a mirror from which the photographers could examine their own lives.

Face Value: Photographs by Doris Ulmann and Andy Warhol runs through April 23, 2017 at the University of Kentucky Art Museum.

[1] Edward Weston, On Photography, ed. Peter Bunnell (Salt Lake City, Gibbs M. Smith, Inc., 1983), 51.

[2] Stephen Petersen, Andy Warhol: Behind the Camera, exh. cat. (Newark: The University of Delaware, 2011), v, xi.

[3] Christian A. Peterson, After the Photo-Secession: American Pictoral Photography 1910-1955, exh. cat. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company and the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, 1997), 18.

[4] Peterson, After the Photo-Secession, 18.

Arts

Review: Lexington Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet

Ballet, as an art form, can be difficult to write about. The art of it, the movement from one moment in space to another, is almost impossible to describe in any detail without resorting to jargon that at best conveys a terrible case of Francophilia and at worst renders the whole description unintelligible. Still, every so often you happen across a ballet—whether it’s a performance, a new piece, or just a little video clip of an old prima ballerina—that demands to be shared with whomever will listen. This is a review of Lexington Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet, and it is one of those pieces that demands attention, even secondhand.

Lexington isn’t a large city, and so it’s somewhat remarkable that its Ballet was able to attract the talents of Artistic Director Luis Dominguez who received full scholarships to study in New York with the world acclaimed Dance Theatre of Harlem as well as The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Mr. Dominguez went on to perform around the world as a soloist with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

For this production of Romeo & Juliet, which sadly ran only for this weekend past, he crafted a new set of choreography to match the music of Sergei Prokofiev. Dominguez’ choreography glitters with life and an enthusiasm that is often missing from an art form over three hundred years old. Dominguez has marshaled his company to flit and float about the stage in deceptively simple group tableaus, and he makes his soloist and principal dancers explode off the stage. At the same time, he keeps the ballet grounded, never letting the dance become so airy that it floats away on a cloud of insubstantial pleasantness.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

He achieves this monumentally difficult balancing act by keeping everything about the production simple and direct. Nobody and nothing is carried away by obscure technical details; where Dominguez wants to convey apathy, Mercutio will simply shrug. At the end of Act I, when Romeo and Juliet have finished the first of their spectacular pas de dieux dances, they kiss. Dominguez isn’t interested in communicating with the audience through an opaque and difficult-to-follow series of classical gestures. He just tells the story he wants to tell in a fantastically physical way. And he goes all in to tell it.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Watching this production, it was remarkable how youthful and enthusiastic the whole affair was. I’m no expert, to be sure, but I’ve seen plenty of ballet, and it’s remarkable how often a production will come across as totally lifeless. The cast of Romeo & Juliet, on the other hand, brought such a raw enthusiasm to the performance I saw that I couldn’t help but get carried away in it all. Everyone on stage was having enormous fun, and it infected the audience.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

This enthusiasm was aided by Dominguez’ commitment to a simple and direct choreography. When Mercutio and Tybalt duel, Dominguez’ lets them really swing their swords. It isn’t totally un-stylized, of course; a wide swing is still done with a pirouette. But the ‘language’ of this production was geared towards the general public, not experts of academics who are more interested in dissecting the significance of a single arabesque than in whether they understood what was going on on-stage.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

The youthful enthusiasm of this production wasn’t without a downside, though, and Romeo & Juliet certainly wasn’t perfect. There were plenty of minor dancing errors—a dancer’s head would turn the wrong way, or someone would land from a jump out of time with the rest of the company—but again, that irrepressible energy made it irrelevant to the experience. I just couldn’t find it in myself to be bothered by a lack of technical perfection on the part of the dancers.

Similarly, there were questionable production choices. The lighting of the stage would often cast shadows over the faces of any dancer who strayed too far from center. Loading up three of the soloists with bells that jangle off-time to the music can be distracting when it doesn’t have to be. Moving a set piece—the inescapably iconic balcony—on and off too slowly can put a drag on the momentum of Act I. All these choices certainly count against the production, at least from my perspective, but again I struggle to be all that bothered by any of them.

Maybe it was their faces. A lot of ballet will simply have the company plaster on dead-eyed and utterly artificial expressions of seriousness, meant to convey that you are watching High Art, and never vary that pose. These dancers, and prima Ali Kish in particular, never went in for that approach. When Juliet is happy, Kish lights up the house with a laugh. And when the body count starts to climb, towards the end of the second act, Lady Capulet, danced by Alex Orenstein, twists and contorts her face in a mixture of sorrow and rage.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

This is part of a remarkable commitment on the part of Dominguez and company to actually define their characters as characters. Dominguez doesn’t just use the story of Romeo and Juliet to move from one dance piece to another, he adds little flourishes and touches to create people out of his dancers. Juliet is girlish and impulsive—we first see her enter carrying a doll, a child’s toy. Mercutio, danced by Frank Macias, is the quintessential rogue—he interrupts his fatal duel with Tybalt to take a moment and flirt with one of the girls watching him fight for his life. Cal Lawton’s Lord Capulet, a man whose life is lived by violence, prowls like a bear and strikes his daughter when she refuses to marry Paris. This is a production more interested in the psychologies of its characters than most.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Again, this approach is not carried off without flaws. Romeo himself remains an almost total cipher—what does he see in Juliet? (But to be exceedingly fair, this is also a criticism that can be leveled at Shakespeare’s play.) The secondary characters—The Friar, the Nurse, Tybalt—also remain more-or-less sketches of characters. The dancers, however, give them a life beyond the choreography. Paris, another cipher, gains definition through Tyveze Littlejohn’s rigid and military posture that he maintains even at Juliet’s graveside.

This character-driven approach reaches its peak in Act III. Juliet, utterly distraught by the death of her cousin and the exile of her Romeo, dances a pair of solos in a style entirely different from everything done in the first two acts. Where before she was light and graceful in the pas de dieux, here her motions become quick and sharp, the poses she strikes angular and rigidly defined, not soft or flowing. Kish’s movements become anguished and aggressive, blurring the line between dance and passionate pantomime. The choreography became totally subservient to the character, and it made both reach new highs. It was the best performance I’d seen from a dancer in a long time.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

When I walked out of the Lexington Opera House, I remember thinking how unusual it was to realize that I’d had fun at the ballet. Often, a ballet performance will leave me appreciative of the skill required, and the aesthetics of the performance; when I walk out of the theater I sometimes feel like I sat through a particularly boring church service. It’s a rare performance where I leave the theater with a smile on my face. Romeo & Juliet left me with a stupid grin.

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

Image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography

(Topmost image courtesy of Nicole Brocato Photography)

Arts

Scene&Heard: Eric Bolander and Band, The Wooks at MMH

Manchester Music Hall, formerly Buster’s, is the largest venue in Lexington next to Rupp Arena; the vast space holds up to 1100 concert-goers. As such, the venue attracts regional and touring bands such as Lucero, Sundy Best and Friday night’s headliner, The Steeldrivers.

Formerly the backing band to Chris Stapleton, the Steeldrivers are big; so big they can sell out MMH, including the VIP seating for those willing to pay a bit more for a photo with the band.  They are a big group with a big following and a big crowd to fill every room in every city they play.

But that’s not what this article is about.

This is about what that means for Lexington’s local music scene.  It means that two excellent local bands are able to fill in the bill and open up for this big touring act providing some of our beloved local musicians the opportunity to play in front of 1100 happy-to-be-there folks who may never have heard their music before. These bands get the chance to sell their sound and songs as well as their merchandise and CD’s to the eager crowd as they warm up for the headliner they came to see.

Eric Bolander and his band, and the local bluegrass sensation The Wooks, did exactly that.  They took the chance to ride the wave the night promised, and man did they deliver.

CROWD

Photo by Derek Feldman

By 7pm, the VIP seats in front are filling in, the standing room area is slowly filling with an eager audience, the drinks are flowing and the fried goods out on the food truck are warming up the cold night.  MMH has blocked off an area outside with barricades and filled it kindly with outdoor space heaters for their customers, who gather around like cows to a shade tree in the deepening cold, waiting for their food to cook while they smoke outside. 

It’s time for Eric Bolander to warm up the crowd musically.

ERIC2

Photo by Derek Feldman

Taking the stage with Seth Murphy on cello, Trenton Jenkins on banjo and Ben Caldwell on backing vocals, Eric led his band into a fun, very welcoming intro set. “You kinda thrive on it. It’s nice to see when you get several hundred folks in front of you”, says Bolander of the vast crowd he faced. He previously opened the night for Sundy Best at MMH as well.

That’s the burden of the opening act; to work the room, warm them up, make them happy they are there and hopefully make them happy you are there.  He was successful.  That crowd was ready to love some good music, and Eric entertained them with his original songs, as well as a great cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain”, performed with the right amount blues and twang to make the song his own.

Using Murphy’s cello instead of a lead guitarist, the sound mixed with Jenkin’s banjo to create a unique blend with Bolander’s voice.  Perhaps surprising, coming from his large frame and presence, the art teacher and ten-year veteran of the KY National Guard has a beautiful, sweet voice that owns both ends of his vocal range.  He sang of wooing his now wife, mama to his new little girl, and opened the night with his tune “Honeysuckle” with its notions of protection and love.

Between songs, Bolander warmed the crowd up proper, getting them excited for the two acts yet to come, helping them remember they are so happy to be there, and thanking them with sincere gratitude for their enjoyment of his music, “great folk, bluegrass music with kind of a bluesy spin,” as Bolander describes his sound. Then smoothly, they ended their set and welcomed to the stage, band number two, Lexington’s rising bluegrass phenoms, The Wooks.

Listen to more of Cara’s conversation with Eric Bolander:

Still riding their own wave after winning the Band Contest last summer out at Colorado’s RockyGrass, The Wooks have been actively playing and touring ever since.  Consisting of Morehead’s Jesse Wells on fiddle, Roddy Puckett on bass, Arthur Hancock on banjo, CJ Cain on guitar and Galen Green on mandolin, the bluegrass group mixes originals with some standard covers their fans have come to love, including Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” and Robert Earl Keene’s “The Road Goes On Forever”.  Winning the band contest opened many doors for the Wooks as Jesse Wells’ commented, “I personally didn’t realize what a connection that was, evidently a very prestigious thing.”

Photo by Derek Feldman

Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks have a tightness on stage, the evidence of seasoned musicians who have played together on the road for some time now, with a mutual passion for music that makes their instruments dance.

The Wooks are something of a powerhouse of Lexington musicians, and they all contribute to the songs, both vocally and lyrically.  They brag on each other on stage, Arthur introducing CJ’s songs, CJ introducing Arthur.  They dance around each other as they play, clearly having as much fun on stage as the crowd is down below.  Each song brings hoots of celebration as the fans in the crowd recognize it and thank them for playing it.

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Jesse Wells:

The growing crowd is slowly soaking up more merchandise from the local folks, Wooks t-shirts and koozies, Eric Bolander’s trademark mason jar insignia on his shirts and CD’s.  The opening bands were successful.  By the time the Steeldrivers take the stage, the room is packed full, the audience satiated with good food, cold drinks, loaded down with Merch from two excellent opening acts that satisfactorily filled them with quality music they loved.

Many of the members of the crowd had not come to see Eric Bolander or The Wooks. Some did, but most were there for the headliner.  However, Lexington musicians like these thrive on quality and good musical talent, and their gifts filled that large room, recently remodeled to give the large warehouse space a warm, comfortable and clean feel with great acoustics.

When folks pay up to see these larger regional or national acts when they come to town, they are supporting local musicians as well. “A lot of people are coming here who are fans of the Steeldrivers, fans of them who don’t necessarily follow local music or our music” say The Wooks.  Yet, they are fans now. 

Eric Bolander and band, and the Wooks now have planted their musical seeds in 1100 sets of ears, many for the first time.  Two local bands were able to ride the wave of the bigger band, and the gift of music was shared with a grateful crowd.  All good, all around.

Eric Bolander & Band - Photo by Derek Feldman

Eric Bolander & Band – Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks - Photo by Derek Feldman

The Wooks – Photo by Derek Feldman

Arts

Art and Style Light Up Downtown

The next time you’re in downtown Lexington at night, you’ll find the place beginning to seem a little brighter with many vacant storefronts now illuminated and colorful.

It may not signal a revival of downtown commerce, not yet at least, but Jim Frazier, Chairman of the Downtown Lexington Management District (DLMD), believes the installation of illuminated art in formerly darkened windows will make the city’s core a more attractive and interesting place to be in the evening. He sees it as an important first step on the way to a more interesting, safe and accommodating central core.

“We’ve committed to a first wave of public art,” Frazier said, discussing a new installation by Lexington artist Marjorie Guyon in the main street-facing windows of Festival Market.

Festival Market Night

Photo by Ben Wolff

The DLMD has three focuses: safety, beautification, and marketing. Frazier, who chairs a 15-member board of local business owners, residents, and other downtown stakeholders, said the ultimate goal of the property tax funded organization is to encourage new interest in the area and ultimately increase property values.

A first major step began last September with the appearance on the streets of “ambassadors,” a crew of about eight part-time staff decked out in purple shirts and khaki pants. They’re now on duty day and night picking up cigarette butts, cleaning up litter, helping visitors find their way and dealing with panhandlers.

The next step brought Frazier in contact with Guyon who maintains a downtown studio. Her instructions: “to highlight unrented space in the interest of attracting new business and to help create a vibrant city; to showcase local businesses and create an opportunity for them to present what they do in a public space –  shifting the spirit of a space by bringing unexpected beauty to the darkness.”

Festival Market 1 Blues and Revelation (1)

Photo by Ben Wolff

For this project, Guyon partnered with Betty Spain, proprietor of Bella Rose on the corner of Maxwell and Upper. “When I was putting together the idea for the installation, the presence of human form felt necessary. Bella Rose is known for their dresses and the designers she carries. I thought her collection would be a perfect complement to the artwork.”

Festival Market Camelot and Saffron

Photo by Ben Wolff

“The idea,” Guyon explained, “was to bring beauty and light to a dark and empty space along one of Lexington’s major thoroughfares. With large scale dye sublimation prints on aluminum and dresses from Bella Rose, we’ve created an environment that is not only safe to walk by but illuminates the street creating an opportunity to stop and have an experience.”

Frazier confirmed that the DLMD is looking for additional spaces that could use a brightening touch.

Arts

Radical Visions: A Review

Gordon W. Bailey has given thirty-five works of art to the Speed Art Museum. A World in My View: Gifts from Gordon W. Bailey includes art by twenty-one artists.

An introductory selection of twenty-six pieces is on view at the Speed until February 5th.  All of the artists are African-American and are predominantly from the rural south. The selection is extraordinary on many counts – for the authenticity and depth of emotion in many works, for the range and brilliance of invention, for the improvisatory response to a welter of non-traditional scavenged materials, and not least, for the boldness and freshness of color.

Testimony to religious faith is a recurring theme. Herbert Singleton’s Danieal in the Lion’s Den depicts a stalwart Daniel with a shepherd’s crook standing very upright, looking straight ahead, seemingly unfazed by the lion and lioness confronting him. A hole in the red painted board which provides the support for this sculpture in low relief reinforces the witness to faith: conviction outweighs correct spelling or traditional artistic finish. A jagged broken edge of the board is echoed in the lion’s bared fangs.

Nellie Mae Rowe American, 1900-1982 Peace with Blue Hand, 1980 Crayon and graphite on paper 14 x 14 in. (35.6 x 35.6 cm.) sheet Gift of Judith Alexander

Nellie Mae Rowe is represented by Peace with Blue Hand. Rowe frequently traced her own hand in her art as a way of bearing witness and asserting her presence in the world. The hand points to the word “peace” and a bicolored red sun with green and brown rays. The curve formed by the artist’s thumb and wrist provides a contour for the silhouette of a bird: Rowe was a master at using one line to serve divergent forms. The hand/bird is flanked on the right by the back of a mauve cow and on the left by a pink-leaved flower crowned with a bud in the form of turbaned blue woman’s head. In Rowe’s art blue was often code for black. Race, mysticism, prayer, free association and a profound identification with nature come together in Rowe’s vision.

Purvis Young American, 1943 – 2010 Christ Watching Over Dudes, 1990s Mixed media on wood 68 × 24 in. (172.7 × 61 cm.) Gift of Gordon W. Bailey in honor of Chuck Pittenger

Purvis Young’s Christ Watching over Dudes shows the divine head loped over diagonally above three figures who are defined by an open weave of shimmering horizontal and diagonal strokes in green, carmine, black, blue and yellow.  Christ’s eyes are closed and his mouth is open, as if in prayer.  The three “dudes” are afloat, spectral presences, perhaps already entered into a redemptive afterlife.

J. B. Murray American, 1908 – 1988 Untitled, 1970s Mixed media on wood 25 1/4 × 25 in. (64.1 × 63.5 cm.) Gift of Gordon W. Bailey

J.B. Murry’s work extends the spiritual theme. Murry was convinced that he was scribe for a divinely inspired “language of the holy spirit.”  The example at the Speed holds its own as a color abstraction of the highest order: translucent horizontal and vertical squiggles form a rose, blue and yellow bar hovering over vertical trails of green, yellow, black, blue and purple, partially surrounded by an orange border. The indeterminacy and richness of markings are seemingly offhand but deft in their intuitive sense of economy, providing just enough for a work of art so inbred with transcendence that Murry’s belief that he was amanuensis to divine dictation has its own fictive plausibility.

Not all of the exhibition sticks to spiritual themes:  Henry Spiller’s exuberantly bawdy women display their most intimate attractions with bravado, and Spiller’s extraordinarily well endowed donkey is depicted with echoing curves to provide maximum emphasis to this equine’s outsized masculine attributes.

James “Son” Thomas American, 1926 – 1993 Untitled, 1980s Unfired clay sculpture 8 × 10 × 8 in. (20.3 × 25.4 × 20.3 cm.) Gift of Gordon W. Bailey

Jimmy Lee Sudduth and Son House offer disorienting, unsettling experiences with their portraits of women.  The body of Sudduth’s woman is defined by a brown circle seen against a yellow ground. The asymmetrical face addresses the viewer with a commanding, arresting stare.  Comparably, Son House’s unfired clay head sports a wig, gold eyes and gold teeth, and her head is tilted to one side as if in animated conversation.  In both works there is an uncanny sense of the unfamiliar familiar, artworks that seem very real without the traditional trappings of realism.

Equally haunting are Welmon Sharlhorne’s precisely delineated fanciful architecture, evoking funhouse or carnival buildings.  Drawn on what appears to be the backs of yellow manila envelopes, the artist’s studied designs take their coordinates from folds in the paper.  One of his drawings features a clown figure wearing a beanie with a clock on his nose. (Sharlhorne spent many years incarcerated and clocks and closed doors in his drawings may have autobiographical significance).  The beanie demarcates the roofline of the building and flips in and out of three dimensionality, becoming a dome in Sharlhorne’s Escheresque perspective.

New York Times critic Roberta Smith has remarked that looking at the work of self-taught artists has made her “more open, less tolerant of rules and orthodoxies, more understanding of the human urgency to make art and how widespread it is.”  The indigenous artists’ works on view at the Speed offer precisely that aesthetic liberation.

Arts

Can Music Bring the Bluegrass State Together?

this just can’t go on. It’s ridiculous: Here are people living right next to each other who can’t have a meaningful dialogue, and who assume nothing will ever change. So I keep thinking, ‘what can I do about that?’

  • Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra

Interesting, the way information gets around. It took a friend of a friend emailing the link to an article in the San Fransisco Classical Voice to call the attention of Kentuckians to the remarkable thoughts of an innovator within our midst. And who can argue with Teddy Abrams’ observation of the power of music to build bridges in divisive times…such as these?

READ ON

(Top photo by Chris Witzke)

Arts

Review: Old Music in the New World

In Truman Capote’s short story, “A Christmas Memory,” the young narrator brings to life the true spirit of giving.  As he speaks of an elderly distant cousin with whom he lives, he says, “It’s always the same: a morning arrives in November, and my friend, as though officially inaugurating the Christmas time of the year that exhilarates her imagination and fuels the blaze of her heart announces: ‘It’s fruitcake weather!’ ” Each year in a four-day period, she bakes “Thirty-one cakes, dampened with whiskey” to give to friends. “Not necessarily neighbor friends: indeed, the larger share is intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all . . . these strangers, and merest acquaintances seem to us our truest friends.”

And so it is with The Center for Old Music in the New World when it offers up each year its own seasonal fruitcake, “A Handful of Christmas Delights,” at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky.  In this modern structure, reminiscent of a small European-style abbey, the acoustics beautifully enhance a remarkable world celebration of traditional and sometimes not-so-traditional tunes, depending on your frame of reference.  But there is always a key ingredient or tasty morsel that is sure to sate every holiday appetite.  

St. Michael's Episcopal Church - Photo by J.P. Fields

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church – Photo by J.P. Fields

This season’s selections spanned several hundred years, from the early 13th to late 20th century, and represented seven countries. The strength of this type of programming stems from the fact that it reveals more similarities than differences among peoples throughout the world when it comes to celebrating Christmas.  Our connectedness, our oneness. The diverse languages and the musical manners of the day from these various cultures further enriched our appreciation and understanding of these carols that have become an integral part of our lives at this time of year. 

