Category Archives: 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)


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


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.


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.



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.


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” (

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.

6-Chrysalis 017 (DSF1187)

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 005

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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 ( 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


Chrysalis 009

(All images courtesy of Fine Art Editions)


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, Arts Review

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.


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)


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.


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.


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?


(Top photo by Chris Witzke)


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 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


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:


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

Quick Look

  • Exhibition of luminous, inventive era of Lexington Camera Club
  • Reveals a daring, supportive, experimental group of photographers
  • Works by Meatyard, May, Mendes, Baker Hall, Merton, and other lesser known members
  • Curated thematically by Brian Sholis
  • At Cincinnati Art Museum thru December

2016Kentucky_Renaissance_installation view horizontal
2016Kentucky_Renaissance_installation view horizontal

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. 


“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, Hours: Mon.-Fri., 9 am-5 pm; Sat. 12 pm-5 pm. Through January 21, 2017.


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.


Lorena Muñoz-Alonso, “Showing the things we cannot see, an interview with Duane Michals,” Originally published in BuffaloZine, issue 2 []

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





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.


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.”

The current 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 whose works are on display in the central library gallery 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 are 33 pieces in this exhibit, and the subject of coal mining comprises 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

The Lexington Public Central Library is located at 140 East Main St. (859-231-5559). The exhibit runs through December 9th, and the library hours are as follows:  Monday through Thursday, 9-9; Friday, 9-6; Saturday, 9-5; and Sunday, 1-5. 

Photos were taken and used with permission of the artists.

Arts, Arts Review

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


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:


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)


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?


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


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.



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


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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.”


Photo by Rick Showalter

Take a tour


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 .


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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:


Patch Whisky



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.


Round 2: 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
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


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, LZB Series

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:

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


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. 

“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


Wedding Day Kiss 2

Jennifer McChord holding the original photograph of her grandparents next to husband Jay’s pencil sketch of the image,



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.”


“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.”


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.



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, Review

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.


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.


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…


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…


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.


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, Review

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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.
– 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 

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, Review

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,

[3] Maura Reilly, “Toward a Curatorial Activism,”, accessed April 27, 2016,

Arts, Music, Photography

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.



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.


Seamus Carey

Arts, Ceramics, Conceptual, Review, Sculpture, Transylvania University

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.


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.


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. 


Then I graduated to an Ibanez Roadstar, which was a bit more Strat-shaped.


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. 


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.


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.


Photo from Story Magazine

Arts, Review

When Less is More

Stephen Irwin spent most of his life making impressions—ask those who frequented Sparks, the now defunct Louisville nightclub that Irwin co-owned in the early 1990s. According to a September 2008 feature in Butt Magazine, Irwin was something of an enigma: “…modern artist, local celebrity, trash, heart-attack survivor, pacemaker carrier, bitch, and a confidante to Louisville’s ladies of good taste.”[1] While Irwin’s personality seems to have left lasting imprints in the minds of others, his artistic practice was rooted in erasure. Irwin produced a large portion of his oeuvre through cutting-out, rubbing-off, or whiting-out body parts from vintage gay pornography magazines. Through obscuring parts of—or entire—ready-made erotic images, Irwin rendered them even more seductive, inviting viewers to question preconceived concepts of pleasure, desire, and pornography. Zephyr Gallery’s current exhibition, Project 11: this, this is for you, considers the conceptual and aesthetic legacies of the late Louisville-based artist and helps understand his reductive practice.

Project 11 uses Irwin’s process as axis; the selected works revolve around the nexus of erasure, sensuality, and playful seduction. His altered images often elude classification—one could even argue they fall somewhere on the Dada spectrum through their reliance on the readymade. Zephyr’s curatorial team selected works that date between 2003 and 2010, encompassing Irwin’s late career. While the exhibition is largely comprised of his two-dimensional images, the inclusion of the artist’s braille installations—in addition to the ethereal Vessel Series (2008)—provide additional layers of physical temptation.

Installation shot of Project 11: this, this is for you at Zephyr Gallery, Louisville. Image courtesy of the artist and Zephyr Gallery.

Installation shot of Project 11: this, this is for you at Zephyr Gallery, Louisville. Image courtesy of the artist and Zephyr Gallery. Photo by Sarah Lyon

Lurking on the back wall—and directly across from Zephyr’s front door—is Irwin’s The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (Wifebeater) (2006). Like the majority of Irwin’s altered pornography works, only select body parts survive the Wite-Out process. In Unbearable Whiteness, a green tank top was enlarged and printed on vinyl wallpaper. Although seamlessly adhered to the gallery’s flat wall, the image’s small folds and creases provide the illusion of bodily presence and movement. Irwin has erased the sex act, but teases viewers with its remnants—a phallic torso that both welcomes and resists an eroticized reading.

Stephen Irwin, Unbearable Whiteness of Being (Wifebeater) (2006). Image courtesy of the artist and Zephyr Gallery. Photo by Sarah Lyon.

Unbearable Whiteness acts as mediator between two of Irwin’s magazine series; to the left—and exhibited for the first time—is Love Parade (2006-2007), a succession of book pages whose figures have been completely coated in Wite-Out. Love Parade was an electronic dance music festival in Berlin that hosted thousands of partiers from across the globe, and often provided a convergence point for those on society’s margins. Irwin took its catalog as muse, covering the photographs of Love Parade’s participants while leaving their corresponding quotes untouched. The right wall houses his Circle Game series (2009)—individual magazine sheets installed in constructed grids whose contents have been etched away by the steel wool’s coarse tentacles. All that remains are floating peepholes through which arms, faces, buttocks, testicles, and oiled nipples are barely recognizable. These seductive skin-toned bubbles magnify and tenderize their respective body parts, reducing the pornographic image to pure texture. Zephyr’s first floor also displays Irwin’s “melting” magazines and suspended Skrinky-Dink faces, in addition to a two unique works-on-paper in the back gallery reception area.

Project 11 provides rare access to some of Irwin’s ethereal installations, each carefully reconstituted for Zephyr’s second floor. Vessel Series invites viewers to mentally re-construct the magazines’ naked bodies, as their silhouettes have been abstracted to create wall drawings of inanimate objects. Irwin selected cutouts from vintage pornography magazines, and used steel wool to rub the magazine’s ink directly onto a wall. He would then flip the same cutout over and repeat his process, eroding the magazine cutout while completing the second-half of his wall vessel. Because of the vessels’ curvatures, it seems impossible to decipher who is doing what to whom, or to themselves. You Are Loved (2009) and You Already Know How This Will End (2010) contribute an additional layer of resonance to Project 11, as they are braille wall installations made from steel-wool shavings and embedded magnets. Temptation abounds: any attempt to physically read their messages would immediately result in their destruction.

One of Irwin’s works is only visible after-hours, and like Irwin’s erasures, it reduces a form to what he considered “essential.” this, this is for you (2008) appears at night—its soft, ghost-like silhouette begins to take shape on the gallery wall at dusk. The effect is created through clear vinyl lettering placed on Zephyr’s front window, and is relatively invisible during the daytime unless one makes a conscious effort to locate its faint outlines. 

Image courtesy of the artist and Zephyr Gallery. Photo by Sarah Lyon.

Stephen Iriwn, Lick Series (2010). Image courtesy of the artist and Zephyr Gallery. Photo by Sarah Lyon.

What renders Project 11 particularly meaningful and successful is its careful consideration of Irwin’s works. Pornography—as it stands in our current sociopolitical climate—is often wrongly associated with shame or crudeness. In a previous exhibition catalog of Irwin’s work, Gérard Goodrow misinterprets the artist’s reductive practice as an attempt to free “the depiction of nudity in art from the clutches of pornography.”[2] This reading dismisses pornography as “less than,” conflating sex and pleasure with heteronormative, conservative, or religious standards. Through the lens of Jonathan Katz’s “Art and the Sexual Revolution,” we can consider Irwin’s works as not a separation of nudity from pornography, but a solvent for “physical and social differences.”[3] The artist’s choice of material—1960s and 70s pornography—is a return to the 1960s climate of sexual freedom, when “…art offered simultaneously an intensification of, and suspension from, real life and the often-invisible social forces that govern our lives.”[4] Project 11 presents Irwin’s works in the context of his process and material, allowing seduction and pleasure to traverse time and culture.

Project 11: this, this is for you runs through through March 19th.

[1] See Vince Aletti, “Foreword,” in Stephen Irwin, exh. cat. (New York: Invisible Exports and r/e projects, 2014), 5. Stephen’s feature appears in Butt Magazine, 24 (September 2008).

[2] Gérard A. Goodrow, “Replacing Obscenity with Obscurity: Stephen Irwin’s Vintage Pornography,” 27.

[3] Jonathan D. Katz, “Art and the Sexual Revolution,” in Sexuality, ed. Amelia Jones (Cambridge: MIT, 2014), 65

[4] Katz, “Art and the Sexual Revolution,” 63

Arts, Local culture

not-your-grandmothers’ Nude Show

Heads up, Lexington! Just when the winter’s cold and grey was starting to get your seasonal affective disorder riled up, along comes a blast of heat and light, courtesy of the Lexington Art League’s new exhibit ARTIST:BODY.

Drawn from artists and private collections in the region by guest curator Julien Robson, the show is a selection of self-portraits, most of them nudes. No, this is not a replacement for the long-running LAL annual exhibit, The Nude, which was put out to pasture a couple of years back for a well-deserved rest. ARTIST:BODY is something else again, and definitely not-your-grandmothers’-Nude Show.

Photos courtesy Guy Mendes

Board member Haviland Argo felt compelled to make two things clear: “There are representations of nudity in this show.” And, “There are NO representations of sex in this show.” He added: “It is not a show of titillating images and objects. It is a thoughtful explication of the artist’s complicated relationship to the body.”

The images to be found in ARTIST:BODY are more of the in-your-face variety, provocative but also poignant, occasionally whimsical, and sometimes funny, even with death looming. Anette Messager gives new meaning to the term Bearded Lady. Shinique Smith turns work clothes into a bound-up version of the Venus of Willendorf. Leslie Lyon’s idyllic three-panel romp ends with an unexpected inversion. Julius Deutschbauer’s beefy real self against an impressive bookshelf is as good as it gets. Annie Sprinkles’ inventive Bosom Ballet is followed up by a more documentary tone in her Beats Cancer Ballet. And Martha Wilson and John Coplans remind us that time takes its toll on us all.

Robson, formerly a curator at Louisville’s Speed Museum, says, “Artists have increasingly employed themselves as both the subject and object of their work. This type of art can be seen as a form of self-portraiture that addresses identity…and how an artist deals with the nature of beauty, desire, sexuality and mortality.”

Louis Zoellar Bickett, What I Read, Inkjet Print

Robson purposely mixed works by international art stars like Kiki Smith, Cindy Sherman, Francesca Woodman and Sam Taylor-Johnson with regional artists to put them in a broader framework. Hence, we are fortunate to have Louis Bickett showing us what he’s reading-in-the-raw, Mare Vaccaro contemplating her lovely self-portrait-within-a-self-portrait, Carrie Burr’s form pressed into a large pile of Forbidden Black Rice, and Chris Radtke’s dual self-image made up of wooden boxes and broken glass.

Also on display, in effect, are the collectors, the largest of which is the 21c Museum Hotel Foundation. To see its contributions to this show gives Lexingtonians some idea of what they’ll find at the new Lexington 21c, which opens with a ribbon cutting on February 29th at 3 pm.

ARTIST:BODY features 27 artists, including Thaniel Ion Lee, Cynthia Norton, Gabriel Martinez, Rene Pena, Hannah Wilke, Xaviera Simmons, Penelope Slinger and Mark Boyle.

There is much for the eye to contemplate, and for the mind to see.

Besides producing high quality exhibits, the LAL has been building wider support for artists in Kentucky, with its Community Supported Arts harvests and sales, (some of which are still available on their website) as well as their periodic auctions for collectors, both of which have benefitted area artists.

art, Arts, Entertainment, Local culture, Review

Artist:Body at The Lexington Art League

Self-portraiture can be an unfortunate expression of ego, and until the last hundred years or so this has been its dominant motivation. The humanism of the renaissance elevated the individual artist into subjects worthy of examination in art, displacing, but by no means replacing, royalty and religion. These same humanistic tendencies are what motivated artists to elevate him or herself by altering the self-portrait for their own means.


At best this was self-portraiture as a means to enhance collective notions of humanity – an extension of Michaelangelo’s idea that the human form should be perfected by art. At its worst it was self-portraiture as hubris or propaganda – a means to elevate a career or cause. But contrast these tendencies with contemporary photographic self-portraiture. Like the photography in Artist:Body (the work in this show is predominately photography, with three sculptures), contemporary self-portraiture hasn’t traditionally allowed for this type of alteration, at lease in the pre-digital age. Instead, it often necessarily takes on other, perhaps more honest, forms of alteration: false humility, self-deprecation, and irony.

The complex and shifting objectives of Artist:Body are many. It contains over 50 works throughout five rooms of the Gothic Revival Loudon House that houses the Lexington Art League. The architecture is hauntingly appropriate for this type of show. It is curated by Julien Robson, a former curator at Louisville’s Speed Art Museum and currently the curator of the Shands Collection.

Borrowing work from regional collectors and commercial galleries, the exhibition is grand in its scope yet disciplined in its organization – what isn’t included in the exhibit as self-portraiture is as important as what is. Artist:Body is more of a survey of the richness of contemporary self-portraiture than a thesis on the state of self-portraiture today. But in the context of the history of self-portraiture, gradually shifting from the humanistic tendency to elevate to a contemporary tendency to ironize, an inevitable leit motif of this exhibition is that contemporary self-portraiture acts as an anti-self-portrait, paradoxically causing us to question the very notions of persona, self and identity.

While this essay necessarily follows the nature of the exhibition by surveying certain work (with over 50 pieces, it would be impossible to address all of them), I hope certain themes provide points of reference.

Cindy Sherman’s mise-en-scene self-portraits of the artist posing as various archetypal women purposefully have no fixed meaning. They are simultaneously an imitation and mockery of popular culture, a commentary on the objectification of women in the media, and examinations of identity and gender. Most interestingly, to me, they call attention to the paradox of persona. This necessarily invokes Warhol, who was an expert at creating a persona to hide what might exist of a true self. Sherman builds on this paradox in Untitled from 1982, hanging in Artist:Body, and in the rest of her oeuvre. While in a general sense Warhol created one persona (his) to hide from a world that would otherwise might have not accepted his “otherness,” Sherman has created many personae in order to subvert the notion of self-portraiture and, perhaps, show that identity is not a fixed construction. In Sherman’s work, it’s always obvious enough that she is the sitter in each of her photographs (and it would be easy enough to disguise that fact), but Sherman is decidedly never the actual subject. Each picture in her work is like a mask, and beneath it another mask, all reflections on female identity, gender, sexuality, and mediated personae.

John Coplans-Hands Spread on Knees-Gelatin Silver PrintJohn Coplans, hands spread on knees,1985, silver gelatin print, 38" x 43". Courtesy of the Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati and the John Coplans Trust, Beacon, NY. Image courtesy of the artist and the Lexington Art League.

John Coplans is less discreet in his tendency to hide himself as his subject. Exhibited in Artist:Body are black and white photographs of Coplans’s body but never his face, intentionally avoiding a particular identity. They celebrate age and imperfection, a “riposte to the cult of youth, and what the artist saw as the vanities of the 1980s art world.” His are the subtle and touching photographs of any aging man, and are part of a very long series of self-portraits. They are not just about formal virtuosity (Coplans’ compositions are formerly perfect in the sense that Mapplethorpe’s photographs were), but about something more meaningful: aging, time and a primeval harmony with the body. When making the photographs Coplans describes a feeling of being “immersed in the past.” In Arnulf Rainer’s Self Portrait from 1971 he is grimacing painfully, reminiscent of fellow Austrian Messerschmidt’s expressionistic sculptures. Like Messerschmidt, they evoke Freudian repressions of Viennese (and, arguably, Western) society. For Ranier they are a “summoning of dormant, or psychopathic reserves of energy.” Coplans’s “immersion in the past” and Ranier’s summoning of “psychopathic reserves of energy” relate to the primordial connection to flesh that is the subject of phenomenological philosophy from Husserl to Merleau Ponty. To simplify, that branch of philosophy, like Coplans’ and Ranier’s self-portraits, posits that the body, rather than consciousness, is the primary source of knowledge about our world.

Louis Zoellar-What I Read-Inkjet printsLouis Zoellar Bickett, What I Read (Torah),What I Read (Holy Quran), What I read (Holy Bible),2015, inkjet print, 24" x 18". Image courtesy of the artist and the Lexington Art League.

Thaniel Ion Lee’s series of pieces also react against the superficial, consumerist perfection of the body in a similar way that Coplan’s do. Born with Arthrogryposis, a condition that left Lee with limited use of his arms, legs and fingers, he photographed parts of his body in black and white, but never really the whole, documenting a tension between beauty and decrepitude.

This tendency to document through self-portraiture is perhaps most evident in the works of Louis Zoellar Bickett. His What I Read series pictures Bickett reading the Qu’ran, Torah and Bible. The series is part of Bickett’s overriding archival project in which the pieces are ongoing documentation of what he reads. But then there is the uncanniness of a naked man reading the three Abrahamic religious texts. The choice of using these historically, culturally and spiritually loaded texts is less about exploring multiple identities than it is about the culmination of experiences that make up one’s self. This is self-portraiture as a mirror for the viewer; a performative space where the self is consciously created through reflection of and on another, not unlike the photographs of Lucas Samaras.

Much of the work in Artist:Body is a reminder that study of the self can paradoxically dispel solipsist thought. When we look and think about the self and many of the pieces in this show we may intuit, as eastern wisdom long posited, that the self doesn’t really exist at all in the sense that we’re used to thinking about it. Rather, as science is proving (and this is admittedly simplistic) our “selves” are a culmination of every experience the universe has ever known. Bickett’s work suggests this, and certain of the better facets of contemporary thought have picked up on it. Derrida is now infamous for declaring the fictitiousness of the subject, whether conceived as artist, viewer or otherwise.

Over two thirds of the artists in this show are female, and many of those artists explicitly or implicitly invoke feminism. At risk of overgeneralizing (a perennial risk when writing about group shows), much of the work includes a female presenting her self in a manner that creates an exaggerated performance, often sexual in nature. This inevitably (or intuitively?) causes the viewer to think anew about the gender identified subject.

To add to this, historically the culture surrounding portraiture in the Renaissance accepted women as artists for the first time, but for the wrong reasons. The art patrons of the Renaissance, which included royalty, the church and a small but growing progressive merchant class, accepted portraiture as an appropriate genre for women because it was consistent with the prevailing notions of feminine virtue and domesticity, and because it was considered by some as rote reproduction absent of what they considered the more noble (and therefore masculine) intentions in other genres like, say, history painting.

Xaviera Simmons, One Day and Back Then, Chroma C-Print, Image courtesy of the artist and the Lexington Art League.

It is not unreasonable to think that certain of the female artists in this show implicitly reference this history, though most of these are works that are decidedly not domestic or particularly virtuous (in the traditional sense of those words).

In Hanna Wilke’s So Help me Hannah series the artist is photographed nude holding a gun. In one, the pistol is held point-blank to her face, but not necessarily in a menacing way. The work can be a validation of the self and the feminine. Wilke is clearly in control of the phallic pistol, as if taking that power away from the male viewer.

Critical discourse concerning feminism comes at a risk. Art made by women should not automatically become about feminist activity, whereby such contributions are included in the history books only because they are begrudgingly marked as “outside.” This line of thought, latent in my opinion in the less worthy parts of post-modernist art history, leaves little room for women (or other minorities in the “art world”) to substantively rework the dominant art historical narrative, which is male and white. Artist:Body reminds us of this danger, and therefore, responsibility to think about these works in broader cultural terms. Hanna Wilke, for instance, has much to add to the history of photography. As Roberta Smith has noted of Wilke’s intentions, she worked to create a “formal imagery that is specifically female.”

This sentiment is consistent with Kiki Smith’s work. Her Butterfly, Bat, Turtle is a photocollage, a practice that was invented by upper class women in the Victorian age, not by machismo modernists like Picasso and Braque, as early modernist history books had us believe. Smith uses this historic reference (and related historical rewriting of history by the dominant majority) to comment on the mainstream exclusion of these Victorian works from “fine art.” Smith collaged the image with delicate tissue (as if to say fine art should have no quarrels with using delicate, traditionally feminine materials) to signify butterfly wings, bat wings, and a turtle shell. Implicit in these pieces is her overriding interest in myth, fairy tale and humanity’s dual human and animal nature.

Shinique Smith-Soul Elsewhere-Artist's Clothing, Fiber-fill, and Rope(2)Shinique Smith, Soul Elsewhere, 2013, artist's clothes, fiber-fill and rope, installation. Image courtesy of the artist and the Lexington Art League.

Shinique Smith’s Soul Elsewhere is not photography (it is one of only three non-photographic works in the show), nor is it squarely within the genre of self-portraiture. It is a sculpture made from multiple pairs of the artist’s blue jeans covered in paint (presumably studio jeans). It is tied up with rope in an anthropomorphic shape that, while abstract, suggests a woman’s body. It hangs from the ceiling. Smith is an African American. This description sounds clinical, but that is, in part, the point of the work. In the context of Artist:Body, it is both the most non-literal self portrait in the show but also the least illusionistic. It is, in fact, the material stuff of Smith’s life. It carries a similar sense of nostalgia for the artist’s body that Coplan’s work does. The use of denim is not insignificant, being a material that forms to the body, thus carrying a literal and metaphorical memory of the person who wore it. In Smith’s work, like that of Martin Puryear, the end point for abstraction is not non-referentiality, but memories, both bitter and sweet, of lost histories. The sculpture is round, warm, friendly, and formally beautiful. But with Soul Elsewhere, hanging from the ceiling and always swaying slightly with an eerie stillness, no matter how hard we might try, it is impossible to shake the image and dark history of lynching.

Appropriately placed in conversation with Soul Elsewhere is Xavier SimmonsOne Day and Back Then (Standing). Simmons, also African American, stands in a field with black face wearing a modern black coat and stilettos. Is she escaping from slavery or heading to a night-club? It is unlike any other work in Artist:Body in that it invokes time and place, but with purposeful ambiguity. We are simultaneously in the antebellum south, the early cinema of the 20th century (with the disgrace of blackface) and the present day.

Photography has an inevitable relation to the performative and phantasmal, and Artist:Body reminds us of this difficult concept. Recall the Native American belief that photography was an intrusion on the soul and disrespectful to the spirit world (Crazy Horse refused to be photographed for this reason). For many of us, whether we know it or not, a good photograph simultaneously provides the fulfillment of a memory and a sense of loss, lack, or even death in that the fleeting moment of the photograph is taken away forever. We feel with it a passing of time and our own mortality. But a photograph can also be life giving in the sense that it conveys action, a performance, like many of the works in Artist:Body. It is this tension that makes so much of the work in this show so poignant. Francesca Woodman’s work comes to mind as an example, as does Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Self Portrait Suspended IV, in which the artist was tied up by a bondage expert and hung from the ceiling. The bondage ropes were digitally removed, leaving an image of release and freedom. The act of bondage invokes pain, vulnerability and despair, while the photograph itself is a fleeting moment of pure jouissance (which, in the end, is pleasure come full circle to pain).

Artist:Body is a full and rich examination of the possibilities of contemporary self-portraiture. It is full of ideas sensualized, which, incidentally, is in a nutshell Hegel’s definition of true art. It runs at the Lexington Art League until closing date.

Arts, News

Speeding Towards Impact: A Conversation with Miranda Lash

Visual arts in Lexington are in an exciting and reinvigorated phase. Lexingtonians are eagerly anticipating the opening of 21c Hotel, with its presentation of provocative contemporary art. The bold and exciting repurposed building for the UK School of Arts and Visual Studies, under the leadership of Rob Jensen, faces outward towards the community and holds great promise for increased university and community dialogue and interaction. Stuart Horodner has, not without some discordant voices, taken complete charge of UK Art Museum and turned around the museum with exciting programming, an open and inviting spirit, and increased attendance. And the Lexington Art League has refocused and reenergized after several years of crisis, and is presenting a signature show, Artist:Body, curated by Julien Robson, former contemporary curator of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.

With increased commercial and not-for-profit gallery activity, such as the LexArts gallery at ArtsPlace, more frequent and well-attended Gallery Hops, and the still-to-open breathtaking new Living Arts and Sciences space, the visual arts in Lexington are, indeed, on a major upswing.

However, what will be, undoubtedly, the most important and impactful news on the visual arts scene in the region will occur in a few short weeks with the reopening of the Speed Art Museum after a more than three-year major renovation and expansion. Funded by a highly successful $60 million capital campaign, the new Speed Art Museum will be poised to move beyond a role as a regional art museum of some significance to becoming an essential cultural institution on a national level.

