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Newsletter

Temporal Slippage at the MS Rezny Gallery

By nature, a palimpsest is a document that collapses time, bringing together two disparate moments juxtaposed one over the other. It is this temporal slippage that is at the center of Martin Beck’s current exhibition on view at MS Rezny in Lexington. Beck’s works function as the titular palimpsest (or Palimpsest 2 in this particular case) by drawing on the historicity associated with the nude in Western art history—both with regard to the long tradition of the nude dating back to antiquity and in terms of its usage in order to create a sense of the past by removing the sartorial markers of a present moment—while simultaneously imbuing the works with an undeniable sense of the here and now.

Taken from life, Beck’s figures contain a certain phenomenological quality that makes them undeniably present, particularly through the tactility of his chosen medium. Moreover, his drawings engage with the present through the inclusion of subtle and simple symbolic objects—including guns and even the hammer and sickle—that remind us of the highly contentious and politicized climate of our current moment. In so doing, Beck draws the viewer into a moment of deep contemplation of the conditions of their present state, both in front of the work and in our society on the whole.

Martin Beck, “Tuesday”, 2019, Mixed media on prepared paper, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches

For all of the works in Palimpsest 2, Beck manages to blur the line between eternal and ephemeral. On the one hand, works like Tuesday engage with the long tradition of the nudes within the western canon. In this work, a young woman appears seated, legs stretched out in front of her as centuries of reclining female nudes have done before. Beck further gives her a sense of timelessness by rendering the setting completely illegible. Abstract coloration has taken the place of any scenery, including whatever implement she is seated upon, providing the viewer with no historical content to understand this appearance. With no such temporal signifiers, we are left with an eternal nude.

At the same time, this eternal quality is undercut by the tactility of the work and the fact that it is drawn from life. While Beck uses a variety of media in creating his drawings, the works are all clearly marked by the hand of the artist in the present moment rendering them not only visually compelling, but also imbuing them with a haptic quality. The gradations in texture and color as well as the clear imprints of the hand used to contour and shade all provide the work with a sense of immediacy and the momentary.

While the subject matter may feel eternal, the works are undeniably the result of an instantaneous and particular interaction. This momentary quality is furthered by the fact that all of the works are drawn directly from life. According to Beck, “working from life, the model and artist reveal the truth of a specific time, place and act. […] Rather than think of these as pictures of people, for me these are authentic depictions of selective experiences.” As such, Beck’s nudes are given an ephemerality and a temporality of the present, despite the lack of signifiers that would tie them to a time or place.

Martin Beck, “Ties That Bind”, 2019, Mixed media on prepared paper, 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches

Yet not all of Beck’s works involve the complete disavowal of present-day objects in order to create this collapsing of time within each one. Some works, like the piece Ties that Bind, include clear references to our current moment in the form of specific items, while still maintaining a sense of temporal ambiguity. In this piece, Beck depicts a woman lying on the ground, with her head at the bottom of the composition and her legs propped up on some unknown, wrapped object, holding an assault rifle next to her right hip. Beck unsettles the woman from time and space, not only through her nudity, but again through his abstraction of the background; Beck denies the viewer a concrete horizon line and thus she appears floating and timeless.

At the same time, Beck’s inclusion of the gun works to draw us immediately back to the present. Given the prevalence of gun violence—especially that carried out with assault-style weapons—it is impossible to view the rifle by her side and not consider both the carnage and the contention surrounding these objects in our current moment. As such, Beck uses these objects to further the sense of the present within each work.

Martin Beck, “Material Girl”, 2019 Mixed media on prepared paper 29 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches

Martin Beck, “Home Grown #4”, 2018, mixed media on prepared paper, 29 1/2 x 42 inches

While some of the items included in Beck’s images are unabashed signifiers of our present moment, others have a subtler allusion to temporal “now.” For instance, several of the works, including Material Girl, Lurid Red, and Home Grown #4, all involve nude figures—a singular woman in the cases of Material Girl and Lurid Red and a man for Home Grown #4holding a hammer and sickle. Unlike the assault rifle, the signification of these objects is less immediate; in the almost three decades since the decline of the Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle have become more historic signifiers than anything else.