Music Director Joanna Manring’s traditional organization of the evening’s program also met seasonal expectations:  Exultation—praise to the Virgin Mary; Birth—adoration of the Christ Child; and News, Feasting, and Dancing—joy in the redemption of humankind. Although these program segments are obviously chronological, the music was not, nor did it need to be.

As a tidbit, the audience was first treated to three 13th century instrumental pieces played on rarely-heard period instruments: the krumhorn, the viola da gamba, the lute, the portative organ, the tabor, and recorders.  Skillfully performed by Malissa Sullivan (Director of Instrumental), Katherine Bihl, Pat Arnold, John Hedger, Dwight Newton, and Jenny Brock, these works from England, France, and Galicia, respectively, provided a stirring sampler of medieval secular and sacred tunes.  A friend in attendance with me commented that these instruments sounded oddly contemporary to her.  That perception, however, is not as odd as it may seem if you really think about how many modern-day composers draw on early music such as this for inspiration.

                  

Musicians playing period instruments - Photo by J. P. Fields

Musicians playing period instruments – Photo by J. P. Fields

The Exultation, commenced with an affecting choral procession as eighteen acapella voices resounded throughout the ethereal vaults of the sanctuary with a modern arrangement (1990) of a traditional English melody, “Rorate Coeli” (Drop down ye heav’ns from above), sung in Latin but not unfamiliar in English:  “For us a child is born / Sing glory be to God.” 

Probably the most moving piece of this segment, though, was from 13th century England (anonymous) sung in Middle English, “Edi be thu, heven-quene” (Blessed be you, heaven’s queen), a polyphonic medieval chant showcasing the women’s chorus in praise of the Virgin Mary.  This consummately delivered, other-worldly incantation smoothly transported us to the Birth portion of the program where two better-known Christmas favorites, one instrumental and one choral, were in store.

As John Hedger began playing his arrangement of “Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen” for solo lute, a stillness blanketed the air to the point that you could almost hear the angels breathe.  We know this haunting melody (and song) from 16th-century Germany as “Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming.” And even though there was no vocal component, I was all the more moved as I heard in my mind’s ear the words being articulated by this 13-stringed Renaissance instrument—a clue that it was most assuredly in the hands of a true artist.

   

John Hedger on the lute - Photo by J. P. Fields

John Hedger on the lute – Photo by J. P. Fields

Next, the chorus and five soloists graced us with a 1983 arrangement of the ubiquitous English ballad, “The Cherry Tree Carol.” I say ballad because the verse is presented in rhymed couplets which tell the story of Mary announcing to Joseph that she is with child. As the narrative unfolds, Joseph is angered, knowing that the baby is not his, and he refuses to gather the cherries she has asked of him.  He realizes his mistake when, at the bidding of the unborn Baby Jesus, the cherry tree bows to the ground so Mary can gather them for herself.  Joseph then pleads for forgiveness and asks the baby when its birthday will be.  And Jesus replies, “The sixth day of Januar’ My birthday will be, / When the stars in the elements Shall tremble with glee.”

This carol is a yuletide staple for at least three good reasons: First, it is a straight-forward tale that is nothing short of the miracle of the virgin birth itself, the idea of the Holy Child speaking from its mother’s womb. Second, it is a reminder that before we adopted the Gregorian calendar, Jesus’ birthday was celebrated on January 6th, what we now refer to as Old Christmas.  Third, it brings to our awareness the idea of celebrating the twelve days of Christmas as a way of slowing down the pace and savoring the quintessential spirit of the season that, as Capote’s narrator suggests, will “exhilarate [our] imaginations and fuel the blaze of [our] hearts.” This is the message, the good news, The Center for Old Music in the New World imparted throughout its program in general and with the last part of the program in particular: News, Feasting, and Dancing.

Following intermission, soloist Camilla Roberson and chorus joined forces in “Noe, Noe! Pastores, Cantate Domino” by French Baroque composer, Guillaume Bouzignac. The piece begins with a quickened tempo in a staccato-like fashion, punctuating the good news, “Noel, noel!” As the voices slowly soften (pianissimo) into incredible resonating harmonies, Roberson bursts forth (sforzando) with her “Gloria” followed by her alternating (and sometime simultaneous) responses to questions posed by the chorus, such as: “Why did God become man? (So that man may see God).” This vocally effective call-and-response type of exchange melded at the end into a single yet harmonious rendering of praise.

The audience was then spirited into an instrumental set of dances from “Terpsichore” by Michael Praetorius (Germany, 1612) that established the tone for the remainder of the performance.

And by way of continuing the transition from sacred to secular, Jenny Brock and Loren Tice invited us, via a well-balanced duet, to “Make we joye nowe in this fest / In quo Christus natus est.”—to be joyful on this festive occasion in which Christ was born.

Ending not only on a high note (figuratively speaking), but also on a highly personalized note (literally speaking), the singers indulged the audience in an all-time holiday favorite, “Wassail Song,” with its sweet refrain: “Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too, / And God bless you, and send you a happy new year.”  Then Manring stepped down from the podium and joined the troupe for the final treat that took the cake, “Lexington Wassail,” a customized version of the traditional English “Apple Tree Wassail.”

When I asked one of the singers how Lexington became a part of the title of this song, he replied rather jokingly, “We call it the ‘Lexington Wassail’ because we’ve been singing it in Lexington, Kentucky longer than any musicologist can prove it was ever sung in jolly old England!”  As individual singers contributed a customized verse, the audience was invited to join in on the familiar refrain. And the verse that wrapped up the evening went something like this: “Here’s a toast to our neighbors and long may you live / since you’ve been so kind and so willing to give / We’re glad you’re not selfish, pernicious or mean / so live to the fullest in Two Thousand Seventeen!”

In the manner of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory,” this was an invitation to friendship with “strangers, and merest acquaintances,” or perhaps persons we have never met. After all, “It’s fruitcake weather!” And the amount of time that it takes a fruitcake, “dampened with whiskey” nonetheless, to ripen or mellow so that it melts in your mouth is equally true of the joyous music presented to us at Christmas time. Hence, the baking and rehearsing must always begin in November, if not sooner. The Center for Old Music in the New World’s “A Handful of Christmas Delights” was delicious!

So if you missed this season’s performance, then you have next Christmas to look forward to.  And although the program has not yet been determined, Director Joanna Manring indicated that the Company’s spring concert will be of equal delight, addressing themes of rebirth, awakening, and renewal as the cycle of life continues. 

All performances are free (donations suggested). What a gift! For announcements and updates, keep a lookout at http://www.centerforoldmusic.org. And happy New Year good friends, known and unknown!

Note: Video clips courtesy of The Center for Old Music in the New World and Steve Davis

Arts

Scene&Heard: Cosmic Charlie’s Opens New Location with Born Cross Eyed’s 25th

It was quite serendipitous that Mark Aaron Evans was ready to do a hard open for the new National Avenue location of Cosmic Charlie’s just as Born Cross Eyed was about to celebrate twenty-five years as a band. The two had become fast friends back in the days of The Fishtank before the old Cosmic Charlie’s came into being. It was all too appropriate for these two momentous occasions to align as one long weekend of a music genre that has become a Lexington staple. This fusion created a very magical first night, and Lexington came out in droves to celebrate and support.

Evans has a full plate of booking responsibilities, scheduling bands not only for Cosmic Charlie’s and the Burl in Lexington, but also Zanzibar and Headliners in Louisville.

I arrived early at the new venue in Lexington’s Warehouse Block district. The relocation is a demographic shift from just off the UK campus to walking distance from Lexington’s Kenwick neighborhood, a magnet for young professionals and families. As the band sound checked in the background, I spoke at length with Mark about the new space, his vision and this special weekend:

The new Cosmic Charlie’s is quite an elevation from the old location, which, while nostalgic and comfy for many, could lack in decorum.  Especially those bathrooms.  The new location is sparkly, squeaky clean and openly inviting.

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The different colored lights that make the surface of the bar twinkle reflect in the shiny silver lights above.  The front of the house boasts a pin ball machine and a juke box. The sound booth is tucked against the wall and the open floor is the perfect space for the dancing that had to occur.  Born Cross Eyed, like the band it emulates, makes you just want to dance.  And dance we did.

For twenty-five years, Lee Owen, Joey David, Chris Fuller, and Mark Vanderboegh have been covering the Grateful Dead in Born Cross Eyed, the “by-product of a bunch of deadheads sitting around a living room, really” according to the band.  “We were all running around the Dead shows together all around the country.”

Their mutual love for the band and the lifestyle easily mixed with their musical talents and back in 1991 became the long enduring Lexington legend.  Celebrating twenty-five years of gigs, festivals and full dancing, happy crowds, they were joined this Anniversary weekend with newer members Brandon Bowlds (bass), Jenny Adkins (vocals), and John-Paul Nowak (drums). During the Saturday night performance, drummer Dino English, of Dark Star Orchestra fame, joined the band for the big one-year celebration.

The fresh new room filled quickly Friday night, and when the band took the stage around 10:30 pm everyone in the front half of the floor was immediately dancing. The music flowed smoothly from one song to the next, each one bringing cheers from the crowd like an old friend returned home.  That’s the draw of the Dead and the good cover bands like Born Cross Eyed.  It is ritual.  To cover those songs with such ease and musical precision brings joy to the crowd like a Sunday revival. 

“It’s a huge community. I mean it’s our monthly meeting, some people have a bridge club, I have a Grateful Dead cover band…It’s like our church…there is a spiritual component to the Grateful Dead,” says lead singer Lee Owen of his baby.

The crowd agrees; these shows, of which I have attended many, fill with familiar faces and new strangers, but there is a strong sense of community and connection through the love of the music.  The lyrics are echoed by the crowd like hymns and creeds, the knowing of what is to come, and sinking down into the words and the rhythm, bumping off the crowd as everyone moves with gentle ease; this is the service. That is the ritual.  Born Cross Eyed is the officiant, and they deliver what the crowd wants and needs.

Brandon Bowlds (bass), Lee Owens (guitar)

Brandon Bowlds (bass), Lee Owens (guitar)

Lee Owen on lead guitar and Brandon Bowlds on bass is a tight combination, the two also played together in Bluegrass Collective and their experience is obvious. 

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Jenny Adkins, Brandon Bowlds, Lee Owen

Jenny Adkins adds in high harmonies along with Joey David on rhythm guitar and vocals, and the front line flows smoothly from song to song, covering all the eras of the expansive Grateful Dead history.

Joey David

Joey David

The crowd dances and sings along, appreciating the masterful skill of the drums, the keys and sax, those guitars wailing out the tunes.

The house was packed. The women’s bathroom was a constant streaming conversation appreciating the pretty new décor and cleanliness. The drinks flowed cold from the taps.  Next door, Rolling Oven and Locals provided food that Evans is happy to allow inside.  They also encourage delivery from Girls, Girls, Girls Burritos, their former business mates at the old Fishtank, now Best Friend Bar.

The music kept going, past 2am.  As the night got older, the crowd got younger. Older Deadheads went home to kids and early mornings while the twenty-something Deadheads took their place and kept the dancing going.  The vibe stayed the same, as it does at Dead shows.  The music creates the vibe, and the crowd responds accordingly.

It was a magical night.  When the band moved into the crowd for a picture with the audience behind them, it was nothing but love.  Love for the skill with which they make the music, Love for keeping the legend going all these many years, Love for being such a nice group of guys who clearly share the connection.

It’s all about the connection. Connecting with the music, the crowd. Connecting with each other on stage to produce the tight layered harmonies and chords and notes. Connecting with the lyrics to infuse them as Jerry and Pigpen once did. Connecting folks in Lexington to come out in the cold night and support these hard working musicians doing what they love. Local businesses connecting with one another and helping each other thrive, as the newly revamped block on National Avenue is doing. It all came together quite beautifully Friday night.

Thanks, guys, for keeping the connection going.

Arts

Guy Mendes: Unframed Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arts

Scene&Heard: This Was What They Wanted

I was 18 when I bought my first Leonard Cohen tape and slid it into the car stereo of my Dad’s old Buick. Was This What You Wanted? began to play, and the whole world of one naïve Catholic Italian girl from Buffalo changed.

Music has that power, and that whole tape of the album New Skin for the Old Ceremony had a powerful influence on me as an audiophile. Lyrics suddenly became the most important part of a song, and Cohen was certainly one of the great sages of lyrical construction.

On the night of the election when I opened my newsfeed and learned that the great poet had gone to his reward, as my mother says, I felt an immense grief. I had to do something.

My simple Facebook suggestion to put on a show in tribute to Cohen resulted in a rapid response from musicians in town interested in getting involved. Clearly, so many of the local musicians I admire were as brokenhearted as me over the loss of this great, influential artist.

So, I found myself organizing a Leonard Cohen Tribute at The Burl, where my friend Bryan Minks gave us a Monday night to simply have a stage where we could pay tribute to a man to whom we all felt a strong musical connection. We decided to pass the hat for donations, and someone suggested we send anything collected to Standing Rock to help the water protectors in their struggle. The event began to take form.

The 28th of November was a damp and dreary night in Lexington, Kentucky, and the UK Wildcats were playing on tv. I wasn’t sure what to expect for turnout, but the room was already filling at 7:30. I placed candles on the tables as promised, and the first band began setting up. The intent was simply for each singer or group to choose two Cohen songs, perform them in their own way, and we would hopefully move smoothly from one set to the next, working Nolan Dunn too hard as he skillfully modified the soundboard for each different performer.

The Northside Sheiks (photo above) started the night with their signature blues vibe, Willie Eames giving his style to Almost Like the Blues and Slow with Lee Carroll on accordion, Smith Donaldson on Bass, Robert Frahm on guitar and David White on drums. From there, the packed house listened to a steady stream of great Lexington area musicians: Chris Sullivan, Warren Byrom, Brian Combs, Bryan Minks, Keith Rowland, Doc Feldman (with a little bit of help from yours truly), Eric Cummins, Chelsea Nolan, Josh Nolan, Derek Spencer, Ben Aubrey with Trinity Curtsinger, Rob Rawlings and Alex Parkansky. And then came a duet on strings with Elias Gross on viola and vocals and Richard Young on Bass, which grew into a trio that added Anna Hess on violin to back Kevin Holm-Hudson on keys when he led the entire group in Cohen’s Hallelujah to end the evening.

The night proceeded exactly as I had imagined it: candles flickered, people in quiet conversations between sets. When each performer began, the entire room hushed, even with the game on mute back at the bar. With the two songs they had chosen, each artist blended Cohen’s brilliant poetry with their own style and instrument to make it theirs.

“I’m always pleased when somebody sings a song of mine. In fact, I never get over that initial rush of happiness when someone says they are going to sing a song of mine. I always like it,” the late Cohen once noted in an interview on Pacifica Radio. “That song enters the world, and it gets changed, like everything else — that’s OK as long as there are more authentic versions. But a good song, I think, will get changed.”

He knew, of course, that his songs would live on. He even told us so in Tower of Song. Each artist or group of artists paid homage to Cohen that night, as candle flames flickered and the rain spattered against the windows. The Roll n’ Smoke food truck was parked outside, and the tangy aroma of barbecue floated through the Burl blending nicely with the fragrance of candles.

The audience was treated to a wide variety of genres as each artist individualized Cohen’s songs, piecing together the entire crazy quilt of the evening. From the Sheik’s blues interpretation to Bryan Mink’s Tower of Song with that country metal edge he has, to Chelsea Nolan’s booming vocals to Alex Parkansky’s drone metal guitar lifting Cohen’s music to surreal levels. Then the night went to strings, and the room, still nearly full even at 11:30 p.m. on a dark, wet Monday night, melted with the candles as all the singers took the stage once more to back Kevin Holm-Hudson in Hallelujah.

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We all sang along, barely able to hold back during the verses as we harmonized into the chorus. I felt like I was in church again, the candle light blurring past the strings in front of us, the keys played perfectly as each of the seven verses guided us along. The crowd joined in too – everyone knows the words to this iconic song – and that room full of gorgeous wood and candles and people who simply love great musical poetry, that room rang with the collection of those voices. No voice was distinguishable from another. And then the last chorus was sung, and Kevin paused for just a moment of silence, and ended the night with those two words that took all our breath away: “Goodnight, Leonard.”

We raised a total of $700 for the Sacred Stone Camp at Standing Rock. My friend Psera Newman, Direct Action Trainer for the Lexington Chapter of Greenpeace, took the stage twice and spoke to the audience about her time at Standing Rock, and why she chose Sacred Stone Camp as the appropriate recipient of contributions, describing it as the beating heart of the body that is the Standing Rock resistance.

Folks were unbelievably generous all night long, and the money order to Sacred Stone is en route, along with a letter I wrote to the leader of the camp, Ladonna Brave Bull Allard.

I am so proud of Lexington. I am so proud of all the musicians who took the stage that night, who took the time out of their lives to learn new songs and perform them and support each other simply to do it. For the love of the music. To show respect to someone who devoted their life to creating beauty and art for others to love. And to share the effort in the form of charity, for others who really need some help right now.

Goodnight, Leonard Cohen. Thanks for the beauty, sir.

(Credit: Derek Feldman, all photos and video.)


The Set List:

1. The Northside Sheiks- Almost like the Blues, Slow

2. Chris Sullivan- Famous Blue Raincoat

3. Warren Byrom and Chris Sullivan- Suzanne

4. Brian Combs- The Butcher, Heart with no Companion

5. Bryan Minks- Tower of Song, Is this what you wanted

6. Keith Rowland- The Stranger Song, Bird on the Wire

7. Derek Feldman w/ Cara Blake Coppola- You Want it Darker, There is a War, If It Be Your Will

8. Eric Cummins- Tonight Will Be Fine, Darkness

9. Chelsea Nolan- On the Level, One Of Us Can’t Be Wrong

10. Josh Nolan- Alexandra Leaving, Diamonds in the Mine

11. Derek Spencer- So Long, Marianne, Steer Your Way

12. Ben Aubrey- Dance Me to the End of Love, Here it Is

13. Rob Rawlings- Iodine, Paper Thin Hotel

14. Alex Parkansky- The Future, Waiting for the Miracle

15. Elias Aaron Irving Gross- Chelsea Hotel

16. Kevin Holm-Hudson-the Runaway Horse, Hallelujah

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



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2016Kentucky_Renaissance_installation view horizontal
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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

“Duane Michals: Sequences, Tintypes, and Talking Pictures,” Carl Solway Gallery

This review published with permission from AEQAI.

“Old age should be a reward, not a punishment,” declares octogenarian Duane Michals. “I must recommend getting older.” 1

Duane Michals, “The Journey of the Spirit After Death”, 15th in sequence, 1971/c. 1971, 27 gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, photo #15,3 3/8” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7” x 9” (framed)
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

With his vigor, creativity, and capacity for impishness to poke at the sacred cows of the art world, he’s a great advertisement for old age.

As part of FotoFocus, Carl Solway Gallery is presenting three bodies of Michals’ work: “Sequences” from the 1960s and 1970s; “Tintypes” of 2012-2013; and his most recent, “Talking Pictures.” He writes, directs, and acts in what he calls “mini-movies.” They are a logical development from his “Sequences,” where a story is told through a series of silver gelatin prints, some with text written in his own hand. They were described as “evocative mime fables” in the press release for the 1970 “Stories by Duane Michals” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. With “Talking Pictures,” Michals has added a soundtrack.

Duane Michals, still from “What Is Real” © Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Born February 18, 1932, Michals grew up in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh. He’s from a working-class Catholic family of steelworkers and is proud of his blue-collar roots. He remembers them going to work and doing their jobs, and “on Christmas, you have a shot of whiskey and a beer. You know like that. I liked it as a kid, and I still do.” 2

He’s come a long way from McKeesport, which also produced Andy Warhol, and from a home where the only book in the house was “maybe . . . a phone book.” Now his favorite author is the “eternally amazing” Jorge Luis Borges, and the painters he loves are Giorgio De Chirico, René Magritte, and Balthus. He listens to classical music exclusively and is “a huge fan of films like A Room with a View, L’Atalante, or Zero de Conduite by Jean Vigo or Repulsion by Roman Polanski.” 4

That might have been foretold when at 17 with money from his paper route, he bought his first book of poetry–Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It was a time when he was struggling with his Catholic upbringing and his homosexuality. 5

As a teen Michals took art classes at the Carnegie Institute and then continued his education at the University of Denver, studying art education to please his parents. After graduating with a B.A. in 1953, Michals spent the next three years in the army. “The army was the worst time in my life. Whatever problems I have to face now, I always tell myself that at least I am not in the army.” 6

Released—or perhaps one could say “liberated”—from the service, Michals moved to New York in 1956 to study graphic design at the Parsons School of Design; although he didn’t complete his studies, he did work as a graphic designer.

Michals came to photography by chance, and has no formal training for which has always been grateful since he never had to “unlearn the rules.” He had been designing promotional materials for Time Inc. magazines and in 1958 during the Cold War was given a unique opportunity to go to the USSR. Thinking he should take pictures as souvenirs, he borrowed a camera from a friend who also offered to lend him a light meter. “I refused because that meant I would be expected to take nice, serious pictures!” Instead the friend explained to Michals how to shoot in available light. 7

His decision to use only available light affected his entire career; 90% of the time that’s all he uses. But that has not impeded his career as a professional photographer. He “still managed to do major commercial jobs,” everything from the Paris collections to the 1968 Olympics for the Mexican government to ad campaigns for Elizabeth Arden and Pampers. Michals never eschewed commercial work, as it allowed him to do what he calls “private” work.