Closed since late 2012, the central elements of the expansion of the Speed involved the demolition of the often-controversial 1972 addition, the construction of a three-story north building and two-story south building, and connecting the two to the original temple of high art built in 1927. The design of the new buildings emphasizes light and transparency, inviting the public into the new museum. Surrounded by redesigned outside spaces that include an art park, plazas and patios, and a large, shallow pool, the openness of the museum is a marked contrast to its somewhat foreboding, pre-expansion past.


Of equal importance to the expansion and redesign, is the new leadership at the Speed. Ghislain d’Humières was hired as Director of the Museum in 2013, succeeding Charles Venable who left for the Indianapolis Museum of Art. D’Humières, formerly Director of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum at the University of Oklahoma, and prior to that Assistant Director of San Francisco’s Museum of Fine Art, headed up the major expansion of the latter museum. His successful leadership of that project clearly made him a very appealing candidate to lead the Speed.

Since assuming his new position, d’Humières has made several critical hires to help him usher in the new era of the Speed Art Museum. Included in those new leadership posts is Erika Holmquist-Wall, formerly assistant curator of paintings at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, hired in 2014 as Mary and Barry Bingham Sr. Curator of European and American Painting and Sculpture. In that same year Miranda Lash, formerly curator of modern and contemporary art at the New Orleans Museum of Art and one of the young rising stars of the curatorial world, joined the Speed as Curator of Contemporary Art.

Lash’s departure from NOMA was much lamented in the Crescent City, where she had arrived in 2008 in a city recovering from Hurricane Katrina. Known at NOMA for deep engagement with the artistic and broader community culture, and for commissioning site-specific works for the museum by local artists, Lash deepened that institution’s commitment to a broadened range of contemporary art and helped to make it a more accessible and popular cultural space. Her hiring by the Speed was seen by many as a real coup for the museum.


On a rainy afternoon turned sunny last summer, UnderMain went on a tour of the still-under-construction museum with Lash and the Speed’s Director of Marketing and Communication, Steven Bowling. The boldness of the design of the expanded museum and of the vision for the new Speed came through loud and clear on the tour and in a delightful early evening dinner with Lash. A place for the Speed in the conversation about great American museums is clearly on her radar.

Much of the expansive new gallery space of the Speed will be dedicated to contemporary art and will enable Lash to bring a wide range of exhibitions to Louisville. She clearly is eagerly anticipating what that square footage will allow her to do programmatically. The new outside spaces are also allowing her to commission a number of site-specific works for the Art Park and newly landscaped areas.

Significantly, the increased gallery spaces inside the museum will allow more of the Speed’s permanent collection, numbering over 13,000 works, to be shown. The museum’s reopening exhibition, A Celebration of the Speed Collection, will show more of the permanent collection than the museum is likely to show again in one exhibition for the foreseeable future.

Deeply interested in art as a portal into themes of culture, identity, and history, Lash resonated to and was inspired by the vivid, multicultural, free-flowing, tragicomic New Orleans story and vibe. It will be interesting to watch how she responds to a more buttoned up, nearly-Southern, nearly-Midwestern city. It’s clear that Lash will use her position at the Speed to deepen visitors’ engagement through contemporary art with the broader world and with issues and questions that resonate beyond the confines of our Kentucky space.

As a follow-up to our visit and conversation, Miranda Lash generously agreed to respond in writing to a number of questions that were posed to her.

UM: After, by all accounts, a successful tenure at NOMA, what in particular appealed to you about the position at the Speed?

Lash: First and foremost I was attracted by the opportunity to build something new. The Speed is on the verge of embarking upon a renewed era of innovation in contemporary art largely enabled by three factors: 1. the opening of a new wing for the contemporary collection in beautiful, large-scale galleries designed by Kulapat Yantrasast; 2. A substantial commitment made by the Speed to support the commissioning of site-specific pieces by leading international artists. These commissions will populate the new Art Park and the interior of the building; and 3. A commitment on behalf of the Speed to support the generation of nationally relevant contemporary art exhibitions and publications that will circulate around the country.

UM: Give our readers some idea about the breadth and depth of the Speed’s permanent collection in contemporary art. With the museum renovation and expansion, will there be opportunities to see more of the contemporary collection?

Lash: The Speed’s contemporary collection spans from wonderful examples of Abstract Expressionism from the 1950s to video artworks made just in the last few years. Visitors will be able to contemplate a large range of work, from great paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Alice Neel, and Sam Gilliam, to more recent pieces by Yinka Shonibare, Ghada Amer, Carrie Mae Weems and The Propeller Group.

Once the Speed opens at least 8,000 square feet of gallery space will be dedicated to the contemporary collection, and from time to time there will be opportunities to display parts of the collection in additional galleries. For the opening exhibition in March 2016, the Speed will dedicate two floors (the equivalent of 16,000 square feet) to the display of the contemporary collection. This is an enormous amount of space, and I am encouraging visitors to come see this display (which will be on view through August 2016), first because this will be the most expansive display of the contemporary collection that the Speed has ever had in its history, and secondly, it may be years before the Speed is able to display the collection in such a comprehensive manner again.

UM: How has the role of museum curator evolved over the years to this point in the early part of the 21st century? Is a curator a tastemaker, interpreter, promoter, entertainer, carnival barker? How would you describe your developing role as curator of contemporary art at the Speed?

Lash: Museum curators, now more than ever, are encouraged to think globally about trends, innovations, and relevant artists and exhibitions. It is not enough to know what is happening in your region (although a curator should know this well), you are also expected to keep current on a large number of national and international art biennials, fairs, and major touring shows. Thanks to the Internet and the rapid expansion of biennials and triennials across the globe during the last thirty years, we have more access than ever to currents of activity transpiring all over the world. With this explosion of information the need for filtering, as well as constant travel and looking, becomes all the more important.

Secondly, due the shrinking of state, city and federal funds made available to the arts over the past few decades, the development and fundraising responsibilities assigned to curators can at times demand as much time as actual content development. If you believe that curators should pursue sound and thorough scholarship, and maintain their editorial independence apart from commercial and private interests, I encourage you to support museums through your tax dollars and museum admissions.

Sometimes we are tastemakers, interpreters, and promoters, but most of all I think of us as storytellers, educators, and advocates for artists.

UM: What are some of the ideas, issues, perspectives, and questions that drive your curatorial decisions about exhibitions and programs?

Lash: I look long and carefully at the artworks in my collection and I think about the narratives that are embedded within it and how I can flesh these stories out.  I think about trends and conflicts in the world, and questions we are struggling with as a nation, and ask, how can art help the us navigate the complexities of these issues? Often I think about what is bothering me and why. For example, for years I was amazed and confounded by the way both “Northerners” and “Southerners” would talk about the “North” and the “South” in the United States, using broad generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes to communicate their point. For every assumption that was made, I would find a vast number of exceptions, and no clear consensus at the heart of any of these Northern or Southern stereotypes. So, as way of working through this, now I am working with a co-curator Trevor Schoonmaker on a large group show that aims to explore, essentially: what do we mean when we talk about the South and why?

UM: What obligation does a museum have to be of its place, reflective of its surroundings, it’s culture, environment, people?

Lash: This depends on the stated mission of the museum, which varies greatly between institutions. At the Speed, we take our role very seriously as an important (and for some the only) point of contact visitors may have to artistic trends and ideas going on in other countries. We want Louisvillians to be educated and excited about what is happening in Mexico City, Berlin, and Ho Chi Minh City, and we have more capacity than any other museum in Kentucky to provide this global perspective.

At the Speed we also have an obligation to present artwork that is relevant to Louisville. As a curator I look for topics and concepts that will have resonance with this region. For example, during my time here I have noticed that Louisville as a city has a huge interest in local food cultivation, sustainable agriculture, and food activism (helping people from all economic strata have access to healthy food). As a result I have been talking with artists who focus on this in their practice to see if they could be a fit for our site-specific commissions. The Speed has and will continue to collect and exhibit outstanding artworks by artists who are living in (or have lived in) this region. The structure for this continuing endeavor will be based on the strengths and merits of the artists’ work and their chosen subject matter rather than their regional orientation.

UM: At NOMA you were known for reaching into the local community including making frequent visits to local artists’ studios. Will you be doing the same in your current position and how should an artist prepare for a visit?

Lash: Yes, I love doing studio visits. Some tips:

1. Decide what you (the artist) want to get out of the visit: feedback on a particular direction? Advice on galleries and contracts? Advice on how to package and present your work to collectors? I can help with all these things. Please don’t hesitate to ask.

2. If this is my first studio visit with you, it is helpful to get an overview of your practice, which can be efficiently done nowadays with digital images on a laptop, tablet, or phone, or even color printouts (if the artworks themselves are not readily available). At least 75 percent of the visit however, should be dedicated to your most recent work – What are you thinking about now? What do you want to do in the future? Remember, it is my job to seek out new ideas and trends that most people have not seen before. Keep in mind that most studio visits will generally last no longer than one hour, so please budget your time in terms of what you want to cover. Again, having questions or topics planned in advance can help with time management.

3. Remember that the main goal during a studio visit is for me to get an overall sense of who you are as an artist. Feel free to talk with me about big picture concepts, overarching goals and ambitions, and what techniques and discoveries you are most excited about. This is not a time to ask for money, patron contacts, or to voice complaints about other artists, local politics, etc. Exhibitions and acquisitions are often the fruits of many visits and conversations over time, and can take years to develop. Instead of focusing on what I can do for you in the immediate future, think of it as a relationship that we can potentially develop over time.

4. I often stress the importance of being “studio ready.” This means, if a curator, critic, or patron were to come through town on short notice, I know I can call you or email you and you will be able to give a polished presentation on whatever is in your studio now. If my studio visit goes well and I sense that you are capable of making a clear, succinct presentation, I won’t hesitate to send other people your way.

UM: Over the next three to five years what are your main goals and ambitions for contemporary art at the Speed?

Lash: Overall I aim to put on good looking, provocative shows and get people excited about art. If I’m doing my job right, in three to five years Louisville will be present in the minds of my colleagues in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and beyond.  Really though, I do this job for the thrill of seeing an artist’s project come together really well. It is never guaranteed to happen, but when it does the result is euphoric.  A truly successful project can take on a life of its own, spill out onto the streets, and assume a magical quality. I’ll be grateful and pleased if I can make that happen here.  Please stay tuned for more.

A Celebration of the Speed Collection opens March 12 with the reopening of the museum.


Making A List


For you theatre buffs out there, the sold-out performances of 33 Variations have been generating a lot of buzz for Athens West, Lexington’s newest theatre company in the Downtown Arts Center. Bo List, the director of the show and a partner in the newly-formed group, has come a long way since his early days growing up in Lexington, where he first discovered and nurtured his love of the empty space. Here to talk with us about the new show, his influences, and the transformative possibilities of theatre, is Bo List.


UM: So, it all started here in Lexington for you?

BL: Yes, I grew up here in the Bluegrass.

UM: When did your life first start to turn toward theatre?

BL: I didn’t do any theatre in high school. I was a shy kid in grade school, so by the time I got to high school, I was happy to be quiet and left alone. I was grateful to be invisible. I didn’t pop out of my shell, but something said to me that I had something to say.

UM: This was at Henry Clay?

BL: Yes. I attended Henry Clay, then went on to UK for Theatre. I decided to take an acting class at UK and a teacher said they were going to do a directing class. I said I would like to be a part of it. A lot of my venturing into theatre was from the desire to not be shy anymore. Theatre has given me the skills to speak up.

UM: Was it then when you decided Theatre was the right major for you?

BL: Well, I realized I like to be near the center of attention, but not right at the center. When I was at UK, I started out thinking acting was the way to go. Not many people enter theatre thinking they want to write or direct. Once I directed and wrote a few things, I realized that’s where I needed to be. Some of the earliest shows I saw were from Joe Ferrell. The local pros inspired me. They made it this wondrous thing that I could never quite achieve. Equus. Debra Hensley and Debra Martin doing the Kathy and Mo Show. These got me off my butt and made me want to do what they were doing.

UM: But you were still dipping into acting, you were still in some performances.

BL: Sure, even nowadays. Every few years people will bully me into being in something. My last thing was a reality TV-host/judge. Every now and then you have to decide that you have to experience being told what to do. Actors have feelings and an ego and they don’t like to be bullied. It’s important to remember that if you spend most of your time writing and directing.

UM: Was it right after UK when you decided graduate work was the right direction?

BL: Yes. I moved to Memphis to pursue an MFA in Directing. They have a great program there. Memphis helped me to develop and make quality theatre. When I finished my undergrad, I felt like I could do this. In Grad school I realized there’s a world of possibilities, techniques and styles. I was improved as an artist in my training there.

UM: Was there something of getting away from the familiar?

BL: Perhaps. I had to go away to find people of like minds, as not many people in Lexington wanted to direct at the time.

UM: It seems people in theatre have to be willing to sacrifice.

BL: I’m fortunate, as I’m not financially motivated. By that I mean, I’m a smart guy. I probably could be president of a bank or something like that, but it simply holds no interest for me. So I feel content doing what I do, being motivated by theatre as I am.

UM: Being away must’ve had a strong impact on you. Not just from the grad school perspective, but you were in totally different environments from Lexington.

BL: I floated around Chicago, Memphis and here. I took advantage of the great Usher program at Steppenwolf in Chicago. I saw Lexington actor Michael Shannon play there. Probably the best acting I’ve ever seen, right in front of me. Really superlative theatre artists. You can see theatre in a huge space one night and you can see something in a room the size of a bathroom the next. The variety is immense. They can spend $5 on a set or a million on it and there’s always something enriching from the experience.

UM: What was it that made you move back to Lexington after these experiences?

BL: I had always wanted a strong theatre scene for Lexington and after years and years and years, I finally realized that if I ever wanted to have good theatre here, I would have to create it. I’d had a front-row seat in seeing how theatre improves the quality of people’s lives. I always had a notion that if something got off the ground and started moving up and kept moving up that you would see a lot of other things flourishing as well. I thought that if some of these companies could make a go of it, we’d see a lot more synergy in the area. Fortunately, Athens is already creating opportunities for actors and out-of-town artists to come in and add to the culture.

UM: Outside of Athens West, you’ve done quite a bit of writing. How did your adaptation of FRANKENSTEIN come about?


BL: When Trish Clark ran the Lexington Shakespeare Festival she used to ask what we should do for our seasons. This went on for years and Shakespeare came and went and then one year she asked me about it again when they were doing a Season of Monsters. We talked about Frankenstein. I said to Trish she should commission me to write it. She told me I’d have to start writing quickly as there wasn’t much time before the season. It’s a beautiful book. It pops right off the page. 

UM: Did you find it was popular as a stage play before you got ahold of it?

BL: There were tons of adaptations and they were all terrible, in my opinion. So I started to think about what I was looking for in this adaptation. It needs to have heart with the creature being articulate.

UM: And after the season you were able to publish it?

BL: Yes. Every writer dreams of being published. Of course, publishers are not interested in your work unless it’s been produced or unless you’re famous. I started mailing it off to theaters and got them to produce it. A friend of mine in Chicago works at a theatre that only does literary adaptations; they produced it. So my time of networking and making connections helped a bit – friends who own theaters, etc. But even with knowing people, it’s really an issue of material being good. If it’s not, it doesn’t matter who you know or who produces work.

UM: When I spoke with Kevin Hardesty, we talked about you writing for the Humanities Council.

BL: Yes, I was commissioned to write the two Chautauqua pieces that Kevin is performing currently, one on Jefferson Davis and one on Daniel Boone.

UM: How did they develop?

BL: Trish once again. She had been performing the Mary Todd Lincoln piece for Humanities and they wanted to commission these other pieces. I really liked the idea of telling a story, especially historical pieces like these. When I got to know Jefferson Davis, I really began to like him and I wanted to tell his story in a very fair way. The Humanities Council owns the pieces while they’re under contract and there are a bunch of traveling performances yet to come. Kevin’s great in them.


Trish Clark as Mary Todd Lincoln


Kevin Hardesty as Jefferson Davis

UM: Did you feel the burden of the figures being so local and so historical?

BL: Yes. There was good and bad in both characters and it was really about getting honest impressions of them.

UM: People do tend to immediately go to the worst thing with characters, don’t they? Whether historical or not.

BL: Yes, and it’s more about giving the character a truthful and tasteful rendition.

UM: How did Athens get rolling?

BL: Myself, Mark Mozingo, Jeff Day, Kate Goodwin, and Meredith Nelson all got together and discussed our vision of how things could work. For us it involved many meetings in coffee shops with people to get our Equity status.

UM: What was that process like?

BL: We called Equity and they were delighted to have a presence in Lexington. There are not a lot of opportunities in Kentucky for Equity actors.

UM: Do you feel there’s a reason it’s been so seemingly difficult to develop Equity theaters in this region?

BL: Being able to identify the needs of the area is important. We announced ourselves as a company and there was never any intention of coming in to fill a niche that other companies were leaving behind. There were always things in the Lexington Theatre scene in the past that probably hampered progress. The undeniable cliquishness in the community in the past. We’re just trying to rise above whatever did or did not happen before and do the best work we can do. We want more good theatre in this town. If there are two professional theaters in town, there’s more for everybody.

UM: Do you feel the climate’s changed politically, socially, economically?

BL: Yes. It’s no coincidence that a lot of the arts community has improved under Jim Gray’s watch as mayor.

UM: There’s an issue of good theatre happening at the right time. A confluence of influences.

BL: Yes.

UM: Then there’s just the ability to deliver a sheer number of performances. You have, what, three this season?

BL: Yes. We’ll do three next season, too. We’re slated to do four shows the season after next, so we’re growing.

UM: Do all of the shows fit nicely into the Downtown Arts Center location, or is that a consideration?

BL: Athens has certain limitations. Where we are is limited for our purposes, as there are many other things going on there. We roundtable all of the shows and decide on what would be best, what fits for what is going on socially, politically, etc. In the future we’d like to have more of a unifying thread. The three pieces we have this season are rather disparate, though timely, each in its own way. 

One reason we did To Kill a Mockingbird earlier this season is because it was timely for ongoing hot topics in the news and Harper Lee’s new book.

UM: How did the current production, 33 Variations come about?

BL: 33 was on Broadway back in 2009. Moisés Kaufman, who did The Laramie Project, wrote the piece. Laramie was a play near and dear to me, and this newer piece of Kaufman’s is fantastic in a different way. I missed seeing it on Broadway, which I regret deeply, as it would have been a unique experience I’m not going to get again. It’s a hard play to read and there’s a lot of music that coincides with the onstage performances.


UM:  Janet Scott is in the fictional role of musicologist Katherine Brandt with Robert Parks Johnson as Beethoven.  And Tedrin Blair is doing the music for the show?

BL: Yes! I thought to myself: wouldn’t it be wonderful if Tedrin could do it? It’s so theatrical, so vibrant when you’re in the room. I had no idea if he would step on board, but he did and it’s wonderful.

UM: How have audience responses been?

BL: We sold out opening night and almost sold out the following two performances. It’s a drama, a downer, very serious work, but compelling. I don’t know if it’s because of Mockingbird’s run, or Tedrin or whatever. I hope it’s because there’s an appetite for good, serious, new and interesting work. We’re inventing this as we go along. 

UM: Surely you must need to unwind from the intensity of the work.

BL: I’ve been doing a lot of 30 Rock lately. I go to the Re-Store. I collect ugly old lamps. Being in a place where my brain is occupied with other stuff is essential at times.

green antique lamp on white

Ugly old lamp

33 Variations finishes its run this week, running February 18th through the 21st, with evening shows at 8pm and a 2pm matinee on Sunday. Find out more about the show, tickets, and Athens West next season at: athenswest.orgor call (859)425-2550.


In the real world art and engineering are inextricable

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin recently belittled liberal arts education, claiming that public schools are not turning out degrees of the “things people want.”

“There are thousands of examples of successful business executives, entrepreneurs and professionals who majored in languages, literature, arts or history,” rebutted a recent Courier-Journal editorial. “College studies can provide the technical foundation for very specific careers, but they also can inspire a broader view of one’s self and the world around us that can translate into a different kind of success, as well as leadership and civic responsibility.”

In fact, evidence abounds that the workforce of the 21st Century marketplace more than ever demands a well-rounded higher education.

“It’s not an ‘either/or’ scenario, it’s a ‘both/and’ way to undo the damage that separating (and thus putting into hierarchy) the sciences and humanities has done to inquiry and innovation. ‘Eureka’ moments rarely happen without some kind of cross-fertilization from other ways of thinking about a problem,” notes one poster commenting on this interesting article on the subject in the Chronicle of Higher Education.



Writers Hall of Fame Honors, Encourages

I arrived fifteen minutes early before the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame induction ceremony began. The annual event was held at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. It was first held at the Center in 2012 and this was my first time attending. As I glanced around the room, I observed that the mood of this night was convivial and one of joy. Attendees smiled and hugged each other as they sipped on wine and snacked on hors d’oeuvres. This was to be a celebration of the craft of writing that has distinguished Kentucky and put it unmistakably on the literary map.

As a writer and poet, I was impressed that so many had come to pay homage to some of the state’s finest writers. I was later told later that 225 people were in attendance.


(Photo by Doug Begley) – Left to right: poet Maurice Manning, author Silas House and Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen

“The Writers Hall of Fame was initiated as a way to support established writers and encourage young writers to take up the craft,” explained Neil Chethik, the executive director of the Carnegie Center and the evening’s emcee. “It has served as a rallying point for Kentucky writers, and has brought added attention to the great legacy of writing that we have in Kentucky. I think writers feel more respected, and some feel more motivated knowing that the Hall of Fame exists. I’ve heard numerous young writers say, ‘my goal is to be in this hall one day,’” he added.

The room filled quickly and I was grateful that the Carnegie Center had reserved a seat for me. After introductory remarks, some of Kentucky’s most well known writers, including the present and past state poet laureates, came forward and read excerpts from the inductees’ work. The fondness for the craft of writing was clearly evident as the hushed crowd listened to the readings.     

The first writer to be inducted was James Lane Allen (1849 – 1925) who was born in Lexington. 


Allen has been called Kentucky’s first important novelist and his work garnered international appeal. He had a successful career writing fiction, travel writing, and drama spanning 34 years.  Allen published 20 books and contributed to some of the most prominent magazines of his era.

Next was Harlan Hubbard (1900 – 1988). He was born in Bellevue in northern Kentucky and lived at Payne Hollow in Trimble County. Hubbard was well-known for living on the river in Thoreau-like simplicity removed from modern times.


Hubbard published 12 books, including journals, travel essays, and various woodcuts and paintings. Louisville-based producer Morgan Atkinson documented the Hubbards’ life in the film, Wonder, featuring passages voiced by author Wendell Berry. Only last year, Berry himself was honored as the first living author inducted into the Hall of Fame. 

Alice Hegan Rice (1870  – 1942) was inducted next. Famous for her bestselling novel, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, Rice lived her entire life in Louisville.


Rice was inspired to write the book after her involvement with Louisville’s underprivileged children in the slum area known as the Cabbage Patch district. The novel has been translated into many languages, and was the basis for many stage, radio, and film versions. Rice published over 20 books in her lifetime.

The following inductee was Jean Ritchie (1922 – 2015).The youngest of 14 children — 10 of them girls – she was born in Viper, Kentucky, and is the first singer to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.  She was an iconic figure in American folk music who performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall and at London’s Royal Albert Hall.


Ritchie‘s songs have been recorded by such artists as Johnny Cash, Emmy Lou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, and Judy Collins. She recorded 33 albums and published 10 books.

The final writer and only living one to be inducted into the 2016 Hall of Fame was Bobbie Ann Mason (1940). Mason was born on a dairy farm outside of Mayfield in western Kentucky. She has published 5 novels, 7 short fiction collections, a memoir, a biography, and 2 works of literary criticism.  She has been published by Harper and Row, HarperCollins and Random House.


Mason’s first collection of short stories, Shiloh and Other Stories (1982), brought critical acclaim, and she has been lauded as a master of the short story. Her stories have appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review. In 1985 she wrote her first novel, In Country, which was made into a Hollywood film. Mason professed to be inadequate as a speaker, but proved to be eloquent as she addressed the crowd. Her demeanor was one of utter humility—graciously thanking those who were assembled, and she proclaimed the importance of fiction readers.   

I asked Bobbie Ann if she has a writing goal she has yet to accomplish and she replied, ”A new book of stories! I’m experimenting a little with flash fiction, and I’d like to gather up some of those and see what happens.”

Mason’s major awards include the PEN/Hemingway Award, National Book Award finalist, The Pushcart Prize, O. Henry Award, The National Endowment for the Arts Award, Pulitzer Prize finalist in biography, and Southern Book Award for fiction.

I asked Bobbie Ann, given her many prestigious accolades, which she was most proud to have received. She replied, “I would have to say the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame is tops.” 

"The End" message typed by vintage typewriter.