Yet Beck’s inclusion of these object in works that—which through their tactility involve a sense of immediacy and the present—functions to dust off the historical characteristic of the hammer and sickle and force us to examine their role in the present. Given the current contentious geopolitical situation between the United States and Russia, and the outspoken desire of Russia’s president to return to the glory days of the U.S.S.R., these seemingly outdated objects do have a clear bearing on our contemporary existence.

Furthermore, the continued debates over “Socialism” and its place within the United States is also evoked, albeit not answered, through Beck’s inclusion of these items. In considering his works with regard to the palimpsest, this inclusion lays bare the fact that the same object or text can participate in different discussions at separate moments overtime, wherein traces of the past engage in dialogue withnew iterations in the present.

Moreover, in addition to the multiple temporalities at play in each work, the show evokes the sense of the palimpsest for which it is named when viewing the works in a conglomeration. As documents, palimpsests are multifaceted and often layered works, with newer text interspersed amongst the older. The result is a document that requires both close reading and a sense of distance in order to fully ascertain its full meaning. This oscillation between proximal and detached viewing is underscored in the way the exhibition is curated. Beck’s works adorn not only the surrounding walls of the gallery, but also a smaller, four-sided pilaster and both sides of a false wall.

These two structures divide the gallery so that only some of the works can be viewed from a single, distanced vantage point. Moreover, the placement of the pilaster requires us to get close to the images, and to even be surrounded by them. In so doing, we engage each image, phenomenologically speaking, with a close intimacy of the present while simultaneously being made aware of a larger continuum within the body of work, much as we would while actually reading a palimpsest.

On the whole, Martin Beck’s latest works call our attention to the present and its position within a larger temporal trajectory. The tactility of his medium and his use of live drawing bring us, the audience, into a particular ephemeral and instantaneous moment, while his subject matter—the nude—calls our attention to a longer tradition of history. Similarly, Beck’s use of abstract backgrounds works to remove us from a specific temporality, while the objects he often presents alongside his figures draw us back into our contemporary settings. Beck’s work thus demands both proximity and distance, presence and detachment, from his viewers, creating a layered and multifaceted experience.

Newsletter

Interview: Green Room Exchange

Music transcends borders, even oceans. What moves a listener in Havana can also stir the soul of a Kentuckian. Making the experience possible in a very intimate, up-close way are the efforts of the couple you see up above, Lee Carroll and Connie Milligan, out and about in Havana, scouting for great music to bring to Lexington. In an interview from WEKU’s Eastern StandardUnderMain’s Tom Martin talks with these founders of the non-profit Green Room Exchange and shares samples of the music they’re bringing to Lexington.

~ THE INTERVIEW ~

Xiamarra and Axel Laugert performing with Jonathan Ragonese conducting a Lexington ensemble at Tee Dee’s

Torgbui Gideon Alorwoyie leading Thunder God drumming at his God Mother’s funeral – Photo provided by Green Room Exchange

Gidi Agbeko – Image from the album Ayeko

UnderMain is an Eastern Standard content partner, providing arts and culture reporting and interviews to the public radio magazine. If you enjoy this kind of thing, help us sustain it by supporting WEKU during this week’s Spring 2019 Pledge Drive. Click here to help make great public radio happen.

Newsletter

‘The Veracity of Images: Judy Pfaff, Isaac Abrams and Kirk Mangus’ at Carl Solway Gallery


Just across Central Parkway from Find
lay Market, in the West End of Cincinnati, longstanding Carl Solway Gallery currently features three discrete exhibitions of works by multimedia artists Judy Pfaff, Isaac Abrams, and Kirk Mangus.  

Pfaff’s large-scale, multi-layered prints, which occupy the majority of the Solway exhibition space, seem apt for an artist with a reputation for sprawling material-based installations that allow her to define line, color, and pattern within space.  

Judy Pfaff, “Morning Raga”, 2017, Woodcut, hand painted dye, archival inkjet, 44 x 96 inches, Varied edition of 12, 8/12

Likewise, Pfaff’s oversized prints such as the three Morning, Afternoon, and Evening Raga series in this show of new prints demonstrate a delicate, multi-layering of woodcuts and archival inkjet prints of digitally distorted lines, colors, and patterns—in addition to small moments of unique embellishments like colored silver leaf, and hand-painted plastic films and dyes on shellacked Kozo paper.