When Michals returned to the U.S., he interviewed for a job with “graphic guru” Henry Wolf. He brought a dummy magazine with his portraits of people in Minsk. (He had quickly learned the Russian for “May I take your picture?”)  “When I showed it to him, he said, ‘Who took these pictures?’ and I said I did, and he said that I should be a photographer instead of a graphic designer.” 8

With no formal training—learning as he went along—Michals uses rather basic photo techniques such as underexposing and overexposing, burning and dodging, long and multiple exposures, and sandwiching negatives to create the otherworldly effects seen in his photos. He continues to shoot film (Tri-X) with his 35 mm Canon cameras, using a computer only occasionally.

Michals is celebrated as a photographer, but his preferred sobriquet is “expressionist.” “I’m not a photographer or a writer or a painter or a tap dancer, but rather someone who expresses himself according to his needs,” as he told James A. Cotter in a 2004 story in photoinsider.” 9

Duane Michals, “Molly Bloom”, 2013, tintype with hand-applied oil paint, 8 ¼” x 6 3/8” © Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Before considering Michals’ “Sequences” and “Talking Pictures,” let’s dispatch with the “Tintypes.” In these he painted vividly colored abstract shapes over 19th-century studio portrait tintypes. The nonobjective additions don’t enhance his dour subjects or even seem related to them. This isn’t the first time for him to try this artistic ploy.

In the 1980s, he painted on his prints and those of others, including Eugène Atget and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Back then he was adding “carefully rendered objects.” 10  But Michals candidly confesses that that work got terrible reviews.” 11 In my view, the more recent effort doesn’t fare much better.

So back to the “Sequences.” In these he uses a series of staged black-and-white photos to tell the story. They are not large by today’s standard; none shown at Solway are larger than 5” x 7”. “I always said I want my photographs to whisper. Whereas a lot of photographs shout to get attention. Now there are big eight, seven-foot photographs—that’s shouting. A little print you have to come up to—‘Say what? Tell me?’ It’s a whole different experience.” 12

Originally this work wasn’t well received by the photographic community. In a 1968 show in the funky 10th Street Underground Gallery run by Norbert Cleaver, Joel Meyerowitz and Garry Winogrand walked out with Winogrand dismissing the work as “not photography.” 13

And it got worse. Around 1974 Michals began handwriting or printing on the prints like one might in the margins of a book. A teacher at the School of Visual Arts “asked me, very alarmed: ‘What is this thing of writing on photographs?!’ The idea has always been that an image is worth a thousand words, and to have to write something to support or explain an image could only mean that the image had failed . . . But photographs fail all the time and all I did when I started writing in my pictures was to respond to the limitations of the medium. I’ve always thought that photographs don’t tell you enough. They describe very well. But when I write, I am pointing at things that can’t be seen. All this came from the frustration I felt about the silence of the still image.”14

There are five pieces from Michals’ “Sequences” on view at Solway. I’m conflicted about describing the photos. I don’t want to use a thousand—or even just a few hundred—words to tell what each picture looks like.

So instead of that, here are the eight photos from The Fallen Angel.

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

Duane Michals, “The Fallen Angel”, 1968/1968, eight gelatin silver prints with hand-applied text, 3.25” x 5” (each image), 5” x 7” (each paper), 7.25” x 9.25” (framed).
© Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

The story is simple to “read.” A nude angel awakens the girl/woman, but in satisfying his carnal need, loses his divinity. With remorse he clothes himself as he must give up heaven for an earthly existence. The piece is dated 1968, six years before Michals began to add more explanatory and/or confounding text.

As an art historian, I want developments in an artist’s oeuvre to proceed in a neat linear fashion. You can draw a straight line between the “Sequences” and the “Talking Pictures,” but it took 50 or so years to get there. Michals’ mime fables now have a spoken script but address the same issues: life, death, sex, lust, love, grief, fantasy, reality, spirituality, metaphysics.

There are also visual links between the still photos and films. Some of the effects Michals used in his black-and-white photographs, such as double exposures, layering of images, and fades, show up in the color films.

Duane Michals, still from “Double Talk” © Duane Michals.  Courtesy of DC Moore Gallery, New York

In Tickets to Heaven, Dr. Duanus (Michals) wears crudely lettered sandwich boards advertising tickets to heaven for $5.00 plus tax. Stationed in an alley and using a megaphone, he accosts a man dressed in black. The good doctor is so anxious to make the sale that he knocks off the tax, reduces the price, and offers to throw in the secret grip and the password needed to get past St. Peter: applesauce. Questioned about why “applesauce,” Dr. Duanus lays it out in the simplest terms: “Adam, Eve, snake, apple.” The man, who finds that the scam has a “certain charm,” gives Dr. Duanus a dollar, which he accepts as a down payment. As he passes the huckster, he acquires wings and becomes twinned apparitions on his way to heaven. After the credits, Dr. Duanus reappears, declaring he doesn’t sell tickets to hell, but you can get them from the Republicans down the street.

On the occasion of the 2014 Carnegie retrospective “Storyteller,” Eugene Reznik asked Michals how he felt about his success in his 80s. Michals responded: “I don’t have to prove anything anymore. I’ve defined who I am with the work, so it’s nice. It’s nice and my timing is good. If this had happened when I was 60, or whatever, it would have been quite different. Sometimes it’s bad to peak too soon. That would have been peaking too soon. I’m right on schedule in terms of peaking.” 15

“Duane Michals: Sequences, Tintypes, and Talking Pictures,” Carl Solway Gallery, 424 Findlay St., Cincinnati, OH  45214, 513-621-0069, fax: 513-621-6310, info@solwaygallery.comwww.solwaygallery.com. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9 am-5 pm; Sat. 12 pm-5 pm. Through January 21, 2017.

FOOTNOTES

Jim Provenzano, “The Poet’s Eye,” The Bay Area Reporter Online,” July 5, 2007.

Eugene Reznik, “Interview: Duane Michals on 50 Years of Sequences and Staging Photos,” American Photo, November 12, 2014.

Ibid.

Lorena Muñoz-Alonso, “Showing the things we cannot see, an interview with Duane Michals,” http://selfselector.co.uk/2013/12/11/showing/-the-things-we-cannot-see-an-interview-with-duane-michals/ Originally published in BuffaloZine, issue 2 [http://buffalozine.com/]

James A. Cotter, “Duane Michals” feature story, PhotoInsider, 2004.

Muñoz-Alonso.

Ibid.

Ibid.

Cotter.

10 Rebecca Robertson, “Duane Michals: Fighting Against Photography,” ARTnews, summer 2013.

11 Kristine McKenna, “Picture Imperfect: for maverick Duane Michal, a photo is worth far less than a thousand words when the questions are about the very meaning of truth,” Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1993.

12 Cotter.

13 Reznik.

14 Muñoz-Alonso.

15 Reznik.

Arts

Review: East Meets West in Coalfields of Eastern Kentucky

The coal mine, itself a central character in Emile Zola’s late nineteenth-century novel, Germinal, is described as “evil-looking, a hungry beast crouched and ready to devour the world.” When one of the miners spits out a black blob, another asks him if it’s blood. He declares, “It’s coal. I’ve got enough in my guts to heat me till the day I die. I guess I stored it up without even knowing about it. Well, it keeps your insides from spoiling.”

A recent exhibit at the Lexington Public Library, East Meets West, bestows this kind of dubitably dignified human face on coal which seems to exemplify the pride miners take in making an honest living, and the role they play in supplying their nation with energy and power. Paradoxically, though, black dust mingles with their blood and flows through their veins much like the seams of coal that run between the overlying and underlying strata of rock within the mine.

The two Chinese artists who created these works have a particular interest in this subject matter. Xiaoan Li is the Dean of the College of Fine Art at Shaanxi Normal University in China, and Dongfeng Li is an Associate Professor in the College of Arts and Design at Morehead State University. Although they share the same last name and a similar vision, they are not related. So to avoid confusion, I will refer to them by their first names.

In 2010, Dongfeng was awarded a four-year grant from MSU to compare coal mining methods and practices between China and the US. He selected two mines in Martin County, Kentucky (Inez) for his study and formed a collaboration with Xiaoan, whose university is located in Province of Shaanxi, the largest coal mining district in China. His initiative was to address the differences in mining facilities, working conditions, safety standards, rates of pay, benefits, and more important, the human factor, which the two men have dutifully and creatively expressed through their art.

Xiaoan is on leave from Normal University this semester to work with Dongfeng at MSU where their collaborative efforts culminated in this important body of work.  They spent many hours visiting and talking with miners (and their families) employed at two separate mines in Inez. It is from these repeated encounters and numerous sketches that they gained the soulful perspectives reflected in their paintings. Equally important, both artists’ medium and style are representative of the culture in which each is deeply rooted, the East and the West.

Dongfeng paints with watercolor (and occasionally pastels) on watercolor paper and yupo paper, a tree-free, synthetic, multimedia, recyclable paper that is gaining greater appeal with Western artists and graphic designers. Xiaoan, on the other hand, paints with brush ink on rice paper, more common to the Eastern tradition of artistic expression. In both instances, however, the message is powerfully embedded in their respective mediums.

In Dongfeng’s “Coalminer,” the transparency of the watercolors seem to make the spirit of the inner man transparent as well. The miner is reticent and pensive as he stares almost blankly into the space before him. He looks sad and lonely, yet determined. He knows his headlamp with its battery strapped at his waist will light his way into the darkness and out again after a long day (or night) of hard labor. 

Coalminer - Photo by J. P. Fields

Coalminer – Photo by J. P. Fields

The gloomy and muted monochromatic shadows in the background of this painting are juxtaposed by the sharp contrast of lighter tones on the figure itself and appear to offer some sort of salvation. Although we see a face filled with resignation, it also radiates kindness and hope, apparent mostly in the eyes which are said to be the window to the soul. It would not have been possible for the artist to evoke this kind of empathy without understanding his subject and the hardships involved in living the life of a coal miner.

Dongfeng’s “Deep Down Under” has a Duchamp-like feel as if this is the repeated movement of a single figure descending into the pit of the mine. Unquestionably, there are four miners here, but as the eye moves from the clearly-focused miner in the foreground to the fourth miner in the background, that individual takes on the appearance of an apparition or a ghost. The painting simultaneously projects a heavy, yet ethereal air as the artist deftly employs space and varying hues of color to create a sense of depth, both literally and figuratively.                            

Deep Down Under - Photo by J. P. Fields

Deep Down Under – Photo by J. P. Fields

The orange strips on the miner’s hard hats remind me of a sticker that my father (who was a mine superintendent) wore on his hat which said, “Be careful buddy.”  He had all his men wear them as well, cautioning them to be ever vigilant of the dangers that lurked inside the mine. Also, the protective eyewear calls to mind another slogan that was worn on the other side of their hats, “Safety first.”

I can almost smell the coal dust on this miner’s face and clothes in Xiaoan’s “Kentucky Coalminer VII.” It is a portrait of another type of black pride, that honest day’s work I mentioned earlier. This brush ink on rice paper captures the very essence of the coal miner. Cezanne would have called it “coalminerness.”                    

Kentucky Coalminer VII - Photo by J. P. Fields

Kentucky Coalminer VII – Photo by J. P. Fields

Realistic, representational, and symbolic, Xiaoan’s rendering is stark and simple. The ink brush strokes are definitive and opaque, portraying this miner as a staunch loyalist, a company man, someone totally committed to his work without fear or trepidation. The bold lines that define his figure, the partially blackened face, the loose-fitting clothing, and the twisted belt outlines a man whose clothes may not exactly fit him, but he fits the job. And as a fellow coal miner, he’s got your back, and you can trust his courage and resolve.

However, Xiaoan’s “Kentucky Coalminer VIII” presents a slightly different take, one of weariness and fatigue. This older miner is either taking a break or is on a mantrip, the coal cars that take the miners into the hillside at the beginning of the work day and brings them back out when the day is done. This is the only horizontal piece in the coal mining series, and it speaks of a desire for repose not yet to be found. The thin brushstrokes delineating the form in a seated position and the flesh tones ascribed to the miner’s face and clutched hands help humanize and emphasize the quandary he seems to be experiencing that is his life. Again, without the artist’s insight into the travails of coal mining, a message such as this could not be so effectively and artistically communicated. 

Kentucky Coalminer VIII - Photo by J. P. Fields

Kentucky Coalminer VIII – Photo by J. P. Fields

The coal mining industry can never be glorified. It is the usurper of the workers’ bodies and souls. For most of us, the life cycle is from the cradle to the grave. Growing up in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields, I came to understand that it was from the mine to the grave, and in many instances, the mine became the grave. Too many times after a rockfall from a poorly supported roof, miners died. Too many times after a methane or rock dust explosion that ripped through the tunnels, miners died. Too many times rescuers could not safely retrieve the charred and crushed bodies from these disasters, so they were sealed up inside the mine. It became their tomb, their eternal resting place with roof rock for a headstone. 

Well over a hundred years ago, Zola’s personification of the coal mine as a “hungry beast crouched and ready to devour the world” was prophetic. Today’s climate change and global warming, not to mention mountaintop removal, bears this out. And his character who proclaimed that coal “keeps your insides from spoiling” was kidding himself. I watched my father die of black lung disease. He was only 62. 

There were 33 pieces in this exhibit, and the subject of coal mining comprised about half of the show. This stands to reason since the project evolved as a result of a major grant, and from Professors Li and Li’s strong collaboration to produce an invaluable statement about coal mining in Eastern Kentucky. At the same time, they are endeavoring to make Morehead State University and Shaanxi Normal University sister schools by establishing a student-exchange program. So there is light at the end of the mine tunnel, and it’s not an on-coming coal tram or an explosion. It’s enlightenment.

The remaining works of both artists are high-spirited, soothing, and optimistic. To see what I mean, take a good look and Xiaoan’s paintings of Thanksgiving, a squirrel, an orchestra conductor, a reader, or one called “Triple Happiness.”  Likewise, Dongfeng’s “Pikeville’s Tranquility,” “Healing Rain,” and “Augusta Ferry” provide a respite from the intensity of the subject of coal. All of these paintings are matted, or deckled, and framed.

Pikeville's Tranquility - Photo by J. P. Fields

Pikeville’s Tranquility – Photo by J. P. Fields

Photos were taken and used with permission of the artists.

Arts

Between Reality and Dream: The Nostalgic and Surreal Drawings of Patricia Bellan-Gillen

Patricia Bellan-Gillen, Your Cruel Tears 3, 2016, colored pencil and collage

“We often dream without the least suspicion of unreality: ‘sleep hath its own world,” and it is often as lifelike as the other.” – Lewis Carroll, The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2000), 67.

The recent drawings of Patricia Bellan-Gillen channel Lewis Carroll’s diary entry from February 9, 1856. Similar to dreams, her drawings are sourced from a cornucopia of stories, fairytales, and time periods. Symbols overlap and intermingle to evoke fragmented new realities that merge past and present. Bellan-Gillen relies on negative space and obscured references—the absence of contextual signifiers—to evoke both nostalgia and surreality.

Installation View, Heike Pickett Gallery, Versailles, Kentucky

Bellan-Gillen’s exhibition, Willful Wondering, originated at Carnegie Mellon’s Miller Gallery and includes drawings completed between 2011-2016. Currently, a smaller version of the exhibition resides at Heike Pickett Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Versailles, Kentucky. While it lacks Bellan-Gillen’s large-scale installations and grandiose mixed-media assemblages, Heike Pickett’s reinstallation focuses on the artist’s application of color, commitment to detail, and use of allegory. The gallery’s bare wood floors, high ceilings, and copious windows subdue any white-cube effects. The building, according to its Pickett, was constructed in 1792—its weathered brick façade and residential appearance indicate Versailles’s architectural roots.

Patricia Bellan-Gillen, Phantom Limbs/Cheshire Grin, 2016

Symbols from Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland make frequent appearances in Bellan-Gillen’s drawings, accompanied by other anthropomorphized figures. These readymade images are warped, multiplied, and accentuated by vibrant pinks and blues. As if pulled and stretched by the compressive gravity of a black hole, leopards, birds, and the iconic Cheshire cat smile become vaguely recognizable.

Two works rely on “phantom” tree limbs—their intricate and condensed lines mimic the verdant etchings of Carl Wilhelm Kolbe. The subjects of Phantom Limbs/Cheshire Grin (2015) and Phantom Limbs/Guardian 1 (2015) emerge from amputated tree trunks—some ooze from the trunks’ concentric growth lines and vacant hollows. In Cheshire Grin, floating leopards smile in unison alongside the iconic cat’s glib expression, tethered to the limb through wispy branches. As they spiral down toward the empty space below, the cats melt into amorphous black clouds—spots, paws, and tails are reduced to formless amoebas.

Many of Bellan-Gillan’s works are monochromatic explorations of literary remnants—they capture ubiquitous symbols from popular fables and stories and recode their meanings, simultaneously questioning the prevalence of specific symbols and their permeation of our collective consciousness. The Lure of the Rabbit and the Pull of the Wale (2016) alludes to both Alice in Wonderland and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick; the animal-child hybrid, marked by its rabbit head and petite Mary Janes, dons a dress pockmarked by cutout pools of swirling sea life and sailing ships. Bellan-Gillan’s drawings often belie their material complexity; an adjacent work is similarly drawn from blue pencil, layered with individual grimacing water droplets.

Through the process of collage, Bellan-Gillan materializes her unconscious layering of fantasy and reality; her cutouts resemble the endless streams of dreams and memories that coagulate during sleep.

Patricia Bellan-Gillen, Regrowth/A Wonder and a Woe, 2016

Conceptually, Bellan-Gillan’s works rely on meditative backgrounds—white paper provides space for her figures to emerge and evaporate. In larger drawings, she incorporates a limited color palette: lush landscapes are enlarged and flattened into atmospheric milieux. Regrowth/A Wonder and a Woe (2016) is centered around a lone tree stump—from its flat surface emerge white thought bubbles that extend outward in multiple directions. Just as symbols and characters reappear in dreams, specific images linger in Bellan-Gillan’s drawings. She frequently collages or draws the same eyeball, ship fleet, or animals. Her works reject a linear or narrative but connect through shared images, implying that dream symbolism is more universal than individual.

Similar to Alice’s rejection of temporal normativity—the endless “tick-tock” that dictates past, present, and future—Patricia Bellan-Gillan abandons her subjects’ sources and time-constructs. Dreams provide similar relief from this monotony, as objects and figures from day-to-day rituals, movies, literature, and news sources are intertwined with one another. Willful Wondering is a reevaluation of fairytales and fantasy and probes the complexities of visual consumption.

Topmost image: Patricia Bellan-Gillen,Your Cruel Tears 3, 2016, colored pencil and collage

Arts

Scene&Heard: The Art of the Cover

The devotion to a good, solid cover that is “as close to the original as possible” is a sanctified quest.  To participate in or witness a true emulation of the original genius that produced the tune, to begin with, can be like stepping on holy ground for those who love such performance.  The homage that the Lexington Lab Band (LLB) created and performed most flawlessly on November 5th in Transylvania University’s Haggin Auditorium was a Mecca of precise tributes to the original songs, and those who made the pilgrimage to the sold out concert were happy, happy pilgrims indeed. As one member of the crowd John Boyd commented, “If you shut your eyes, you think you’re hearing the original band.”  That is the mission of the Lexington Lab Band, and folks, Mission Accomplished.

The original goal of the Lexington Lab Band was never to actually produce a live concert.  The founding members came together three years ago to create online videos of the original core members performing their favorite covers with professional accuracy. “It’s an academic thing for me,” says Michael Vandemark, original member, vocalist and instrumentalist extraordinaire. The videos created by “Vandee,” as his fellow musicians lovingly call him, and bandmates Randy Refalo, Dale Adams, Rob Pottorf and Ryan McQuerry, have created a following for the band.

vandee

Michael “Vandee” Vandemark

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Michael Vandemark:

The first concert in 2014 at The Lyric Theater almost happened by accident, Vandemark explains, as one former member, Derrick Breaux, was leaving the state and the live show was meant to be a fun send off with no expectation of filling the house.

It sold out.

So, two more annual concerts have followed, and the band has created not one but two groups of loyal followers, those who watch the videos online to study the tight precision with which the musicians and singers emulate the songs they are covering, and then those who come to the big yearly show.  Often the two are not the same.  At this month’s show, Vandemark asked the crowd to raise their hands if it was their first LLB concert, and over half the crowd responded.

And they sold it out again, this time in a venue with nearly double the capacity of the Lyric – Transy’s 1000 seat Haggin Auditorium. 

The finale has become a legend at an LLB show, with all the musicians coming together on stage, nearly 30 total, to rock out a massive medley of songs by Bad Company, The Eagles, Heart, Journey and ended quite beautifully with a group tribute to Prince’s “Purple Rain.”  It was a rocking, intense ending to a long amazing set that paid tribute to Boston, Huey Lewis, Bad Company, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, The Police, Pearl Jam, and Jimi Hendrix.