Arts, LexPhil, Music

Beyond Scheherazade

The high quality of the Lexington Philharmonic continues with the upcoming production of the oft-played Rimsky-Korsakov classic, Scheherazade. Unlike many productions of well-known works, however, Scheherazade is being given the full treatment as a “Beyond the ScoreⓇ” production. The Chicago Symphony gave birth to the “Beyond the Score” idea and it has seen much success with many symphonies across the country. Here to talk with us about Scheherazade, “Beyond the Score,” and the value of the arts community in general is LexPhil’s music director and conductor Scott Terrell.

UM: Scheherazade. Well-known piece. Rimsky-Korsakov. Tell us about the piece and how the performance on February 5th will be different from the usual fare.

ST: It’s a great orchestral piece on a lot of levels. The story, which is from 1001 Arabian Nights, is always interesting. It’s a piece we’ve done before, but we were looking for something different. 

UM: How is this different?

ST: It was some time ago when Chicago created “Beyond the Score,” with standard and non-standard pieces. They wanted to bridge the gap between a veteran concert-goer and a novice concert-goer. It’s a combination of music, actors, video, multimedia. There’s imagery that matches the story and the idea of the piece. The images and the context are both elucidated at the beginning. Some of these standard pieces are done many times in the same way which, over time, can be comfortable, habitual, but not really exciting, new or deeply interesting.


UM: What will this do for the audience?

ST: It gives the musical context and illuminates the times that were going on to create such a piece. Many Russian composers were immersed in Arabian or Middle Eastern music at this time. Growing up in Russia at the time of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov meant being exposed to this other music that was coming in from far-away lands.

UM: What happens in the first part of the show?

ST: Two actors are involved. One is speaking the words of Rimsky-Korsakov, giving his influences and involvements, speaking in first person. The second actor has the storyteller role. This is the voice of Scheherazade, giving the four stories that eventually saved her life. These are 4-5 musical excerpts which last around 50 minutes, what I call a “dissection,” a piece of Scheherazade. After the intermission, we just play the piece and everyone has a context, an understanding of what made this piece come to be. 

Scheherazade (view video) was the daughter of the Vizier of  (second only to) the King of Persia. When the king’s wife was unfaithful to him, he had her killed. He vowed never to be cheated on again and decided to marry a virgin each day and behead her the next, thereby never giving any woman a chance to make a fool of him again. Many women had been killed in this way, and when the king met Scheherazade, she was to be another victim of this madness. Scheherazade began telling the king stories, always stopping at dawn, each of the 1,001 tales buying her another day of life. By the time she had no more stories to tell, the king had fallen in love with her and she became his reigning queen.


UM: Do you find telling these stories in new and exciting ways is inspiring to your regular patrons?

ST: Absolutely. This puts new eyes on a classic work. For some, it’s a re-discovery, for others it may be brand new, but they are getting the context of the piece, which is more than likely much different than what people received and understood the first time. Scheherazade is one of those story pieces which is very special. In terms of how we present, the first half excerpts are not only from Rimsky-Korsakov, but from other Russian composers, peers of the time, and one can hear the sounds that influenced him through their words as well. This gives immense perspective as to how great the score is. It’s a wonderful, conceptual piece, and people forget how programmatic, but colorful, it is. 

UM: Is it a much different experience for the Philharmonic in rehearsals, doing a well-known piece in this “Beyond the Score” fashion?

ST: This will be a different concert piece than what we’re used to. For the members of LexPhil, they have had an experience of not finding his words boring as musicians. We’re all reading through it, saying “That makes a lot more sense now.” If you’re an arts or musical nerd, it’s fascinating to think of how someone comes up with this stuff and “Beyond the Score” has helped to shed light on that for the orchestra, as it will for the viewers.

UM: Is it important to stick with classics from an artistic perspective? I know financially it makes sense, but when preparing the season, and piecing things together?

ST: It’s important to combine the known with the unknown. Most people know this work, so it is known. Doing it the way we’re doing it, though, will be an unknown to everyone. To me, this is much more exciting. There’s always a deeper appreciation when a piece is juxtaposed against something else, particularly the history. “Beyond the Score” has allowed us to juxtapose the piece against itself, in a new and different way from the usual. It is also important to juxtapose one piece against another on a given evening. In April, for instance, we have the Dvorák Symphony No. 9, “New World”, which is a very well-known work. It will be contrasted that evening with the world premiere of Avner Dorman’s After Brahms, as well as  Dorman’s Frozen in Time percussion concerto. This will make for a very interesting evening. Known and unknown. Part of the fun is the “I don’t know.” Like I said, the audience may love it or they may not. You have to take a calculated risk as an artist. One never grows through staying comfortable, staying status quo. 

UM: What we’re talking about with “Beyond the Score,” putting together known works in as-yet-unknown ways: is this trending with other orchestras striving to be new and cutting edge?

ST: Yes. This is one of the things at which modern orchestras have become very adept, with Chicago leading the pack: a way to reach out and engage the audiences. How can we get more people into the hall? I’m very proud we’ve come along this path by responding to the audiences. How can we build and grow and give our audience something meaningful? Rather than orchestras reacting to a bad year or season of low attendance after the fact. It’s much better if we are proactive. Find out what people in 2016 are wanting out of their Philharmonic. This idea is being used all over the country with great success. 

UM: Particular to Rimsky-Korsakov’s work in general, do orchestras look forward to doing it? Is it a favorite?


ST: From Rimsky-Korsakov’s perspective, this sound defines him. Most people will tell you he was one of the greatest orchestrators to ever live. He actually wrote books on orchestration. Because he really knew what he was doing, it always makes it a great pleasure and challenge for orchestras to come together on it. It’s good for the orchestra, too. They realize it’s a big chunk of music, not just this piece, but everything in the program. It’s always important that there’s perspective. As a conductor, I try to constantly listen with “new ears” and see the old and new influences and perspectives. What’s tricky about Scheherazade, mainly because it’s such a complex orchestral work, is that the brilliance of the piece begs the questions, “Why did it come about? What was going through the composer’s mind?” This is something the “Beyond the Score” process can answer and that informs the entire experience. We often take it for granted when we just hear the piece performed with nothing else. People will have a much deeper appreciation of the work when they hear it.

“1001 Arabian Nights” has its roots in the folklore of Persia and India, which scholars believe formed the early versions of the work. “Nights” was first published in the early 1700s, and it is believed by this time, having been translated into Arabic, many Arabic stories were added to the original list. These all culminated in the work we know today, which has influenced art, film, and of course, music. The most famous translation of the massive work was completed by Britain’s renowned Renaissance Man of the 19th century, Sir Richard Francis Burton.


UM: It seems LexPhil has really branched out in the last five years or so. I know the question is always there, but more recently it’s really been put to the Lexington community about the value of the arts in our lives. What’s your take on that?

ST: The arts are as important as they ever were. The various arts entities in this area work with each other to bring things to life. What is often the case in the arts is: “what do they bring to the economy of Lexington?”

UM: There’s always the issue of money.

ST: Yes. And it is simply not enough to walk on stage and leave. There has to be advocacy through education, outreach, etc. One sees a lot of fear when the arts are threatened, but also a lot of people have been standing up and saying we must have them. People know inherently that the arts are integral to who we are, what we do, where we come from.

UM: No matter how much one may deny that fact, it will always be there, won’t it?

ST: There has to be a lot work beyond our individual realms. It gets people reinvigorated, reinitiated to life.

For times and ticket information, visit


Come on in…

UnderMain is pleased to launch our new virtual gallery showcasing works by one of Lexington’s own, Lawrence Tarpey. Lawrence was kind enough to work with us on multiple occasions to make this new experience a reality. We are excited at the possibilities this presents and for the opportunity to curate future on-line exhibitions.

Visit the Virtual Gallery

Click on the link and enjoy from your desktop, mobile, or tablet (be sure to check it out on mobile).

Also, how about a little feedback? Let us know what you think by emailing us at or commenting on our related Facebook post.

Arts, Theatre

Joe Ferrell in the Director’s Chair

For many years in the Lexington community the name Joe Ferrell and theatre have been synonymous. Joe has helmed many productions, ranging from Shakespeare to the modern classics, under a myriad of venues. The deep and abiding love Joe has for good theatre and artistic process is rivaled only by his love for family and the friendships he’s developed over a five-decade career. His wife, Sheila Omer Ferrell, is the Executive Director of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation in Lexington. Their daughter, Hannah, has grown up in Lexington after her parents settled down here to start a family in the 80s. Joe speaks candidly with UnderMain contributor Charles Sebastian about family, theatre, and his newest project as director, the Woodford Theatre’s current production, Of Mice and Men.

UM: Let me start by saying I’m sorry the snow affected opening night for Of Mice and Men. The show’s slated to run three weeks, correct?

JF: Yes, the show runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at Woodford until February 7.

UM: How did the show take shape?

JF: I had directed the show at Actor’s Guild in the late 90s. I hadn’t directed it up to that point. I had played Lennie doing some scene work for some of my graduate courses. It’s a remarkable piece of work. I like to do so many different kinds of things as a director. That period of time was so difficult for people, especially in the mid-West and West Coast regions. There was a lot of difficulty just in staying alive.

UM: We’re talking 1930s, when Steinbeck was writing.

JF: Yes. Steinbeck talks so strongly in the play about loneliness and the difficulty of living. The loneliness, I feel, is a central theme of the work. The need for individuals to not just relate to one another, but to really be connected. The guys in the play were almost envious of their relationship between George and Lennie.


UM: Even though it is rocky and unpredictable at times.

JF: The relationship between the two has all of the ins and outs, ups and downs. It deals with, in 1936 terms, what was then called the American Dream. The two characters wanted to follow their own muse and not be under the thumb of a boss. The inherent failure of that for the characters is heart-breaking.

UM: There is something universal about the relationship, isn’t there?

JF: George and Lennie have their dream about where they’re going and what they’re trying to do, but Lennie’s unpredictable and essentially is just interested in petting things. George can’t let Curly just run off and assassinate Lennie, so he decides to put Lennie out of his misery.

UM: A mercy killing.

JF: Yes. There’s just no way George can protect Lennie after a time.

UM: There’s a sense of it being better being put out of your misery by someone you know, someone who cares about you, instead of some random executioner.

JF: And that makes for a very sad and touching situation.

UM: A lesser of two evils situation.

JF: Yes. Hard decisions. Life was a lot harder in Dust Bowl, 1930s America.

UM: It’s interesting that the play focuses so much on male relationships, though there is the one female character.

JF: There’s only one woman in the play, and she’s constantly referred to as the tart.

UM: Courtney Waltermire plays Curly’s wife.


JF: Yes. Courtney has the kinds of things that all of us who try to do good theatre are born with. Instincts. A lot of this is an openness to trying new things. Courtney could have a career, if that’s what she wanted. Curly’s wife is portrayed as a lot of women were at that time: not particularly smart and longing for somebody to talk to; she has her own version of the American Dream. She feels pretty and someone from Hollywood told her she was pretty, so she’s concocted her own dream of being found.

UM: The old Veronica Lake, discovered in a bar deal.

JF: Right. She’s sorry that she got married to Curly, and Curly isn’t a very nice guy.

UM: She’s looking to escape.

JF: All the men are living hand-to-mouth, living in a bunkhouse. Curly is one of the smallest of the men; one could say he has short man’s syndrome. He’s always uptight.

UM: Is research and dramaturgy a big deal on a play like this, one that has seen so many performances and is so well-known?

JF: Absolutely. I research the play and we have a rehearsal period, just talking about the play, including its historical significance. I’m always encouraging the actors to research and know the period and place on their own. Two people could come up with two different viewpoints on what the play is and how to manage it. 

UM: You’ve worked with many of the actors in this production often over the years. Walter Tunis, Paul Thomas, Jeff Sherr, Kevin Hardesty. Does having a history with actors make the process easier?

JF: Absolutely. Trust is such a big issue with being able to play and explore. If you already have a relationship, it makes things move faster and makes getting to some truth much easier. Knowing a lot of these actors helps so much with trust. You have a good idea of where they can go. It doesn’t have to start from the ground up. You know where you are and how to work. You have a good idea of how they can move through process.

UM: How did you come to Lexington theatre, Joe? You’re originally from out west, right?

JF: I was born and raised in Montana and went to the University of Montana. I went on a football/academic scholarship and I came out of a town where all you did was play sports. The University of Montana was not all that big, but it had so many courses and areas for a kid like myself. No one in my family had been to college. I had an advisor in the English Department named Walter King, who was a Shakespeare scholar. I became an English major and Shakespeare was my focus then, with a minor in speech. We were on a quarter system, and the last quarter I had a speech teacher ask me to be in a play he was doing for the Theatre Department. I absolutely loved the experience and I felt like doors had been closed all my life and now they were somehow opened. I intuitively knew this was what I wanted to do with my life. I was sent to Korea during Viet Nam and made arrangements when I got back to go to do Masters work in Theatre; I saw the opportunity to plunge in and get involved as much as I wanted to. I hadn’t had that kind of experience or drive for anything up to that point. I had been in a class play in high school, but it was nothing compared to the experience that came later. I feel overall I’ve been very lucky with the course my life has taken.

UM: What prompted the move to this area?

JF: I came to Kentucky when I was in the first year of my doctoral program at the University of Iowa. I finished the doctorate at Indiana, as I wasn’t that happy with the program in Iowa. Georgetown College hired me. This was around 1971. They had an old theatre where the administration building is now. The Falling Springs Recreation Center. They had what were called “resistance dimmers” in the old theatre then. Sparks would fly out when you used them. Dangerous.

UM: Was the program progressive at the time?

JF: They had a small theatre curriculum at the time and wanted to expand. We developed a lot of great productions over those years. The kids who came were smart and ambitious. Some went on to do film, television, Broadway. J.C. Montgomery, who’s done a lot of Broadway and film work at this point, came out of that time.

UM: When did you make the transition to teaching at UK?

JF: I came to work at UK around 1979-80 from Georgetown, which gave me the opportunity to focus on acting and directing. I was doing a lot of other stuff at Georgetown. I was the only full time theatre guy at UK. It was my time to learn and develop ways of doing things that were essential. I didn’t have people looking over my shoulder and telling me I was doing everything wrong. It was good to be able to spend time at UK. 

UM: You were at UK for awhile.


Sheila, Joe and Hannah Ferrell

JF: Yes. Then, around 1985, Sheila and I married and we went to New York for 5 or so years and I did a lot of off and off-off Broadway. I loved New York and going to the shows. I finally looked at where we were and what we were doing, and we thought the thing to do was come back here, as we wanted to have a baby.

UM: Your daughter, Hannah.

JF: Yes. We thought this would be a better location for family.

UM: That was around the time I met you.

JF: I got a call from the people in Lexington. They were asking me to come and do Shakespeare in the Park.

UM: 1989. You directed King Lear. My first show with you. Shakespeare in the Park at Woodland. Fred Foster as Lear. Joe Gatton. Roger Leasor.

JF: That was the first show I did after we moved back.

UM: Were you able to plug back into UK when you returned?

JF: Actually, Fort Knox had just built a huge program. Not many people know this, but there are some posts around the country that have Department of Defense Education Activities, and Fort Knox was one of them. Sheila and I were doing theatre in Louisville around this time, and she was also offered a job in the Fort Knox area.  Later, somewhere in the 90s, I started the Phoenix Group Theatre with Kevin Hardesty, Sheila, Joe Gatton, Walter Tunis, and others at the downtown library. Sheila was pregnant with Hannah. 


UM: You continued at Fort Knox for quite some time?

JF: Yes. I retired from Fort Knox around 2008 and essentially have been doing what I want to do – Woodford Theatre and other projects.

UM: Do you try to stay current with newer theatre trends?  

JF: If you’re going to do this stuff, you have to be looking at what’s out there. Examine what’s going on in different theatre scenes.

UM: But do things change a great deal overall?

JF: As a director, I’m one who wants to explore, instead of coming in and just blocking it out. I believe just line interpretation winds up not coming across well. Creating a safe space to explore allows actors to build and be fearless when they see a new way of doing it.

UM: Do you find that shows that keep coming around, like Of Mice and Men, for instance, have a universality absent in many pieces?

JF: One of the things I’ve always liked about a good play and the people who write the good ones, is that the speeches are all words we recognize, but written in a very special way: the language in the play is created by dialogues and speeches that are designed to take you in a certain direction. We can have a random conversation any given day, but in a good play, the world is being built by these conversations.

UM: Are you pretty much keeping the same schedule you always have?

JF: I did three plays last years and Mice has been the only one this year. I would like to see something spring to life in Lexington again. Athens West could be the answer. It’s challenging being an Equity theatre, so it’s going to be great to see where they go. I loved teaching in college and loved teaching all of the stuff that I had learned. We have lots of serious theatre-goers who see what’s up on stage. I sometimes worry about where our audiences are going.

UM: Are you referring to the “dumbing down” that’s been happening gradually in the arts in general?

JF: Yes. Things are just different today. So many of the plays remain relevant, but it seems like audiences respond differently today to some things.

UM: Are there certain works you look to as seminal or influential on your life and career, Joe?

JF: The Empty Space by Peter Brook comes to mind. Uta Hagen’s work and a lot of the stuff that came out of the Group Theatre. Clurman. The Stanislavski stuff that eventually paved the way for the Actor’s Studio. Many books have been written on that, of course. A lot of those people wound up turning theatre on its edge.

UM: Roughly a hundred years ago. The “Russian Invasion.”

JF: Right. The end of the 1800s was so overblown in terms of acting.

UM: You’re speaking of the Declamatory style?

JF: Primarily.

UM: Nowadays you just see it done for laughs, just for the sake of being stodgy.

JF: Getting past that and to a deeper truth makes for much better work.

UM: Are you excited by certain playwrights? Are there plays you would like to do that you haven’t yet?

JF: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was astonishing for its language at the time. Of course, that’s been awhile ago now. A Winter’s Tale would be interesting, and doesn’t get played often. Neil Simon hasn’t been done as much here as I would like to see. Williams is important. I’ve done Glass Menagerie three times, but that material can always be revisited. O’Neill. Long Day’s Journey into Night. The trend for heavier and longer plays doesn’t seem to be too much on the scene of late, though. It was wonderful we were able to do Venus and Fur at the Farish Theatre, through Balagula. That was one I had wanted to do for awhile.

UM: The theatre for you and the people you work with: it all seems to have a very family feel to it.

JF: You come out of these projects making close friends. Ultimately, good plays are about the relationships that drive us in life. Any of the good plays show how people interact, betray one another, love each other. There’s always the standard conflict stuff, that should be in any good play. I’m as fascinated today by what we can create onstage as I was all those years ago when I started. It’s just amazing what comes out of the rehearsals and what you wind up with as a final product. It affects people in so many ways and I’m affected by it.

UM: Sounds like it’s really about people for you.

JF: The important thing for me is always the people. Designers, actors, all of the making-of process, with so many wonderful talents: that’s what really drives me.


(Photo by Alberta Lanceta Labrillazo) Joe with Kevin Hardesty and Walter Tunis

Please visit either of the following sites for tickets or more info on Of Mice and Men:

Woodford Theatre

Woodford County Theatrical Arts Association

Acting, Arts, Chautauqua, Theatre, Woodford Theatre

Kevin Hardesty In the Open

If you’ve been a practitioner or spectator of Lexington theatre in the last 34 years, the name Kevin Hardesty has most likely not escaped you. Kevin has built a reputation as an actor of film, television, and stage during that time and has come to be known as a lead actor for a wide range of roles and abilities. He currently is starring in the Chautauqua series in dual roles: Jefferson Davis and Daniel Boone. In addition, the Woodford Theatre production of Of Mice and Men goes up January 22, in which Kevin reprises his role as George. Kevin was kind enough to take a few minutes with Under Main contributor and actor Charles Sebastian.

UM: I’d like to start with what you’re doing presently. Tell us about Chautauqua and your roles in the shows.

KH: The Chautauqua Program’s been around a long time, about 25 years. A few years ago, Trish Clark, who runs the Woodford Theatre, started doing Mary Todd Lincoln for them. She asked Bo List to write the script for her and he did. She told me it was a unique experience as an actor. I put in my application two years ago and worked with Bo to do Jefferson Davis as a character. They had an early audition in January and they take five new characters every two years.

Bo and I worked for about a year rehearsing, researching. The process goes through several reviews with the Humanities Council. We worked with Jim Rodgers as my drama consultant. Jim and I have a long history going back to my UK days.

UM: Yes, you were at UK Theatre. How has that developed you and your career?

KH: I actually still use that training and material to this day, preparing for roles. Jim Rodgers was there, Russell Henderson, and a lot of other great teachers.

UM: So, Chautauqua sounds very involved, preparation-wise.

KH: It’s a long, involved process and took roughly a year. I’ve learned a lot about the two characters by being in their skin.

UM: How did the Daniel Boone role come to you?

KH: The gentleman who was doing Daniel Boone moved out of state. They had an open audition, and I got the part. I wound up launching both Daniel Boone and Jefferson Davis late last August.

UM: It seems there have always been misconceptions about Boone, but did you find that to be true of Jefferson Davis?

KH: What is amazing is how many people have heard the name, but really don’t know what he did or the impact he had on the time. Most people in Lexington remember the old Jefferson Davis Inn, named after Davis, more readily  than knowing the man. Davis was born in Kentucky and had a big impact on the state, and he also had a great passion for his home state of Mississippi, where his family moved when he was young.


UM: Do you feel a lot of responsibility for getting things historically accurate, especially with such a pivotal figure in US history?

KH: Well, aside from the historical aspect, Davis was an interesting man. If the Civil War hadn’t happened, he probably would’ve been president. He built the aqueduct systems in Washington and developed the war machinery that drove the fight between north and south. I thought, ‘let’s do our best to paint this guy as a man of passion and a product of his time.’ Regarding the accuracy, I considered writing the pieces myself, but I’m not a writer. That’s why I approached Bo List.

UM: Did you feel people like or dislike this character, people who still see a Mason-Dixon line, or even political sympathizers that may not like to see JD portrayed?

KH: I thought there was a chance no one would want to see Davis embodied, as he was on the wrong side of history. It was part of the 200-year anniversary of the end of the Civil War. There was also another issue: the shootings in South Carolina last year. We had been working on the project close to a year, and all of a sudden there was all this horrible stuff in the news and we certainly didn’t want to fan the flames.

The Charleston Church Massacre, as it has come to be called, became the largest church shooting in American history. Attempting to incite race riots, 21-year old Dylann Roof opened fire on the congregation at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015, killing 9 people.

UM: So there was a strong question-mark hanging in the air about it being an appropriate time to go showcasing well-known Southern figures, the images of whom many people may see when thinking of the American South during slave times.

KH: Right. I talked to Ben Chandler, who is the Director of the Humanities Council, and asked him about the Davis material and if he thought it needed to be shelved. He said it was a piece of history and Chautauqua was a great venue to show it. 99 percent of the people who have come have loved it.

UM: That’s great. It’s developed a long run, too, yes?

KH: To date I’ve done 65 performances and about 75-80 percent are Boone. I have another 35 shows booked for spring. I’ll end up doing over 100 shows.

UM: How exactly do the shows get booked?

KH: The Humanities Council puts out a catalogue every year and bookings are done based on this. We may get K-12 teachers who want the performances for their students, or people who are involved in some kind of historical society. So Humanities offers the program, but the individuals who go through the catalogues choose what they want. These are the most challenging roles I’ve ever done as an actor.

UM: You mean the historical issue, or the solo issue?

KH: Both, but especially the solo thing. You’re the only one out there. You know how it is: there’s no one to throw the ball to.

UM: All up to you.

KH: Right!

UM: And, a different audience every time.

KH: Yes! One day you might be changing in a broom closet somewhere and playing to a group of kids, the next time a different venue with a whole different set-up.

UM: I would imagine the audiences would be vastly different than even when people do the highly-detailed Civil War reenactments.

KH: Yes. Varied.

UM: I’m sure it’s challenging, but I’m sure you love the challenge. The plays I did with you years ago, you were always professional, prepared and we had a good time.

KH: Thanks.

UM: I actually learned quite a bit from you in those days. One thing that really stands out in my mind, though, was finally understanding that process is what theatre’s all about.

KH: Yes.

UM: I’d heard that from acting teachers, I’d heard it at UK many times, read it in the usual acting texts, but you and I were doing Inherit the Wind 20 plus years ago. Shakespeare in the Park when it used to be at Woodland Park. We were rehearsing in some basement somewhere and you said to me: process is always what it’s about. I had thought of theatre up to that point as more of oil painting or tableaux, instead of living, breathing, constantly changing. That it was expected to, encouraged to, change in each moment. Probably one of the best lessons I ever learned.

KH: Oh, man, thanks for telling me that.

UM: I’m glad I have a chance to in a very public way.

For anyone interested in booking the Chautauqua performances, please visit for a list of the characters with descriptions. You can also check out Kevin’s FB Chautauqua page.

UM: Let’s turn our focus to Of Mice and Men. The show goes up at the Woodford Theatre on January 22.