Judy Pfaff, “Evening Raga”, 2017, Archival inkjet, hand painted ink, clear plastic film 44 x 96 inches Varied edition of 12, 4:12

The Sanskrit word “raga” literally means coloring or dyeing, so there is perhaps even an explicit connection between the artist’s printed layers and this invocation of drapery. Be
they sumptuous bed linens, vaguely opaque window curtains, or the building block of a sari, the life-sized dimensions of the Raga series would be consistent with this implication of the works as textiles.

Judy Pfaff, “+’s & -‘s”, 2018, Chinese book papers, oil stick, encaustic, archival inkjet on aluminum, 69 ¾ x 133 ¼ inches

The artist’s site-specific multimedia installation for the Solway show, +’s & -‘s features small, framed, oil stick and encaustic studies atop archival inkjet photographs on metal of Pfaff’s studio,which the artist digitally distorted with a spinner-like motif that shows up in nearly a dozen of her other works in the show.  It is bright, colorful, and links her previous installation work with her current more two-dimensional works in this show.

Isaac Abrams, “The Triune Reality – I (The Active) It (The Objective) Me (The Subjective)”, 1970, Ink on paper, 25 ½ x 31 ½ inches

Self-taught pioneer of psychedelic art Isaac Abrams’ paintings and drawings feature the artist’s biomorphic landscapes populated by ambiguously undulating living creatures so connected to their environment that they merge with it, exemplified in such works as The Triune Reality – I (The Active) It (The Objective) Me (The Subjective), 1970, and Garden Spirit with Shimmering Eye, 2013.  Everything is alive—teeming with body parts and natural forms—everything is divine.  

Isaac Abrams, “Garden Spirit with Shimmering Eye”, 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 24 x 20 inches

The far gallery features 21 works by the artist, and Abrams’ skill as a draftsman is particularly evident in his work that doesn’t rely on color to limn space, such as the charcoal on paper drawing, Eating Strange Fruit Brings About Strange Dreams, 2014.  In the aforementioned composition, by simply applying pressure upon his instrument, the artist wavers precariously between defining robust and plump volume as well as its dissipation and evaporation.

The work of longtime beloved Kent State Ceramics Professor Kirk Mangus in the smallest gallery at Solway is kind of a mixed bag.  Despite the artist’s charming observations of city life and the ways in which his overpopulated surfaces teem with faces and characters—formally linking his work with that of Abrams in particular—as well as a folk-like approach to carving and painting on clay, some of his pieces teeter precariously upon a fine line of cultural appropriation.  

Posthumous biographies of the artist, who passed away in 2013, frequently speak to his careerlong interest and research in world cultures, including Iga, Oribe, Mayan, Moche Greek, Roman and Silla ceramics, which informed his work.  

Kirk Mangus, “Multi-Eyed Guardian Jar”, Stoneware, colored slips, sgraffito drawing, salt-glazed, 29.5 x 13 x 13 inches

Like many late modernist artists, Mangus’ formal experimentation often involved a suggestion of the “primitive” other:  “Multi-eyed guardians emerge from the surfaces of his wheel thrown, carved and woodfired local stoneware, as well as his paintings in Sumi ink on silk and homemade Korean mulberry paper.

Totemic structures, face jugs, vessels, and amphoras throughout the show elude to ritual and ancient mysteries—so seemingly far removed from the current historical timeline, that they allowed the artist himself (as well as many other emerging artists within Mangus’ milieu in the late 70s) to wrestle with the implications of modernist abstractions, often via a romanticized and reductive view of non-Western cultures.

Kirk Mangus, “Downtown with the Family”, 1988, Sumi ink drawing on handmade Korean mulberry paper, 37.5 x 74 inches

Kirk Mangus, “Multi-Eyed Guardian with Catgirl + Insect Guy”, 1988, Sumi ink drawing on handmade, Korean mulberry paper, 74 x 37.5 inches

To be sure, Mangus’ work is playful and expressive—roughhewn and experimental in his deeply incised clay surfaces, and enchanting in his quick, observational life studies.  For example, his Sumi ink drawing Downtown with the Family, 1988, features dozens of faces of city folk, mostly from the chest and neck up, giving each other knowing sideways glances, carrying tools and lunchboxes, sporting hardhats and baseball caps, smoking cigarettes, and otherwise avoiding interpersonal engagement—all the while encroaching on each other’s personal space.  