Photos by Mark Pearson and Ralph Bostic

Photos by Mark Pearson and Ralph Bostic

The night also included a worthy tribute to those artists we’ve lost this year: Merle Haggard, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, David Bowie, Earth, Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, and of course, the fitting tribute to Prince at the end.

These are amazing songs to replicate; Prince, Jimi Hendrix, Pearl Jam, Boston.  We all know these songs, but to really hear them, to know the effort it takes to replicate those guitar licks, those keys, the drumming and the backing harmonies, is most impressive. 

At the pinnacle of it all is Vandemark himself, moving fluidly from lead guitar, to lead vocals, to keys, to bass. He never touched the drums, but he holds a degree in Percussion from Asbury.  As Vandemark said of trying to bring in a wide variety of songs to cover, “To do this right, we’ve got to have the right people, every time…You’ve gotta have the right voice or the right guitar player… [and] be open to bringing the right people in, and…make it a project that celebrates as much of our friends as possible.” 

And celebrate they did.

Such a feat could not be produced without drawing from an impressive collective of Lexington’s talent, with a few out of towner’s joining in for the fun. Several local bands are represented in the Lexington Lab Band, including the Twiggenburys, the Lauren Mink Band, The Throwbacks, Big River Band, Kung Fu Grip, Distraxions, Project 859 and Isle of Eight.

Perhaps the strongest backbone of the band in my humble opinion are the ladies: four women who sang with such tight, perfect harmony that they subtly stole the show. 

Photos by Ralph Bostic and Mark Pearson

Photos by Ralph Bostic and Mark Pearson

Kaitlynne Postel, Amanda Carter, Lauren Mink and Jessica McKenney sang the backing vocals to a majority of the songs, and Mink rocked Stevie Nick’s “Landslide,” while McKenney sang Heart’s “Barracuda” so tightly it took my breath away.  But the tightness in which they harmonized to all the other songs was phenomenal, truly.

Lauren Mink - Photos by Ralph Bostic and Mark Pearson

Lauren Mink – Photos by Ralph Bostic and Mark Pearson

There was a professional quality that guaranteed what McKenney, a singer at Southland Church, was hoping for:  a “true note-to-note to the original.”

The effort made by the Lexington Lab Band and its many contributors, all the musicians, singers, film crew, and volunteers throughout the concert, is a labor of love.  There is no profit, all the proceeds from the $27.00 tickets go to charity.  The first concert supported the Lexington Area Music Alliance (LAMA). Proceeds from the second year went to a Refuge for Women. And this year Vandee brought the crowd to tears when he announced to the surprise of his cameraman and LLB co-founder, the man behind the online videos Neil Gregory, that they were donating all the proceeds to a charity for Autism, in honor of Neil’s daughter who has Autism.  It was a beautiful moment, to see two friends bond over something so meaningful, to know so much good would come from something they do simply for the love of the music. 

Mike Huff, the lead singer on the Aerosmith and Pearl Jam songs and a member of The Throwbacks, summed it up eloquently when speaking to me about how many people it takes to pull off such a huge show. More than fifty people had been at the auditorium since 9 am that morning rehearsing for their crowd with such devotion to the craft, “That’s what’s so great about it for me, everyone here just loves music.” 

Listen to Cara’s conversation with Mike Huff:

Photo by Mark Pearson and Ralph Bostic

Photo by Mark Pearson and Ralph Bostic

Arts

For Guy Mendes, It’s What You See

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guy Mendes, Photo by Dick Ware, 1970

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

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

Arts

How Art Connects

It has been nearly four decades since Kate Savage first arrived from England to take up residence in the Bluegrass State. The innovator behind Art Connects, Savage has made it her personal mission to help artists from all artistic disciplines to come together, collaborate, and discover more opportunities to share resources and expand artistic awareness.  She has a passionate love for all art forms, and sees her role as one of a facilitator.

“My father worked for an American oil company back in the ‘50s and I grew up in the Middle East. When I was five, we moved to Bahrain which then was “home” for thirty years.  I attended London University where I majored in English with a minor in Art History.  I moved to Lexington in 1977, after marrying a Lexingtonian I had met and dated in London,” Savage recalled.  “My love of different cultures, my admiration for anyone who could create anything, my curiosity about the ways to communicate through words, performance, visual expression, even silence that speaks volumes, has been a life-long fascination for me.” 

It was not long after her move to Lexington that Kate opened her own catering company, Bleu Ribbon Hospitality.  Over time an upscale gourmet food shop, Scarborough Fare, grew out of her catering business, and operated for many years on Romany Road. “The origins were in a commercial kitchen on Maxwell Street,” she recalled, “But as the business expanded we moved to the Romany Road location alongside Suggins and Wheeler’s Pharmacy, both iconic landmarks for serious Lexingtonians. For me, working with food became an outlet for creative expression”.

In 2008 she sold her food business to the owners of Suggins.  Looking for other ways to stay involved Kate saw a community need and decided to invest her efforts in helping the many different artistic genres in new and creative ways. Thus, Art Connects was conceived.

"Market Street" - Enrique Gonzalez

“Market Street” – Enrique Gonzalez

“Art Connects started about a year-and-a-half ago by originally introducing the Talk and Tour Series.  These were lectures that were paired with an exhibition within driving distance, be it at the Speed, Taft or Cincinnati Art Museum, that subsequently were followed up with tours.  The next of this ongoing Talk and Tour Series: Talk a Walk on the Wild Side, will begin with the “Talk” segment on Nov. 15 at the Main Branch of the Lexington Public Library and continue with the follow-up Tour on the 17th of the Cincinnati Art Museum.  This Talk and Tour Series will explore the current exhibition: Kentucky Renaissance: Lexington Camera Club and Its Community. 1954-1974 that includes works by such well-known photo-artists as Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Guy Mendes and James Baker Hall as well as the concurrent exhibition:  Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth, that opened on October 15th and will run until January 8th 2017.  Guy Mendes, one of the youngest members of the Lexington Camera Club whose work is included in the photography exhibition, along with Ann Tower, the owner of Ann Tower Gallery who for many years was the art critic for the Lexington Herald-Leader, will be co-Talk and Tour hosts.  

The next program that Art Connects introduced, Paint the Town, has become an established annual event held in June. It is the revitalization of a similar but bygone event started by Gallery B. “This event is held for Plein Aire artists,” said Savage.  “These are artists who work outside their studio in the ‘fresh air’, like van Gogh and Monet.  For the last couple of years as many as 50 artists have participated, coming from as far afield as Bowling Green and Cincinnati.  They set up their easels within an eight-block designated area of downtown and paint from 8am-2pm. Works are then turned in – often still wet – curated, hung and judged anonymously as Best in Show,  2nd and 3rd Place, as well as a People’s Choice.  Cash prizes are awarded by the guest judge at the Opening Reception held that same evening. The works remain on exhibition through the July Gallery Hop and are for sale,” she said. 

"Yellow House" - Robert Sanford - Best of Show 2015

“Yellow House” – Robert Sanford – Best of Show 2015

Paint the Town focuses on a particular group of painters and the community is encouraged to come to downtown Lexington, stroll the streets and observe as art is made.  “It’s astonishing how much talent there is right here in our Bluegrass backyard, and I marvel at what can be produced in just six hours,” said Savage.

"Church Street" - Bill Fletcher - Best in Show 2016

“Church Street” – Bill Fletcher – Best in Show 2016

Also engaging Savage’s energy is the Art Connects Mobile Gallery.  This is another mutually beneficial program that connects artists with opportunities to exhibit their work outside the mainstream venue of a gallery show.  Savage takes original artwork by local artists into corporate spaces, and rotates the work every three months.  Turning business and office walls into mini galleries and creating a curiosity and a conversation.  This is a subscription service, but to date all participants have renewed their annual subscriptions.

"Meditation Meadow" by Jana Kappeler, exhibited at Hilliard Lyons

“Meditation Meadow” by Jana Kappeler, exhibited at Hilliard Lyons

“Work accumulating against a studio wall is of little benefit to the artist.” Kate said.  “It’s so fun when I show up with replacement art to see the excitement and interest generated.  This is a program that is really helping to stimulate an interest in art for people who previously probably didn’t bother notice or reflect on what was hanging on the walls.”

Collaborations and partnerships are key elements of Art Connects efforts.  Through a sponsorship from Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, who expressed an interest in collaborating with a non-profit’s endeavor, Art Connects sent out a Call to Fayette Co. High School Artists.   Students were invited to produce a “Kentucky December Holiday” themed artwork.  More than 40 students representing every High School in Fayette County responded with Letters of Intent.  Works have been submitted and will be evaluated anonymously by a seven-panel group. Cash prizes will be awarded to the three winners at the Wells Fargo Holiday Party in December.  “This is philanthropy working” said Savage, “I give to you and you turn around and give to someone else.”

Savage’s efforts to facilitate networking among various artistic disciplines responded to an identified need. The Kentucky Arts Council’s extensive statewide 2014 Creative Industry Report included data from a survey that asked individuals across Kentucky where they saw gaps and needs in services and support. Opportunities to network with other artists rated among the top five priorities.  “So I started what are now the Art Connects Networking Lunches,” Savage said. “The initial series of three was this past Spring and we have just wrapped up the Series for this Fall.” 

Networking luncheon - Melissa Hall

Networking luncheon – Melissa Hall

The Networking Luncheons  ($25 including lunch) are open to the public. “Alice Gray Stites, the Chief Curator and Director of Art Programming for  all 21c Museum Hotels, was the first guest speaker a week before the 21c Hotel Museum in Lexington opened. It was a sell out and set the bench-mark high,” Savage said. “Others have featured Joel Pett and Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon. Well-known Metropolitan Opera tenor, Gregory Turay with Tedrin Blair Lindsay as piano accompanist were the November presenters and they, needless to say, ended the series on a high note!”

Savage’s work is driven by a desire to discover new ways to bring people – artists and communities – together in collaboration, corroboration and cooperation. “There’s no reason why we can’t work together and support each other across the artistic disciplines. It keeps me busy; I do my own website and social media, newsletters, solicitations and I love the all of it.   My personal philosophy is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’” 

(Featured image at top of page: “Gratz Park” by Heather Tackett)

Arts

Visions Within Visions

aibeiaiaaabdcnpl08k1v8nxccildmnhcmrfcghvdg8qkdawndk3yzdmy2rkyznjmgzjmwuwytg3mgy0nddknzk4ntaxyjjjzwmwavlukvfh8byqtxfe95eifc3ka9efCarleton Thomas Anderson is a 74 year old retired physician interested in photography, design, writing and history. He and his wife Anne call Lexington home. They have two children and two grandchildren.  “My main diversions are horses, bicycling, Nepalese food and reading,” says Anderson. “We watch West Wing every election cycle hoping to rekindle our optimism. We are currently watching it for the fifth time.”

UnderMain was tipped about Anderson’s work in blending photography, art and video by Neil Kesterson, owner of Dynamix Productions in Lexington, the studio where much of the audio you will soon hear was recorded. Kesterson mentioned that Anderson had been engaged in a unique pursuit: discovering the elements of street photography, his genre of choice, in the paintings of certain noted artists.

We were intrigued. Questions followed.

UnderMain: What inspired you to take up street photography?

Anderson: To me the best portraits are of people unaware of the camera. On the street there is a greater chance for such candid shots. Also, the street is a public place where the photographer has a great deal of latitude about what is permitted. I’ve been inspired by street photographers like Saul Leiter and Vivian Maier. What I’ve learned from them over the years is that I have to spend a great deal of time walking to get very few photographs of any value. This is just the nature of the beast.

UnderMain: What’s in your camera bag?

Anderson: A Sony a6000 with Sony 24 mm f1.8

UnderMain: In what ways has the pursuit of an interest in street photography served you?

Anderson: Street photography has definitely made me a better person because I’ve had to decide what photographs of people should be made and what photographs should not be made. I’m talking about ethical choices. Do you take a picture of a homeless person? Do you take a picture of a person in a vulnerable situation? Are you simply taking a photograph to exploit somebody else? The photographs I take must reveal something important about the human condition or something interesting about the built environment of the street (architecturally interesting shots).

Photo by Carlton Thomas Anderson

Photo by Carleton Thomas Anderson

UnderMain: What do you strive for in the images that you capture?

Anderson: Trying to find something interesting to reveal about the human condition is one of the most difficult kinds of photography there is. I’ve learned to be less fixated on what camera I have and what settings I’m using and more attentive to what my eye sees. I want to see something spontaneous, revealing, and visually interesting. This takes a lot of work.

UnderMain: Is there a connection between your interest in street photography and the concept of the videos you have produced about certain artists and their works?

Anderson: During the Great Depression the United States government funded a project where photographers would fan out across the country and photograph the effects the depression was having on people. These photographs are public and available to anyone to use for whatever purpose. They can be obtained from the Library of Congress website. As a result of this easy access I spent a lot of time looking at the photographs and grew to value the work of some of the photographers. To make a video I needed not only the photographs but other material that would make for an interesting story. In the 60s the government funded interviews with some of the depression era photographers and this provided narrative for a video about the photographers work. The three most interesting photographers were Ben Shahn, Dorothea Lange, and John Vachon. For John Vachon I had letters he wrote home from the field to his wife Penny. These letters together with material from interviews provided the basis for his video. In the course of getting permission to use John’s letters I had an opportunity to speak with his daughter, Ann. This added further context. All these government  photographs were taken out in the field and on the street so they fit beautifully with my interest in street photography.

UnderMain: What motivates you to produce these videos?

Anderson: I’m very curious about these photographers I mentioned. Making a video answers a lot of my questions about their lives and gives me insight into their art. Without the video I wouldn’t really have a firm grasp on what they were trying to accomplish. The videos on Édouard Manet and Edward Hopper interested me because they were paint artists who focused a lot of their attention on street images and had interesting lives. In particular the video on Edward Hopper includes a lot of material from letters his wife, Josephine, wrote about their marriage and his art.

UnderMain: What’s the criteria used to select the artists portrayed in the videos?

Anderson: The artists I selected had to have interesting stories to go along with their photographs. Their personal stories have to add to our understanding of their art.

UnderMain: How many videos have you produced?

Thirteen.

UnderMain: Can you briefly describe the process you follow in putting them together?

Anderson: First, I have to write the narrative keeping in mind what photographs or artwork I have available to use. I then use the images over the narrative to tell the story. Next, I select music  appropriate to go along with the finished video. I have used my own voice for many of these. In the Dorothea Lange video my wife, Anne, provided the voice for Dorothea.

Written by Carleton Thomas Anderson - Jo Hopper played by Laurie Genet Preston

However, once I learned about the availability of professional voice talent in Lexington from my friend Neil Kesterson and the services his studio (Dynamix Productions) could provide me I began using professional voices. I’ve never looked back. It will have to be professional voice talent from now on.

UnderMain: Favorites among them?

Anderson: Ben Shahn and Dorothea Lange. The two videos about the paint artists, Edward Hopper and Edward Manet are particular favorites.

UnderMain: Do you plan to continue? If so, what other artists are on your “to do” list?

Anderson: None, right now. I’ve taken time off from photography to write a novel about the Great Depression inspired by my immersion in the photographs from this fascinating era in American History.

Photo by Carleton Thomas Anderson

Photo by Carleton Thomas Anderson

Arts

A Review: Gaela Erwin: Reframing the Past

Gaela Erwin: Reframing the Past is on view at the Speed Art Museum through October 30th. It complements an earlier art exhibition, Gaela Erwin: Mother that was on view at the University of Louisville’s Cressman Center for the Visual Arts this past summer.

In each show Erwin explores her genealogy, both familial and artistic. The German Expressionist Max Beckmann wrote in 1939, “the self is the greatest mystery in the world.”  Like Beckmann’s pursuit of “the mystery of being,” Erwin’s art may be seen as a continual effort to be ever more specific about the psychology of identity, household relationships and art historical heritage. The family portraits are less about lineage and more about penetrating self-discovery. The artist is not leaning on art historical models for legitimation or prestige, but to delve deeply into the nature of portraiture in past and present practice.

Gaela Erwin (American), Portrait of my Mother in her Wedding Dress, 2013, chalk pastel, Collection of Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, 21c Museum Hotels

Erwin’s greatest invention in the Cressman show was to depict her nonagenarian mother asleep, reclining full length, attired in her wedding dress. Erwin’s mother (now deceased) suffered from dementia and Erwin’s use of her mother as a subject ironically presents a gifted physiognomist contemplating a loved one subtly expressionless. The bridal gown unfamiliarizes the sitter: dress-up is a way of losing touch with time, and heightening, in this case, the struggle of age versus beauty.

In her affecting portrayals of the last years of her mother’s life, Erwin conveys a telling inventory of the symptoms of dementia evoked in John Bayley’s phrases describing his wife, Iris Murdoch: “behindhand;” “unreassured;” “wonder on the edge of fear;” “the daily pucker of blank anxiety.”  Erwin charts her mother’s mien, the dropping lower lip, the sagging flesh, and the bulging carotid artery, yet also intimates empathy for a striking woman seemingly accustomed to being beautiful, the chalk uncannily taking on the substance of rouge and lipstick. The pastel is handled very directly in this work and left unblended as in the bold red and black marks defining the arthritic fingers of the sitter’s right hand.

Several double portraits of Erwin and her sister Shelley were in both exhibitions. Especially in the costumed double portraits in the Speed show, the artist intimates the complexity of sibling relationships and the numbing exhaustion of negotiating the care of a dying parent. In The Erwin Sisters as Artist and Poet compressing the figures against the frontal plane signals both closeness and discomfort. Nonetheless, the recurring portraits in 18th and 19th Century costume create an air of politesse, courtly manners and courtesies, as if these traditions offered a pathway to an authentically civil society.

Gaela Erwin, Self-Portrait as Twins Separated at Birth, 2016, pastel on paper, Courtesy of the Artist

An extension of the portraits with her sister is Erwin’s Self Portrait as Twins Separated at Birth. The backdrop of trees adapted from Francis Cotes in four works is here rendered a trompe l’oeil picture within a picture held on the wall behind the double portrait with push pins and masking tape. The finesse with which the sheen of blue satin is rendered in the 18th Century Erwin, on the left, contrasts with the abstract expressionist gestural drawing describing the faded Union Jack t-shirt in the contemporary Erwin on the right.

The gaze of the informal, t-shirted and blue-jeaned self is direct and confrontational, while the historicized figure averts from looking at the viewer. A traditional symbol of vanity, a peacock feather, adorns the shawl draped over the arms of the costumed version. The constricted period gown and blonde wig gives the fictional character an air of hauteur, dominating the sister two centuries her junior. A literal depiction of the idiom denoting worry and anxiety, “ I am beside myself,” is given a narrative cast. As in many other works in the exhibition, there is a sense of incipient action – the moment before the moment something momentous will happen, perhaps when artifice is revealed and the real Gaela Erwin steps forward.

In the catalogue to the exhibition, Eileen Yanoviak, Exhibition Coordinator at the Speed Art Museum, places Erwin’s portraits firmly in the tradition of the fantasy portrait, with its openings to associations and fictions about the past:  “They are a sort of ‘self-fashioning’ through history, a way to select those attributes and narratives that define an individual. Removed from contemporary reality, these portraits seem to reveal the paradoxes and complexities of the present through the past.”

Erwin pays homage to pastel practice with riffs on studies by 18th Century masters in the Speed’s collection by Jean-Baptiste Perroneau (1715-1783), and Francis Cotes ( 1726-1770), as well as the 20th Century artist, Winold Reiss (1786-1953).

Gaela Erwin (American), Licia and Neema, 2016, Pastel on paper, Courtesy of the artist

The exhibition’s tour-de-force is a double portrait of Licia Priest and Neema Tambo modeled on the Francis Cotes depiction of two young women. The African-American subjects are resplendent in 18th Century costume: Erwin’s pastel is more finished in these likenesses than in other works in the show and Priest and Tambo occupy a more ample field. Erwin deploys her technical skills to provide a convincing case for the dignity and self-possession of the sitters. Yanoviak notes, accurately, that they are “aggressively present.”  The fantasy of elegant, aristocratic black women in 18th Century high fashion garb engenders a back-and-forth meditation on sexual and racial politics in the 18th Century and today. Staging does not constrict the figures or indulge an inveigling flattery but instead re-doubles ironic reverberations between person and persona, actor and role. Like a great evening of theater, the performers seem totally believable, the artificiality and glitz of setting and costume enhancing rather than detracting from the illusion.

The Speed needs to be applauded for a very full presentation of a Kentucky artist with an excellent illustrated catalogue. Also notable is the juxtaposition of historical works from the permanent collection and contemporary responses. For all art museums, the holy grails of relevance and accessibility are elusive – Gaela Erwin: Reframing the Past sets a high and imitable standard.

Arts

REVIEW: LND&SEA

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard contends that “the secret of seeing . . . comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practiced and adept, a gift and a total surprise.”  No one knows this better than Louisville photo artist Chip Dumstorf, whose debut solo exhibit, LND&SEA, at the Fine Art Editions Gallery in Georgetown, KY presents a unique challenge to the mind’s eye of anyone who encounters this work.