KH: Yes, three weekends. Jan. 22-Feb. 7. Friday, Saturday and Sunday of each week.

UM: What drew you to the material?

KH: Well, I did Of Mice and Men when I was at Actor’s Guild around 1999, with Joe Ferrell directing. You probably know Beth Kirchner built Woodford Theatre up and when she retired in 2011, Trish Clark took it over. Trish had been talking to Joe Farrell and Woodford had been doing a lot of lighter fare. They were thinking about something a bit more serious. Joe called me and asked if I would like to revisit it and I said ‘hell yeah.’

UM: Was it a vastly different experience than it was years ago?

KH: Oh, yes. There is always the issue with the word on the page being so important. Respect for the work and the playwright is crucial. Good writers take a lot of time and care making sure every piece is where it should be.

UM: Steinbeck’s no lightweight, and Mice is probably his best-known story.

KH: Right. And my job is always to tell the story, no matter how well-known it is. But, of course, I’m older, it’s a different venue, different time, and it’s all great.

UM: Looking at the cast, you’re sharing the stage with some wonderful people: Walter Tunis as Lennie, Paul Thomas, Demetrius Conley-Williams, some very seasoned actors in the community. Courtney Waltermire is an amazing talent. She was a student of mine at Asbury and I felt she really had a presence in a lot of the scene work she did.

KH: It’s a great cast all around. They’re all magnificent.

UM: Do you like the Woodford Theatre experience?

KH: I have to say I don’t believe I’ve ever worked on a show where I’ve felt more supported. The theatre itself is a terrific facility, and everything is carefully planned and you have a network of people that makes everything work well. Woodford has their own space, great technical elements, designers and technicians. It’s a fully-functioning theatre.

UM: Support and freedom to create is so important, isn’t it?

KH: It’s a huge part of process. It’s one of the marvelous things about working with Joe Ferrell. We’ve done so many shows together now and as a director he is superb at creating a space, an environment where you feel safe and you can really do your best work.

UM: You mean he lets it be what it is?

KH: There’s guidance and direction, of course, but he let’s you experiment and find the character and voice that will bring a truthful and watchable character to the audience. Many directors are not like that. So, yes, I’ve grown as an actor since I played George before, Woodford is doing some amazing work, and it’s great to work with Joe. The foundation is there and a highly-supportive environment. It’s interesting, Joe has always managed to draw people together in an group of trust and creativity. You feel safe taking risks and you don’t feel like you’re being judged. The magic happens. He allows it to be a natural growth of the people and the words. It’s rare in directors, actually.

UM: I suppose there have to be a number of elements to make sure the show works and the house stays packed.

KH: That’s always the balance. Trish has built a huge and loyal audience and the productions stay full. The practical element of feeling safe must play to ticket sales. It’s a hard thing to do, to produce theatre. It’s expensive, even in those cases when shows are not paying everyone their full value.

UM: What do you value a lot in the craft? For yourself, or from other actors.

KH: Being prepared, ready to go. I use the same warmups Russell Henderson  and others at UK taught me 30 years ago. Getting on with the work. Being real and truthful.

UM: Living truthfully under imaginary circumstances, the old Meisner adage. More good theatre for everyone.

KH: More good theatre for everyone.


UM: Going deeper, Kevin: what is it that has kept you in the theatre so long?

KH: That’s hard to say. I know my passion for the theatre came first as an audience member at the Diner’s Playhouse, which is now defunct. My mother would take me to all the shows. I remember being 10-12 years old and being mesmerized. Mr. Roberts was at the Diner’s, and I remember that show really affecting me. In high school I was cast in a play and I found self-worth and much-needed involvement in something I wanted to do. When I moved on to UK Theatre, I played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. I was 17. I had found this thing that was central to my life. Maybe I would’ve felt the same way if I went to law school.

UM: Perhaps, but do you subscribe to the notion that performance is something you’re born to and can’t escape?

KH: Definitely. There’s no escape.

UM: It wasn’t long after UK that you went out west, right?

KH: Yes, I had the privilege to work as a professional for a number of years out in LA. Actually, I was in a touring production of Biloxi Blues and I found an agent in LA and went where the work was.

UM: Film work. Heathers; Happy Together.

KH: I was fortunate to work.

UM: Film, stage, video, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

KH: Not really. The work is what always draws me. Chautauqua is a three-year contract. One of the real values in taking the show all over and sometimes taking it to this little nook or cranny is that some of these people have never seen a live theatre performance. That sounds unbelievable, but there are many parts of this state where people have not seen live theatre.

UM: That’s amazing. It makes you wonder the impact you’re having on people through the arts. I mean, we all set values differently. If you had never experienced live theatre and then someone came along and gave you a good show, you just wonder how you’re shaping that person in their thinking and what they choose in life.

KH: Absolutely. I was doing a Daniel Boone performance, and afterward a little girl came up to me. Her head was shaved and she was clinging to me after the show. 


UM: She was living with cancer, you mean?

KH: Not sure. She was sick.

UM: And something spoke to her in your performance?

KH: Right. It was a powerful moment for me. I remember wondering how what I was doing must be helping her in some way.

UM: Perhaps she was having a similar transformative experience to what you had back at the Diner’s Theatre. That’s the job, isn’t it? Being present in a truthful way, and transporting people to another place.

For more info on tickets, times and the show, please visit: And visit the show’s Facebook page.

art, Arts, Local culture, OpEd, Politics, The University of Kentucky

A New Deal Fresco, Authorial Intention and Writing History from the Margins

On November 23, 2015 University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto announced his decision to shroud a thirty-eight by eleven foot fresco from 1934 by UK alumna Ann Rice O’Hanlon (1908-1998) in Memorial Hall (fig. 1).


Figure 1. Ann Rice O’Hanlon, Kentucky Mural, 1934, pigment on lime plaster, 38 x 11 feet, Memorial Hall, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky.

Two days later facilities management personnel draped a long white cover across the Depression-era mural and attached a placard to explain the arrangement was only temporary. The action came after Dr. Capilouto met with African-American students on November 12th to discuss ways the Commonwealth’s flagship university could be more inclusive, and listen to the specific struggles students of race encounter, particularly issues relating to financial aid, achievement gaps, and graduation rates.

The fresco was one other small concern students raised, alleging the work of art inaccurately represents Kentucky’s history, presents a sanitized description of the working conditions of slaves, and overall conjures up painful reminders of actual race relations in the Bluegrass state in the early twentieth century. Since then, the decision and ensuing debate has received enormous media coverage, with The Washington Post, HyperallergicThe National Review, and The Huffington Post all publishing stories about the events leading up to the covering of the mural and the subsequent reactions. Needless to say, a spotlight has been placed on Kentucky’s primary institution of higher education, and many anxiously wait for the long-term solution to be unveiled by President Capilouto.I have been disappointed by the lack of public proposals from community members and a defense of the fresco in general.

In this op-ed, I will maintain that a contemporary viewer need not limit his or her understanding of Ann Rice O’Hanlon’s 1934 fresco by rooting their interpretation in the intentions of the artist, and that the mural should remain within Memorial Hall. I will also offer a long-term solution that I hope can satisfy all concerned parties. I understand my essay to be part of the call from President Capilouto for a proposed long-term solution for the fate of O’Hanlon’s fresco, and I hope it will encourage other thoughtful productive opinion pieces that will contribute to the rich discussion of public art, representation,and community relations.

Perhaps it would be helpful to begin with a brief, formal description of the mural in question. The compositional structure of O’Hanlon’s fresco is ordered into three horizontal bands, each containing scenes from Kentucky history that make reference to the development of Lexington or the surrounding region. The work is bracketed by two sets of doors that lead into a lecture hall and two life-size white farmers that form the extreme periphery of the work.

The artist makes use of an organizational principle called the golden section, a Greek geometric device developed by a student of Plato named Eudoxus.(1) The vignettes of the expansive mural are meant to be read from left to right and guide viewers through the most significant historical and cultural achievements in the state’s history. These accomplishments include the construction of fort settlements, Kentucky’s first printing press, and the development of the railroad, to name a few. The crowning achievement of progress is the erection of the University of Kentucky, as seen in the upper middle register with a depiction of the iconic Administration Building, now known as the Main Building. The innumerable figures throughout the mural have a formal simplicity in terms of depth and lack differentiation, a convention common to fresco painting. This emphasizes the narrative of the work and increases the legibility of the composite image. Both in technique and composition the artist is drawing upon well-established Western traditions to illustrate a history of the Commonwealth for a wide audience. The only innovation she adopts is the patchwork-like design that links the vignettes together, which calls to mind the traditional Southern craft of quilt-making. Together these patches of local history constitute a narrative, one of harmony, technological advancement, and optimism for the future, despite the reality of the time.

Like the other forty-two public murals that were executed for the Civil Works Administration Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), O’Hanlon’s mural was meant to encourage a sense of unity through economically trying times.(2) The PWAP used federal money to employ artists to paint regional themes or histories within public forums such as schools, post offices, and libraries. The government administrators who commissioned these murals insisted on figurative art that could easily deliver a message of hope and could be read by a broad base of individuals. Therefore, the O’Hanlon fresco was not only political, but ideological in nature. The mural presents a false sense of tranquility and a selective documentation of Kentucky’s history, one that portrays African Americans as peacefully co-existing with white citizens. In the second and third registers of the mural, African Americans are depicted as mostly passive, not fully engaged with their surroundings. One group plays music for white dancers (fig. 2) while another group strain their backs to pick tobacco (fig. 3).


Figure 2. Ann Rice O’Hanlon, detail, 1934.

Another contingent is huddled together, separated from white onlookers, watching the embarkment of the central locomotive, and in several instances young boys observe from a distance activities of leisure.


Figure 3. Ann Rice O’Hanlon, detail of central vignette, 1934.

Collectively, these scenes frame African Americans as second class citizens, not permitted to fully participate in communal rituals and events. These images present the problem of representation of African Americans in Kentucky history and are the source of controversy surrounding the mural. As many may recall, this is not the first time the fresco has been mired in controversy. In 2006, Senators of the UK Student Government Association passed a resolution calling for its removal by President Lee Todd. Ultimately, Dr. Todd disagreed with the students who had crafted the legislation, explaining the fresco was an exceptionally rare and important artistic and historical artifact. Since then, the political climate on American universities has shifted markedly and conversations about race, equality, representation, inclusion, and community are ubiquitous.

In 2015, Americans witnessed the massacre of nine African Americans, including state senator Clementa Pinckney, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and the subsequent debates surrounding the symbolism of the Confederate flag; riots in Baltimore, Maryland spurred by the death of Freddie Gray; the anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and numerous investigations into police force tactics in Chicago, Cleveland, and other metropolises. To say the least, as we begin 2016 Americans are deeply embroiled in conversations about race, police brutality, criminal justice reform, and how vestiges of Jim Crow laws are manifest in public and private institutional structures.

Overall, I would say these conversations are a positive development, and frankly long overdue. The recent debate at the University of Kentucky–along with those occurring at Georgetown University, Harvard, and Princeton– forms one small facet of this larger crucible. Students, professors, and administrative officials are engaged in a smaller, though just as significant, battle over how institutions of higher education continue to honor questionable historical figures and how colleges fall short of fully incorporating students from minority backgrounds.

So the decision to cover the mural should come as no surprise, as university officials are increasingly placed under heightened scrutiny to swiftly satisfy the demands of diverse parties in order to correct past injustices or suffer the consequences (as seen in the lack of action taken by University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin). The short-term solution to shroud the mural satisfies the demands placed upon Dr. Capilouto while simultaneously giving the administration time to carefully consider what course of action is most prudent. Other members of the UK community are trying to find solutions to the situation as well. As UK assistant professor of art history Miriam Kienle has noted, the School of Art and Visual Studies is designing a symposium for the spring that will be themed around historical case studies of fresco painting, community relations, and issues of representation and inclusion. (3) It appears the aim of the conference will be to examine how past communities navigated comparable problems and whether any past compromises or solutions can be used as a model for the University of Kentucky. I hope President Capilouto along with all other invested parties will attend the planned symposium as it offers an ideal and professional venue to discuss the future of the O’Hanlon mural.

Until then, members of the university and Lexington communities are left to debate the meaning of the fresco and its future through open channels in the media. In the immediate aftermath of President Capilouto’s November 23rd announcement, Wendell Berry, a UK alumnus and noted author, wrote a vituperative op-ed in The Lexington Herald-Leader on November 30th. Berry criticized the administration’s action and offered a defense of the fresco through a recollection of personal anecdotes about the artist (given he is her nephew) and her intentions while calling attention to the idea of inclusion and representation, and what that meant in 1934. Yet, I would contend that Berry’s modernist defense, which privileges authorial intention, is antiquated and unnecessary. One need not rely upon the tacit ambitions of O’Hanlon to defend the mural, as the meanings of a work of art are not tied to its creator. Instead, I would like to offer a postmodern defense of the fresco, positing that meaning lies not with the artist, but with the viewer.

In his famous 1967 essay “The Death of the Author” for Aspen magazine, Roland Barthes attempted to deconstruct the Romantic notion of the Author-God, arguing that to give a text an author is to limit the work, to explain it through the biography of the creator. He elucidates that we “know now that a text is not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning…but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres [sic] of culture.”(4) Previous scholars had focused on deriving meaning through the interrogation of the lives of authors and artists. Yet, for the French intellectual, the author/artist is simply someone who assembles various strands of discourse. Barthes was the first to suggest that the meaning of a text or image lies with the reader/viewer, and therefore the task of the reader is to untangle those threads to arrive at their own understanding. His position was slightly revised by post-structuralists to account for some consideration of authorial intention, and later served as an important turning point for scholars, particularly in the fields of linguistics, philosophy, literary theory, and art history.

With this understanding, the O’Hanlon fresco can be read as a complex assemblage of disparate cultural strands interwoven together, with meaning ultimately lying not with its creator but with its receiver, i.e. the contemporary viewer. The mural is a pastiche of incongruous artistic traditions from Graeco-Roman and Italian Renaissance fresco painting techniques to pictorial conventions borrowed from Social-Realist muralists of Mexico and the Soviet Union to Southern patchwork quilt designs to oral folklore tales of Kentucky’s history. Not to mention the fact that the fresco is participating in a long tradition of government-sponsored art to unite downtrodden communities. All of these facets make up O’Hanlon’s mural and all are threads that can be untangled for examination and interpretation. The discourse involving race, inclusion, and representation is only one thread in this dense tapestry, though, I would admit it is one that has been ignored and is deserving of examination today. Ultimately, spectators’ understanding or interpretation of the mural is not limited to the intentions of the artist; rather, meaning is produced when spectators interrogate the image for themselves and begin disentangling the myriad strands of discourse.

However, this is not how officials from UK have framed the mural. In a Lexington Herald-Leader article by Linda Blackford from November 30th, President Capilouto is on record as saying that the challenge is “‘acknowledging our history as expressed by important works of art frozen to another time and place and reconciling it with the understanding, complexity and diversity of audiences and perspectives that comprise our university community…’” (5) This excerpt highlights the administration’s puerile understanding of how images function. The meaning of any given image is not fixed, instead it is dynamic and constantly shifting based on the knowledge and interests the viewer possesses. Obviously a work has a point of inception, but the relationship to its surroundings is protean and viewers construct meaning by interrogating the image.

While some may read O’Hanlon’s mural as presenting a romanticized, sterilized view of history, others may recognize subtle signs of subversion and extrapolate a different interpretation (as Berry has demonstrated). O’Hanlon’s fresco has come to represent many different things over the years for different audiences. After the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which reversed the “separate but equal” doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, audiences would have read the mural in a certain light. After the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, audiences still would have interpreted the fresco in a certain way. Today, the mural finds itself at the heart of important conversations about race, community, and higher education. It is not a work of art frozen to another time and place, its meaning is not rooted to an individual or context in the past. No, it is a work of art engaged in our contemporary dialogue, and its reception by the viewers of today will determine its meaning and ultimate fate.

Many of those involved in the quagmire have already begun voicing their ideas for the fate of the fresco. Some students have expressed a desire for the removal of the mural altogether, such as Chris Ledford, a PhD candidate in political science at UK. In an article for the Kentucky Kernel, he stated that if “it offends people, it needs to go away.”(6) Peter Hurley, too, a sophomore at UK, voiced similar sentiments. In an article for The Washington Post he is quoted as saying, “I think it’s up there with…the Confederate Flag in the South Carolina statehouse. I think it should be removed.” (7) These positions are some of the most radical voiced so far in the ongoing debate, but I have yet to hear many counterclaims, which is troubling. If museums were to extend the absurd logic of Ledford, then curatorial staffs would be forced to remove nearly every work of art from public display. And to equate a work of art that contains various strains of discourse interwoven together and multiple layers of meaning to a singular symbol that gives visual manifestation to the values and ideas for the cause of slavery is naïve and reckless.

The O’Hanlon mural is far more nuanced than many opponents are willing to recognize. As Wendell Berry effectively pointed out in his op-ed for The Lexington Herald-Leader, to even depict African Americans in a work of public art in 1934 revealed a certain amount of subversion on behalf of the artist and a willingness to call attention to the issues of representation and how history is written.(8) O’Hanlon could have omitted depictions of African Americans altogether and no one would have objected to their exclusion. Under the parameters of the PWAP, artists had limited means to portray the actual conditions of the times; after all, the purpose of the national initiative was to use the visual arts to uplift depressed communities while simultaneously giving work to destitute artists. Any attempt to portray the reality of the treatment of women and men of color in the 1930s (or any other civil rights issue for that matter) meant running the risk of losing the commission altogether or a backlash from community members that could have resulted in the defamation of the work. Only a few months prior to the completion of the Memorial Hall fresco in 1934, that exact scenario unfolded when Diego Rivera began altering elements in a mural for the plaza of Rockefeller Center to include a portrait of Vladimir Lenin. The new additions to the Rockefeller fresco incurred the ire of the sponsoring family and resulted in its demolition. While the O’Hanlon mural is not under any serious threat of destruction today, some would like to see it removed, an action I believe would be a mistake.

To my mind, I believe the mural ought to remain in situ for two main reasons. The first reason being that any relocation effort has a high potential of irreparably damaging the fresco. Second, the mural would lose much of its site-specific potency if it was moved to a museum context. O’Hanlon specifically chose the organizational principle of the golden section for her compositional structure to correspond with the Neoclassical architecture of Memorial Hall. Completed in 1929 to commemorate Kentuckians who lost their lives in the first World War, the structure contains traditional components of the Corinthian order, such as ornate capitals atop long white columns, a plain frieze, and regimented dentils around the pediment (fig. 4). Clearly, O’Hanlon envisioned her fresco as part of the overall aesthetic scheme of the complex, and to remove the mural would undermine its position in a larger architectural conversation.


Figure 4: Memorial Hall. University of Kentucky

More importantly, if the mural was moved it would lose its central position in a public space where individuals must confront the work of art and negotiate its multivalency, an exercise, I would think, the University of Kentucky would want its students and visitors to engage in. It would appear that lately the Commonwealth’s flagship institution of higher education is not living up to the role that O’Hanlon ascribed to it in her mural, as the crowning achievement of Kentucky’s progress and an illuminating force for society. Like other buildings that house PWAP murals, Memorial Hall, was chosen because of the high volume of people that pass through it. The structure and its outside amphitheater routinely have been host to public lectures, performances, and a variety of community events. As a point of convergence for the university community and citizens of Lexington, Memorial Hall is an important meeting ground where critical conversations take place, and the mural prominently figures within this framework. This arrangement is common not only to New Deal murals, but to numerous historical examples of fresco painting. Murals, such as O’Hanlon’s have traditionally been used to decorate large public spaces for instruction and enlightenment. Some other examples of government-sponsored murals include Ford Maddox Brown’s Manchester City Hall murals, the Westminster frescoes in London (now lost), and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’ fresco cycle for the Hôtel de Ville in Paris (figures 5 & 6).


Figure 5. (Replica of fresco completed for the Hôtel de Ville) Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Summer, 1891, oil on fabric, Framed: 74 9/16 x 106 1/2 x 5 11/16 inches, Cleveland Museum of Art. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Wade, 1916.1056.


Figure 6. (Replica of fresco completed for Hôtel de Ville) Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Winter, 1896, oil on canvas, 96.2 x 147.2 cm. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1910, 487-2.

Many frescoes throughout history have remained in their original location despite containing controversial figures or events. Innumerable communities have had to navigate the thorny problem of reconciling calcified power structures present in past art with the multiplicity of perspectives of the present. The O’Hanlon fresco is no different and its current location provides an ideal site to re-appropriate the composite image for a new contextualization and interpretation that can spark valuable conversations for twenty-first century viewers.

But what exactly do I mean by contextualization and what would that look like? First, I think it is important that I caution my readers about the word context. Too often historians, literary scholars, and art historians talk about context as an objective set of facts that can be used to explain a work; however, context is created through subjective interpretative strategies. As Mieke Bal and Norman Bryson elaborated in their 1991 article “Semiotics and Art History” for The Art Bulletin, context “…is a text itself, and it thus consists of signs that require interpretation. What we take to be positive knowledge is the product of interpretative choices.” (9) In other words, context is not something that is merely given, rather it is constructed. Just as intellectuals have used artistic biography and intention to explain a work of art, so too have many tried to use context to supply meaning.

In the case of the O’Hanlon mural, many have called on the administration of UK to contextualize the mural for a contemporary audience, or offer an expository text that can reconcile the seemingly degrading depiction of African Americans with the inclusive atmosphere and mission of the University of Kentucky today. In an online story for Hyperallergic and in his original, declaratory blog post, President Capilouto put it this way, “…we cannot allow it [the fresco] to stand alone, unanswered by and unaccountable to the evolutionary trajectory of our human understanding and our human spirit…” (10) This statement is unsettling because it makes two assumptions: one, that human history is on an inexorable path toward enlightenment and tolerance and two, that the fresco needs a text to explain it.

With regard to the first assumption, I take great concern as it seems to suggest a Hegelian sense of history, one where humans are on an evolutionary march toward progress. This understanding of history is simply not true and teeters on being a dangerous mindset. History is full of violent ruptures, leaps, and jolts backward, and in the instance of the O’Hanlon mural the work offers viewers of the twenty-first century a particular glimpse at the past. The fresco is worthy of admiration for a host of reasons, but in particular the work provides an opportunity for individuals to question past power structures and critically examine whether we have made meaningful steps forward with regard to equality, opportunity, and acceptance of a plurality of perspectives.

As for the second assumption, I do not believe the work necessitates a discursive walltext. This raises an interesting discussion about word and image. Ultimately, a public institution is suggesting the need to provide a text to explain an image. This is problematic as words tend to be limiting and can lead readers toward a particular conclusion whereas images are more ambiguous and capable of containing multiple points of departure for various interpretations. The University of Kentucky wishes to provide context for the fresco, but context is subjective and using select words to describe a complex image will undoubtedly frame a viewer’s understanding; thus, limiting the meaning to how the authors of the text frame the image. While I do not think a wall text is the ideal solution for the problem at hand, I will concede that there does not appear to be a better remedy, and no action is unacceptable.

Therefore, my proposed long-term solution for the mural is to have an extensive wall label within Memorial Hall that offers an interpretation of the work authored by historically suppressed voices. The current wall text ignores the discourse of race, representation, and community that runs throughout the mural so the recent debate provides an exceptional opportunity to partake in a revisionist history project, and I believe that history should be penned by African Americans. I am hesitant to prescribe explicit steps for that process as I imagine this endeavor will need to be carefully negotiated by invested parties; however, I would like to offer some general (and hopefully helpful) suggestions.

An appropriate starting point seems to be the assembly of a task force, appointed by President Capilouto, who would also serve in an ex-officio capacity. It would be composed of African-American students from all educational levels at UK along with faculty members of color from the departments of history, art history, English, and possibly other fields. The committee would be charged with conducting archival research on the mural, deciding how they want to frame the interpretation of the mural (constructing the context), and drafting and editing the final text that would accompany the fresco.

The task force could reach out to the curatorial staff of the UK Art Museum for suggestions on length, formatting, diction, etc. The project could easily be expanded by including on the physical wall label a QR code linked to a website designed and managed by the task force. The website could offer supplementary information about the mural; a comparative analysis with other PWAP murals that deal with race, unity, and labor; a biography of the artist; stories from UK alumni about their interactions with the fresco during critical moments of the Civil Rights Movement; and scholarly interpretations of the mural from individuals with backgrounds that have traditionally been elided from canonical accounts of history. The primary goal of this task force is to provide the opportunity for women and men of color to write history for future generations, a privilege that has been unjustly afforded, to be blunt, to white males. In other words, this project will attempt to bring those who have had to occupy the margins of history to the center, along with their perspectives, ideas, concerns, and interpretations.