It is the perfect embodiment of city life:  avoiding the sideways gaze of your neighbor while going about your own business.  And just as one might people-watch in a city packed with characters, so too, one wants to spend time just looking at Mangus’ assorted cast of people.

Kirk Mangus, “Two Women with Insect Guy Having Tea”, 1980, Porcelain with blue and white glaze, 9.5 x 8 x 8 inches

This cross-cultural experimentation feels the most successful when the contrived narrative is obviously fabricated, and the artist takes no aim at authenticity.  For instance, the porcelain with blue and white glaze vessel, Two Women with Insect Guy Having Tea , 1980, features the face of what appears to be a large mantis (a reoccurring character in Mangus’ oeuvre,) receiving tea from a woman depicted in profile, her hair styled to resemble a headpiece along the lines of something one might encounter in a Mesoamerican relief sculpture.  Both the vessel itself as well as the far-fetched references of cultures within the scene being depicted upon it feel fantastical— not rooted in time or even reality.

Therein lies the magic of art:  whereas depicting reality encourages us to acknowledge specific truths, knowingly depicting fabricated realities can also allow us to reveal valid and substantial facts and discrepancies about the world we live in.  In their current exhibitions at Carl Solway Gallery, artists like Pfaff, Abrams, and Mangus give us some raw materials to do just that.

Newsletter

Erasing Borders


On February 9
th, 2019, I had the privilege of visiting the studio of artist Harry Sanchez, Jr. During our conversations we discussed Sanchez’s creative interests, the art he has been creating during the last five years, and his journey to becoming a full-time artist. Sanchez works out of his home in Northern Kentucky, and the assessments that follow derive from the interactions we shared and the insight Sanchez was able to provide, delving deeper into nuances of his work that may go unnoticed in his exhibitions or on his website.

Geographical borders seem to dominate headlines, chyrons, and posts nowadays. In America, immigration, electoral redistricting, and boundaries between metropolitan centers and rural communities contribute to the discourse around borders.

Internationally, too, trade agreements are being re-shifted and unions are breaking. As a result, the attention dedicated to the concept of borders is driving individuals and groups to consider how they feel about others who may not necessarily share their perspectives, skin color, or life experiences. Amplified by ratings-hungry television networks and social media, widespread rhetoric about those directly impacted by border debates are arguably at their most contested, violent, and perhaps uninformed, since the end of World War II.

Harry Sanchez, Jr., studio shot with printing press

Harry Sanchez, Jr. strives to critically unpack the images and messages surrounding borders, specifically as they pertain to immigration in the United States. Moreover, Sanchez utilizes a vast array of media to render the impressions of the people, policies, and activist groups tied to immigration in America, subverting familiar narratives and iconography in the process.

Yet his work considers the multiplicity of borders as a term: the sculptures, paintings, and prints he creates make plain the consequences of social regulations and rules, celebrate—for better or worse—difference and sameness, and test the potential of his materials and art’s polarizing nature in general. While Sanchez claims that “the one overarching thing my work is about is abusive power,” the most apparent catalyst for his practice is how borders affect daily life in 2019.

Sanchez is no stranger to borders, at least in the physical sense. During his lifetime, he has lived on the borders of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York, and Kentucky and Ohio, where he currently resides working as a professor at the University of Cincinnati. The border that resonates most with him as an artist, however, is the one where he was born—in El Paso, Texas, on the border of the United States and Mexico.

Sanchez maintains a dual-identity as a Mexican-American, and his work rebukes the policies and attitudes regarding immigration and people with brown-skin (like Sanchez) being advocated for by the current White House Administration and its support base. Having first-hand experience of life on the Southern border—and having lived in varied locations throughout the country—Sanchez understands the realities facing the groups being oppressed based upon their country of origin and skin color, as well as the myths about them being perpetuated by certain groups. 

The themes of Sanchez’s work are complex and historical. It may be no surprise, then, that Sanchez adopts a range of media and materials, some of which are unconventional, to address the full impact of borders. He also channels his own history. His journey to becoming an artist stemmed from a prior occupation as a cake decorator, so he finds ways to incorporate the skills and tools associated with baking into his art. Notably, he applies paint using decorating bags, squeezing dollops, stripes, and flowers onto his surfaces. When reflecting on how his practice encompasses the notion of borders, he states, “It’s partly a reference to the paint—breaking the rules of painting…How can we make painting sculptural?” With baking equipment, Sanchez pushes the limit of the paint, nearing the boundary of what it is capable of doing.