The challenge commences with the missing “A” in the show’s title.  Although it’s not there, your mind still sees it simply because of visual expectation. And so it is with the 16 images presented in this show.  The pieces are numbered rather than titled, not an uncommon practice for many artists.  Dumstorf stated that he did this for “practical” reasons because of the incredible number of images he generates in a single shoot, sometimes as many as three per minute.  He then further explained that by not using titles, viewers are likelier to respond more spontaneously and personally to the work because they are forced to be with it in the moment, just as he was when he captured it and then later when he meticulously processed it.

LND&SEA #1 is a good case in point.  When I first saw it, I immediately thought of Lina Wertmuller’s film, Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August.  But that was an initial response.  On gazing at it from a distance and up close, I think I went where Dumstorf intended, which was, in part, definitely an unusual destiny. 

LND&SEA #1 (Canvas 92¼” x 39½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

LND&SEA #1 (Canvas 92¼” x 39½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

I became the particles of everything I saw, as real of an illusion as I have ever experienced.  I say this because of Dumstorf’s process.   Out of deconstruction emerges a reconstruction of some of the most pristine scenes you will ever witness: nature as it was intended to be rather than what the human race has made of it.  Here, the motion of the wind, which we cannot consciously see, is as much a factor as the dispersion of light from the setting (or rising) sun, the rhythmic undulation of the waves, the gentle wafting of the clouds over the water, and the fascinating spectrum of color these interdependent elements reflect.  Shades of gray, hues of green, blue, pink, white, yellow and black.  Through these trails of light, nothing is as it seems.  Digital manipulation?  Yes indeed.  To the point of high art.

In the age of electronic and digital media, everybody has a camera and everybody takes pictures, but not everybody can create art.  And not everybody is willing to travel up and down the east and west coasts of the U.S. and Central America, as Dumstorf has, to be in the moment, to capture that moment and convey its spirit through digital processing, as is adroitly and spectacularly demonstrated in LND&SEA #3.

LND&SEA #3 (Canvas 92¼” x 39½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

LND&SEA #3 (Canvas 92¼” x 39½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

Mellifluous best describes this image because the scene is so soothing, rich and harmonious.  Dumstorf is very much in step and in tune with his approach and like any good photographer, he must first be in the right place at the right time, realizing that he has an incredibly short time frame to make the catch. Then using the tools of his trade, he sculpts what nature has given him.  The sea seems to have dropped out of the sky and as it reaches the shore, the gentle curves of the water’s edge are striated into the sand. The land has been rendered with a similar fluidity that could itself ebb and flow with the tide, or settle into its own windswept gradations of light.

Dumstorf’s technique of digitally adding by subtracting is probably best exemplified by the central piece of the exhibit, LND&SEA #12.  In the style of a minimalist, he clearly shows that less is more.  And using the backdrop that nature provides, sometimes with varying degrees of clutter and visual white noise, Dumstorf painstakingly removes what he considers distractions, which may be anything from a person, to sail boat, to a bird, to a sea shell, or even an oil rig.  Criticize as you may, it’s almost like a baptism when his fastidious cleansing and enhancement of nature’s palette creates such breathtaking, mesmerizing vista of absolute serenity—a place we would all love to be.

LND&SEA #12 (Canvas 92¼” x 39½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

LND&SEA #12 (Canvas 92¼” x 39½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

Not all of his work, however, exudes this same aesthetic quality.  Yet it is just as interesting and valid as anything that can be pulled out of thin air.  In fact, it’s stunning.  Undoubtedly the most intense and abstract piece in the show is LND&SEA #5, shot in early afternoon light, one of the least popular times of day for most photographers.

LND&SEA #5 (Canvas 92¼” x 39½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

LND&SEA #5 (Canvas 92¼” x 39½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

Light is energy and energy generates heat.  Dumstorf said he was curious as to whether or not he could reduce the harshness of this particular landscape to its most basic components and still impart its true nature.  Well, he did.  And if you look at it long enough, you may begin to perspire.  The heat rises from the bottom of the canvas, starting with fiery red, as strips of alternating color waver outward and upward in luminous tones of yellows, whites, and oranges into the blinding white that dominates the middle of the composition in the way that the sun dominates the middle of the day.  The only respite is the cool blue that bathes the lingering wisps of clouds.

LND&SEA #5 represents the epitome of Dumstorf’s ability to see, and his willingness to be totally present when he photographs.  It also underscores his technical ability to visually communicate an abstraction that is difficult to put into words except for, “Man, it’s hot outside.”  Annie Dillard speaks directly to his presence and his gift when she says, “I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam. Light, be it particle or wave, has force: you rig a giant sail and go. The secret of seeing is to sail on solar wind.  Hone and spread your spirit till you yourself are a sail. . .”  This is Dumstorf’s destiny.

LND&SEA runs through November 6th at Fine Art Editions Gallery in Georgetown, Kentucky. The exhibit includes matted and framed prints, as well as images on canvas. 

LND&SEA #16 (40 ¾” x 23 ½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

LND&SEA #16 (40 ¾” x 23 ½”) Courtesy of Fine Art Editions Gallery

Arts

Residing in a Vision

Sometime around 2006, Libby Barnes, a local artist and businesswoman, started imagining the home she and her husband, Danny, wanted to build on the 15 secluded acres they owned in southern Jessamine County.

Some of their goals were clear from the beginning. They wanted an open floor plan. They wanted their new home to be as energy-efficient as possible. It needed to be positioned to take advantage of the arc of the sun as it travels across the sky each season. It needed to be open to the breezes blowing among the mature trees that stretch along the Kentucky River at the back of the property. They wanted to use as many discarded and recycled materials as they could.

Having a deeply spiritual bent, Libby also wanted to subtly incorporate the shape of a cross in much of the home’s design, from its basic floor plan, to the details of the lighting and bathroom fixtures, to the positioning of the Phillips head screws in the walls—all so subliminal the typical visitor would never notice.

And, being artists who view the world through a different lens, they knew they wanted it to be unique.

No traditional brick home for them. No shutters, no garage, no sidewalk. In fact, no drywall, no paint, no carpet, no baseboards, no window treatments. No interior walls. (OK, maybe a couple to set apart the bathrooms.)

“Everything about our house was outside the box,” said Libby.

“We approached it like a work of art,” said Danny. “It is—it’s a work of art.”

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Photo by Rick Showalter

The exterior of the structure is galvanized steel. Inside, the perimeter walls are covered in smooth or corrugated steel or wood planks: maple, pine, poplar, bamboo, Brazilian redwood. A steel wall always intersects with a wood wall. The floors are maple or tile. The kitchen countertop is concrete.

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Photo by Rick Showalter

“It’s all very functional, all very low-maintenance,” explained Libby.

Sound industrial? Sterile? Ah, then you haven’t yet accounted for the art.

It’s everywhere in this home. Paintings, collages, sculptures—layers of found objects and mementos from lives well-lived incorporated into surprising collections in unexpected ways.

The bric-a-brac, tchotchkes or sentimental family items that can overburden many homes have been tossed into coffee cans and covered in colorful resin, then sliced into disc-shaped keepsakes. Other souvenirs have been placed neatly in vinyl packets or tucked into what looks like a bird’s nest and then woven together into interconnected memories with thin copper wire or clear acrylic caulk. Drawings and paintings of family members offer glimpses into the faces of the ancestral owner of those false teeth or that piece of jewelry, or the young man who popped that beer top or picked up that rock. Even the dog’s kibble finds its way into a collage.

Photo by Dr. Joseph G. King

Photo by Dr. Joseph G. King – Guestroom

A signature piece of art, the fountain in the foyer, incorporates the red and black logo a friend designed for their new home. The couple struggled with how to position the square fountain inside the front door without disrupting the flow of the open space. After much discussion, their builder and regular collaborator, Miles Moores, said, “Why don’t we just turn it 45 degrees?”

“Now it’s a diamond shape,” said Danny. 

“It worked perfect,” said Libby, smiling.

As Libby was designing their home, she tried to bring elements of the outdoor spaces inside, and vice-versa. Large tile-covered planters—which match the tile-covered fountain in the foyer as well as the frames around the bathroom mirrors—brighten the front and back porches as well as the entryway. The inlaid pebble design around the fountain is repeated in the floor of the shower and around the fire pit out back.

Photo by Rick Showalter

Photo by Rick Showalter

A second fountain can be found on the rear deck off the main living space. The pergolas above the outside deck mirror the large hemlock beams inside. The plumbing-pipe handrails along the deck stairs are also used inside along the stairway to the basement, as well as along the ceiling throughout the house as a means for hanging artwork. Fieldstone that was excavated during site preparation is used as pavers throughout the landscaped areas.

Photo by Rick Showalter

Photo by Rick Showalter

It is a deeply personal home—a warm, inviting home, despite the somewhat industrial building materials. It reflects the personalities of its owners: a vibrant, caring couple who have depended on their artistic talents and their natural affection for people to nurture a successful small business for 25 years.

Libby and Danny met as art students at Eastern Kentucky University, in a still-life painting class. He was from Sylva, N.C., and she was originally from Hazard but had graduated from Pikeville High School. Both were interested in jewelry design and metalsmithing, and it quickly became apparent that their personal and professional lives would intertwine.

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Photo by Rick Showalter

The Barneses were married in 1989, after Libby graduated from EKU. Both pursued graduate studies at East Tennessee State University. Danny completed his Master of Fine Arts there, while Libby completed her master’s degree at the University of Kentucky in mixed media. Danny later graduated from the Gemological Institute of America, having studied diamonds and diamond grading.

For some time their plan had been to open a jewelry studio and shop. When Libby’s mother moved to Nicholasville to be closer to treatments she was undergoing at the Markey Cancer Center, Libby and Danny followed.

Wandering around downtown Nicholasville, they noticed the building near the corner of North Main and Walnut had a little sign in the window indicating it was for sale. They called the owner and were shown a space not much larger than a closet that was in terrible disrepair: paint was peeling, debris and signs of animal inhabitants were everywhere. The upstairs had been renovated into office spaces, with indoor/outdoor carpeting, drop ceilings and fluorescent lights. But Libby and Danny saw potential.

Eventually they were able to purchase the building and begin renovations. They opened up the space upstairs, initially for their studio and soon thereafter as a contemporary residential loft, where they lived for 17 years. They enlarged the downstairs area and created two commercial spaces, including one for their shop, which they opened May 1, 1991.

(Video by Oculus Studios; Music by Vandaveer from the Wild Mercury CD)

The building has historic roots in Nicholasville. It had once been the opera house, as well as the Hotel Nicholas, before part of the building burned. Today, the building that houses The Alternative Jewelry Shop, with its turquoise brick and bold painted-lady style, confidently owns that Nicholasville corner.

hotel_nicholas

In February 2007 the couple broke ground for their new home 20 minutes away, and they moved in January 8, 2008. In retrospect, they couldn’t have picked a worse time to build. They had had no trouble getting a construction loan, but getting the mortgage they needed after the home was completed was a different story. One after another mortgage appraisers came out to look at the contemporary home with its open floor plan and turned them down. Or appraised it at a ridiculously low price.

“They would want us to build walls, put vinyl siding on it, make it like a traditional house,” Libby explained.

Because the house is designed to make adding walls simple, if a future owner so desires, they thought about having their builder erect temporary walls to meet the mortgage companies’ demands, But, in the end, they didn’t have to.

“Finally U.S. Bank took pity on us,” Danny said.

The folks at Blue Grass Energy who had helped Libby identify ways to increase the energy efficiency of the home were also initially skeptics.

“The guy [at Blue Grass Energy] said, ‘There’s no way this house will be ENERGY STAR [compliant]. The ceilings are too tall, it’s too open,’” said Libby. “But when they tested it, it was.” A decal affixed to the front door attests to that.

Achieving that certification required rigorous planning, research and collaboration with their builder. The building is a 2×6 structure, rather than the typical 2×4, so there was significantly more space for blow-in insulation. The construction team painstakingly taped all of the HVAC venting to make sure everything was airtight. Libby scrupulously researched the types of windows and doors they purchased, as well as the ceiling fans, the appliances and the metal siding, looking for the most energy-efficient possible. They applied perforated window film to the outside of the windows to further insulate the glass (and to prevent a determined cardinal from dive-bombing the back of the house).

After Blue Grass Energy completed the final blower door test and duct blaster test, the home was found to be “38 percent more energy efficient than the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code” with a HERS rating (Home Energy Rating System) of 62.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of their environmentally friendly home is the water collection system. In another cooperative effort with their builder, they decided to install a system to harvest their roof rainwater for personal use. The water collected in the screen-covered gutters goes through a cotton fiber filtration system called a roof washer, located near the downspouts, which clears the water of debris. The water is then stored in a large concrete cistern next to the house. (The top of the cistern was originally designed to be the floor of a garage, but is now a patio or parking area.)

water_capture_rs

Photo by Rick Showalter – Part of the water capture system adjoining the cistern attached to the home.

When water is pulled from the cistern for use in the house, it goes through three more filtration stations: a charcoal filter, another fiber filter and a UV light filter.

“That’s what we use to cook with, shower, everything. That’s all our water. I’m surprised more people don’t do it,” said Danny.

“It’s so much better for you without all the chemicals,” said Libby.

”And it’s better for the earth,” added Danny.

Their next goal is to switch their source for electricity, which powers the water pump system, to solar power. Installing a solar energy system would have been too expensive at the time they built the house, but the costs have come down considerably in recent years.

“Eventually we want to do solar so we can be totally off the grid,” said Libby.   

Their efforts to recycle and reuse carry over to their shop, where Libby and Danny encourage customers to bring them heirloom family jewelry or outdated pieces they want to convert into something new. The artists might start with a valued gem stone or several pieces of gold jewelry that they then recycle into unique, contemporary designs. Their customers seem to find their shop when they can’t find what they’re looking for elsewhere. They come from all over the world…and they’re willing to wait for a hand-crafted product.

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Photo by Mark Landis Photography – The art of friends and acquaintances covers the walls inside The Alternative Jewelry Shop.

From the construction of their home, to the restoration of the building their business occupies, to the services they offer in their jewelry shop, to their personal artwork: it’s clear that the couple is keenly focused on preserving personal and historical artifacts and reusing the things others have cast off. It’s a sign of their commitment to caring for the world around them, and the people who inhabit it. In fact, for the two artists, it is both a personal mission and a commercial strategy.

“We’re recyclers,” says Danny. “That’s our business.”

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Photo by Rick Showalter

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Arts

Kentucky Renaissance: Then and Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arts

Drawn to Bodies: A Review

On the first floor of Zephyr Gallery, a replica of Jackie Onassis’s pink Chanel suit hangs against a white wall. The Beuys-esque ensemble—a skirt, jacket, shirt, and two pillbox hats—is cut from dyed canvas, evidenced by its rough seams and frayed edges. Accentuated by gallery lights, the suit’s strawberry-neon colorant is uneven and marked by streaks. On the adjacent wall, artist Aaron Skolnick has continued his installation by mounting over forty abstracted portraits of Onassis. The works are based on popular news photographs from the day her husband, former president John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. While some portraits are rendered in watercolor and graphite, one image is composed of fuchsia lipstick; each kiss imprint is strategically placed to create Onassis’s lips and hair. Skolnick’s reductive process results in an almost unrecognizable figure—Onassis’s hands, face, and suit appear to melt into biomorphic forms.

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Aaron Skolnick, Forever and Supremely Someone Else, 2016 Photo by Sarah Lyon

Upstairs, Drawn to Bodies features the work of Georgia Henkel, Jay Bolotin, and Martin Beck. Henkel’s small mixed-media drawings are constructed from domestic vestige—in lieu of canvas, she works from the bed linens of her former marriage. Using blueberries and beets, Henkel interrupts the diaphanous fabric with purple, pink, and blue pockmarks; these shapes give way to faces, bruises, genitalia, intestines, and scars. Land Swimming (2016) shifts between stain, landscape, and sexual encounter. In Henkel’s retrospection, blots of organic matter morph into surreal scenes that depict bodies or body parts interacting with one another.

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Georgia Henkel. Land Swimming, 2016. Photo by Elizabeth Ann Smith

Henkel’s works are akin to a Rorschach inkblot test and require extended time to observe the subtle charcoal and graphite drawings sketched on top of stains. Ablution (2016) is produced from two inconspicuous brown and blue saturations—the most constructed of Henkel’s figures. An androgynous face stares longingly from the bed linen background, its eyebrows painted to convey a forlorn expression. The subject’s pursed red lips, ghostly complexion, and prominent cheek scar are hauntingly corpse-like. Indeed, each of Henkel’s figures—whether documented through portrait or body part—is an apparition.

While Drawn to Bodies revolves around traditions of realism, Curator Stuart Horodner notes that the selected artists have oriented their works to demonstrate an often clandestine process—that of “making.” This is evidenced through the installation of Bolotin’s drawings, prints, and video animation, which visually trace his creative output. Crumpled drawing paper, scribbled notes, and various images of hands, faces, torsos, houses, and animals lead to The Silence of Professor Tösla (2016) (produced in collaboration with Ilan Stavians.) Text interrupts the video’s animation sequences, documenting correspondences between Stavians and Bolotin: “Dear Ilan. Here is a possible opening sequence (the visual) as promised. For me, a motion picture is 50% sound (including music.) So, half is missing here.”

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Jay Bolotin, Drawing Installation, 2016 Photo by Sarah Lyon

In its totality, Bolotin’s installation pulls apart narrative storytelling—only pieces of his processes and figurative characters are displayed to the viewer. These conceptual and visual components successfully merge the exhibition’s two themes. While the installations that comprise Drawn to Bodies give subtle clues into their artists’ process, Bolotin is the only artist to use his work as documentation.

Drawn to Bodies asks its audience to view the work of each artist through their respective processes, yet the majority of works appear complete rather than in a state of creation. Through its studio-aesthetic, the exhibition hints at its artists’ methods but only once demonstrates the act of “making.” Drawn to Bodies, however, cleverly succeeds in its quest to explicate and question what it means to be human—the ways in which iconography can be manipulated and how trauma and loss may prompt introspection.

Project 14: Drawn to Bodies runs through October 22, 2016.

Arts

PRHBTN: Year Six and Going Strong

Following installation of the highly controversial mural by MTO on Manchester Street in 2014, UnderMain interviewed John and Jessica Winter in hopes of illuminating the vision of the co-founders of the mural’s sponsors, the public art project, PRHBTN.

The Winters’ projects kicked up quite a stir in Lexington. Some were annoyed, even offended, while others were pleased, even thrilled by the appearances of eye-catching murals in conspicuous locations all around downtown Lexington.

Regardless of opinions positive, negative or indifferent, the Winters continue to move forward with the project.

This week – September 15th to be exact – brings to a close another Kickstarter campaign announcing a Sixth Annual PRHBTN Street Festival (October 8th through the 15th). Featured artists include:

Phlegm

Patch Whisky

Ghostbeard

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Key Detail & Yu-Baba

Faith 47

One of the biggest criticisms of any arts organization that imports national and international artists to the Lexington community is that local talent is frequently overlooked in the process.

John and Jessica addressed this concern in our interview (see Q&A below) and have recently pursued a formal partnership with the Lexington Art League with the aim of sustaining meaningful ties to local artistic talent.

The missions of LAL & PRHBTN could not be more aligned for this partnership: that art should be accessible to all members of the community. With this belief at the core of the partnership they are joining forces to strengthen the local aspect of this wildly popular annual festival.

“The Lexington Art League was the most likely partner for this effort, as they not only support local artists through their ongoing programs and exhibitions, they also support an international artists residency program that has resulted in several site specific art projects throughout the city and in the Loudoun House Galleries,” said Jessica Winter.

“Since its inception, we have been so impressed with the work of John & Jessica and their ability to present phenomenal works created by artists locally, regional and internationally which has enlivened our visual landscape,” said Stephanie Harris, Executive Director, Lexington Art League. “That is why we were delighted when PRHBTN reached out to us to present their annual commission-free exhibition in support of local artists.”

The inaugural year of their partnership will feature a commission-free exhibition at the Loudoun House Galleries that will be open to the public October 13th & 14th.

On October 13th at 7 pm, there will be a special panel discussion featuring local artists who are participating in the festival & exhibition, as well as guest artists including PRHBTN featured artist Patch Whiskey. Both events will be free and open to the public.

During the latter part of the festival – October 15-18 – Patch Whiskey will be installing a new mural on the community center adjacent to the Loudoun House in Castlewood Park. This site has been selected as a space for a new mural each year coinciding with the festival. LFUCG Parks and Recreation is serving as an additional partner for that mural location.

PRHBTN & LAL are co-sponsoring as this year’s special guest artist, Faith 47, an internationally-acclaimed visual artist from South Africa who has been applauded for her ability to resonate with people around the world. Her work will be installed within an interior space in the community and throughout her process she will create a documentary video that will be shown during the public exhibition at LAL.

The site for the mural is yet to be disclosed. Faith 47’s residency is being generously supported by LexArts, LAVA Systems and Block + Lot, as well as private donations.

Below is UnderMain’s Q&A with John and Jessica, published November 12, 2014. So much has changed since then, but we applaud PRHBTN for nurturing a vibrant and collaborative spirit behind street art in Lexington, KY.

UM: Why did you establish PRHBTN and what is its mission?