In brief, I have attempted to articulate a postmodern defense of Ann Rice O’Hanlon’s 1934 fresco in Memorial Hall using strains of post-structuralist logic. Further, I have delineated reasons why the mural should remain in its current position and offered one potential long-term solution that I think could satisfy invested parties. Overall, I have been concerned by the lack of meaningful discourse surrounding President Capilouto’s November 23rd decision and the ultimate fate of the mural. While some have defended the mural by citing artistic intention, I see these attempts as weak and outdated. I believe that a twenty-first century viewer need not limit his or her understanding of a work of art by investigating the biography of an artist. In my view, meaning resides with the spectator not the creator, and therefore meaning is constantly shifting, ever deferred. Any given painting, sculpture, or text is the composite of a litany of threads of discourse and the task of the viewer/reader is to untangle those threads for examination, interrogation, and interpretation. The current debate involving race, public art, representation, historiography, and community narrows in on one such discourse that is present in the fresco. 

These circumstances provide an opportunity to engage in a revisionist history project, one that has tremendous potential as an act of healing and community-building. If the long-term solution is to be an extensive wall label that offers an interpretation of the fresco from a marginalized  perspective, then it follows that the mural should remain in its current location because it will force a greater number of individuals to confront the composite image and consider the new contextualization being offered. I hope my candid reflections on this matter will elicit further suggestions for long-term solutions and facilitate productive conversations about art, race, and history.

1 Gareth John, “Conservatism, Landscape, and the South in Ann Rice OʼHanlonʼs New Deal Mural,”Kentucky Places and Spaces, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2003), 11-22.
2 Ibid.
University of Kentucky Will Cover Controversial Mural” – The Huffington Post, November 24, 2015.
4 Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image, Music, Text, trans. by Stephen Heath (New York:Hill & Wang), 146.
5 Linda Blackford, “Cover over Controversial Mural is Short-Term Solution, UK President Says” – The Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, November 30, 2015).
Alexandria Kerns, “Future Uncertain for Memorial Hallʼs Controversial Mural”- Kernel (Lexington, November 24, 2015).
Nick Anderson, “University of Kentucky President Talks about Race, a Mural, and Reconciliation” –  Washington Post (Washington D.C., December 3, 2015).
Wendell Berry, “Wendell Berry: Censors on the Flagship” – The Lexington Herald-Leader (Lexington, November 30, 2015).

Sources Consulted

Anderson, Nick. “University of Kentucky President Talks about Race, a Mural, and Reconciliation.” The Washington Post. Washington D.C. 3 December 2015.

Ann Rice O’Hanlon Fresco Mural–Lexington, KY. “The Living New Deal.” Department of Geography, University of California, Berkeley. Accessed 9 January 2016.

Berry, Wendell. “Wendell Berry: Censors on the Flagship.” The Lexington Herald-Leader. Lexington. 30 November 2015.

Blackford, Linda. “Cover over Controversial Mural is Short-Term Solution, UK President Says.” The Lexington Herald-Leader. Lexington. 30 November 2015. .

Blackford, Linda. “UK to Cover Controversial Mural at Memorial Hall.” The Lexington Herald-Leader. Lexington. 23 November 2015.
Campus Guide–Memorial Hall. “University of Kentucky Campus Guide.” Accessed 9 January 2016.

Higdon, James and Nick Anderson. “U. of Kentucky Shrouds a 1934 Mural that Depicts African American Slaves.” The Washington Post. Washington D.C. 1 December 2015. .

Jaschik, Scott.“Covering Up a Painful Mural: Responding to Concerns of Black Students, University of Kentucky will Shroud a Fresco on the State’s History.” Inside Higher Ed. Washington D.C. 24 November 2015.

John, Gareth. “Conservatism, Landscape, and the South in Ann Rice O’Hanlon’s New Deal Mural.” Kentucky Places and Spaces, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 2003), 11-22.

Kerns, Alexandria. “Future Uncertain for Memorial Hall’s Controversial Mural.”
Mintcheva, Svetlana. “Shrouding History or Protecting Students? University of Kentucky Covers 1930s Mural.” National Coalitions Against Censorship. New York. 3 December 2015.

Stevens, Ashlie. “University of Kentucky Covers Up a Racially Charged Depression-Era Mural Amid Community Debate.” Hyperallergic. Brooklyn. 11 December 2015.

The Ann O’Hanlon Story. O’Hanlon Center for the Arts. Accessed 9 January 2016.

Tuttle, Ian. “The Art of Cowardice.” National Review. Washington D.C. 24 November 2015.“University of Kentucky to Cover Controversial Campus Mural.”

The Boston Globe.Boston. 25 November 2015.“University of Kentucky Will Cover Controversial Mural.”

The Huffington Post. 24 November 2015. “University of Kentucky Will Cover Controversial Mural.

WKYT News Staff. “University of Kentucky Covers Controversial Mural.” WKYT..

Arts, Beauty, civilization

When Beauty Strikes

“This is the view that beauty is a big, transformational thing, the proper goal of art and maybe civilization itself. This humanistic worldview holds that beauty conquers the deadening aspects of routine; it educates the emotions and connects us to the eternal.”

“By arousing the senses, beauty arouses thought and spirit. A person who has appreciated physical grace may have a finer sense of how to move with graciousness through the tribulations of life. A person who has appreciated the Pietà has a greater capacity for empathy, a more refined sense of the different forms of sadness and a wider awareness of the repertoire of emotions.”

– David Brooks

Read on…

Arts, People

The Moment She Knew

In so many of us creativity wanes, then waxes, and wanes again, but the moment an artist perceives what may be imperceptible to others is forever present. For Patti Smith is was a ‘transcendent childhood experience.’ – Brain Pickings.

Arts, People

Congratulations Phillip!

UnderMain sends heartfelt congratulations to Phillip March Jones on his appointment as the new Director of the Andrew Edlin Gallery.

Edlin and Jones have a long working history with ties to Lexington, Kentucky where Jones opened the Jones Shop in 2006. “The Jones Shop, a curated exhibition space and retail store, existed only briefly on Maxwell Street in Lexington but culminated in an exhibition at Andrew Edlin’s Chelsea gallery in 2007. I’ve worked with Andrew in different capacities since that time: as an artist, curator, consultant, and now director of his new space which opened this past week at 212 Bowery. It’s a long way from Maxwell Street but feels like a very natural place to be working on new ideas and engaging a wider audience.”

In all things, Jones remains dedicated to the notion that important work in the field of contemporary art happens in many places be it New York City or Lexington, Kentucky – where he remains Editor-in-Cheif of Institute 193.  As Phillip March Jones continues to build connections in art markets hither and yon, UnderMain and Lexington wish him well.

The Andrew Edlin Gallery is located on 212 Bowery between Prince Street and Spring Street.

Institute 193 is located at 193 North Limestone Street in Lexington, Kentucky.

Photo Credit: Louis Zoellar Bickett

Arts, Literary Arts, People


Charles L. Roe is a prolific Appalachian writer, having penned nine novels and one short story collection set in eastern Kentucky. He was born in 1934 in Harrison County, Kentucky. He worked as a cryptanalyst for the FBI from 1953 to 1957 where he broke diplomatic codes. He worked at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory from 1957 to 2000 as a project manager for U.S. Navy and NATO programs where he worked on combat issues. Mr. Roe lived in Washington D.C. from 1953 to 2000 before he retired and returned to Kentucky. Mr. Roe and I are friends, belonging to the same writers’ group, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to ask him about his writing career.

“Charlie Roe practices a subtle magic in his work, writing with a direct style that creates a natural sense of immediacy. The reader feels present in his stories, firmly located amid unfolding characters and events, which generates a sympathy that reflects the deep current of compassion found in all his writing.” – Jennifer Barricklow, Lexington editor and poet.

UM: Given your extensive writing about Appalachia, what was your initial inspiration for writing novels based in eastern Kentucky? You are from central Kentucky. Do you have any family there?

CR: Being away from Kentucky (Washington DC) I was a little homesick and read the stories of Jesse Stuart and John Fox Jr. who set their stories in eastern Kentucky. The eastern Kentucky feuds, mountain schoolteachers, Frontier Nursing Service, mountain moonshining, etc. caught my fancy. And those people didn’t seem much removed from the people I grew up around. I consider myself to be primarily a writer of Appalachian fiction.

UM: What Kentucky writers, if any, have been an influence on you? What specific books by these writers have influenced you the most?

CR: John Fox Jr. “The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”, “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come”, and “Heart of the Hills”; Elizabeth Maddox Roberts “The Time of Man” and “The Great Meadow”; Robert Penn Warren “All the King’s Men” and “World Enough and Time”; and Jesse Stuart “Taps for Private Tussie”, “Men of the Mountains”, and “Daughter of the Legend.”

UM: Have you traveled extensively to eastern Kentucky to do research for your work? When and where have you traveled?

CR: I have been up into eastern Kentucky many times. But prior to publication, when I was still working on “A Season for Healing” in 2009, I paid a couple of visits to the Frontier Nursing Headquarters in Hyden and visited some of the nursing outposts.

UM: Are there any current Kentucky authors whose work you read and admire?

CR: Silas House and Barbara Kingsolver who is from my home county of Nicholas. I also admire Sharyn McCrumb, an Appalachian mystery writer who lives over in Virginia.

UM: You recently chose to break away from using Appalachia as a setting. Will this be a permanent break from Appalachian writing for you?

CR: No, I have those books off my chest and will return to Appalachian fiction.

UM: I’d like to find out about your working methods as a writer. Since you’re a novelist, do you like to work from an outline, or do you have a good idea where a story is headed when you begin writing and let it develop?

CR: I think you have to have a good detailed outline before you start with a good idea of where the story will take you. I usually take seven or eight months researching the idea and putting together an outline. With everything in hand I can usually sit down and write it in three or four months.

UM: Some prominent Kentucky writers like Bobbie Ann Mason and Silas House have come out against mountain top removal. Another perennial issue is the state of education in eastern Kentucky. Do you have an opinion you would like to share about these subjects? Are there any other topics concerning eastern Kentucky you would like to comment on?

CR: Anyone who has flown over the eastern Kentucky mountains and seen the destruction of those imposing peaks must be outraged at mountaintop removal. And much of the wealth never goes into the pockets of Kentuckians. As far as educating the children, I wish we could convince them to forego drugs and tobacco.

UM: What education would you recommend for the aspiring writer? Do you have any advice for someone who has chosen writing as a career?

CR: I don’t think you can educate a writer. It has to be something burning inside you. I had a 47 year career with the FBI and Johns Hopkins U. Applied Physics Laboratory, but I never gave up the urge to write. I was surprised that with my best writing years behind me when I retired that I could still create. And my writing has improved even into my seventies and eighties.

UM: The publishing world has changed dramatically in your lifetime with the popularity of self-publishing and the advent of e-books. What is your opinion on this?

CR: When I was younger I despaired of ever getting published. Now with self-publishing it is easy to do. It is getting a bad name as more and more people who have a few hundred dollars to indulge themselves are putting some bad books up for sale. But be selective. There are a lot of good things getting into print that wouldn’t have during the days before computer- aided publishing.

UM: Are you currently writing another book? What future projects do you have in mind?

CR: I am preparing a second memoir covering my early years in Washington D.C. I will entitle it, “A Town on the Potomac.” After that I plan to collect all my short stories (about 60 in all) under the title, “The Place Your Heart Calls Home.”

 Most of these stories were written when the world was a happier place. When I could pause from a day at work in another town and remember the folks at home and in the mountains and reflect back on tales I had heard or that maybe I had misheard and embroidered a bit. The lives of these eastern Kentucky people seemed important and vital even if it was mostly to keep me running level and to remind me that the world where I was (mostly Washington, D.C.) was not where the real people lived.

I have always felt that a man will fall back on his blood and background. Of the stories in this volume I wrote most of them when I was far from the locale of their happening. Maybe I was homesick and wanted to cheer myself up, and in the telling I was finding a bit of home.

The people of eastern Kentucky and my own home counties of Nicholas and Bourbon and Fayette are very wonderful. They may drink a bit too much and smoke too much and I regret these tendencies, not because they offend me in any way, but because they are detrimental to the health of many that I love and cherish. Life in the hills is hard and many of the children of these “hillbillies” are leaving. The day of the rugged and sturdy mountaineer is rapidly passing – maybe is gone already. But I hope to have captured some of their best virtues (courage, patience, truthfulness, steadfastness, and humor) in these stories.

“No one likes to write, but everyone loves to have written,” I read somewhere. Putting these stories down on paper never seemed like an onerous chore to me. For a few hours I stole away from my sterile office and fished with my brother beside a Quiet Shaded Lake, watched Hemp Wagoner run off a batch of moonshine Under the Juniper Tree, and celebrated Old Christmas on a snowy night in the mountains. Enjoy.

            –  an excerpt from the Charles Roe’s short story collection.

The following are books by Charles L. Roe in the order they were published.

Moonbeams and Mistflowers (2005), Cumberland (2006), My Native Home (short stories (2006), Thistles (2007), Barren River (2008), Adrift (memoir – 2009), A Fort on the Chenoa (2010), Greenup Time (2010), A Season for Healing (2011), Big Sandy River (2012), Bourbon County (2013), Death on the Zurich Express (locked room mystery – 2014), A Little Gray Spy (spy novel – 2015) All of Charles Roe’s books are available on Several are also available locally at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

Arts, Literary Arts, People, Photography, Social

Sing the Queen City, The Cincinnati Tattoo Project

Video provided by Artworks Cincinnati.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arts, Entertainment, Theatre

Athens West: ‘Mockingbird’ Flying High

Photo: Emily Reed as Scout

Thursday, November 20th, sees the opening night of To Kill a Mockingbird,the second play in the AthensWest inaugural season. After the first play of the season, Doubt,met with critical and commercial success, the new theatre group is pressing forward, changing the face of Lexington Theatre. Joining me to talk about Mockingbird,AthensWest, and the new vision of theatre in this region, are Jeff Day and Mark Mozingo, co-founders of Lexingtons newest theatre group.

UM:   Jeff, thanks for taking time to talk about the show and Athens. What was the process that brought about Mockingbird as the second show in the season?

JD:    Well, it’s pertinent to now. What’s going on today is what was happening when Harper Lee wrote the book in 1960.

UM:   Such a well-known book and it translates well as a play. Did the release of the new Lee novel have any bearing on the board’s decision.

JD:    Of course. We knew Lee was very much in the public eye with her new book, and we knew this would be an incredible play to put up.

Harper Lees novel, Go Set a Watchman,was published this year and contains many of the same characters from her classic story. The film of To Kill a Mockingbirdappeared a few years after its publication and starred Gregory Peck and Robert Duvall. It stands as one on the all-time classics of American cinema. Lee said of Horton Footes screenplay: its one of the best translations of a book to film ever made.

 UM:   AthensWest is housed at the Downtown Arts Center, correct?

JD:    Yes. The Center was taken over by Parks and Recreation and we have a wonderful working relationship with them. We’re all highly affiliated with LexArts as well. The coming together of many arts groups, we feel, is what Lexington has been needing for many years.

UM:   How did AthensWest come about?

JD:    We started initially because we had the dream of creating an Equity theatre in Lexington. For so long a time there has been no Equity theatre and we were wanting to up the standard, not from the standpoint of having only Equity actors, but having the guidelines that professional theaters outside of Lexington must have.

UM:   For those who may not know, Actors’ Equity is a professional organization that actors can belong to. Most Equity actors are encouraged to take roles only in productions sanctioned by Equity.

JD:    Right. It also ensures that actors get a decent wage for their time and effort and so on. This has been a big struggle for actors in this region for years, where weeks and months would be spent on a show, many times needing to take time off from day jobs or being away from family with no compensation other than your name in a playbook. In Spring of 2014, I put a big proposal together, I met with the mayor, and I’d already been in conversation with Bo List. Bo and I started meeting on a regular basis. I was in a production of Twelfth Night and one evening, after a performance, Bo came to me and said, “let’s do Doubt,” which became Athens first play. We held open auditions. Bo and I were doing everything at first, then we enlisted Mark and Kate Goodwin.

UM:   And by Mark, you mean Mark Mozingo, who we happen to have here with us. Mark, thanks for joining us.

MM:   Glad to be here.

UM:   What is your role at AthensWest, Mark. No pun intended. (no laughs)

MM:   I’m officially the Director of Outreach.

UM:   Unlike Jeff, you’re from this area, correct?

MM:   Yes. I’m a Winchester boy. I moved back here from New York City, where I had been acting professionally since 2006.

UM:   What caused you to move home?

MM:   My father had taken ill and I moved back to support.

UM:   Sorry to hear that. Mockingbird is an interesting play to take on; the racial issues alone are palpable.

MM:   It’s challenging hearing the “n” word every night. It’s shocking to hear white actors using the word in it’s original hateful context, and I think it’s important for audiences to experience that too.  It’s jarring.  It’s upsetting.  Not just challenging; it’s an ugly part of our national history.

UM:   Surely. Do you feel times have changed?

MM:   Perhaps. It’s 2015, this was set in 1935. We like to think things have changed so much; maybe they have and maybe they haven’t. We did “Scout’s Honor: To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Public Library on November 9th. One of the key issues discussed was: where does the law come in on things like racism?

UM:   Were there any good answers?

MM:   Varied. What is certain is the viewpoint of Atticus in the play.

UM:   Atticus Finch, you mean. The lawyer.

MM:   Yes. He believes that everyone is indeed equal in the eyes of the law. It’s such a subjective thing, though. Is it that we’re all equal by right of birth, by being born American? What constitutes equality? Atticus took on the case because he believed in the equality of the law. It’s also shocking and powerful to hear the dialogue of 1935, not just racial slurring.

UM:   Tom Robinson, the slighted black man in Mockingbird, is played by Patrick Mitchell.

MM:   Yes, and he’s wonderful. Patrick is one of the founding members of The Message Theatre here in Lexington, along with former Poet Laureate, Frank X. Walker. Tom Robinson is a challenging, racially-charged part to play. At one point in the play, Atticus is asked: “do all lawyers defend negroes?” It’s hard to know if Atticus is really that color-blind or if he truly was invested in the belief that all are equal under the law.

UM:   One would like to think in this day and age, unlike in the 1930s, racism would be thought of as a learned behavior.

MM:   Maybe by some, not by all.

UM:   I suppose we can point to many recent events to see that racial intolerance is alive and well.

MM:   It’s interesting that there was such a mood of equality in the 1960s, right after the book was written. I haven’t read the new novel by Lee, but apparently Finch isn’t as equality-minded as he was in Mockingbird.

When To Kill a Mockingbirdfirst appeared in 1960, it was a huge hit. It then won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1961. Gregory Peck won the Oscar for Best Actor for playing Atticus Finch in 1962 and Lee was appointed to the National Arts Council in 1966 by then-President Lyndon Johnson. 

UM:   So, the question arises, was Finch always this way, or was the character developed from trending times. Did Lee become more intolerant and it bled through to her characters?

MM:   Hard to say.

UM:   I did read where the manuscript to Go Set a Watchman, which was published earlier this year, was the original incarnation of Mockingbird. Mark, How did you come to be involved with AthensWest?

MM:   Bo and I reconnected and we met with Jeff, Margo Buchanan and Leslie Beatty. We talked about what professional theatre meant to us and what it could mean to central KY.

UM:   Jeff, I worked with you over at Asbury, you’ve been there now, what, 12 years?

JD:    Yes.

UM:   And you came to Kentucky by way of LA and Utah, right?

JD:    I spent time in LA and I did an MFA at the University of Utah.


Kevin Crowley is Atticus Finch and Emily Reed as Scout.

UM:   And you’ve been tasked with directing Mockingbird.

JD:    Yes, and it’s been wonderful. For transparency’s sake, I must say, however, that I did step down from the board; there are just too many irons in the fire between my role at Asbury, maintaining a professional career, and other projects. I will remain at Athens from a creative standpoint, which is perfect for me, as I’ve always been an idea guy. I like to get stuff started.

UM:   I know getting an equity theatre going has been a dream and goal of yours for some time, Jeff. What process did you have to go through to make it happen.

JD:    It’s odd, because so many people act like it’s a huge thing; really, it was just a matter of filling out the proper paperwork. We have become a full Equity company, officially carrying the SPT3 (Small Professional Theatre) status. To meet the parameters of this, we have to hire at least two equity actors per show. Many actors in the community would like to eventually become Equity but haven’t had the opportunity in Lexington, because shows are non-equity and therefore are not given credit and weight in the eyes of equity. It is with enough of these credits that Actors Equity finally grants an actor their Equity Card. For those who are not full equity, we have negotiated the Equity Candidacy Program, which allows non-equity members to receive credit, thereby moving them closer to obtaining their card.

UM:   That sounds like a great program. I know a lot of actors in the community who have struggled with this issue for years. Mark, how else do you think this might change theatre in Lexington?

MM:   There’s not a lot of room for favoritism or precasting roles, which has been a sore spot in Lexington for a long time. We’re trying to do it the right way. When we say we want to engage this community and Central KY with quality theatre, we mean it.

JD:    When we cast this show, there were open auditions and we didn’t have anyone in mind. It was a blank slate. We have a lot of people in this cast who would like to have a career in acting and they can join equity eventually, if they want to, given these experiences.

MM:   Working in New York as I did for years, there’s simply no room in a community like that for playing favorites and boosting egos; what’s important is who is the best candidate for the job. Shoo-ins and preconceptions are out.

UM:   Do you feel this has been an issue in the past?

MM:   Not with all theatre in Lexington, but yes.

UM:   Aside from the credits actors will receive and the base pay, which I’m sure they love, how do you think this will affect the quality of shows?

MM:   There’s a difference between going to see a union show with professional actors vs. non-professionals. There’s a level of training there that may not be present in non-equity. Is it true that there are great actors who don’t have their cards and crappy ones who do? Yes. Is it more likely you’ll have a performance standard that will make you happy you invested your time, money, and effort to come out in the evening with an Equity-backed show? Definitely.

UM:   So, it’s like having your uncle over to fix your sink. He knows a little something about plumbing, and he does a great job, though he may not be bonded and licensed as a plumber. Then, there are numerous stories of licensed plumbers whose work isn’t the best quality; you call them two days later to do the same repair.

MM:   Yes. The time is right for Lexington Theatre to move up. A lot of times, when you’re in a union, you can’t get work if you are in a denser area like New York City or LA. Here, there are many roles with open auditions; the opportunities are vast. This is especially true since there are so many Equity theaters in Kentucky: Actors Theatre of Louisville, Jenny Wiley has a huge operation going. When you’re in a community where there’s not a huge scene for theatre, but there are some roles to be had, it is a point of pride to get your card and be in a process where the bar is intentionally set a bit higher. As a union actor, it was a big deal for me to negotiate along with the others at Athens West, this contract that is helping to open the door for Lexington and give more value and credence to our artistic community.

UM:   Is Athens going to expand its season?

JD:    Next year we want to shoot for four shows, but it may stay at three; we’ll have to wait and see.

MM:   We’re happy we’ve been able to do this three-show season.

UM:   What’s next?

JD:    We have Bo List directing 33 Variations for February, which has already been cast.

MM:   And then Margo Buchanan will direct Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge, which is a Bluegrass musical. Michael Hume will be the musical director for it.

UM:   Do you usually announce your auditions?

MM:   Yes. People can check our Facebook page.

JD:    We also have an email set up for audition inquiries as well:

UM:   Terrific. And a website?


All Photos by Patrick J Mitchell


Deconstructing the Art Market

More record-setting auctions at Christie’s. A Modigliani nude goes for over $170 million. The art market has become spectator sport for most of us. Prices for contemporary art are stratospheric. Speculation and flipping work drive the high end art market. Local artist, UK SAVS faculty member, and entrepreneur, Dima Strakovsky, sees a cash-bloated art market increasingly limiting artistic possibilities in this provocative piece on

Arts, Broadway, Entertainment

Producers Lead has Kentucky Return in Mind

This weekend sees five performances of The Producers at the Lexington Opera House. The musical, which first appeared on Broadway in 2001, has become a smash-hit adaptation of Mel Brooks’ 1968 debut film of the same title. Playing Leo Bloom, the lovable neurotic originated by Gene Wilder, is Richard Lafleur. Here’s my conversation with Richard about the show, himself, and theatre in general.

Richard Lafleur as Leo Bloom and Jessica Ernest as Ulla in THE PRODUCERS

Richard Lafleur as Leo Bloom and Jessica Ernest as Ulla in THE PRODUCERS

UM: How long have you been on the road and how long is this tour?

RL: Almost a month. We end in mid-March, after 50 cities.

UM: Have the reviews and audiences been as expected?

RL: Well, we’ve been mostly in the northeast for the first part of the tour, and they all have loved the performances, so we’re excited to see what Lexington will think.

UM: Even with that kind of challenging schedule you must be riding high to have landed such a great role.

RL: It’s hard for me to believe. I didn’t initially see myself as Leo; the part had to grow on me quite a bit. They must have seen something in me during the audition process.

UM: So, you went through the process from beginning to end, it wasn’t a shoo-in?