Harry Sanchez, Jr. with ‘Sheet Cakes’ and ‘Torn Apart’, 2019

Elsewhere, as in Thoughts and Prayers (2016), he arranges .223-type bullets in text of the sculpture’s title on a wall or panel. This work juxtaposes the agency of gun violence with the seemingly distant and automated responses from politicians and civil leaders when acts of violence occur. Using these techniques are advantageous, insists Sanchez. “If I did my Thoughts and Prayers with paint dollops, it’s not the same as using live. 223 bullets, when these are the same bullets that are causing so much death and destruction on a daily basis in America.” Whether using non-traditional materials or not, the artist demonstrates a careful selection of medium, which often assists in generating the intended experience for his audience.

Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Sheet Cakes’ (2018-present). From left to right: ‘Deus Vult -Gen. John Pershing’, ‘Just a Fraternity of Social Club’, ‘We Thought He Was Going to Protect our Jobs, and then BOOM!’, ‘I Am The LEAST Racist Person You Have Ever Me’, ‘Why Can’t We Get People From Norway Instead?’, oil on panel.

Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Sheet Cakes’ (2018-present)

For instance, Sheet Cakes (2018-present), which visually resemble the kinds of objects Sanchez tended to as a cake decorator, are also indicative of flags, containing a variety of crests, stripes, and emblems. A single white rose rests where two black diagonal stripes overlap in I Am The LEAST Racist Person You Have Ever Met; a black border envelops the rectangular contour of an otherwise white panel. In another titled We Thought He Was Going to Protect Our Jobs, and then BOOM!, a yellow four-pronged pitchfork appears in a circle with studs protruding all around. Like the other cake painting, this work features a decorative border around a solid background. In most of the Sheet Cakes, there are moments when the paint reads as having been applied hastily, a purposeful technical feature paralleled by exposed hardware in the painting’ support frames.

The flags that Sanchez refers to are those hoisted by alt-right protest groups. Among them, he depicts the Confederate flag and the banner of the Traditionalist Worker Party—two flags flown by American groups—as well as the flag of the European-based group Génération Identitaire in Just a Fraternity or Social Club, where dollops of yellow paint form a circle against an expanse of black; a peak juts from the bottom arc of the circle. Normally, these flags and signs can be found at protest events across the world, especially events focused on immigration and border politics. They may also make themselves known to the general public as background imagery during televised rallies or in photojournalism. The intended quality of Sanchez’s craftsmanship accentuates the use of these symbols on picket posts, wherein a sign’s dexterity is often less important than content and visibility.

When asked what it means to create these images, Sanchez replies, “I’m not saying ‘this is what I stand for.’ I’m presenting these with a historical message. Cake decorating has a history of white supremacy and slavery.” He posits that by using decorating tools to produce these flags as cakes (as masses of condensed sugar), his work retains a connection to the history of the sugar industry. Particularly, his paintings recall slavery during colonial America, when slaves labored for long hours harvesting sugar and preparing food for their owners. “I’m just taking [the alt-right group’s] signs and making it what they should be made out of.” By this, Sanchez alludes to the white supremacy advocated by these groups, the palpable legacy of institutionalized racism, and the celebratory capacity of cakes—his Sheet Cakes embody the ideals of racial purity lauded by many alt-right protesters.

Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Torn Apart’ (2017-present)

Though the subject matter in Sheet Cakes is arguably inconspicuous, the series is inherently combative towards the people and groups it is about. Sanchez is unabashed in labeling alt-right groups as white supremacists; his mode of delivery—flags as cakes—is both cynical and somewhat irreverent. On the other hand, Sanchez is remarkably empathetic to individuals afflicted by border policies aligned with the ideologies of the alt-right. With Torn Apart (2017-present), a series of prints documenting deportation as political practice, Sanchez is able to express these sentiments. Here, he collects reference images of deported immigrants who have no criminal background and reproduces them in halftone, where the color of the ink is constant but the width and spacing of it vary. The end result mimics the effects of newspaper photographs. With titles carrying the names of the individuals he portrays, the prints of Torn Apart are perhaps the most effective of his artworks at achieving his documentary aspirations. 

Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Torn Apart’ (2017-present)

Exactly who Alejandra Juarez is in one particular print is unclear. Three young girls appear to be comforted by an older woman—perhaps their mother—while two men in suits oversee the situation. The print reads as the final moment before at least one of the women is deported, the last opportunity for a good-bye. Sanchez’s heritage, presumably shared with the figures he introduces, is conveyed through the green, white, and red palette—the colors of the Mexican flag. But it is his method of printmaking that he believes denotes his ancestry strongest. On what viewers may not be aware of with this body of work, Sanchez asserts, “You might not know that I’m referencing my heritage as a Mexican-American. You know, the halftone,” an insinuation to his dual-identity. In other prints, such as Maribel, the green and red ink overlap, creating a hue near to black—a formal marker for the dire circumstances these people enter into, at times without warning.

Sanchez achieves the halftone technique by inking a sheet of acrylic plexiglass, then uses Q-tips to meticulously remove sections of ink. He does his best to stay true to his reference images, which have been altered on his computer, then printed from inkjet printers to match the final halftone objective. The halftone is illustrative of what is happening to his subjects, emphasized by the reductive qualities of his process. “It’s the actual erasing that’s causing these images to be made,” Sanchez says, referring to both his erasing of the ink as well as the regulated erasing of immigrants from the United States. The halftone, in a kind of double meaning, is also a surrogate for the border wall in El Paso Sanchez was used to seeing in his youth, which he recalls as being made of vertical slats placed side-by-side, stretching for hundreds of feet. His technique is at once his and his subjects’ shared identity, a reminder of their vulnerability, as well as the tangible object that stands as a testament to racial and ethnic oppression in America.

Harry Sanchez, Jr., Studio shot with his printing press

When Sanchez creates his Torn Apart series, he uses a printing press installed in a room connecting his living room and kitchen that he has converted into a studio. When producing an individual print, Sanchez places a traditional Mexican blanket under the press’s roller to protect and apply pressure during the transfer of ink from plate to paper. Lately, Sanchez’s printing practice has expanded to include plates made from small, laser-cut wood blocks. What’s more, in addition to traditional printing ink, he has begun making prints using resin powder. For Sanchez, his practice navigates the border between traditional and novel modes of printmaking, spurring discovery for himself and his materials.

Sanchez describes his process “like a dance. I try to think it’s like a symbiotic relationship.” By this, he speaks to what he is able to accomplish given the limitations of the media, equipment, and tools he uses. For example, Q-tips that pick up ink from acrylic plexiglass can only be so precise when describing the contours of a face, and so Sanchez must plan for and accept any formal imperfections that arise. Such is the case, too, when handling cake-decorating equipment, which Sanchez admits can be trying on both him and the paint. “I’m asking the paint to do something unnatural. It’s a forceful thing, creating this pressure squeezing the paint out of the bag. I’m putting a lot of pressure on this, [to] hold form, and stand up.” In his studio, any number of materials and equipment are at the ready, allowing him to flow freely between his multiple bodies of work that contain similar conceptual themes.

Indeed, there are certain characteristics shared between Sheet Cakes and Torn Apart. For one, they each address an extreme of present-day border politics in the United States—Torn Apart with those being deported and oppressed, and Sheet Cakes with the groups who publicly demand the removal of specific cultures. Formally, they are both born from work Sanchez created during his time as a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati.

Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘All for Naught? A Whistleblower Series’ (2016)

Harry Sanchez, Jr., ‘Edward Snowden’ (2016)

His MFA Thesis exhibition presented selections from All for Naught? A Whistleblower Series (2016), a group of portraits of figures who in recent years have exposed abuses of power, like Edward Snowden, who leaked NSA documents regarding global surveillance; Julian Assange of Wikileaks notoriety; and Samira Saleh al-Nuaimi, an Iraqi human rights lawyer captured, tortured, and murdered by ISIS in 2014. Sanchez renders the faces of these icons in halftone generated by paint dollops made with decorating bags. The halftone in All for Naught, in contrast to his newest work, does not necessarily allude to the heritage of Snowden, Assange, and others. Rather, the dual-identity pertains to the actions these individuals take to unmask corruption at the highest levels, which can draw considerable amounts of praise and discontent from different groups across the globe. They are either civil heroes or criminals, depending on you may ask.