We started PRHBTN in 2011 because we wanted to encourage the growth of the street art in Lexington and do our part to bring art out of the galleries and onto the streets where everyone can enjoy it as part of the fabric of our city.  The mission is to connect local and regional artists with internationally known artists in a two-part format: International muralists who travel to Lexington and install murals and a commission-free gallery show that showcases local and regional artists exclusively.  During the muralists’ time in Lexington we host events and gatherings during which they can get to know our local artists, with the hopes that through these events connections will be formed between local and international artists.  In addition, we facilitate murals and other paid projects for our local and regional artists throughout the year – we have helped coordinate more than a dozen murals and other projects in and around Lexington for our local artists.  The official description is PRHBTN is:

PRHBTN is an annual celebration of street art that endeavors to bring together art lovers of all kinds—-from the loyal museum supporter to the skateboarder with a freshly stenciled deck. Although street art is often times criminalized, marginalized, and generally under-appreciated, PRHBTN believes great artwork has the ability to transcend labels. With this conviction, in 2011 PRHBTN began to invite well-known international artists to create new mural works on vacant downtown walls in Lexington, Kentucky. So far, PRHBTN has been proud to welcome critically acclaimed artists from the United States (LA and NYC), England, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, and France.

PRHBTN funds these public murals through the generous support of the community, including those of private donors and local businesses, and with the support of LexArts and other community organizations such as the NoLi CDC. As part of the street art celebration, PRHBTN holds a commission-free art show and concert at Buster’s Billiards & Backroom to help connect artists with patrons every fall.

UM: What are your ideas about public art in general and what purpose it serves?

We believe that public art enriches a community by exposing residents and visitors to other viewpoints on the world.  Art is at its best when it makes a viewer think – to move their focus from the daily grind and on to more abstract topics, to interpreting a visual piece presented to her on the street.  Many people don’t visit art galleries.  Art on the streets brings this experience into people’s everyday lives.   Street Art in particular tends to present voices that speak to political and social issues and provide perspectives that are often underrepresented in the mainstream media and dialogue.

Providing an opportunity for these viewpoints to be represented and discussed adds a layer to public discourse within a community that is invaluable.  Further, bringing artists in from other parts of the country or the world expands the dialogue even further – this art provides us with a window on the world and fresh perspectives.  Public art also discourages the defacement of community spaces and adds value to properties.

UM: How many murals has PRHBTN been responsible for, to date?

2013- Kobra Lincoln Mural, Phlegm Mural on Pepper Distillery and Spyglass on the Water tower in the Distillery District, Gaia mural on West Sixth building, and Odeith mural on Bazaar building on N. Limestone.

2014- How & Nosm mural on Lex Park garage, ROA mural on N. Limestone, MTO mural on Manchester, and Andrew Hem mural on Short ST. There are also an assorted number of smaller pieces by ROA and How & Nosm throughout the Distillery complex on Manchester Street.

Eduardo Kobra – Lincoln Located on the back wall of the Kentucky Theater. Visible from Vine St. Photo Credit: Zannah Reed

Q: Do you believe there is a civic responsibility that goes along with placing works of art on public buildings?

Of course.  PRHBTN does not, however, involve itself with the artistic process or with decisions made as to the content of the art project it sponsors. We follow the required procedures for approval, which vary depending on the nature of the wall involved – public process for public buildings and spaces, private boards of directors approval for corporately owned buildings, and direct conversations with building owners and artists for privately owned walls.  We invite the artists based on their bodies of work, try to connect them with walls that they like, and then remove ourselves from the conversation.  We are facilitators.  That being said, we don’t believe that there is really any art being done on a large scale by internationally recognized artists that would be detrimental to the well-being of a city.  All art speaks and whether or not the message is appreciated, it is still valuable.  We believe that art is subjective and that there will always be those who subjectively do not like any given piece of art.

UM: What are the facts, as opposed to the hype, that you would like our community to know about the MTO mural on Manchester Street?

We should note that MTO has composed the story regarding the character depicted in the Manchester St. mural, which as we have previously indicated is a fictional/mythical creature, with an entire back-story. This back-story, written as an additional artistic piece inside the Pepper Distillery, brings to light the subject of a film, titled “My Name is MO”  – which MTO completed last week.  This film enables the viewer to grasp the entire project, it offers a completely different perspective on the mural. We hope that people will withhold judgment until they can see the project in its entirety.

” My name is MO “ from MTO on Vimeo.

PRHBTN’s official stance on the gang sign accusations:

We would like to note that the gang sign accusations have in fact been raised previously in connection with MTO’s work in Sarasota, Florida, where he was invited to take part in the world-famous Sarasota sidewalk chalk festival, which now has a wall/mural component. The piece he painted there likewise had absolutely nothing to do with gang activity, but it did cause a public controversy and the owner of the building did elect to paint over the mural, despite fairly widespread support for it in the immediate community. The concerns being raised here are in fact eerily similar to those raised in Sarasota, which were dismissed as lacking in basis by the police department there and also by independent research- there is simply no connection between the hand symbols MTO uses and any gang. MTO was nevertheless invited back to Sarasota following this episode, and painted three additional murals in response, which have been well received. MTO made a documentary about this experience, which We highly recommend you watch if you are interested in becoming educated on the matter. If you watch the entire thing we believe you will come away with a new respect for MTO and the way he sees and explains his art. Particularly toward the end of the piece he gives an eloquent, detailed description of the motivations behind his work, hand symbols, etc.

We would also encourage those interested to read and consider the response piece written by Denise Koval, the organizer of the Sarasota festival, titled “ Artistic Censorship Denies Opportunity for Dialogue and Growth,” which was published in the Bradenton Times newspaper on April 18, 2012.

UM: Are there specific criteria for selecting artists?

We select the artists we invite based on our subjective opinions about their works – we invite artists whose works we either like or respect in one way or another.  Each year we attempt to be diverse in the styles represented.   We pay travel, lodging, food, and supplies. We give the artists freedom with respect to design, and they come because of the opportunity for this freedom and because they like the grass roots nature of our efforts.  Final design is a decision between building owner and artist, and all murals receive final approval prior to installation.

UM: Can you fill us in on the total number of artists you have engaged, both international and local?

We have worked with 10 international and national artists and roughly three dozen local and regional artists.

UM: What issues might arise from artists not being paid for these projects?

The artists that have been a part of PRHBTN in the past have been overwhelmingly pleased to be able to have full artistic freedom over what they create and even what wall they paint on.  For other festivals this is not always the case as the artists are paid a commission or honorarium for their appearance.  We think that PRHBTN artists are able to feel more comfortable and create works that come from a place of passion without the complications that money may present. In fact, many of the artists have expressed the opinion that they have enjoyed painting here in Lexington more so than in other, bigger cities.

UM: What is your personal vision for the mural projects?

We don’t necessarily have a particular vision aside from the idea of continuing to bringing amazing artists to Lexington, for them to create art on our walls, and to continue to facilitate the growth of street art in our community by making worldwide connections between Lexington artists and the muralists we bring.  Also through the gallery show we hope to continue to expose Lexington to our local talent.

Arts

Round 2: Artist Professional Development Grants

GREAT MEADOWS FOUNDATION ANNOUNCES NEW DEADLINES FOR ARTIST PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT GRANTS

Due to the success of the inaugural round of Artist Professional Development Grants this past summer, the Great Meadows Foundation will now run this grant program three times a year. For the result of the first round, visit the UnderMain Post from August of this year. These grants are open for artists living in Kentucky and the counties of Floyd and Clarke in Indiana.

Additional information about the Shands’ collection can be found in the text Great Meadows: The Making of Here and Elizabeth Ann Smith’s You Are Here – a review for UnderMain when the text was released.

The next deadline for applications is November 20, 2016. Grants can be employed in the period January 6th through June 30th, 2017.

For further information go to www.greatmeadowsfoundation.org
Information about grant cycles in 2017

Cycle 1. 2017
Grant Cycle January 6 through June 30, 2017
Application deadline: Midnight on Sunday November 20, 2016
Notification date: December 30, 2016
Report deadline: July 21, 2017

Cycle 2. 2017
Grant Cycle May 1 through October 31, 2017
Application deadline: Midnight on Sunday March 19, 2017
Notification date: April 24, 2017
Report deadline: November 21, 2017

Cycle 3. 2017
Grant Cycle September 1, 2017 through February 28, 2018
Application deadline: Midnight on Sunday July 23, 2017
Notification date: August 25, 2017
Report deadline: March 21, 2018

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

A Simple Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Our fifth interview with Louis Zoellar Bickett:

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

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

–July 30, 2010-June 27, 2016

Louis Bickett reads A Simple Gift:

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

Arts

Louis Zoellar Bickett II In Conversation with Christine

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

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

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

Arts

Great Meadows Foundation Announcement

PRESS RELEASE

August 1, 2016

Great Meadows Foundation is pleased to announce the award of 19 grants to artists in the Kentucky region through the inaugural cycle of the Artists Professional Development Grants program. Supporting artists from across the state, the grants will enable recipients to travel to visit conferences, major exhibitions, art fairs and biennials, and to connect with professionals in the field whose expertise can help them develop their practice.

Speaking about the inaugural program, Al Shands, founder of Great Meadows Foundation, says: “we are thrilled that Kentucky artists are so ambitious in terms of what they want to see, who they want to meet, and how they see these grants benefitting them.” Julien Robson, Director of Great Meadows Foundation adds: “We received 36 very good applications for this inaugural program and are proud that, with these 19 grants, we will be able help a total of 20 artists fulfill travel projects that will expand their horizons, help them build new connections, and support their growth as artists.”

Grantees were selected with the advice of an external reviewer, a professional in the field from outside the region. The amount of support given in the 19 grants totals $40,768.-, with individual awards ranging between $1,000.- and $4,980.-. Grantee artists will be enabled to travel to American cities like Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, and Pittsburgh, as well as to Cuba, Denmark, France, Mexico, Italy, Korea, UAE, and the United Kingdom in pursuit of their proposals.

Grantee artists in this inaugural cycle are: Kayla Bischoff, Louisville; Mary Carothers, Louisville; Dave Caudill, Louisville; Valerie Sullivan Fuchs, Shelbyville; Brian Harper, New Albany; Kenneth Hayden, Louisville; Jacob Heustis, Louisville; Amira Karaoud, Louisville; Jonathan McFadden, Lexington; Elizabeth Mesa-Gaido, Morehead; Neli Ouzounova, Bowling Green; Letitia Quesenberry, Louisville; Stacey Reason and Andrew Cozzens (collaboration), Louisville; Kristin Richards, Louisville; Nathan G. Smith, Louisville; Skylar Smith, Louisville; James Robert Southard, Lexington; Richard Sullivan, Louisville; and Sarah West, Mount Sterling.

Artist Professional Development Grants is an ongoing program of the Great Meadows Foundation and will have deadlines three times each year. The next cycle will beannounced at the beginning of September, 2016 on the foundation’s website and

Facebook page. www.greatmeadowsfoundation.org

Great Meadows Foundation is a grant giving foundation, launched in 2016 by contemporary art collector and philanthropist Al Shands. Named for the home that Al and his late wife Mary created, the vision of Great Meadows Foundation is to strengthen and support the visual arts in Kentucky by empowering our community’s artists and other visual arts professionals to research, connect, and participate more actively in the broader contemporary art world. Artist Professional Development Grants are focused on supporting and forwarding the careers of Kentucky artists. This grant program promotes the growth and development of visual art in Kentucky by helping improve the skills, resources, knowledge, and connections of artists. The grant program aims to further artists’ careers by encouraging them to engage with the broader art world and raising the bar for art being produced in the region. Developing artists’ awareness of and participation in the national and international art world, Artist Professional Development Grants aim to strengthen the level of discourse and practice among artists in the state.

For more information, visit: http://greatmeadowsfoundation.org

Arts

The Wedding Day Kiss

“When I met my wife Jennifer in 2011, I might’ve been trying to impress her,” Jay McChord admitted. “I was talking about my military artwork and this book that I had published full of veterans’ stories, and she immediately said, ‘oh I have an amazing picture and story for you.’

McChord, the former Lexington Council Member, was beginning the story of the journey of an eye-catching sketch among his portfolio of military drawings.

“Jennifer showed me a very small picture from 1944 of her grandparents on their wedding day in Western Kentucky.  He’s in uniform and they’re next to this Western Kentucky signpost, kissing.”

As the story goes, according to McChord, following a brief honeymoon with his bride Dale at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Army machine-gunner Kenneth Johnson was sent to the front lines of the horrific German offensive known as the Battle of the Bulge. Some 75,000 Americans lost their lives on the frigid battlefields of Belgium and Luxembourg. Miraculously, Kenneth Johnson survived what can only be described as hell-on-earth to return to Dale and their home in Providence, Kentucky and a job as an underground coal miner.

Kenneth and Dale Johnson remained together for the next 47 years, raising three children and five grandchildren — Jennifer among them.

In December of 1991, Dale Johnson passed away.

The photo of her grandparents celebrating their marriage would have been destroyed had Jennifer not acted quickly, secretly, while visiting her grieving grandfather. “Jennifer was with her grandfather at his house, going through pictures, as you do before a funeral,” McChord recalled. “And she found this sack of old pictures and letters, obviously from the war. The image that came to be known as The Wedding Kiss happened to be on top. Jennifer asked her grandfather about it and he shared the story behind the photograph. But then he insisted that she return it to the bag. When he wasn’t looking, she instead slipped the picture into her hip pocket because she thought it was a cool picture of her grandparents.”

Two days after Dale Johnson’s funeral, honoring a promise they had made to each other, Kenneth burned that sack full of photos and love letters. “They had a pact that whoever survived the other one would burn those things because it was their private correspondence and they didn’t want their kids or grandkids seeing their love letters,” McChord explained, noting that like so many of his generation Kenneth Johnson was a man of his word. Life was all about duty and commitment — perhaps to a fault in rare moments such as this.

Jennifer framed the photograph and kept it in a curio cabinet where it remained for 20 years until she met Jay McChord, who couldn’t take his eyes off that photograph.

It reminded him of the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt image of a sailor and nurse kissing in New York’s Times Square on August 14, 1945 — “VJ” (Victory over Japan) Day, the day news arrived that the world finally had emerged from the madness of war. 

alfred-eisenstaedt-v-j-day-in-times-square_a-g-5297429-4990704
“But when you know the story behind the Times Square photo, that guy and that gal didn’t know each other; they’re not committed to each other. He just grabbed the first nurse he could find and kissed her. It’s just a moment of jubilation at the end of the war,” McChord noted. “But, I go back and look at Jennifer’s grandparents in this wedding day kiss and I think, ‘Wow! This is in the middle of the war. These are two people who are committed to one another for life, they don’t know if he’s coming back, yet they’re making that commitment right there.’”

The significance and poignancy captured in that photograph inspired McChord. He reached for pencil and sketch pad. This was the result …

In 2014,  while in Washington, D.C. on business, McChord met with a friend on the capitol staff of Kentucky Congressman Andy Barr. Eric Landis, an Air Force veteran and one-time Pentagon tour guide, suggested a tour of the sprawling U.S. Defense Department headquarters complex across the Potomac river in Arlington, Virginia.

When tour day arrived, McChord discovered that the 17-miles of corridors within the Pentagon constitute a giant gallery of military art. Mentioning that he has created nearly a dozen pieces of military art and wished that at least one of them could hang in the Pentagon, McChord wondered aloud how that might happen.

Landis went to work on behalf of his friend, looking into the procedure and process for getting art approved for Pentagon display. “We submitted my body of work with the proper documents, and then we heard nothing for months and months,” McChord recalled of the frustration of waiting and wondering. “Eric called me one day and said he had not gotten a response. But a week later he called me back and said ‘well, I guess I spoke too soon. They called and they have accepted one of your pieces, the one of Jennifer’s grandparents, that wedding day kiss picture.’ I thought, wow, of all the ones they could’ve picked, how cool is that?”

In a statement announcing the Pentagon installation of Wedding Day Kiss and explaining its significance, the McChords contrasted the image with the famous Times Square Kiss photo. “The Johnson’s equally iconic, Wedding Day Kiss, on the other hand, was between two people who committed their lives to each other, in the middle of America … in the middle of the War.  Not a celebration for the end of the conflict, but rather, a celebration in the midst of the conflict.  Not with an assurance of better days ahead, but rather with no guarantee of any days ahead. Not in the middle of the world’s most famous intersection, but rather in the middle of a field at an intersection known only by numbers.  Not witnessed by hundreds of unconnected revelers, but witnessed only by the closest of family and friends.  The Wedding Day Kiss image celebrates more than momentary joy and inhibition.  It is a testament to marriage, commitment, sacrifice, honor, dignity and most importantly, love.”

A replica of the original drawing was produced and now hangs among some 15,000 works — images conveying the range of human emotions from horror to tenderness — on permanent display in the Pentagon gallery. Beneath the framed sketch is a plaque bearing the “Wedding Kiss” story and a copy of the original photograph positioned side-by-side with the “Times Square” photo of the kissing sailor and nurse. 

McChord (left),

(Left to right) Jay McChord, Riley McChord (daughter), Davis Bryant (stepson), Jennifer McChord (wife), Ken Johnson (father in-law and son of Kenneth Johnson)

McChord says that the Pentagon Curator appreciated the fact that this piece “spoke to the power of the family, family commitment and those spouses who send their loved ones off to fight and don’t know if they’ll come back.”

About Jay McChord’s venture into military art

McChord’s final piece as a student before graduating from UK in 1991 was a drawing of group of US soldiers in Vietnam.

“The picture is very telling. It’s not a combat picture, at all. They’re just sitting around, in a moment between moving from one place to the next.”

Six years later, while in Kinkos making a copy of the sketch, McChord ran into his former adviser, UK art professor Arturo Sandoval. Sandoval asked to see the sketch and was surprised to find that his former student enjoyed military art. He told McChord that he had real talent and suggested that there might be a lot of interest among veterans and their families in transforming old war photos into drawings.

“What started to happen was people started seeing my work and saying ‘hey I have this special picture of my dad … or of me.’”

Over lunch in downtown Lexington, McChord told me about one of them:

Jay McChord can be reached via email at jaymcchord@gmail.com

~~~

Wedding Day Kiss 2

Jennifer McChord holding the original photograph of her grandparents next to husband Jay’s pencil sketch of the image,

 

Arts

Collapsing Art and Life

(Photo by Guy Mendes)

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

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

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

Also in this Series:

By The Hand of A Conceptualist

New Broom Sweeps Clean

Arts

The Mason Star

If you are an avid reader and love good stories, especially those spun by Kentucky writers, the name Bobbie Ann Mason should be familiar. For over 35 years Mason has developed into a strong literary and cultural presence. Known for her ability to weave a strong tale and to accurately describe the characters and ways of the folk in the Bluegrass neck-of-the-woods, she has reached into imaginations, imprinting minds with indelible pictures that linger long after the last page.

We wondered to what sort of star Bobbie Ann Mason hitches her literary wagon. Every writer has their own writing process. For some, it’s always a matter of following a step-by-step guide. For others, the process is a routine that comes naturally.

Writing for me,” said Mason, “is like solving a mystery, doing a puzzle and arranging all of the pieces together, finding and fitting the different parts.”

The ongoing themes of solving puzzles, intricate relationships, and war pervade her works. Originating ideas, cultivating them, and bringing them to a level that has proved worthy of her many awards is part of a process that has been developed and refined through many short stories, novels, a biography, an autobiography, and an upcoming novella.

Born May 1, 1940, close to Mayfield, Kentucky, Bobbie Ann spent much of her time on the family farm, reading. The tranquility and isolation of her parents’ dairy farm ignited a curiosity about lifestyles that seemed as though they must be happening in some parallel universe. “It was an isolated corner of Kentucky, far from any city. My parents encouraged me to read, but there were few books available, certainly nothing called literature,” she said in a recent interview with Transatlantica.

This began Mason’s adventures into the popular young adult literature of the time that eventually led her to all things literary: the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew mysteries, now-classics that were on the bedside table of every young girl in 1950s America.

It was perhaps her early experiences with mysteries and the awakening of her inquisitive nature that informed this ongoing theme in her work.

“A concrete detail will hit my imagination,” she said. “For instance, I may see a man wearing a carnation and wonder ‘why a carnation?’ Or perhaps the man appears drunk and I ask, ‘what is he drunk on?’ Maybe there’s something else going on. Once I have established that image, it seems to unfold from there. Sometimes it could be a word or a detail, maybe just a sound.”

As a student at the University of Kentucky Mason discovered Hemingway, Salinger, and Fitzgerald, delivering Bobbie Ann into a whole new world of literary possibilities.

Her process began to develop, always starting with key images that initially set it in motion, seemingly random pieces that eventually coalesce.. “Then the images start to get translated into words and the words lead me, often surprise me, with where they go and what they do. Very often it is an image of some sort that sparks the inspiration for a story. That stick of dynamite found in a box of letters may very well have been the trigger for a new yarn. In the opening of Shiloh, Norma Jean is lifting weights. The novel In Country was initially inspired by the sight of a couple of teenagers selling flowers on a street corner.”

In_country-330

“I’ve always been fascinated with mysteries,” she explained. “It was this, perhaps, that led me to Vladimir Nabokov, whose Ada was the subject of my dissertation. In graduate school I read quite a bit of him and was thrilled with the way he wrote. His life story was fascinating as well, being exiled from Russia and then becoming one of the foremost prose stylist in English.”

By her late-thirties, Bobbie Ann was writing short stories. The New Yorker published her first in 1980. “It took me a long time to discover my material,” she said. “It wasn’t a matter of developing writing skills, it was a matter of knowing how to see things. And it took me a very long time to grow up. I’d been writing for a long time, but was never able to see what there was to write about. I always aspired to things away from home, so it took me a long time to look back at home and realize that that’s where the center of my thought was.”

Mason doesn’t search for material. Instead, she relies on serendipity. ”It can be scary. A novel can bubble up in the space of a minute. It just kind of erupts. Then in five minutes you realize you’ve just committed the next five years of your life.”

At first, as she began writing In Country, Mason didn’t know that it would become a story about Viet Nam. “It backed into that eventually. It’s ultimately about Sam, the main character, not that particular war. It could have just as easily been set during World War II.”

The story found its way to the big screen in 1989 as a film produced and directed by Norman Jewison, starring Bruce Willis and Emily Lloyd. The screenplay by Frank Pierson and Cynthia Cidre was based on Mason’s novel.

Her biggest challenge? “The hardest part is the beginning. Working toward getting enough to go with. For example, writing a novel. It may take me a year to develop enough material to motivate me to go further. Then when I have a draft I’ve got something to work with. At that point it gets easier and it gets fun. The hardest part’s the blank page. The words reveal things. It’s all about language, which is music, the rhythm of it, the sound of it. The visual imagery: I try to find some way to put it all together, and then maybe I’ll have a story.”

Like many writers, Bobbie Ann goes through a lot of drafts, going back over the material, honing, shaping, reworking. “The coalescing doesn’t just come along. It’s hard work. It’s hard getting a perspective on it and being critical of what it means. I flash back and forth between a creative process of not thinking, just writing, and a critical process where I stand back and look and say ‘what have I done? Does this work?’ I may have more feeling for this passage with notes to myself for how I can improve it for the next draft.”

Mason said her stories are stitched together from the tiny details she has learned to look for in daily life. “I’m an observer of detail. I notice what people have in their shopping carts at the grocery, what they are saying when I overhear them, what they’re wearing, what kinds of jobs they have.”

And then it becomes a matter of allowing herself to be carried along by the momentum of the emerging story. “You’re absorbed in this thing you’re watching and writing about.”

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Bobbie Ann’s other works include The Girl in the Blue Beret; Elvis Presley; Feather Crowns; and Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail, the last two winners of the Southern Book Critics Circle Awards. 

Among the finest contemporary Southern writers, Mason has been the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Arts and Letters Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as the National Endowment for the Arts grant. She is also a former writer-in-residence at the University of Kentucky.

Check out Bobbie Ann’s website, where you will find a complete list of works, a wonderful video with Mason and Wendell Berry, and information about events.

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Arts

A New Broom Sweeps Clean

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

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

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

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

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

Object from The Archive, Courtesy Louis Zoellar Bickett

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

Pregnant Landscape, The Totem Series,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arts

By The Hand of a Conceptualist

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Michael Skolnick, Right Hand, 2014

Aaron Michael Skolnick, Right Hand, 2016

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

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

Arts

Running Where We Stand

Aaron Skolnick’s show at the Glacier Gallery – 1107 Harrison Gallery in Cincinnati’s Brighton district – is a must see says Jack Wood. See the review on AEQAI. Wood calls the exhibit ‘incredibly timely considering the Cincinnati Art Museum’s 30 American Artists.’ Wood sees a common theme in shows at The Art Academy and DAAP as well. This is a trip well worth your time.

Arts

Review: American Horse and Hound

In William Shakespeare’s play, King Richard III cries out, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”  His horse has been killed in battle and without it, he faces utter defeat and the loss of his throne.   Demonstrating the human race’s essential dependence on another quadruped, Emily Dickinson declares that “Dogs are better than human beings because they know and do not tell.” 

Pair the two, and what do you get?  A brilliant and intelligent solo exhibit, American Horse and Hound, currently on display at John Hockensmith’s Fine Art Edition’s Gallery at 146 East Main Street in Georgetown, Kentucky.  Although Monica Pipia, the artist, is considered a contemporary primitive painter, her work defies a singular classification because she has so fervently internalized and extemporized the two loves of her life, dogs and horses.

It is clear that her subject matter and her medium, acrylic on canvas (with some mixed media), determine how each piece evolves into a final work of art.  Pipia says that “If I try to manipulate the brush, it’s always disastrous.  I have to listen to my inner voice.  Yes, as with most artists, I cogitate and calculate but I can’t make a painting be what it doesn’t want to be.”  This may sound trite, but what results is a technique and style uniquely and unmistakably Pipia.

The anchor piece of the exhibit, by the same title, depicts a static, statuesque checkerboard horse wearing a checkerboard blanket against a checkerboard background.  Despite the stasis of the scene, this quilting technique makes the piece pulsate with color. Small, black irregular squares dominate the canvas contrasted with interwoven hues and values of red, brown, and gold.  From all of this emerges a horse of a different color, suggesting overtones typical of American folk art.

American Horse and Hound (72” x 48”) Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

American Horse and Hound (72” x 48”)
Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

Pipia demonstrates in this work her ability to subtly infuse a strong sense of perspective and movement with the curved lines of the spotted yet motionless hound that dominates the foreground beneath the horse.  But the real energy comes from what is actually not on the canvas: the rider.  It is easy to become so entangled in the horse and hound’s mutually intense anticipation that our mind’s eye can’t help but see the person these animals see in the distance, headed toward them.

But never fear.  Out of the 23 works in this exhibit, there are horses with riders present as in “The Turn-around.”  Here, the artist broadens the space and creates a wave-like movement from left to right, curling back again and cresting with the horse’s head.  Through this imposed motion and fluidity, the focus then becomes the hound and the rider in the background. 

The Turn-around (24” x24”) Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

The Turn-around (24” x24”)
Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

And in a more contemporary vein, Pipia employs a type of painterly synecdoche, where a part represents the whole.  We do not see all of the horse nor do we need to. This, in turn, allows us to not only focus on the curvature of the animal itself, but to also enjoy the splashes of color and contemplate the positive and negative spaces created by the overall composition.  It exudes a warm and exquisite beauty and the use of white in the saddle blanket, the rider’s pants and collar, the hound, and the sun lends a solid unifying element.

The real American spirit in this exhibit is at its best with some of the mixed media pieces where the artist has cleverly incorporated the American flag either literally or figuratively into work itself.  For instance, in “American Horse Portrait” and “Pony Express” the flag symbolizes American progress that has been achieved through the power and strength of the horse.  However, this utilitarian representation does not diminish Pipia’s presentation of the beauty, grace, and necessity of an animal that we still romanticize through our sports, leisure, and entertainment activities.

America Moving Forward (72” x 48”) Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

American Horse Portrait (72” x 48”)
Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

“American Horse Portrait” serves as an excellent example of the artist’s contemporary primitive inclinations.  One unique thread that runs throughout her work is in the way she places the bridle and reins on the horse.  They are always angular and geometric and presented as an integral part of the horse without restraint.  Another consistency is how she builds texture and layers the paint, using more colors than appear obvious at a glance, such as the brown, white and black seen here. This portrait, painted over a flag that has been attached to the canvas, is both beautiful and moving in its seeming simplicity.  Yet the connotations of its conceptual complexity are vast, depending on what we, as viewers, bring to it based on our own knowledge and experience.

Pipia’s paintings also display a lot of joy and playfulness as “Balancing Act” confirms, where a canine is balancing a doggie treat on its nose.  Hunter, companion, friend, and confidant. The message is clear in this profile that the slightest movement may result in the subject’s disappointment and displeasure with its failure to sit and stay still as it performs this feat.  All the while we, too, are waiting for the command for it to toss its head in the air and make the bone disappear down the hatch.  Such is the power of Pipa’s art to stimulate the imagination.  Note the dog’s collar simulating a red stripe of the American flag with stars.

Balancing Act (20” x20”) Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

Balancing Act (20” x20”)
Courtesy of Hockensmith’s Fine Art Editions

The American Horse and Hound exhibit is joyfully positive and thought-provoking.  Pipia’s work could easily fit into a number of categories but it is, first and foremost, original and representational as it strives to convey the essence of what it portrays. And it will allow you to easily tap into your own inner Shakespeare or Dickinson.  After all, where would we be without horses and dogs, and who would want to live in a world without them? 

The artist’s reception is on Thursday, June 30th, 6-8 pm. The exhibit runs through Saturday, July 30th.

Arts

Experiments in Art History

University art galleries have the potential to serve as science labs, whether through experiments in curating or experiments in art making. While some experiments in creativity yield cautionary tales, others reveal new methods that may be used to test and develop existing hypotheses. Unlike their white cube relatives, these galleries are sites where paradigms may be revealed and challenged—given the right conditions.

New Monuments—a new exhibition series at the University of Louisville’s Cressman Center for Visual Arts—attempts to revise the traditional “monuments” list that serves as the basis for art historical education, utilizing the university gallery setting as both laboratory and classroom. For each installment, New Monuments will feature a single artwork produced or completed in the past year that involves recent social, political, or aesthetic issues.

For its inaugural exhibition, New Monuments presents Sanford Biggers’s Laocoön (2015)—a ten-foot inflatable sculpture created in the likeness of the cartoon character Fat Albert. Instead of standing upright, Fat Albert is lying belly-down on the gallery floor; his head is turned to one side, his arms are unnaturally extended along his bulbous torso, and his palms are turned upward. A pump provides air that intermittently inflates and deflates his vinyl body, creating a sound that is mechanical (similar to a ventilator) and hauntingly human. Allusions to the death of Eric Garner—who died due to a combination of a New York Police officer’s chokehold, chest compression, and his own poor health—are not lost through this auditory experience.

Biggers is an established figure in the contemporary art scene, rendering New Monuments an important milestone in the Cressman Center’s exhibition history. His interdisciplinary practice takes inspiration from history, yet questions the process of historicizing. Many of his works depolarize perceived facts and fictions, revealing the power structures that have come to shape our collective consciousness. Biggers works to unearth the ways cultural symbols evolve over time, and his Fat Albert inflatable—although superficially caricatural—is a meditation on a classical emblem of pain, suffering, and fallen heroes. As the creator of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids is set to stand trial for sexual misconduct, the plastic Laocoön stands as a reminder that history and heroes are rarely set in stone.

Biggers references and updates the ancient marble sculpture Laocoön and His Sons—the perceived prototype that captures the intersection of suffering and beauty in Western art history. According to Greek and Roman mythology, the gods dispatched serpents to kill Laocoön for attempting to reveal the Greek threat concealed within the Trojan horse. Unearthed and placed in the Vatican in 1506, the sculpture has been the subject of analysis for centuries—its lengthy bibliography includes poets, critics, scientists, and philosophers: Pliny the Elder, J.J. Winckelmann, Charles Darwin, and Clement Greenberg, to name a few.[1]

In the Cressman Center, Laocoön once again becomes the subject of investigation, but is contextualized by large, sprawling wall quotations from books and essays that reference the marble version. According to the exhibition’s printout, these passages are intended to provide “points of departure” so viewers may situate the work, rather than look to descriptive object labels. This experiment may result in alienating its audience or, on the contrary, leave viewers with just enough information to embark on their own research; results may vary.

When Elaine Scarry wrote that bodily pain escapes language—that it “resists verbal objectification”—she also observed that physical suffering becomes wrapped up with political representation.[2] We hit an impasse when attempting to describe pain, and in turn, fail to translate its descriptors. Biggers’s Laocoön is recognition of this phenomenon, stripping the historical sculpture of its famous twisted face; Fat Albert updates these classical signifiers of pain, assisting viewers to confront the irony of apathy. The exhibition brochure prompts the question: “could there be a Black American version of the Laocoön? If so, whom would he depict, and why would he suffer?”

Laocoön is not a panacea to historical tensions, but rather a work that destabilizes a one-fits-all approach to the standard canon. We asked to consider how the spectrum of human suffering has been represented throughout history, and how art historical survey courses can fail to provide intersectional analysis. For its first installment, New Monuments is an experiment in education—one that has the potential to change outmoded pedagogy.

New Monuments: Sanford Biggers: Laocoön runs through July 2nd.

[1] Nigel Spivey, Enduring Creation: Art, Pain, and Fortitude (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011), 25-37.

[2] Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 12.

Arts

Females on the Figure

Monumental Figure, Christine Huskisson, 2014

I frequently find myself searching for inspiration to get back to drawing the human form. These 20 female artists are speaking to me loud and clear.

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

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

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

Arts

Why Arts Education Matters

DEFENDING ARTS and humanities is a hot topic among college presidents. Scott Miller, president of Virginia Wesleyan College, pays homage to the life and career advantages of a broad education in which Shakespeare resides compatibly with Steve Jobs.

Read on…

Arts

Mama’s Boys

My mother was not what you’d call a sports fan. She had eight kids, six girls, and while I would never claim that this fact alone made our house a sports-free zone, it clearly played a part. We had estrogen in the air, thick as the scent of Lemon Pledge on cleaning day. We had Joni Mitchell and “Masterpiece Theater” and macramé. Georgia O’Keefe on the walls. Feminist tomes on the bookshelves.

We didn’t have a lot of balls.

Read on…

Arts

The Great Meadows Foundation has launched!

Yes, it is here and yes, it is in support of Kentucky artists.

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

The initial program, Artists Professional Development Grants, will provide visual artists in Kentucky with grants for travel outside the state, both nationally and internationally. This program encourages artists to engage critically with the international art world and thereby to enrich the art environment we live in. Awardees for the first summer cycle will be announced in August. While that deadline has passed, we hope you will stay tuned for an announcement of our next.

As the foundation develops, it will expand its scope with other types of grants and we look forward to keeping you abreast of these programs as they come on line. Future programs will be publicized through the GreatMeadowsFoundation website’s newsfeed, on Facebook and through Twitter.

We encourage you to forward information about Great Meadows Foundation, its website, and programs to colleagues and other visual arts professionals around Kentucky and help us raise awareness of this new support structure within the state.

Sincerely,

Al Shands, Founder

Julien Robson, Director

Photo Credits: Verana Gerlach and Edward Winters

Read Also: A Review of Great Meadows: The Making of Here

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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Tarpey_TexMex
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

Firmly Rooted: Juried Exhibition 2016

An update from the M S Rezny Gallery…

M S Rezny Studio/Gallery is pleased to announce the finals in the national juried art competition Firmly Rooted 2016, addressing our ongoing symbiotic relationships with plants. Artists from 28 states submitted over 290 artworks of botanical interpretations in a variety of mediums. This year’s juror Stuart Horodner, Director of the University of Kentucky Art Museum, selected 29 artworks to be in the exhibit. In making his selections he “tried for some diversity of approach and simply responded to things that had a solid skillful or conceptual approach, favoring things that went a bit further than simplest of ideas.”  Cash awards will be presented at the artist’s reception. The public is invited to vote on their “people’s choice” award.

Marcia Hopkins, “My Garden Feet”

Firmly Rooted is the gallery’s annual juried national art competition. Each year the gallery selects a different juror who is well respected in the artist community to select the finalists from a blind jury process. To get the word out about this small arts competition the prospectus was distributed to all the State Art Councils and listed on several national artist list-serves, places where artist go to find information about upcoming exhibits. We were assisted locally by notices in the local papers and through LexArts artist registry. Nearly half of the finalists are regional artists which fits the demographics of the entries submitted.

Of his selection for the exhibit Mr. Horodner stated “Artists have for centuries have used nature to inspire them, and have found innumerable ways to represent it. In jurying this exhibition, I tried to recognize a diverse range of approaches and media, acknowledging solid skills and conceptual rigor. My hope is that the accumulated works offer lively encounters for viewers of all ages and backgrounds.”

A First Prize award of $500 and three $100 Honorable Mentions will be presented at the artist reception, July 15th, 5-8pm. To help with prize money, the gallery has the generous support of several local sponsors. A People’s Choice Award will be presented at the end of the exhibition where winning artist receives monies collected from votes placed at $1 each.

Gallery Hours are Tuesday-Friday11am-4pm,, Saturday 1-3 and by appointment.

 

Hosted by M S Rezny Studio/Gallery, Lexington Distillery District, Lexington, KY

Juror: Stuart Horodner, Director of the University of Kentucky Art Museum

Arts

Slave Memorial Public Art RFQ

LexArts Inc. in association with the Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial seek artists to create public art that recognizes slave graves both marked and unmarked in the Lake Cumberland area.  This artwork will create a visual landmark within the community. The goal is to commission proposals by three experienced public artists for the site with the expectation of realizing one of the proposals next year, according to a LexArts statement.   There is no application fee to enter.

Project Description
The Lake Cumberland Slaves Memorial board was created in an effort “To recognize and honor slaves and their burial sites in the Lake Cumberland area, to demonstrate that every person be regarded with dignity and respect.” Goals/Objectives to accomplish the mission include the following:

•      To recognize and honor those sold into slavery in our community.
•      To demonstrate to all that these lives are not forgotten, that these lives made a difference.
•      To bring dignity and respect to their final resting place.
•      To make every effort to learn the names of those buried.
•      To promote inclusiveness of everyone in the life of our community.
•      To develop an educational program that illustrates the daily life of a slave and the many contributions they made.

slave_coffle

Project Budget
The project budget is $50,000.  The budget is negotiable but must include travel, research, design, execution, insurance, taxes, site preparation and materials.    LexArts will confirm the feasibility of completing the project within the estimated project budget during preliminary design.

Project Site
The selected site remains uncertain. Various sites have been proposed. The City of Somerset has offered multiple locations but the most logical site is on the grounds of The Mill Springs Battlefield Museum and Visitors Center.  The Mill Springs Battlefield Museum and Visitors Center board has identified three locations on the grounds of the museum. The selected artist will have the opportunity to suggest locations that best displays their work.

Timeline

Deadline for Artist Qualifications                                      May 30, 2016

Artist Notification                                                                 June 8, 2016

Finalist Proposals Due                                                          July 15, 2016
 
Application Guidelines (Incomplete Submissions will not be accepted)
Apply here.
Required:
– A one page artist statement describing public art experience and interest in the project.
– A current resume (no more than three pages)
– Up to 6 digital images of past mural / art work in .jpg format no larger than 500 kb each. Each file must be named with the artist’s surname and image number to correspond to an image list (e.g. 01 Smith).

For more information, please contact Nathan Zamarron at 859-255-2951 or nzamarron@lexarts.org 

Eligibility
We are committed to a policy of providing opportunities to people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, age, veteran status, or physical disability.  Any artist may apply.
 
Selection Process