RL: No. I went through the whole deal. I graduated this past December and saw they were casting Producers. I had been doing musicals on cruise ships and some of the material was getting a bit stale for me, so I went for it.

UM: You are from Montreal, right?

RL: Yes. Canadian. Not so much theatre in Montreal. I did a few plays in high school. I wound up getting into AMDA for musical theatre. 

UM: The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York.

RL: Right. After that it was off to the cruise ships and while we were docked in Southampton, I wound up auditioning at the Bristol Old Vic.

The Old Vic is one of the best-loved and most-revered theaters in the world, boasting colossal talents like Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Peter O’Toole.

UM: I’ll bet that was quite an experience.

RL: Incredible. The work ethic alone is outstanding. There is zero margin for error and excellence is expected daily. It was a 2-year course.

UM: I would imagine the classics were worked thoroughly.

RL: Oh, yes. I did a lot of Shakespeare there and it was wonderful. There are many terrific and well-known actors who are still very invested in the place, it being their alma mater. Daniel Day-Lewis, Patrick Stewart; the list is long.

UM: Any fun shows you particularly liked?

RL: Comedy of Errors and Northanger Abbey are up there.

UM: Comedy or drama? Preference?

RL: I feel more at home with comedy than straight drama.

UM: ‘A very serious business,’ like George Burns always said.

RL: Yes. Playing comedy for laughs doesn’t work.

UM: The impeccable timing needed for comedy goes hand-in-hand with musical ability. Do you feel working the classics really enhanced your musical theatre chops?

RL: Absolutely. If you notice, many of the men and women getting choice roles for television and film today are Brits, most of whom are people deeply grounded in the classics. They not only have a solid foundation in their craft, but they have spent a great deal of time with the pieces that have stood the test of time.

UM: Examples?

RL: Benedict Cumberbatch. We already mentioned Patrick Stewart.

UM: Are there some Americans, or even Canadians you admire who are similarly rooted in the classic training?

RL: Kevin Spacey. American actor rooted in the classics.

UM: I heartily agree.

RL: When I was studying at the Old Vic, Peter O’Toole passed away. Spacey had become the Artistic Director at the Old Vic some time ago and he came to speak to us after O’Toole’s death and it was amazing being able to talk with him.

UM: He seems to be a real presence and he definitely seems rooted in classical training.

RL: Yes. There’s just something about that training that allows one to be available to many venues.

UM: To have a wider palette?

RL: Exactly.

UM: Producers debuted in 2001 at the St. James Theatre.

RL: Yes. Susan Stroman directed that production. She’s won a Tony Award for it, and she actually came and gave her blessing to our production before we started the tour.

UM: That must’ve been empowering.

RL: It was great.

UM: Who directed this show?

RL: Nigel West, who is terrific . He’s had a massive amount of experience as an assistant director, particularly with Producers, so he is a wonderful source for the material  and knowing what works.

Nigel West started with the Bristol Old Vic in 1983. His credits are many from not only the Old Vic, but many other theatre associations abroad. He was a part of the original, 3-year Producers, tour and is well-known in professional theatre circles.

UM: Was there a tendency or desire on West’s part to rehash the original production? Matthew Broderick had originated the musical Leo Bloom under Stroman. Was there a sense of ‘let’s just replicate that’?

RL: Well, Nigel asked us to be true to the original Broadway production, but to bring a lot of our own stock to the show.

UM: Do you think you fall more on the Wilder side of Leo, or the Broderick?

RL: I’d say in-between. Maybe leaning just a bit more to Wilder.

UM: How so?

RL: Well, I had done quite a bit of research stemming from Wilder. I read Gene Wilder’s bio and he mentioned that Leo Bloom had been based on a character Mel Brooks knew. This, to me, smacked of a realism that helped the character come across as truthful to audiences.

UM: Do you feel this has given the character its longevity as well?

RL: Probably. There was a lot more material in the original script. I mean the Brooks screenplay. Satirizing something as serious as Hitler is a timeless thing anyway, but it feels like Brooks was really saying it’s important to be able to laugh at evil.

UM: Perhaps laughing about it disarms it somehow? Disempowers it?

RL: I think so. The musical script didn’t go into the same kind of depth, but it had its own feel. It really lives in the land of the surreal. Everything’s over-the-top.

UM: With a lot of truth underlying.

RL: Yes. Wilder himself said he felt it was the truth of the script, of the story, that gave it such power. It’s really a love story.

UM: Love story?

RL: Yes. Between Max and Leo.

Richard Lafleur as Bloom and David Johnson as Bialystock in THE PRODUCERS

Richard Lafleur as Bloom and David Johnson as Bialystock in THE PRODUCERS

UM: Max Bialystock, the role originated by Zero Mostel in the film.

RL: And Nathan Lane in the musical, yes.

UM: I could see that: that the two loved each other.

RL: Yes. It really comes across in the original film, and even if you watch the film version of the musical with Lane and Broderick.

UM: Despite all of their shenanigans, they seem to need each other.

RL: Yes. Leo is the everyman, the lens through which you see everything else happening. Leo goes from 0-60 in two minutes, so it’s difficult to get that pacing down. When he gets the blue blanket taken away, he goes crazy.

UM: And somehow Max is his comfort or something he can turn to?

RL: Yes.

UM: Do you feel you developed this relationship with your co-star?

RL: Definitely. David Johnson plays Max. He’s done three national tours before and a lot of regional theatre. It’s great playing opposite him. From day one when we started rehearsing it, it went well.

UM: It would seem trust is huge with two roles that are interlocked like these two.

RL: It would be impossible to do without that sense of trust and creative play.

UM: What about the rest of the cast?

RL: They are the most fantastically gifted group I’ve ever worked with. It was cast so well; they are their roles. Even when technically something goes awry, the practice pulls us through because everyone is so gifted and because we all know each other. It’s great we get along because, as you know, we spend a lot of time together.

UM: Are there other roles you’d like to land?

RL: I’d love to play Finch in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and Hamlet. If they ever do the Frankie Valli story…

UM: Do you have any idea of what you’ll do after the run?

RL: Ironically, my brother lives in Louisville and he suggested that I come and audition for the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival and I think I might just do that.

UM: Awesome. Kentucky would love to see more of you.

RL: I hope so.

UM: Thanks again for the interview Richard and break a leg Friday.

RL: Thanks, Charles, and we will.

The Lexington Opera House run of The Producers, will feature the following five showings.



SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15; 1:00PM & 6:30PM

Please call (859)233-4567 to reserve tickets or to order online:



Arts, Review

A Cleaving at the Loudoun House


Garrett Hansen’s “Void”

As Lexington puts its best foot forward for the Breeder’s Cup, the Lexington Art League is doing its part with Here and Now: Selections from the Artist Archive. The exhibition, part of the Breeder’s Cup Festival, is on view at the Loudoun House until November 8. It is intended to promote the Art League’s Artist Archive Project, an online database of nearly 200 artists working in Central Kentucky.

The breadth and quality of the exhibition is a testament to the current strength of Lexington’s contemporary art scene. The pieces range from the traditional and familiar, such as Bill Fletcher and Dan McGrath’s bucolic Kentucky landscape paintings, to the abstract and politically topical—two inkjet prints from Garrett Hansen’s “Void” series are blown-up visuals of bullet holes, questioning the role and effect of America’s gun culture on society.

Though Erin Eldred’s fiber piece, intricate and colorful, is one of the smallest on display, the fact that this young artist is being shown next to such well-established colleagues, and that her first solo show is simultaneously on display at Institute 193, is a nod to her enormous potential.


Erin Eldred's 'Polychromatic Tessellation'

One of the most impressive works, and certainly the most imposing, is Daniel Graham’s “The Cleaving of Two Brothers in a Foreign Land (Boats).” The work, inspired by a story in Genesis, is made up of two canoes levitating over the floor of the main gallery, with tin pails full of water hovering above the canoes, all suspended from the ceiling by a sturdy rope and pulley system. The sophistication of the piece, both in construction and inspiration, will challenge and excite viewers, and have them wanting for more—this is the second piece in a series, with another coming in early 2016.


Daniel Graham’s “The Cleaving of Two Brothers in a Foreign Land (Boats)”

Here and Now provides something for everyone to get excited about in the Lexington art scene. For Breeder’s Cup visitors, and locals who have not been involved with the Art League previously, they’ll be delighted to find such a strong stable of artists working and living in Central Kentucky. Seasoned veterans and frequent visitors to the Loudoun House will be rewarded, knowing that their patronage has helped build a thriving contemporary art environment in Lexington.

Arts, Review

To What Do We Belong?

Morlan Gallery, Transylvania University

HOME AND FIELD: Digital Explorations of Community

September 11 – October 16, 2015

Work by Michelle Jaffé and Stevie Morrison

Titled “Home and Field: Digital Explorations of Community,” the current exhibition at Transylvania’s Morlan Gallery, situates the work of two artists in the most mesmerizing way. Hollow and occasionally firm sounds from the show’s two clearly separate multi-media installations chase over and around a partition wall and successfully generate meditations on belonging and place.

The subtle movement in the work by budding artist and recent Transylvania University graduate Stevie Morrison challenge our relationship to familiar surroundings. A small house constructed of images from Google Maps taken at the 900th block in various neighborhoods around Lexington, Kentucky invites us to reexamine our relationship to place.

Morrison keenly sets up three vantage points – her two-by-two inch paper house hangs by a thin wire, it is also a large, off-kilter wall-projection, and a third image of the same house is present on the flickering screen of the recording projector. How do we know the place to which we belong? Can we be certain about any of it given subtle alterations in our vantage point? For sure these two audio-visual immersions allow us to contemplate a multitude of interweaving.

The occasional sound echoing from the static metal helmets in Michelle Jaffe’s “Wappen Field” move in the same way – in and out of our complete understanding of them. We catch this and that voice or phrase and try to hold onto it only to find something else around the corner. It is at the same time disparate and communal. Dissonant and familiar.

Brilliant in it’s pairing of these two artists – one nascent, the other established on the international stage – the curator of “Home and Field: Digital Explorations of Community” builds a small community of her own – one that deserves enough time to really experience.

NOTE: The Morlan Gallery will hold evening hours October 8 and 9. For more information, please visit their website.

Arts, Music

LexPhil Explores American Soundscapes

Following strong success in September with Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, the Lexington Philharmonic is at it again. The next adventure is slated for 7:30pm, October 23rd at the Singletary Center for the Arts: American Soundscapes, an evening of (you guessed it!) American composers. LexPhil will open with the more familiar: Aaron Copland’s Our Town, taken from Thornton Wilder’s play of the same title, and George Gershwin’s Catfish Row Symphonic Suite from Porgy and Bess. But then, the program looks to present and future with a performance of Travels in Time for Three, a newer work by American composer and musician Chris Brubeck.

Maestro Scott Terrell spoke to us recently about the upcoming concert, the musicians involved, and his bold vision for our symphony.


CS: Time for Three: Zach DePue on violin, Nick Kendall on violin and Ranaan Meyer on double bass.

ST: Yes. Plus they’ll have a drummer with them that night.

CS: How did this develop?

ST: Four years ago we introduced them here which is a huge undertaking, as they have become their own genre. The audience was blown away by their virtuosity when they were here before.

CS: And this was an opportunity to have them back.

ST: Yes. They are an ensemble that has opened a lot of people’s eyes and brought audiences a different sound. They relax the concert experience as well. When we had them here a few years ago, they did a series of pieces written for them and by them. Since then composers have taken on writing pieces for them, such as Chris Brubeck and  Jennifer Higdon.


Chris Brubeck

CS: Brubeck is the composer of Travels in Time for Three, correct? Nice play on the group name.

ST: He was a good choice for someone to write a piece with such an unusual group. Chris composes concert music and is a great trombone player and jazz player. He has pedigree with his father.

CS: Dave Brubeck.

ST: Right. Chris had a one-of-a-kind musical education growing up and he has come into his own as a composer. Chris is deeply trained in Jazz, but this concerto is so broad in its variety of styles. This is his first big piece on our programming. When we had Time for Three here last time, they said Chris had written this piece for them, it was really dynamic and they would like to present this here.

CS: Tell me more about the piece itself.

ST: At times the piece is very baroque, while at other times you might hear a Jimi Hendrix-style sound. Travels debuted in 2010, and calls for the three guys, plus a drummer.

CS: This seems quite a bit different than the other two pieces: Our Town and Porgy and Bess.

ST: Gershwin was able to absorb the environment and create an opera that is definitely American, but is distinctly Gershwin in character. The honkytonk piano, the hurricane music with the ship bells, etc. All three composers had to adapt to their environment to create something new and fresh. There is also the sense of pushing boundaries away from the already-established.

CS: So, each of the pieces adapts to its times and perhaps pushes then-established boundaries, is that correct?

ST: Definitely. We forget that Copland was a big part of films and TV. Our Town was nominated for an Academy Award. It’s lesser- known Copland, but definitely his sound and color. It’s a lovely piece that doesn’t get performed very much; he adapted to his environment in the same way Gershwin did with Porgy and Bess. One would think Gershwin would not take on this subject-matter, being a composer from New York with so much ability and the experiences of the North. But, once again, we have that stepping-out-of-the-norm mentality, which is a trait that makes all three great.

CS: The pieces complement thematically as well as being new and older Americana.

ST: In all three of the pieces, you get a real sense of honesty. The intention of all three is very clear. They go together very well.

CS: And strongly American.

ST: American music is still Gershwin and Copland and in a newer, still-forming way, Chris. There’s a definite character in the sound world they create. They’re different, but American in their approach. Of course, Copland’s life and his output were tremendous: ballet, film scores, theatre, the versatility is unbelievable. He was also a product of his environment with his pieces for movies, which is where many composers found work and patronage. All three draw the best out of the orchestra. Genres gradually blur in these pieces. Today, Gershwin and Copland sound usual, because everyone has heard them and they have been labeled “The American Sound,” but they were daring in their day, just as Chris’s music is daring and expanding presently.

Below: Technical Sergeant Matthew C. Erickson performs Brubeck’s Concerto for Bass Trombone and Orchestra with the NEC Symphonic Winds conducted by William Drury. Recorded live in NEC’s Jordan Hall on March 6, 2014.

Brubeck is coming to Lexington later this season on New Year’s Eve to perform with his quartet. He’s written a lot of wonderful pieces, including one composed with his father concerning the photographer Ansel Adams.

CS: Travels in Time for Three. A new and different piece, I trust?

ST: The piece is 35-minutes, so it’s decent-sized. It traverses all of these musical styles that are emblematic of the American musical scene. Time for Three started out as students doing their own thing and have spiraled into composers seeking them out and writing for them..

CS: What is so appealing to you about this group?

ST: They’re a very versatile group that is capable of taking the audience through the many genres and the music Chris has created. It’s extremely virtuosic and interesting. You’d be surprised if you saw the three of them in a nightclub without a drum set. They’re all highly-trained musicians, world-class players in their own right. and they defy expectations and they’re committed to the music they perform. This community heard them a few years ago, but I wanted to bring them back for a more substantial collaboration. I like what they stand for. They can jam with anybody. They are comfortable representations of what’s happening in music now.

Here’s a clip of Time for Three at the Heartland Music Festival:

(Note: After 15 years with the trio, Zach DePue, has decided to depart Time for Three in order to to dedicate 100 percent of himself to his role concertmaster of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Zach’s successor is acclaimed solo violinist Nikki Chooi. According to the Time for Three website, “Nikki is appearing on selected dates with Time for Three during the 2015-16 season, fulfilling his schedule of international concert dates while starting to play as a full time member of the band. In coordination with his duties at the Indianapolis Symphony, Zach will intersperse appearances with TF3 throughout and until the end of the same season, helping Ranaan and Nick make the seamless transition. Nikki will take over fully beginning with the 2016-2017 season.” LexPhil confirms that Zach will be performing with the group in Lexington.)

CS: Can you tell us about other concerts that Time for Three will be performing while in Lexington?

ST: Right. It’s not just the average “drop-in and do the show” visit. They have the ability to connect with people in a very formal way, but also in a very grass-roots way. They are doing four pop-up concerts. One is the National Anthem at Keeneland on October 22. Another will be in the lobby atrium at UK Healthcare’s Chandler Hospital, and then another at Ethereal Brewing. They’re also performing our educational Discovery concert, currently sold-out with over 1400 students at Singletary. These students will experience how interactive and exciting Time for Three is to watch in action. And on Friday, October 23, the day of our concert, UK School of Music will host a Music Entrepreneurship Assembly with Time for Three. So, the Friday night concert is the culmination of many activities and partnerships that take place throughout the week.

CS: LexPhil partnered with UK HealthCare and the Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation for this concert.

ST: Yes, we’ve combined forces on a number of projects. It is really amazing, the connection between music and healing, and UK Healthcare recognizes the power of music and has worked with us for several years to bring live music into the healthcare environment. One of Time for Three’s appearances will be at Eastern State Hospital. The Saykaly Garbulinska Foundation is a supporter for this partnership as well as our bi-annual Composer-in-Residence program which will take place in April. We’re fortunate to have partners who have a deep appreciation for the arts in this community.

CS: It seems to be growing, getting stronger.

ST: We’re fortunate.

CS: Absolutely. Thanks again for your time and efforts, Scott.

ST: My pleasure.

American Soundscapes is October 23, 2015 at 7:30pm at the Singletary Center for the Arts. For the schedule of events and ticket info, please visit, phone (859) 233-4226 or email


A Legendary Love

What is that thing?  The thing that people have when people say they have “that thing?”

Who knows? Charisma maybe? Self-confidence? Perhaps.  An amalgamation of  more illusive things?

Whatever it is, Reva and Andrew English have it.  In spades.  They are both local musicians. Andrew is the front man for Englishman, and Reva is a singer, songwriter and mean string picker in a few different groups.

Englishman takes you to a place that reveals a glimpse of yourself in an unexpected and honest way … the way really beautiful music does.  And then, just before you get scared of what you’ll find, a melody … a guitar riff, a surprise; something gets your toe a tapping again … pulling you back and reminding you that it’s all ok.  His music pushes you, through detailed and brilliant images to ask the big questions.  It invites you to confront the more uncomfortable parts of humanity.  To stand in front of the mirror – naked.

We accept the invitation because of the way it is presented; honestly, with character and dripping in grace.  Andrew’s music is a perfect reflection of who he is as a man.  It’s no wonder that long before they met, mutual friends were trying to push him and Reva together.

That would’ve never worked though.  Reva can’t be pushed to do anything.  Not anymore at least.  Nope, it was going to have to be a natural process, something that would unfold as naturally as a flower in spring, and equally remarkable.

Even on stage, perhaps especially on stage, Reva’s organic sound is intoxicating.  There is absolutely nothing forced about this woman.  Once her faucet was turned on and she felt free to be herself, the talent just poured out.  And it keeps pouring.  Reva has her hands in several musical endeavors in this town and is associated by proxy to more.

Lately, she’s focused primarily on two of those projects.  Whether Reva is picking and singing in Small Batch or Italian Beaches, her perfect blend of moxy and humility is enough to make you crave more.  Her stage presence is both intimidating and comforting and her musical choices reflect that.  I have felt giddy at the possibilities of this life and moved to tears by its injustice many times during her songs.

She is, above all else, a professional.  The passion for her craft is reflected in the intricacies of each nuanced lyric and chord.  When you listen to Reva’s music, it is remarkably well executed and thought-out while maintaining an easy and effortless sound.  I imagine her muse to be a reflection of a hybrid between the Buddha and Patti Smith – simply complicated.  During a song, it is not uncommon to watch her wail into the rafters in one verse, only to sooth the crowd over with a gentle melody in the next.  Her talent is abundant and her endless projects are proof that her light can never be snuffed out again.

And certainly, not on Andrew’s watch.

The two of them have recently embarked on a joint project – parenthood.  Their son, Friend (a family name), is the perfect mixture of them both.

He’s not the tickle-tickle kind of baby.  He’s serious about this life already.  At the ripe old age of seven months, Friend is right at home on the couch with the grown-ups and can often be seen at one of his parent’s shows be-bopping around in his tiny headphones, almost certainly concocting kind and constructive thoughts about it all.  At the family table, you might be tempted to wait for him to ask someone to pass the biscuits and gravy.

That’s how I found them on a Saturday morning when I went for the interview. They, with a close family friend, were sitting around the table in the kitchen of the cozy and bright home they gutted and are renovating together.  After they were done eating, we moved into the living room that is comfortable, eclectic, and littered with musical instruments and toys.

There were a thousand questions I had, but more than anything, I wanted to know about what exists in the space between them.

They described it as safety.  This was one of my favorite interactions:

Reva: “I get scared a lot, I freak out, I think everything is going to come crashing down.”

Andrew: “I’m there to say that it will.”

Reva: “Yeah, it’s like when Andrew says it, I’m like okay, that’s okay.  He puts it in perspective.”

They were both laughing. That’s how they are: realistic and supportive.  Andrew said that the backbone of their relationship is about understanding that the work they both do is important, respecting that and cultivating a safe space for it to flourish.

They also described their connection as easy.  The ease comes from a thread that has been woven in and throughout their lives.

Andrew: “We have a common goal, or mission or whatever.  It’s not about success or money … it’s about being a useful human in a community.”

When I asked them what it was like when they knew this was it, that they were inextricably in love, Andrew shrugged and said: “It’s nice when the character traits you have always had become character traits that are useful for someone else.  It’s just like, wow, okay … that works.  We fit.”

Of course I was curious about the product of this love, little Friend, and how his arrival had impacted their lives.  At one point, Reva’s brown eyes welled up with tears and she recollected being pregnant.

“You know, it was never hard being pregnant … it wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world, but I didn’t need to complain about it.  It just wasn’t hard.  My life used to be either hard or painful.  When it wasn’t painful, it was hard.  It hasn’t been like that since I found Andrew.”

Andrew reached his arm around her and she nestled on his shoulder.  Then they told me about what it was like when they found out they were pregnant.

“Well, I was going to a friend’s house for something and was on my way to pick up some beer,” Reva said, “something in me said, ‘ummm, you don’t need beer,’ so I got a pregnancy test instead. It was positive … wow, I haven’t thought about this since it happened.”

“Me either,” Andrew grinned.

“And I think I had just come in from a run, remember that Andrew? … I was all sweaty and drinking a glass of water when you walked in the door …”

“Yeah … I remember.”

“I put the glass down and said, I’m pregnant. And Andrew was just like ‘okay, so this is happening.’”

“Well yeah,” Andrew jumped in “but I think if you’d gotten me early in the morning or something I wouldn’t have been as cool about it … I’m just not like that in the morning …”

“That’s not true,” Reva said, “you’re fine in the morning.”

“Yeah well, I may have been a little more confused about the whole thing … at that point though, it was just like, ‘well, okay … this is happening.”

And so it happened, their lives led them to each other, their togetherness led to love, the love made a human and that human made them a family.   A brief moment in time, a blink really, a glimpse into all of the beauty that exists in this world on one sofa in downtown Lexington.


As I sat in the 70s style armchair, across from that sofa while Andrew balanced Friend on his head and Reva was snuggled up close, it occurred to me that I was in the presence of greatness.  Even though we don’t get to know if people are legends while they’re living, it’s clear that what these two have together is worthy of the term.

It’s a legendary love.

If you want to catch them both together, they are playing Soulful Space on August 27, at Good Shepherd Church.  Englishman will open for Small Batch starting at 7:00pm.  Click here for tickets.

Arts, Environment, Photography

Sometimes we need only look up

Images from the skies over Central Kentucky on the morning of Monday, August 3, 2015. According to, these are “undulatus asperatus” clouds, Latin for “agitated waves.” Under certain conditions they can precede a thunderstorm just after a storm’s “gust front” has blown through the area.

Photos culled from Facebook posts and our thanks to those who took a moment to capture these surreal images.

By Wyn Morris

By Wyn Morris

By Jo Ann McDonald Rice

By Jo Ann McDonald Rice

By Brian Powers

By Brian Powers

By Johannah McKinney Cheek

By Johannah McKinney Cheek

By Kathy Bickers

By Kathy Bickers

Arts, Entertainment

All About the Alloy

The echoes of Rosalind Krauss’ 1979 article, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” still reverberate in our museums, parks, and galleries. Before the 19th century, sculpture was often bound to a specific location – its ponderous pedestal fused it to the ground, connecting a figurative image with its commemorative site. However, and as Krauss deduces, there came a time when sculpture began to evolve and absorb the cumbersome pedestal. The field ruptured, and from the fissures emerged nomadic abstractions. Modern sculpture became “homeless,” able to showcase its materials or process of construction, instead of merely conveying the meaning of its site[1]. Indeed, Krauss’ article is over three decades old – but I think its continued resonance is indicative of the questions still posed by contemporary sculpture.

Wrought, which shows now through August 8th at the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington, exemplifies (yet, also challenges) many of the underlying themes posited by Krauss. Material and process become subject matter, hence the exhibition’s referential title.

Andy Light, Miasmata (detail), steel. Photo by Angel Clark.