Prompted with any risks he may be taking, Sanchez is quick in response. “One of the biggest risks is being an artist,” he claims, “Being an artist is not easy.” Drawing comparisons to his time as a college football player, Sanchez says, “Playing football and getting my ass whooped on the field helped a lot. When you physically get beat down, and you have to physically get back up…I totally understand having to get up and be thick-skinned.” As a graduate student, Sanchez endured public scrutiny with an installation called The Lynching of November 8, 2016 (2016) at a campus gallery. The artwork comprises an American flag balled up and hung from a noose attached to the gallery’s ceiling. A rather simple presentation, Sanchez nonetheless received an ample amount of criticism and local press for the gesture. His reactions to such attention are prelude to the kind of empathetic yet staunch nature fueling his later work.

Interviewed by one media outlet about the installation, Sanchez contends, “One group is so hateful to another group and there’s such a lack of understanding[.] It seems like if we don’t get past this we’re going to crumble as a nation.” The flag installation does not concern the kind of border politics his other works address, nor does it explicitly emphasize the specific (art) historical connotations of the American flag or nooses. Instead, The Lynching of November 8, 2016 explores the boundaries of public consumption—what is most likely to garner feedback?—as well as the kind of imagery that stimulates adverse behavior and marks the threshold that instigates feelings of vulnerability when crossed.  

Harry Sanchez, Jr. 2019

The trajectory to becoming an artist for Harry Sanchez Jr. was, to some degree, unplanned. His story includes time as a construction worker, cinema usher, and cake decorator, the latter igniting his desire to create in such a way that the trade’s techniques are now his preferred methods. His nomadic life along with his upbringing in El Paso are his primary conceptual departure points, yet his practice stretches across a multitude of topics and materials. While divergences between his paintings, prints, and installations are readily apparent, they align in the ways in which they address pressing issues of the zeitgeist, especially with concern to the notions of borders, limitations, and rules. Borders for Sanchez are both subject matter and vehicle for expression. His art underscores competing lived experiences, bringing to the fore the various borders we surround ourselves with, whether consciously or not, to reinforce predetermined ideologies. Sanchez urges his viewers to unlearn their biases and embrace recognizable differences.

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UnderMain would like to thank The Great Meadows Foundation for support of our 2019 programming, which will include twelve in-depth studio visits of Kentucky artists. See our January submission related to this project: Dr. Emily Elizabeth Goodman on the work of Melissa Vandenberg. 

The Great Meadows Foundation is a grant giving foundation whose mission is to critically strengthen and support visual art 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.

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Arts Tasting Menu

A handcut tasting of cultural delicacies from Lexington, the region, and beyond.

A museum tour of Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati.

Appetizer

Pushing the Envelope: Mail Art from the Archives of American Art. UK Art Musuem, Lexington. Thru May 5.

The Ralph Steadman show is not the only fascinating exhibition up at UK Art Museum.  The postal system as an alternative way of producing, distributing, and receiving art became an art practice in the 1960’s, often as a way of evading authoritarian censorship. UK professor and UnderMain contributing writer, Miriam Kienle, curated this exhibition drawn from work in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.

Entree

Paris 1900: City of Entertainment. Cincinnati Art Museum. Thru May 12th.

A blockbuster exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum shows work from turn of the twentieth century Paris that illuminates the vibrancy and centrality of that city as a cultural center of Europe. Works and objects from that period including pieces by Rodin, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro, and others drawn from the collections of Paris art and cultural institutions are exhibited thematically. This is a ticketed show.

Dessert

Yinka Shonibare CBE: The American Library. The Speed Art Museum, Louisville. Opens March 29th.

A celebration of American diversity and a provocation to deeper conversation, the British-Nigerian Shonibare’s library includes six thousand books covered in his signature textiles. On the spines of many of the books are the names of immigrants to America or individuals whose ancestors immigrated to this country, the names of African-Amercians who left the South during the Great Migration, and the names of people who have spoken out against immigration, diversity, and equality. IPads allow visitors to inquire and participate more deeply in the exhibition.