The submitted qualifications will be reviewed by a selection committee comprised of artists, arts professionals and community leaders. The images from the top artists will be exhibited in a gallery setting allowing the public to vote on their favorite works.   Using public input as one component in the selection process, the committee will identify three finalists.   The three selected finalists will have the opportunity to visit the site, meet with LexArts and community representatives.  Finalists will be paid $500 to develop a design and deliver a proposal of composition, concept statement and process.  A review of the final design will be conducted by the selection committee. One artist or artist team will be selected to realize their proposal.

Critical Selection Factors
• Resonance with the project description
• Artistic distinction
• Public Safety
• Low maintenance, durability
• Contextual integration into a specific urban site and its intrinsic character

The strength of the submitted images of past artworks demonstrating ability of the artist(s) to complete similar or related projects will be considered critical selection factors. In addition, the Committee is interested in a wide variety of creative solutions to the challenges of an outdoor public artwork.

Request for Proposals (Phase II)
Successful proposals will be expected to provide:

•A written document expressing the conceptual framework and artistic point of view that will guide development of the project ;

•One or more drawings of the proposed work of art; models are optional. Drawings and/or models should illustrate the conceptual relationships between the artwork and its environment.

•A timeline and budget (not to exceed $50,000) for production and installation;

•A detailed list of materials and construction requirements, with attention to issues of durability, maintenance and public safety.

Brief history of Lake Cumberland Area
Pulaski County was established in 1798, at that time the county went all the way down to the old Tennessee line between Wayne and Knox and the southern part of the county was Indian land.  In 1800 a part of Pulaski became Wayne and in 1802 there was no longer any Indian land.  Then in 1826 several acres of the southern part of Kentucky was now Tennessee with McCreary County being formed in 1912 from the Southern part of Pulaski and part of Wayne and Whitley.

The city of Somerset was founded in 1789 by Thomas Hansford and received its name for Somerset County, New Jersey, where some of the early settlers had come from. It was incorporated as a city in 1887 and made the county seat.  Point Isabel was on Lake Cumberland just south of Somerset, in 1890 and was renamed Burnside for General Ambrose Burnside, Union general during the Civil War.

Pulaski County is known as having a significant Civil War battle.  The battle of Mill Springs (also known as the battle of Fishing Creek {Confederate terminology} and battle of Logan’s Cross Roads {Union terminology}), was fought in both Pulaski and Wayne Counties, near Nancy.  It was the first win for the Union Army on January 19, 1862.  At the present time there is a Museum next to the National Cemetery in Nancy, Kentucky.  The Battle of Mill Springs Battlefield Association is at the present time working on the Museum, battlefield and other battlefield property in Wayne County becoming National.

Upon researching it has come to knowledge that Pulaski County had 149 slave owners in the past.  It was also found out that there are many of the cemeteries that have unmarked slave graves.  It would only be right that we recognize these slaves.  The slaves were in old Pulaski, McCreary, and Wayne Counties – hence Lake Cumberland Slaves.

Research Links
 
Information on Lake Cumberland can be found by visiting these sites:

Arts

Past Forward, Present Tense

Curatorial discourse has become increasingly self-reflexive, questioning the power structures that covertly or overtly influence museums, galleries, and cultural institutions. While curators are still tasked with caring for works of art, they also help us to navigate an artwork’s fluctuating cultural, historical, and political landscape, in addition to indicating the shifts that occur when a work is viewed on a local, national, or international platform. But what happens when platforms are fabricated by national embassies and curators become intertwined with diplomats?

Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates is co-curated by Noor Al Suwaidi and organized and circulated by the Meridian Center for Cultural Diplomacy (a nonprofit organization that aims to unite cultures) with support from the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in Washington, D.C. According to Al Suwaidi, the twenty-five selected artists represent all seven emirates through emphasizing themes central to Emirati culture: home, family, nature, innovation, and technology.

University of Kentucky’s Bolivar Art Gallery, located in the School of Art and Visual Studies.

University of Kentucky’s Bolivar Art Gallery, located in the School of Art and Visual Studies.

Located in the University of Kentucky’s Bolivar Art Gallery, Past Forward is installed throughout three rooms, leaving adequate space between each video, sculpture, and two-dimensional work. The exhibition’s eighteen-month national tour concludes in Lexington, closing on May 13th, 2016. Past Forward is also accompanied by extensive programming that seeks to connect Emirati and North American culture—a sentiment echoed by both Al Suwaidi and the curatorial team from Meridian International through their catalogue essays.

This collaboration provides an opportunity for those in the United States to connect with artists living and working in the UAE through workshops, lectures, and panel discussions. Although the exhibition’s educational platform is a valuable resource, it silences any criticality layered within the selected artworks. Discussion revolves around the UAE’s industry and traditions, but only superficially.

While it remains impossible to separate the exhibition from its corporate and state sponsorships (a large sign bearing each institution’s insignia is strategically placed at the entrance), the works included in Past Forward tell a visual story of how art of the Emirates has changed since the country’s formation in 1971. An early painting by Abdul Qader Al Rais titled Obaid and Mouza (1968) is located toward the entrance, providing historical and aesthetic points of reference for the artists included in Past Forward. Al Rais’s paintings draw from figurative and abstract traditions, and have influenced and shaped contemporary art in the UAE. The artist pulls his inspiration from Emirati neighborhoods in addition to the local architecture.[1]

Obaid Suroor, Al Maktoum Houses (2007)

Obaid Suroor, Al Maktoum Houses (2007)

In an extension of Al Rais’s painting, Obaid Suroor layers themes of local architecture and culture but also highlights the importance of traditional Emirati fabric designs through dotted pop-art overlays. Old Houses (2007) and Al Maktoum Houses (2007) depict the mud brick houses and large forts of Ras Al Khaimah, an emirate often associated with its black rock mountains and ocean views.

Suroor has draped his architectural landscapes with dot patterns, but these additions are not merely placed on the painting’s surface; some dots respond to the buildings’ nooks and crannies and surrounding vegetation, as if being slowly absorbed by the canvas. Juxtaposing Suroor’s spotted landscapes with the square forms found in Al Rais’s figurative work documents a progression of abstraction in Emirati painting between the late 1960s and early 2000s.

Three large format photographs by Lateefa bint Maktoum are dispersed throughout gallery, providing reminders that while contemporary art in the UAE has become an important component of culture, Emirati traditions, landscapes, and natural environments are disappearing.

Two images capture figures looking outward to new industrial developments, like the Palm Jebel Ali—a large group of artificial islands located off the coast of Dubai, which are still under construction. In Observers of Change II (2009), bint Maktoum captures the effects of human intervention on the UAE’s ecology through a grove of mangled, leafless palm trees. The exhibition’s catalog and accompanying wall labels are uncomfortably optimistic—they treat bint Maktoum’s photographs as metaphors of perseverance in the face of change, yet evade lingering questions that surround the UAE’s industrial projects.

Hyperallergic, Art Forum, and the Chronicle of Higher Education are publications that continue to address the relationship between labor issues and art in the UAE; the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and New York University Abu Dhabi have been criticized for their exploitation of migrant labor. Last year, Ashok Sukumaran and Walid Raad were denied entry into the country due to their involvement with the Gulf Labour Coalition—an artist-initiated group that asks museums and institutions being built on Saadiyat Island to create better conditions for their workers.[2]

Ebtisam AbdulAziz, Autobiography (2007)

Ebtisam AbdulAziz, Autobiography (2007)

Only one of the works in Past Forward hints at the complexities associated with the UAE’s rapid growth. Projected in a small room at the gallery’s center is Ebtisam AbdulAziz’s filmed performance. Autobiography (2007) confronts issues of consumerism and personal wealth, probing the underlying structures that affect identity and culture.

For her performance, AbdulAziz wears a black, full-body suit covered in green numerals that are taken from her private bank statements. She wanders through public spaces, robotically performing parts of her daily routine. This narrative is interrupted by absurd interactions with consumer detritus—during one segment, the artist crawls into a large plastic bag and is dragged along a sidewalk. AbdulAziz’s work contributes to an international conversation on money and wealth, drawing similarities between the U.S. and UAE.

Maura Reilly’s essay “Toward a Curatorial Activism” questions the implications of institutional biases, asking what museum curators, directors, educators, artists, and gallerists can do to achieve fair and just representations of artistic production.[3] Past Forward fails to address the Embassy’s ideological subscriptions, offering its viewers a single—and problematic—perspective. It presents the UAE’s rapid globalization and industrial growth under a utopian blanket—one that acknowledges Emirati traditions are on a pathway to extinction, yet strategically covers the reasons its culture is changing so quickly. Critical discourse is subverted in favor of cultural diplomacy, prompting the questions: who is the curator—Al Suwaidi or the Embassy?

[1] Curtis Sandberg, “Telling the Emirati Story through Cultural Diplomacy” in Past Forward: Contemporary Art from the Emirates,” exh. cat. (Washington, D.C.: Meridian International, 2015), 5.

[2] “Letter from Sixty+ Curators, Critics and Museum Directors to UAE Art Institutions, and their Affiliates,” Gulf Labor Artist Coalition Website, June 1, 2015, http://gulflabor.org/2015/letter-from-sixty-curators-critics-and-museum-directors-to-uae-art-institutions-and-their-affiliates/.

[3] Maura Reilly, “Toward a Curatorial Activism,” MauraReilly.com, accessed April 27, 2016, http://www.maurareilly.com/pdf/essays/CIAFessay.pdf.

Arts

Andrew Brinkhorst Sees Music

If you’ve been to live music shows in the area over the last two or three years chances are you have seen Andrew Brinkhorst, trusty Fuji camera in hand, angling for the best photo shot. Over the course of the past few years, Brinkhorst has taken over 17,000 photographs documenting the burgeoning Lexington and regional music scene. A selection of about 40 images of live music shows and festivals are featured in the Lexington Art League show, This Is The Thing, which opens on April 22.

An avid music-goer with “a very understanding wife”, Brinkhorst’s documentary project was sparked during his first visit in 2013 to the NoLiCDC Night Market, the monthly music, food, art, and social street fair mashup on Lexington’s reenergized Northside. The vibe was dynamic, friendly, and community-minded. Brinkhorst was inspired to document what he calls the “collective effervescence” of that moment and the scene.

Brinkhorst’s approach to his subject matter is not intended to be encyclopedic. He did not attempt to shoot all musical genres, performers, or venues. His concern was to capture some of the immediacy, essence, and immersion of live music, its performers, and audiences. Shooting with a fixed focus 50mm lens rather than a telephoto lens, Brinkhorst takes his photographs close to the action which lends the desired sense of immediacy to his images. He sees himself primarily as a street and documentary photographer, influenced by some of the greats like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Bruce Davidson.

An acknowledged “bad drummer”, Brinkhorst has been around and involved in music since his youth in Parkersburg, West Virginia. His favorite bands included Foreigner, Boston, The Doobie Brothers, and even Aerosmith! He has also been a devoted photographer for many years and views photography as both a technical and creative craft. Employed as an IT security specialist and product manager, Brinkhorst is fortunate in having significant control over his schedule which gives him the freedom to frequently prowl around the night music scene.

The work featured in This Is The Thing is the first phase of a larger documentary project intending to document the enlivened Lexington and regional art scene and also the small business sector. He acknowledges that his approach to these next two areas will probably require more of a documentary storytelling approach than was required for shooting the music scene. His hope for This Is The Thing is that the show inspires others to go out and attend live music performances and appreciate the amazing musical talent and diversity that we have here in the Bluegrass.

This Is The Thing opens at the Lexington Art League on Friday, April 22. The show runs until May 29.

All images copyrighted by Andrew Brinkhorst and used with his permission.

Arts

Solace

Solace is defined as comfort or consolation in a time of distress or sadness. Many of us struggle for the words to express our feelings when terrible things happen – especially when close to home. A letter of solace to the campus community by Transylvania President Seamus Carey concerning the recent unrelated deaths of a graduate and a student brings meaning and definition to the inarticulate speech of distress, sadness and rage.

Dear Transylvania community,

Coming back to campus after the tragic events in March was, I admit, more than a bit surreal. Spring is here in its complexity, at one moment threatening rain and sleet and at another sunshine and balmy skies. It is easy to see faculty and students rushing toward the semester’s end and May term with mixtures of reluctance, anticipation, and hints of joy. Yet there is also the lingering reality that we lost two of our family, Katie Stewart ’16 and Stephanie Moore Shults ’08, to tragedies that have hurt us, as Oscar Wilde wrote so precisely, with their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, and their cruel violence.

I feel the need to speak to both deaths because we are a loving community and such deaths go against so much of what we teach and defend with our hearts and minds. We seek so hard to understand things and the world, to plot out and measure their orbits, to expose their secrets, and to find their meaning. Yet, we know at heart that the events of last month are without inherent meaning. They are signposts of the void we all know is out there, and they remind us that even our iron laws of nature are just imaginary walls we build to keep the universe at bay. And because we know these things, we can believe that our deepest sufferings are all that we have, are all that is.

We owe it to Katie and Stephanie and to each other to face their deaths in all their complexity. And make no mistake; they are complex. One cannot be explained; one bears a terrible explanation. Both scourge our hearts, but each demands a different response. There is not, and never will be, an explanation for accidental death. No amount of energy or investigation or reason can ever fix with certainty why Katie fell, and if they could, the knowledge would not be enough to assuage the grief we feel or provide the solace we need. Such a death reminds us that there are times when life hurts like hell and it will not be alright.

But it also teaches us to cherish what we have of the person we lost and to remember to ask each other how we are now, today. I am not suggesting that we seek to live only in the moment, but rather to live in each moment we have. Despite the pain it brings, I believe we must choose to be open and vulnerable to the world. We need to seek it through our tears with wonder, and amazement, and modesty, and a sense of doubt. I have faith, and so I will say that I believe that we also need to cry our rage to the heavens. I know that God’s voice is too often inaudible, but if so then we must cry out louder again. Katie’s gift to us is to remind us, in no uncertain terms, to share the love we hold back.

Stephanie’s and Justin’s deaths were not accidental. They were random: a matter of arriving in a place too soon or staying too long, but they were made to happen.  Terrorists killed Stephanie for a politics in which she played no part, and she is a victim of a war in which she was no combatant. She died for someone else’s “right side,” and her death is proof of the damnable arrogance of all certainties. Those who killed her did so because they could not imagine any other way to be heard and because they saw their actions as a supplication. I will not believe that anyone’s God, no matter how much glory they proclaim, will ever accept murderous devotions. I do not have enough words to define what is goodness or holy, but I know it was not what happened in Brussels. I know, too, that our angers are not with nature, or culture, or religion but with men. And I know that such knowledge must be taught at Transylvania.

Going forward, as hard as it may be, we need fiercely to hope. There is no end to grief, Augustine teaches in the Confessions, but there is fortitude and gratitude, and forgiveness, and a return in time to joy. Together we have the strength to bear up under what we have been given. We can be grateful for the strength that comes from our numbers and our willingness to cry together, to work together, to resolve together to do what must be done. We have the power in what we teach and what we learn to ensure that no one feels so voiceless that killing is an answer, that no one imagines themselves so alone that killing is a comfort, that no one feels so enraged that murder is a prayer. We teach the light that others may learn from that light. We need, each of us, all of us, to ignite a thousand candles.

I have written perhaps too darkly of dark matters, but I do not wish us to remain in the dark. We have come through a terrible time. But we have come through. We are here, and we must move on, not by forgetting our grief or ignoring our tears, but by acknowledging that we have drunk of Medea’s cup and passed it on to another for their turn. There are memories to cherish and angers to turn into actions. There are friends and families to hold to a little more tightly; there are others to love more determinedly. There are also classes to attend, papers to write, exams to take and grade. There is life and living.

In the coming months we will remember Katie and Stephanie officially on campus. Plans are underway for a paver to be placed in Alumni Plaza to honor Stephanie. The Class of 2016 is pursuing a thoughtful way to remember Katie with their class gift. But, in addition to these tangible memorials, let our personal memorials be to help and heal each other as Katie and Stephanie would have done if they were here. Let us choose to make a way for everyone to come out of the wilderness as they would have done were they beside us.  Let us remember them by remaking the world as they would have done if tragedy had not struck. Let their legacy be our resolve to seek justice, to grant mercy, and to serve the world and all who dwell in it.

Sincerely,

Seamus Carey

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.

Arts

Ben Lacy: Born with it

Ben Lacy has for over three decades been a prominent musical artist on the local scene here in Lexington as well as the world stage. His highly-recognizable style and uncanny acumen for guitar have allowed him over the years to play with the likes of Al DiMeola and many other well-known guitar titans. Born to Alice and Terry Lacy here in Lexington on Christmas Day, 1970 (a birthday Ben shares with his Dad), he grew up first in the Wilson Downing area before his family moved across town to Chevy Chase. In a conversation with UM contributor Charles Sebastian, Ben opens up about his playing, his heroes, and what makes him tick.

UM: Tell me about your early influences musically.

BL: That would be mainly my dad, Terry.

UM: Also a musician?

BL: Oh, yes. He still plays with some fellas regularly. He would tinker a lot when I was little. There were instruments all over the house. He does a lot of Bluegrass. Dad was a big influence. He took me in for one lesson with a classical guy when I was a kid. That was the only proper lesson I’ve ever had.

UM: Surely there were other influences that helped you develop your chops, though.

BL: Sure. When Willis Music was in Fayette Mall, I saw Jeff Calhoun, who was in a few bands. He worked at Willis. I’d see him after school. I’d go in and not buy anything and be a bum. You know, just hang out and absorb the scene and the vibe. So, Eddie Van Halen first, then Steve Morse, who was with the Dixie Dregs, and later the Steve Morse Band. What Steve did for me was an appreciation for arranging and my picking level was raised.

UM: What about other non-local influences?

BL: Wes Montgomery comes to mind. 

UM: Was guitar your first choice as an instrument.

BL: I actually started with cello. I wasn’t totally feeling the vibe. I felt it was preparing me more to play with an orchestra and I was a lot more interested in rock and the hard stuff.

UM: So you switched to guitar. When was this?

BL: I would’ve still been in elementary school.

UM: So you got a taste of your first electric. What was it?

BL: It was a Hondo II, which looked a lot like a Les Paul. 

law-hondo2

Then I graduated to an Ibanez Roadstar, which was a bit more Strat-shaped.

1987-ibanez-roadstar-pro-540r-joe-satriani-made-in-japan-electric-guitar-b88ecb7b87fa59bcf9b8f4c7e9b22e5b

UM: Were you going to see shows this early?

BL: My brother, John, and I went to see a lot of acts with Dad. Ricky Skaggs, Boone Creek, a lot of local stuff. We went to the state fair 35 years ago and I was blown away by “Moonlight” by Starbuck. That still sticks with me.

UM: That’s some softer stuff, though. You started getting more rockish after awhile, right?

BL: Absolutely. My best friend at the time showed me the Van Halen album,  Women and Children First, around 1980. It transformed me.

UM: I think a lot of guitarists were opened up by Eddie Van Halen.

BL: Totally. I also got big into Yngwie Malmsteen, Judas Priest, and Kiss around that time.

UM: Are you still as inspired by those bands today?

BL: Many of those still work for me. Van Halen, Stones, then it all progressed. 

UM: Progressed to?

BL: James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan and others. I was constantly changing how I was listening to music and what I was listening to. I also felt I owed it to my audience. Any guitarist can just stand up and shred through scales; there’s not really a heavy art to that. To feel the groove of the song, though…

UM: To really get into the character of the music you’re playing, you mean?

BL: Yes, and to have a versatility and openness.

UM: Your song interpretations sound very different. Is that by design or just the style you fell into through years of playing and influence? 

BL: Well, I do play a lot, usually over 100 gigs a year. And yes, my style has developed from all that stage time. Solo’s my bread and butter, but I do some duets and I have a vocalist, Corey Cross. Also Alan McKenzie, a drummer, we play a lot of old-school rock. The bass player who gigs with me a lot, Robert Scott Bryant, is more of a Jazz guy. 

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Performing at Lexington’s Parlay Social with bassist Robert Scott Bryant

UM: So, not as much studio work.

BL: I haven’t been in the studio in a long time, I’ve been gigging so much.

The last thing I submitted for a CD was a Steely Dan tribute album (Maestros of Cool), which they approved. It was released just in Europe and I did a cover of “Hey 19.”

UM: So gigging really just developed over the years, like building any clientele?

BL: Right. I was teaching a lot and I said “why am I teaching, when I’d rather be gigging?”

UM: It seems there are those musicians who would rather be recording than gigging, too. But the reverse seems true for you.

BL: Truthfully, the only thing I think about is “how can I get better?”

UM: That’s a great sentiment for anyone in any business.

BL: The trick is, I have to find that “shed-time,” where I’m able to cultivate and be creative. You have to keep a youthful exploration. I borrow from all of my influences, but I want to play like me. I want people to say “that’s definitely Ben.”

UM: What makes really good music for you?

BL: Something someone can connect with.

UM: A groove, something that speaks.

BL: Exactly.

UM: You were married not too long ago. Did that change things for you?

BL: Most certainly. I married the most beautiful woman I ever met on Oct. 14, 2012. Erica. 2 step-kids. She’s definitely into music, 80s all the way.

UM: Congratulations! Do you feel the standard for music and what sells on the world market has lowered over the years?

BL: Yes.

UM: Who do you feel is out there keeping it real?

BL: Chris Stapleton and Adele come to mind. There are others, but a lot of them are still going and are from 70s-80s.

UM: Was there something considerably different about the artists coming from those decades than most today?

BL: I believe there was more appreciation for the craft. If you bought a vinyl or an 8-track, you knew the people involved actually took the time to learn their instruments. And that was all in an effort to connect to an audience.

UM: Even back then though, there were those artists that were sub-par and are now pretty much forgotten or remembered with a chuckle.

BL: Right, but the ones who really made a difference, the ones who really delved into the craft, that stuff holds up today. I can still go back to some of that early Van Halen stuff, Diver Down, etc. It’s still great.

UM: And a lot of the commercialized or commodities-posing-as-artists probably won’t be remembered in forty years, like Van Halen.

BL: I don’t believe so.

UM: When did your following really kick in?

BL: In 2000 I was still teaching at Willcutt Guitars. There would be these announcements for NAMM Shows. (The National Association of Music Merchants). That’s where my name started getting around. There are two per year, one in Anaheim, then one in Nashville. It’s the kind of thing where there are all kinds of players, albums for sale, new ideas. It’s great. I went to these for 12 years and my name just started getting out, mostly just by playing solo at the events.

UM: So people just started to slowly get word of Ben Lacy through the shows?

BL: Yes. I was endorsing Brian Moore Guitars, out of New York at the time. The people at Brian Moore were great and the guitar was great. I just love the way it feels. I’m still with them.

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UM: Wonderful. So they would help set you up at the shows?

BL: Right. They’ve been flying me to shows and paying me. After years of doing these, all of a sudden, I had a hundred people around me playing. From there, things escalated and I started playing All-Star Guitar Night, which is part of the NAMM Show. I think there’s still some footage on YouTube of me playing “Kashmir,” by Zeppelin.

UM: I’ve noticed that you have a bunch of clips of other pieces on your Facebook page and YouTube.

BL: Yeah, I’ve been doing a fun little thing: posting 1-2 minute clips of well-known songs. Just me sitting and jamming it out. I don’t even play the whole thing, given everyone’s limited attention spans nowadays. I did the Bowie “Fame” recently, after he passed.

Check out Ben’s FB page to see some of the clips and to follow Ben and keep up with his gigs.

UM: Is there anything super-duper exciting coming up, besides the regular gigs?

BL: I have the Raleigh International Guitar Summit next month, which should be fun and informative.

UM: I like that your main focus is “to continue to get better.”

BL: I find myself onstage with a bunch of great players and am grateful. Continuing to get better, yes, that is the first thing on my mind.

UM: Ben, it’s been a real pleasure. We look forward to seeing you play again soon.

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Photo from Story Magazine