Andy Light, Miasmata (detail), steel. Photo by Angel Clark.

Andy Light, Miasmata (detail), steel. Photo by Angel Clark.

Wrought exhibition at the City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center, Lexington, KY. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Ann Smith.

Wrought exhibition at the City Gallery at the Downtown Arts Center, Lexington, KY. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Ann Smith.

Erika Strecker, Colloquial, Copper, steel, string. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Smith.

Gordon Gildersleeve, The Key to Breaking the Ice, stainless steel, oak, acrylic resin. Photo by the author, Elizabeth Smith.

Wrought brings together eighteen works of metal by four locally based sculptors: Gordon Gildersleeve, Andy Light, Rod Lindauer, and Erika Strecker. Ranging in scale from massive constructions of steel to small hanging forms, each work maintains conceptual autonomy while at the same time contributing to the aesthetic theme of worked steel. Some works are more representational – Gildersleeve’s Goat and Chicken loosely convey their original subjects’ features. Other sculptures channel 1960’s minimalism, like Strecker’s exceptionally crafted Uplift. In sum, Wrought engages with broad and longstanding discourse.

The Downtown Arts Center is a large building, but finding Wrought is no challenge. Andy Light’s Miasmata, which dominates the first-floor entrance, creates a certain distance with its audience. Because of its top-heavy structure, one has to maneuver around its oppressive and cavernous architecture. Parts of Light’s sculpture are almost completely inaccessible: a closer inspection renders it a maze of steel with nooks and crannies for shadows to hide.  However reclusive in its entirety, the sculpture’s details prove visually rewarding. Miasmata bears the scars of its making, with eye-catching seams, scrapes, and distinct tonal abrasions.

The gallery’s front window is home to two of Lindauer’s stainless steel sculptures, and their placement is well calculated. Rays interacts with both the outside sunlight and the architecture of Main Street. The sculpture’s luminous surface seems to react to – instead of merely reflect – its surroundings. Beneath the slender beams of metal lies a slab of marble (although this is not listed in the object label.) Dependent on the time of day, the marble’s surface acts as a mirror. It responds to the sunlight and depicts a reverse image of the adjacent buildings. Lindauer’s Time After Time, made of the same slinky stainless steel, rests against the nearest corner. Although borderline kitsch, the oversized infinity symbol projects intriguing shadows on the gallery wall.

Although some works require less space, they are just as engrossing. Three of Strecker’s hanging sculptures, What a Tool, Ascent, and Colloquial, stand out in their excellence. Perhaps it is their minimalist aesthetic – simple lines, shapes, and solid craftsmanship – that showcase the steel’s versatility as a material. Her work could be seen as an attempt to recapture, or perhaps redefine, what it means to work with metal. In Strecker’s diverse sculptures, steel is successfully incorporated with other organic materials – gold, wood, and copper – to create intriguing combinations of color and texture.

Gildersleeve’s sculptures range from small abstracted animals to a psychedelic loveseat, but his conceptual works shape steel into more interesting forms. The Key to Breaking the Ice utilizes early modernist principles. Like the majority of the freestanding sculptures in Wrought, his medium-sized works project layered geometric shadows contingent on the natural and artificial gallery light.

Wrought is well produced, but parts of its underlying theme get lost in the odd commercial setting of the back corner. I was unsure if the posters and accompanying postcards, located in the back nook of the gallery, were included in the show. In addition, Strecker’s lamp, Effervesce II, seems misplaced entirely. It ultimately detracts from the cohesive visuals evident throughout the entrance, and seems an odd fit when compared to the rest of her exhibited sculpture.

A first walk-through proved frustrating, as there are no artist statements or pieces of information available to provide context. However, this seems to reflect the modernist conundrum Krauss describes in “Sculpture in the Expanded Field.” Without context (or “pedestals”), maybe Wrought is meant to non-verbally showcase the multifaceted medium of steel and the many ways it can be shaped.

[1] See Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (Spring 1979), 30-44.

Arts, Photography, Review

Insight in the Details

Walking into Louisville’s Zephyr Gallery for Project 7, curated by Julien Robson, one is immediately met with a shelving system of black notebook binders, arranged in such a way that they form a wall framing a single doorway. It is here, by stepping through the annals of the artist, that one enters the Archive. This collection allows the viewer a glimpse into the art and artifacts of Louis Zoellar Bickett, a well accomplished Lexington-based artist who has been collecting and cataloguing so-called ‘mundane’ yet fascinating objects from his daily existence since 1972. He calls us to reconsider the notions of voyeur and collector through the presentation of his Archive.

In the liminal space past the bank of binders, the viewer stands face-to-face with a screen showing the artist’s head. Here, Bickett’s mouth slowly opens and closes, silently screaming the names of 9/11 victims (9:11, 2007). A sobering moment, this piece also serves another purpose: it is an orifice that swallows the visitor deeper into a more personal and revealing space of the artist. For it is past this screen, the viewer may either climb the stairs to a room filled with self-portraits and collected specimens, or advance past the screen wall to Daddy’s Bedroom (2001-present). Both paths proceed to place the viewer in a role of voyeur. For now, let us climb upward. At the top of the stairs, 10,000 selfies lie hidden away within an iPad, exposed to the gaze of the viewer one at a time, and under the viewer’s control as one flips through them, ad infinitum. These intimate headshots, showing varying degrees of severity and levity, bring to mind a statement regarding voyeurism by Annette Messager, “I want the viewer to have the impression of discovering terrible secrets when what is involved is a ridiculous image, even if this image always touches us in the end.” We are indeed touched, and intrigued, and encouraged to continue to explore. (At the same time, does this work not challenge us to question popular reality tv, over-sharing via social media, and how we view ourselves and others?)

The adjoining upstairs chamber reveals larger, almost overwhelming self-portraits on facing walls and specimens to either side. The images maintain an ever-consistent pose on the part of the artist, yet with interchanging hats (Every Hat I Own, July 31, 2008) and religious texts (What I Read – The Holy Bible, What I Read – The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an, January 4, 2008). The specimens, located on the two remaining sides of the room, encompass both personal and environmental documentation. The eye-catching Backbar (A Piss a Day in 2003) brings to mind Duchamp with a Kentucky twist. Within 365 liquor bottles, many of them bourbon-branded, is encased urine of the artist, all with varying degrees of color, teasing the viewer that the liquid might be potable. The Archive boxes which housed these bottles surround them, an ever-present reminder of the catalogued nature of the items. Across the room is a cabinet with glass doors, filled with glass jars, reminiscent of a wunderkammer, or cabinet of wonders. Hermetically sealed yet allowing transparency for easy observation, the Roman red wax-sealed jars hold soil and water samples from places such as Eudora Welty’s grave, the Appomattox County Courthouse (VA), and the Gulf of Mexico. Is it not through both introspection of self and of experience with the outside world that one constructs identity? Louis’ Archive certainly addresses both of these perspectives – in this room and in the bedroom below.

Returning to the moment in which we were swallowed by the artist via the screen in 9:11, we now continue into Daddy’s Bedroom. One cannot help but be enthralled by the ‘curiosities’ that fill this room, creating a sense of intense intimacy and social critique. Who is this ‘Daddy’? The term is called into question as signifying both a father-figure and an older man in a gay relationship. The visually depicted definitions coexist and overlap in layers of constructed meaning through the objects collected. But let us take a step back and look at the room as a whole – there is a 1940s red twin-sized bed, a nightstand, a desk, a bookcase, a small curio cabinet, a dresser with hutch, six chairs of varying sizes, multitudinous framed pictures, books, more jars of environmental specimens, and assorted artifacts such as prescription bottles, garbage contents, trophies, and the ashes of a beloved dog; all belonging to or related to ‘Daddy’ and all carrying specifying tags of the Archive. Through the readymade items themselves, subtle details construct identity, whether through a book of Mapplethorpe, a soil sample from Oxford, Mississippi, a drawing of David Bowie, or a pair of glasses labeled, “becoming someone else.” Some items are noted as “momento mori” such as an etched mirror and photographs. Other photographs have slang terms written across the lips of the subject, serving to challenge speech acts of racism and homophobia. The collective result of all of these items is to place the viewer in the place of voyeur and to challenge societal prejudices, all while documenting the experience of life from an individual perspective which is at once transparent and varied, personal and historical.

Louis Zoellar Bickett has encompassed three main areas in his work: it is at the same time autobiographical, a document of history, and social critique. Depicting both an introspective perspective and objects from one’s surrounding environment, history is documented from Louis’ lens. But what is the documentation of history besides a subjective recording of events anyway? No human can ever be purely objective. Here, we are seeing history through both Louis’ lens and our own, layering our own perspectives and better seeing his as well.

So what of a collection such as the Archive? It is an ever-growing, ever-developing being; it is also a means to create a presence beyond one’s mortality. As Annette Messager noted, “Collecting is a way of struggling against death. A collection is always more and more beautiful, bigger and bigger, always incomplete.”

Louis is indeed a collector, an archivist, and a preservationist of experience. Most importantly, however, through these roles he a catalyst for us all to rethink how personal and societal identity is constructed.

Arts, Conceptual, Photography, Review

Louis Zoellar Bickett: The Archive

Louis Zoellar Bickett: The Archive, Curated by Julien Robson

April 3—May 30, 2015, Zephyr Gallery, Louisville, Ky,

Louis Zoellar Bickett: The Archive was the seventh exhibition in an ongoing series of special curatorial projects at the Zephyr Gallery in Louisville, KY that examines the creative activity of regional artists, activists, designers, thinkers and tinkerers. Independent Curator Julien Robson’s turn at the reins presented a solo show of one of the area’s most prolific and unique artists. Previously, as curator of contemporary art at the Speed Museum, Robson was instrumental in formulating and cementing what many already believed, that Louis Bickett is perhaps the most inventive artistic mind in the area.

Robson’s exhibition at Zephyr was a compact, yet vital and succinct selection of work from Bickett’s immeasurable output. Upon entering the gallery visitors encountered a floor to ceiling bookshelf made from 2×4’s that spanned the width of the room. Filled with black ring binders wrapped in plastic, this bookshelf, monumental in the small gallery, serves as a self-made monument in memoriam to Bickett’s own life. The binders comprise The Cultural Memorabilia Volume Project, an ongoing mixed media collection of documents from the artist’s life from 1972 to the present that includes photographs of friends, family and strangers, along with daily receipts and letters. It is a detailed record of the day-to-day experiences of his life. The shelf was not set against a wall, but rather was cleverly constructed in the middle of the room in order to function as a fulcrum.

When passing through the doorway in the shelf one entered an exhibition that skillfully presented a portrait of this artist as an archivist, timekeeper, and documentarian.

As with much of the work in the show, including Daddy’s Bedroom, The Cultural Memorabilia Cabinet, and the self-portrait projects, Bickett’s work is generally regarded as one large archival project in progress. The ongoing construction of this archive can also be seen as an ongoing construction of Bickett’s own identity as an artist, a Lexington resident, a traveler, a collector, a sorter, and a creator of typologies. The work that Robson selected and its arrangement throughout the exhibition presented a clear narrative of an artist with a considerable and complex story to tell.

Bickett belongs to a notable class of artists like Fred Wilson and Mark Dion who have used the museum as muse in their practice. Robson deftly took advantage of this feature within Bickett’s work with the inclusion of Daddy’s Bedroom, which I feel is among one of the more crucial works in understanding Bickett’s archival process. In this bedroom installation, consisting of a vintage red metal-framed bed with photographs and heirloom objects neatly placed throughout a series of antique shelves and drawers, Bickett has systematically tagged every item in sight. The written label that accompanies each object describes various details about its significance and provenance, from whom and when it was acquired into the Archive. Lining the walls of this bedroom scene are additional relics chronicling the artist’s life combined with artworks created by close friends. The room, taken as a whole, serves as an open diary or, as Robson points out in the curatorial statement, an autobiography that will be complete only, “through the final tagging of the artist’s body in the morgue.” This connects well with the anthropologist turned artist Susan Hiller’s own observation of Freud’s personal archive. She noted the way he would display his collection as though it “was basically from a tomb, connected with a dead body or vanishing civilization.”

The 9:11 videocreated in 2007, was a wise addition, as it’s likely one of the more significant works in the context of both the exhibition and Bickett’s oeuvre. It presents a tightly framed image of Bickett’s face repeatedly opening and closing his mouth. Each time he opens his mouth a name of a 9/11 victim emerges. He completes the nearly 3000-person list in 3 hours, 33 minutes, and 52 seconds. It is significant because his work typically records his own experiences, but here he is mending his identity with those who experienced the tragedy and perished. As the individual names appear on screen it is as though he is saying, “I am a paramedic, a firefighter, a police officer, a business man, a business woman, a janitor, and a citizen from each of the 115 nations that lost their people.” This work continues with his themes of death and in memoriam, but rather than referencing his own life and mortality he creates a memorial to others. Within the lexicon of artworks inspired by the casualties of war it is his Guernica.

The show presented several images of Bickett in a series of self portrait projects: In the Dream I was Beautiful and Everyone Loved Me (10,000) Selfies (displayed on an Android Tablet) and Every Hat I Own (19 images displayed on a video monitor of Bickett wearing, for example, baseball hats, snow caps, ski masks, bandanas and a keffiyah). Robson made large format photographs of What I Read (The Holy Bible) and What I Read (The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an) both from a self-portrait photo essay of Bickett holding various selections from his personal library. Robson’s decision to present these two images as a diptych was a perfect demonstration of Bickett’s method of presenting multiple identities, revealing the totalizing nature of his self-portrait projects and the archival impulse that is central to all of Bickett’s work.

The show was fittingly punctuated by Backbar (A Piss a Day in 2003), an installation of 365 bottles of urine contained in wax sealed liquor bottles. Much like the daily food and other purchase receipts that Bickett keeps in The Cultural Memorabilia Volume Project, this work represents a kind of daily portrait of the artist. It isn’t simply the bodily waste of the artist, but a liquid record of his specific food and drink consumption for each day over the course of a year.

Bickett is systematic, sentimental and nostalgic. He and his work are inseparable from each other: dark, humorous, empathetic, compassionate, often engaged in exploring the area between propriety and transgression. He exposes the very nature of all archival materials as being found yet constructed, factual as well as fictive, public and also private. Through his feverish archival impulses he helps to preserve cultural memory, rescuing objects before they vanish, while also exposing the nature of the archivist’s fascination with mortality and death. All of this was well captured in the Zephyr show and was one of the best installations of the Archive that I have seen.

Arts, Photography, Review


University of Kentucky Art Museum

Through July 26

A Review for Under Main

First and foremost, there is the work. The photographs of Vivian Maier on exhibit at the University of Kentucky Art Museum are immediately arresting, thanks to her eye for formal composition. They are compelling, because of the crazy quilt mix of people depicted in the 1950s U.S. metropolis. And they are charming, owing to an arch sense of humor and an abiding affection for women and children. Seeing this small but insightful show leads one to a greater appreciation for the unconventional and ultimately unknowable woman we see peering out at us from deep inside her own obsession.

But the afterimages that linger beyond the viewing are as much about the backstory, or the Vivian Maier Mystery (as a BBC documentary calls it), as they are about the images. If you spend a couple of hours on the internet in Vivian Maier Land, it’s easy to see there’s trouble ahead and trouble behind. Nanny Strangest! cries a Wall Street Journal headline. The Greatest Street Photographer You Never Heard Of, says Mother Jones. Legal Battle Over Vivian Maier’s Work, reports the NY Times. In the six years since her death, there have been two films made about her, and five books of her photographs have been published, all thanks to a few collectors and dealers who found her work in dispersal sales and have been promoting it ever since. There are, of course, lawyers arguing over who should get the proceeds, competing genealogical researchers have identified different French heirs, and late word has it that a long lost brother, Charles, has turned up and been awarded the rights to the photographs by the Cook County (IL) Probate Court, which wants its own cut of the action.

Meanwhile, Vivian Maier’s life has been scrutinized and called into question. Because she made 150,000 negatives over four decades, showing them to no one, stashing them in storage units, only to lose them when she couldn’t pay the rent, she is now assumed to have been “a private, unhappy person” who left us with “the riddle of her sad life” (WSJ). It is reported that she wore men’s clothes and boots, and that some of the kids she nannied nicknamed her “Bird Lady.” Some of them loved her, to the point of taking care of her late in life, and others say she was cruel and abusive and speculated that perhaps she had been abused as a child. One person who knew her says she might have been in the autistic spectrum. The fact that she hoarded newspapers and other items along with her negatives, and that she became more temperamental with age led one writer to surmise that Maier’s behavior was symptomatic of “a haunted, morbid psychology.” But a piece in The New Yorker cautions that neither was she a Mary Poppins, nor a surrogate Mommie Dearest. “To suggest her choices were the result of some as yet uncovered emotional trauma is to assume that her life was lived in reaction to pain.” Poor woman–she didn’t ask for this dissection of her psyche. She has been made into a public figure, without her permission.

Vivian Maier was a spy in the house of love. With her French accent and German camera, she was a kind of foreign correspondent, disguised as an au pair, who amassed a voluminous dossier on urban American life, and then filed it away, her obsession satisfied with the acquisition and collection of images—and not with the dissemination of them. Perhaps she found her joy in seeing the world through the camera and making the exposure. When an image comes into focus on the ground glass, the world is seen anew. To look through a cameral is an adventure, and a form of play. When the shutter is tripped, a photographer feels that anything can happen. Vivian Maier’s twin-lens Rolleiflex was her passport into other peoples’ lives. It gave her the access she craved, but at the same time kept her at some remove—the strategy of a consummate observer.

Among the things she took pleasure in observing were reflections of herself. One of the self-portraits in this exhibit reveals a rare glimpse of her enjoying the chase. In it a worker lifts a mirror out of a truck, seemingly unaware that there is a woman in the mirror taking a picture. For 125th of a second, a smile plays across her face. That’s the woman that three of her former charges spoke of when they wrote this death notice for the Chicago Tribune: Vivian Maier, proud native of France and Chicago resident for 50 years, died peacefully on Monday [April 23, 2009]. Second mother to John, Lane and Matthew. A free and kindred spirit who magically touched the lives of all that knew her. Always ready to give her advice, opinion or a helping hand. Movie critic and photographer extraordinaire. A truly special person who will be sorely missed but whose long and wonderful life we all celebrate and will always remember.

As for the industry that has grown up around her work, it has endowed a Vivian Maier Scholarship to allow emerging female photographers to attend the prestigious School of the Art Institute. And without those collectors and gallerists—in the case of this exhibit, John Maloof and the Daniel Greenberg Gallery–no one would have ever heard of Vivian Maier in the first place. Are we to canonize her and place her in the pantheon of photographic heroines of the 20th century? Lord knows she may have suffered enough. Imagine what she went through when her archive was sold out from under her. But is she to be mentioned in the same breath with Helen Levitt, Margaret Bourke-White, Diane Arbus, Lisette Model, Ruth Orkin, Dorothea Lange, Marion Post-Wolcott, Imogene Cunningham, Bernice Abbott, Laura Gilpin, Evon Streetman, Francesca Woodman, Carrie Mae Weems, Mary Ellen Mark, Linda Connor, Annie Leibovitz, Lorna Simpson, Susan Meiselas, Donna Ferrato, Deborah Luster, Debbie Fleming Caffery and Sally Mann? Perhaps. We have seen only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to prints from Vivian Maier’s thousands of negatives. Hundreds of rolls remain undeveloped. When the legal wrangling is all said and done, we can expect that more of her work will be brought to light.

Other Streets: Photographs from the Collection

Speaking of wanting to see more, the UK Art Museum has put up an excellent selection of street photography from its collection to help place Maier’s work in a broader context. As you leave the thoughtfully-sequenced Maier exhibit, take a right and you will find prints by Magnum great Bruce Davidson. Take a second right down the next hallway and you’ll see images by Lexington Camera Club members Van Deren Coke, Ralph Eugene Meatyard and Robert C. May—early documentary work from the 1950s. Several of Garry Winogrand’s “Women Are Beautiful” photographs are on the opposite wall.

Together, the two exhibits remind us of the important role the UK Art Museum has played in the regional photographic community, especially over the past 18 years, since Bob May’s bequest begat the excellent lecture series that bears his name, and funds were earmarked for exhibits and the purchase of prints. The museum has expanded its collection and made photography a point of emphasis in its programming. We can thank Bob, and the museum staff for that.

Arts, Photography

Uncanny Nanny: The Intrigue of Vivian Maier

Six years after their public introduction, Vivian Maier’s photographs still exude mystery and prompt intrigue. Working as a nanny in Chicago during the fifties and sixties, Maier documented her surroundings — and often herself — but ironically we know little about her life. Vivian Maier: On the Street at The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky presents a monographic exhibition of thirty black and white photographs, including abstract self portraits and intimate glimpses into the lives of both Chicago’s working class and elite aristocrats.The scope of the exhibition provides a perspective of Maier’s surroundings, while at the same time offering viewers a deeper connection with the photographer and her Rolleiflex camera.

However socially and aesthetically infatuating, the legal underpinnings of Maier’s photographs remain overarching. In 2007, two years before her death, her negatives were auctioned off along with the rest of the contents of her storage unit as the result of nonpayment. Since then, her work has been reproduced, edited, and resold to private galleries and collectors. An onslaught of intellectual property debates and ethical questions still permeate Chicago courtrooms. In sum, Maier’s oeuvre has been posthumously constructed and aggrandized by those with a market share in her life and work.

While this aspect of Maier’s entrance into the mainstream is a basis for contention (but not entirely unique — this happens all too frequently in the art world), I think there is more at play in our vehement attraction to her photographs than just market controversy. Perhaps this is why On The Street resists a dialogue about ethics and legalities. Although the entrance wall text states that the selected photographs are pulled from the John Maloof Collection (Maloof is just one of the original purchasers of Maier’s defunct storage unit), no details are provided about the legalities of his purchase. Instead, the viewer is presented with another concern: the entrance of unknown “artists of consequence” into the canon of art history.

The works chosen for display for On the Street provide viewers with a multi-faceted view of city life through the lens of Maier’s camera. Each image seems at once familiar and uncanny — we can recognize the ebb and flow of city life, but only though Maier’s abstract angles and intense shadows. While some of Maier’s subjects are aware of their subjectiveness, others are oblivious — they are presented as anonymous, fragmented bodies. Ubiquitous shadows seem to be subjects themselves: Maier frequently makes them the focus of her self portraits. Indeed, there is something dream-like about Maier’s use of light and line, shadow and shape — her Surrealist predecessors applied many of the same techniques to their own photography.

Although the exhibition of thirty photographs seems small in comparison to the number of negatives available from the Maloof Collection, the time required to absorb Maier’s work is proportionate. Each photograph is remarkably detailed — and one journey through On the Street is not enough to fully immerse oneself in Maier’s world. The exhibition is comprised of single images and groupings of two and four photographs: children, city streets, women, transportation, and leisure, to name a few. Contextualizing these selected photographs provides a comprehensive survey of her subject matter, allowing viewers to connect her daily activities with the people and places she chose to capture on film.

On the Street is located in the back corner of the museum, which seems an odd fit for Maier’s work — the exhibition almost suffocates in its compact space. The intensity of Maier’s photography needs a precise “breathability,” something the back gallery ultimately lacks. Perhaps in attempt to mediate the small space, each photograph is surrounded with a large white mat and delicate silver frame. While this gesture helps aerate the body of work, the lack of space remains a dominant issue.

An observer of the everyday, Maier was able to capture the humanism and humor of daily life. This is evident through On the Street, which treats her work as both a time capsule and an autobiography. It succeeds by presenting her photographs as documents of a time passed, but also through examining the photographer’s importance and artistic resonance. While viewers are asked to question Maier’s undoubtable skill in relation to formally trained photographers of her time, I wish to offer a thematic addendum: should we ignore the fact she may not have wanted her life and work displayed publicly? Who truly owns Maier’s work — and should we be content with others profiting from her anonymity?

All, Arts

Hands & Feet

Merav Eres graduated in the Class of 2015 of Sayre School. She worked as an intern for UnderMain producing a series of posts pertaining to arts in the schools. In this last piece of her series, Merav profiles and interviews two high school artists, one a visual artist exploring a traditional art form of her culture, the other a performing artist in dance planning to take her art to the next level. Merav will be attending Tel Aviv University in the fall.

Hina Iqbal is a seventeen-year-old 2015 Sayre School graduate. Hina plans to attend UK with a Singletary Scholarship in the BS/MD program. She will be majoring in biology and minoring in neuroscience in order to continue on to medical school. Hina’s parents are both from Pakistan and, as a result, she became interested in mendhi. Mendhi is the Urdu (the official language of Pakistan) word for henna. She has become very passionate about this form of art and has introduced it to the Sayre community.

UM: What would you say mendhi is if you had to explain it to someone who knew nothing about it?
Hina: So mendhi comes from a leaf that you grind up into a paste. It’s mixed up with some other organic ingredients and then the paste is used for decorative designs on your body. Once the paste dries it leaves an orange stain on your skin that lasts anywhere from one week to a whole month. It was first used in the sub-Saharan region and the Indian subcontinent because the paste itself had a cooling effect. People would put it on their palms, which helped keep their hands and feet cold. Eventually, people started using it in celebrations, particularly wedding ceremonies. Today it continues to play a large role in Pakistani culture.

UM: When did your interest in mendhi start?
Hina: Well, I remember when I was really young we used to visit Pakistan once or twice a year, and one time at my grandfather’s house some of my aunts were running around with mendhi cones doing designs on the kids. So I definitely grew up with it from an early age, but I don’t remember an exact moment when I was as interested or passionate about it as I am now. Once I started middle school and high school I became more interested. Over time I get a lot better and really fell in love with it.

UM: What makes you so passionate about mendhi?
Hina: Well, one reason that I love it so much is just for the purpose of drawing and having something to do. It’s such a beautiful design. It’s an artistic outlet or me and fun to do, plus it means so much culturally to me that it’s the perfect combination. I remember when I was younger I would go to school festivals and do mendhi on people, but the teachers would say it’s a distraction or like a tattoo. This was something that means so much to both family and me. My mother, my grandmother, it’s important to all of us so when I have mendhi on my hand I feel proud of my culture and I want to show people that this is something to celebrate. Embracing diversity and where you come from is so important, rather than just conforming to what everyone else wants. Eventually the teachers got used to it and now it’s the number one hit during Sayre’s fall festival. It’s just a matter of opening up people to what it actually is. You can’t blame them for not knowing something unless they continue that ignorance after you’ve explained what it is. The most important thing is communication and open conversation. You want to make other people feel comfortable coming up to you and asking questions even if they think its sounds dumb. I encourage people to ask me about mendhi. It’s really tied to my identity. It’s a physical display of where I come from and of my culture.

Embracing diversity and where you come from is so important, rather than just conforming to what everyone else wants.

UM: How have you brought mendhi into the community?
Hina: When I entered high school I found out you could easily create a club. All you needed was a group that was interested so I decided to do that in the 10th grade. I got a teacher sponsor and we started the club with meetings every Monday for practice. Then I started teaching people in the club where mendhi is used, why it is used, and what kind of importance it has for the people in those places. I wanted to give them a sense of depth and a glimpse of the tradition behind it. That deserves to be recognized so they don’t think mendhi is just something you go and get at the beach.

UM: In what ways does mendhi differ in certain areas as opposed to others?

Hina: The designs have really evolved from place to place. In Africa, typical mendhi designs are made up of geometric patterns, lines, zigzags, and dots. In the Middle East places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar have really flowy, flowery, and swirly designs that are open and less intricate. As for Pakistan, the designs are insanely intricate. India’s mendhi style is similar to Pakistan’s but a little less intricate. It’s amazing how many different styles are out there. You can really do what ever you want with it. It’s so cool how different countries and groups have taken that freedom and made traditional designs out of it. You can do anything you want with mendhi and that’s definitely part of why I love it so much.


UM: What would you say to people using mendhi as a result of its trendiness?
Hina: The thing is this is meant for decorative purposes, so if someone from another ethnicity decides to use it as a decorative piece that’s awesome. However, I hope people don’t think about it as a fleeting trend because it’s so important and distinctive of our culture. It can be degrading to the meaning but it’s great when people do it in a respectful way and know a little bit about what they’re doing.

UM: As you go off to college how do you plan to take mendhi with you?
Hina: Basically I want to continue sharing mendhi in the form of a club at UK. I hope that by continuing to introduce mendhi to people there then there’ll be a more inclusive, understanding kind of environment at my school.



Ella White is a seventeen-year-old junior at Lafayette High School. Ella is a dancer and is looking to attend college for dance and acrobatics. She has been acting and dancing since she was 12 years old. Ella joined the dance company ‘Black Bird’ four years ago. The group is separated into junior and senior artistic groups. She is in the senior company, which focuses on acrobatics, aerialist silks, and apparatuses.


UM: How did you begin dancing?
Ella: I joined a theater group when I was seven called Academy for Creative Excellence and met my current dance teacher, Jenny Fitzpatrick, who is the founder of Black Bird Dance Theater. I always loved to preform when I was younger so it was easy for me to be attracted to new artistic outlets like dance.

UM: What is your dance company like?
Ella: Black Bird Dance Theatre is a pretty small company so everyone knows everyone. It’s very family oriented. It’s not like most dance companies because everyone is really supportive and no one has a sense of entitlement. All the dancers are equal. We’re all there to focus on our training, experiment, and push ourselves. We don’t do traditional ballet point dancing. We do a lot of tap, jazz, contemporary, and technique. Right now we are working on silks and aerial stuff. This year our winter production was “Ugly”, which is a self-written show by our dance teacher, Jenny. The show contained hip-hop, ballet, contemporary, jazz, and even tap. We also preformed “Cats”, the musical, this year. Right now the senior company is working on our rendition of “Romeo and Juliet”.

UM: What is your favorite type of dance?
Ella: My favorite type of dance is pop-jazz because it’s up-tempo and hard. I like being challenged as a dancer because it really helps me grow. The dance world is really competitive so you have to get tough quickly. I also enjoy hip-hop and lyrical. What it really boils down to is getting to express myself with my body, and if I’m doing that then I don’t really mind what style of dance I’m doing it in.

UM: Do you have your own fears about pursuing dance?
Ella: Yeah, definitely. I’m afraid of pursing dance as a career because you hear lots of horror stories from people coming back from New York because they couldn’t afford to live there. They didn’t make it. But I have realized that it’s more important to study what you love and take the chance, because if you don’t take the chance you will never know. If I don’t make it I will just do something else. That fear kind of makes me want to double major, but I don’t think I’m going to do that because nothing is as important to me. So why would I do something that I’m not going to enjoy?

All, Arts

Locally Launched

Maria Owen is a 17-year-old senior at Sayre School.  Maria plans to attend Pratt Institute in New York City this fall as a fashion design major. She chose to go into fashion design because she has always been interested in fashion and thought it would be a practical application of her artistic skills. Maria was also accepted to Parsons School of Design, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and The University of the Arts London. She paints, writes, draws and does photography. Maria responded to questions submitted to her in writing.


UM: Have people been supportive of your decision to pursue art?

Maria: People have been really supportive of my art, but I didn’t believe that I was going to pursue it as a career. I realized I wanted to pursue it when I started looking at colleges. I went to see some more traditional colleges, which really helped me to realize that a more art-focused environment was for me. I think you can be more successful at something that is stereotypically a less practical career it you love what you’re doing.

UM: Who are some of your favorite artists/inspirations?

Maria: I really like Yves Klein. He did a collection of painting and his signature color, International Klein Blue, was copyrighted and I quickly fell in love with it. I also like Klimt because his work is so weird but also so intriguing. In a Klimt painting you can see he’s put so much of himself into the piece, but its still gorgeous. You can pull from it. It’s not shallow art. It has depth, passion, and meaning. I struggled with that because you can paint a pretty picture you like but that doesn’t mean you’re creating something worth seeing. Fashion wise, the 20’s in general are a great inspiration to me because of the clothing and what it symbolized in terms of women gaining independence. I’m kind of an F. Scott Fitzgerald fanatic. Even his writing can inspire my art and designs. I really love Art Deco too. I enjoy the ancient Egypt influence it has, plus I was obsessed with Egypt as a kid and the patterns. Someone else would be Coco Chanel. She definitely helped me bring my love of art and fashion together. She was so influential and now Chanel is iconic. Menswear for women didn’t used to be a big thing, but she changed that, and that is something I admire.

UM: What has been your favorite art class thus far?

Maria: My favorite art class was probably AP Art because it allowed me to have a lot of freedom and it was more challenging and less by the book. You feel more confident when you’re not doing the same textbook stuff as everybody else.

UM: What was the best critique you have ever received?

Maria: I don’t get that much critique at this point, therefore I’m my hardest critic. I look forward to being in an environment where someone will actually tear my work apart, because even if you don’t agree with a critique its good to get more people’s perspectives. Not everyone is going to like your work, that is OK.

UM: What has been your most challenging art class?

Maria: 3D Art was the most challenging class I ever took. It really pushed me outside of my comfort zone, however I’m glad that I had that experience especially now that I am entering a three dimensional field of study.

UM: Are you satisfied with your art education up to this point?

Maria: Well, I think according to the schools I applied to I’m in a good place right now, but there is always room to improve. All the teachers in the world can’t make you a great artist or designer; you have to have your own experiences and build yourself as an artist.

UM: Would you say that Lexington has influenced you art at all?

Maria: Yeah, I think Lexington is a good place to grow up if you’re interested in art because there are so many neat galleries. I’ve always felt that Lexington has a bit of a European feel to it. It’s a small town but you still get exposed to a lot of creativity.

UM: As you go off to Pratt, what are you most excited about?

Maria: I’m excited for art to not be a hobby anymore and to be my education.

Merav Eres is a senior at Sayre School in Lexington. She is doing her senior month-long internship with UnderMain. Merav is writing a series of pieces for us focusing on arts education and local high school artists and their work. This is the second post in the series. Merav will be attending Tel Aviv University in the fall. She plans to major in philosophy.


Currents: Horror Amour at The Loudoun House

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

By Ryan Filchak


Photo Courtesy of the artist and Institute 193 

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

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

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

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

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

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

All, Arts, Entertainment, Music, Uncategorized

And Her Name is Jazz!

Les McCann with Jazz Whatley Cole, the very first scholarship recipient of the Les McCann School For the Arts

This past Saturday night, my husband and I headed down to the Lyric Theater to hear Les McCann again! Les and Javon Jackson rocked the house and occassionally cradled us too. Mike has fond memories of hearing Les play when he was younger; those memories take him back to his early years in Lexington, Kentucky. For your listening pleasure, here is one of his favorites: Every Time I See A Butterfly.

That same night the Les McCann School for the Arts (LMSA) announced their inaugural scholarship recipient and her name is Jazz Whatley Cole.  Jazz is an amazing young woman, a theater major in SCAPA since 4th grade where she concentrating much of her time with the extracurricular activities in the costume department.

She is an aspiring fashion designer, starting Jazz Cole Designs during her freshman year at Lafayette High School. Last year as a junior, she was accepted into the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles, CA. This scholarship will help her make that transition.

It was a big night for both her and the namesake of this award; that same day Les McCann was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Kentucky. UnderMain would like to thank Chester Grundy, Everett McCorvey and Dave McWhorter for all of their hard work in honoring this jazz great.

Also to Gus Puerdikakis (Les’ mean cowbell brother) whose generosity has made this award possible along with the teaching of music, photography, jewelry making and fashion design to so many in our community.

Overall, I believe creativity doesn’t just occur by it’s self, something has to catch your eye, something has to inspire you to whatever it is that you do and are truly passionate about. Therefore, if you can conceive it, and you believe it, then you can achieve it! – Jazz Cole

For more information on the School for the Arts, contact Denise Brown, artistic director for the LMSA. at

Arts, Entertainment, Literary Arts

You Are Here


A Review of Great Meadows: The Making of Here

When a book is truly exceptional, it can transport its readers elsewhere. For a moment, physical place and imagined location are unhinged — the reader is no longer bound to their sofa or chair, but can wander freely through another world. The mind is at once absent and present: taken from one location and placed in another. Great Meadows: The Making of Here acts as a portal not only to The Shands’ residence and collection, but a testament to the tenor within its walls. Indeed, it is more than a book — it is an extension of the Shands’ life and home.

Al Shands is an Episcopal Priest and author, as well as an award-winning filmmaker, with over thirty-five documentary films to his credit. His late wife, Mary Norton Shands, an activist in cultural affairs, co-founded and was first President of the Kentucky Art and Craft Foundation (now KMAC).

Great Meadows presents an intimate look in to the making of the Shands’ residence, and provides a comprehensive backstory to the architecture, collection, and collectors. The book avoids a pedantic introduction — readers are instead encouraged to “dive right in” through excerpts from A Career and Selected Projects by the architect, David Morton. Part of Morton’s allure is his simplicity: he comments that the Shands’ residence was graphed by pocket calculator, pencil, and paper — no computers or technical drafting aids. The completed project is prodigious yet modest: Great Meadows can accommodate up to one hundred and fifty guests for dinner, but at the same time, remain intimate enough for two people.[1]

Small yet powerful gestures contained within the book’s pages hide in every nook and cranny — “easter eggs” for the reader to stumble upon. In between two pages of Morton’s excerpts is a copy of Reverend Shands’ penned speech from the opening reception of Great Meadows in September 1988, printed on the same delicate paper and typeface one might encounter in a bible. Before he began collecting with his late wife Mary, Shands founded an Episcopal church in Washington D.C., and these inserts, which continue throughout the book, stand as physical reminders of his history.

Spearheaded and edited by independent curator and contributing author Julien Robson (previously affiliated with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Speed Art Museum), Great Meadows boasts essays from critics, curators, poets, and artists — all whom have connected, in some time and place, with the Shands. This includes but is not limited to such figures as Peter Morrin, former director of the Speed Museum, Glenn Adamson, author and critic, Alice Gray Stites, current director of 21c Museum Hotels, Maya Lin, sculpture and landscape artist (and designer of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.), and sound artist Stephen Vitiello. Each essay is specific to the book — they are documents of their respective authors’ connection and relationship with Alfred and Mary Shands.

Perhaps the most poignant essay is authored by John Yau, renowned poet and writer. Although the book is lined with vibrant color photos, “In Time, With Al Shands” is even more vivid — Yau’s imagery is a transformative journey, allowing the reader to silently accompany. Indeed, I forgot where I was for a moment while reading his words; I was observing a conversation between friends, weaving through the beautiful architecture that makes one feel as though they are both inside and outside at the same time, and slowly coming to understand the relationship between the art, the home, and the collectors.

Blurring the lines between art object and book, Great Meadows features stunning high-resolution photographs in addition to architectural drawings and artist sketches. Capturing the essence of site-specific artwork is no easy feat, but the photographers convey both the texture and presence of each installation. The office, home to Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #1082 (2003) is presented through fifteen images, varying in size and scale. The proceeding blank page is representative of the white space above the office door, only visible just before exiting the room. Truly, these small details are what render this project an “index of experience” rather than a book.

Entire pages of Great Meadows are devoted to a single color. The intensity of Anish Kapoor’s yellow concave disc, Untitled (1999), can be partially experienced on page sixty-five through a full-color experience – sans its warping of sound, which is only evident through encountering it in Rev. Shands’ first-floor walkway. It is as if every angle of the home is carefully documented, acting as a record of the artworks’ interaction with the architecture, and vice versa.

Each work, both inside and outside of the residence, is carefully selected and thoughtfully placed to engage with both the architecture and the viewer. Indeed, Rev. Shands is a mindful collector; you will find no large art storage area within the walls of Great Meadows. Although some works migrate throughout the house from time to time, they each have a space and that space is documented throughout the book’s bright pages.

Perhaps this is why the making Great Meadows is so important: the book will serve as documentation of site — a physical reminder of what was — when the artwork is separated from the home upon the passing of its owner. Rev Shands has bequeathed his collection to Louisville, Kentucky’s Speed Art Museum, and one day it will make the journey to its new permanent home on South Third Street. “A vital part of the collection is the way that you share it with others,” he states in the book’s conversation with Alice Gray Stites.[2] Indeed, the entirety of Great Meadows: The Making of Here fulfills that very statement.

Great Meadows: The Making of Here is available in limited edition through Hatje Cantz.

[1] David Morton, A Career and Selected Notes in Great Meadows: The Making of Here (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 12.

[2] Al Shands, “Excerpts from a Conversation with Alice Gray Stites” in Great Meadows: The Making of Here (Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 121.

All, Arts

The Benefits of Arts Education

Happy teacher holding page showing arts in her classroom at school

It is a disappointing reality that arts education must somehow “prove itself” in order to be taken seriously and receive proper funding. The inherent value of the arts in schools has become more and more overlooked as budget cuts have been implemented in many school systems. The irony of it all is while arts education becomes increasingly  threatened, more  science surfaces suggesting the concrete benefits of such programs on  brain development. Creativity remains a curious subject for the scientific community. Here are several facts and results of studies concerning the positive effects of art and creativity:

~ Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands are the countries that rank highest in math and science, and all these countries have mandatory art classes.

~ Studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scans, an advanced technique measuring and mapping brain activity, show activity and changes in every sensorimotor region of the brain during improvisation, such as freestyle rapping!

~ Creativity and art are some of the things that distinguish us most from other animals.

~ Neuroaesthetics studies the effects of arts on the brain using methods in neuroscience. This area of study has increasingly become of interest to many scientists.

~ Scientists have long been curious about both the evolutionary purposes of creativity and the reasons that every single culture throughout history has produced art.

~ The Federal Government spends about 250 million dollars on the humanities and the arts, whereas the National Science Foundation receives around 5 billion dollars.

~ According to many studies, students who take art are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement in school.

~ Sports and the arts are the two biggest aspects of school that keep youth who are prone to dropping out in school.

~ In a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins University entitled “Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts, and the Brain” found that arts education can actually help positively rewire the brain.

~ On the other hand, an interesting study to consider is that of Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland conducted in 2007. In their research they found very little improvement in the areas of math, science, and reading for youth they enrolled in art classes. The study was understandably met with much backlash. However the researchers stood by their study, writing that while the arts do not directly improve academic achievement they should be inherently valued.

With all this information readily available it’s hard to believe that  arts education in the schools is a subject that still has to be fought for. There should not be a need to study the benefits of arts education. What other subject has to prove that it has a positive effect on other academic endeavors? The need to emphasize scientific studies to prove the value of arts education shows that we are not focusing on arts, but rather on how the arts can improve subjects that are generally thought to be more important. The standard for the value of arts education at times looks to be higher than for other school subjects.

Interested in finding out more about the benefits of arts education?  These sources can provide a good start:
1. 10 Salient Studies on the Arts in Education – A brief review of ten studies on arts education.

2. Arts and the Mind – A two-part PBS documentary, “Arts & The Mind”.

3.  Will less art and music in the classroom really help students soar academically?

Merav Eres is a senior at Sayre School in Lexington. She is doing her senior month-long internship with UnderMain. Merav is writing a series of pieces for us focusing on arts education and local high school artists and their work. This is the first post in the series. Merav will be attending Tel Aviv University in the fall. She plans to major in philosophy.


All, Arts

A Delightful Bath

On some basic level, every exhibition is an opportunity to contemplate and maybe even escape a little. Delights: Bathing in Another World – Paintings and Sculptures by Elissa Morley on display at the Ann Tower Gallery through May 10th gives us the chance to immerse and discover.

Elissa Morley, Installation View at Ann Tower Gallery

Morley’s twelve watercolor and graphite drawings, along with seven hanging tissue sculptures transform this gallery, now located on the second floor of the Downtown Arts Center in Lexington, Kentucky, into something quite unique. To visit is almost as though you were stepping into the illusions Morley depicts within each of her poplar frames.

Central themes in her work are quietude and contemplation. In this space, Morley successfully asks us to relinquish momentarily the known world overrun by the mating call of Twitter, push notifications from Facebook, and the ever-present ephemerality of Instagram.  Rarely alone long enough to contemplate our surroundings and what we are doing within them, we take little time to consider how our actions might impact this world – or even worse – that while forever caught in the flutter we do nothing to alter any of it.

calderButtonMorley’s Alexander Calder-esque mobiles hung from the ceiling
make no sounds as they react to our movements within the gallery. Initially this is a very calming sensation. On deeper contemplation, the soft, tattered tissue shapes like that in Blue, White, Pink Wings – tenuously held together with wire – might be remnants of something we once knew, something that is now only moments away from falling apart entirely. Other works like Yellow Wings hang so low that they occasionally penetrate the viewer’s personal space beckoning us to reconsider our complacent gaze.


Blue, White, Pink Wings (above) and Yellow Wings (video), steel, watercolor, tracing paper

Within the framed objects hung along four walls, pacific blues, wisteria purples, and persimmon oranges painted on tracing paper – sewn together in multiple layers – blur any overt intent or heavy import. Yet their presence in this multi-media installation encourages deeper inquiry. Fields of multiform abstractions are punctuated with architectural elements and the occasional tree-like shape as though to signal some specific place, a place not yet known as in a drawing or idea that is still churning in the mind and at the hand of its creator.

But there is a creator at work, one who resists the confinement of others’ imagined boundaries perhaps but is still mindful and present. Stepping into and back out of these drawings allows us to renew our perceptions of this world by bathing briefly and delightfully in another. Delights: Bathing in Another World Paintings and Sculpture by Elissa Morley is on view through May 10, 2015 and is well worth a visit.


Elissa Morley, Frigidarium watercolor and graphite on layered paper 27x34

Elissa Morley, Frigidarium watercolor and graphite on layered paper 27×34

Elissa Morley attended Asbury University and the Slade School of Fine Art in London, England.  She has lived in Lexington for several years, teaching at Georgetown College, Eastern Kentucky University and Asbury University.  She is also a recipient of a 2009 Kentucky Foundation for Women Artist Enrichment Grant.

All, Arts, Entertainment, Music

Young Composers Chosen for LexPhil’s New Music Experiment

The Lexington Philharmonic’s New Music Experiment, in partnership with the CKYO Symphony Orchestra, fosters the next generation of talent by offering young composers the opportunity to receive feedback from professional conductors and musicians, and hear their compositions performed. Works by four young composers have been selected to be work-shopped and performed to the public at LexPhil’s New Music Experiment on April 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm at Bryan Station High School.

At the concert

43 composers from 35 cities, 21 states and 6 countries (USA, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Spain, Germany) submitted works to be considered by LexPhil Music Director and Conductor Scott Terrell and Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Daniel Chetel. From undergraduates to doctoral candidates, diverse backgrounds and levels of education and experience were represented in the applicant pool. The composers selected are Luke Flynn (Butler University) for his work “Quiet Snow”, composer Desmond Ikegwuonu (Forth Worth, TX) for his work “Gaba N’iru”, composer Thomas Schuttenhelm (Hartford, CT) for his work “When the surface should suffice”, and Roydon Tse (University of Toronto) for his work “Jest.”

Under Terrell’s direction, selected composers will hear their works played and receive feedback from participants to further develop their work. The selected compositions will be played by members of the CKYO Symphony Orchestra with LexPhil musicians serving as section leaders. This format is a wonderful opportunity for CKYO students to experience an in-depth intensive experience learning a lot of new music and working with living composers. While rehearsals for the New Music Experiment are private, the final performance of NME selections will be a working recording session which is open to the public on Sunday, April 19, 2015 at 6:00 pm in Bryan Station High School’s auditorium.

Arts, Entertainment, News, Uncategorized

Kuhn in the Congo – who knew?

UnderMain would like to acknowledge the work of another one of our own: Christine Kuhn. Last year Kuhn was among four muralists to participate in a cultural exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Kuhn worked with Congolese artists and students from November to December 2014 to create murals in Kinshasa, Matadi and Bukavu. Back home in Lexington, Kentucky, we knew nothing of it – Kuhn received no coverage.

For more on her experiences, check out her blogpost.

Kuhn is a working artist, art teacher and activist specializing in using art to empower non-artists and to promote liberal social change. She holds degrees in biology, chemistry and diplomacy and is a graduate of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Training Program.

“My art focuses on expressing right-brain, non-rational experiences–emotion, passion, humor, fear, symbolism, in short, the magical and mystical elements of existence,” Christine told us. “I have exhibited widely throughout the Southeastern US, in Central America, Africa and in Bulgaria and have received numerous grants from the Kentucky Arts Council, LexArts and the Kentucky Foundation for Women.”

If you are not familiar with Kuhn’s work or you just need another dose, stop by Source on High during LexArts’ May Gallery Hop for her solo exhibition – that’s Friday, May 15th – or, find these murals in and around the Lexington area. Do you know where they are? UnderMain would like to know that you know. Find them, take selfies, send them to and watch this article grow!

All, Arts

MoMA’s Björkgate Controversy Keeps Rolling

MOMA Museum New York banner

The controversy about the Björk show at MoMA keeps smoldering. Questions are being raised not only about the merits of this show, but also the general artistic direction of the museum. This piece in Hyperallergic illuminates some of the behind-the-scenes palace intrigue at the venerable, and perhaps troubled flagship U.S. contemporary art museum.

If any of our readers have seen the show, please let us know what you think of it.  You can post on our Facebook page or send us an email at

Arts, Entertainment, News

Nam June Paik

Buddha Face with Red Background

Golden Buddha watches us watching ourselves. Check out the highlights of the Art Basel Hong Kong. According to Sarah Douglas with ArtNews, Nam June Paik may have stolen the show.

Did you know that Nam June Paik received significant help from the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati very early in his career? With his retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art in 1982 Paik was already recognized as a pioneer, however he was in need of supplies and a studio and Solway provided this beginning in 1983.