Erin Harmon makes her work in a green garden-shed-turned-studio, a location that seems fitting for an artist whose dioramic painting/collages often depict botanical cabinets of sea-anenome-shaped neon plantlife. Harmon’s botanicals are, for lack of a better word, “oogly”— full of acidic dots and undulating yellow lines; seductive and poisonous-looking.
In the past, Harmon’s work has been mostly small-scale and confined to the page. She breaks this habit with her latest project, a collaboration alongside choreographer and dancer Steven McMahon, of Ballet Memphis. McMahon’s original ballet, (working title) BIRDS, premiers in mid-October as a part of Ballet Memphis’ River Project. Harmon designed the set, per McMahon’s request, with “not a feather in sight.”
Happy Elvis Week, everyone! In honor of this most sacred of Midsouth holidays, I’d like to formally inaugurate a category of Elvis fandom heretofore under recognized by the local press. I would like to call this category “Deep Elvis” and have it signify all the Elvis attractions that lifelong Memphians know about, and that aren’t on the general tourist roster.
A good example of Deep Elvis would be (RIP) Graceland, Too. A better example would be The Blue Suede Lounge on Elvis Presley Blvd, where I once spent a solitary night drinking whiskey-cokes while I waited to pick up some friends from New Jersey who’d decided to go to the candlelight vigil, and where the bartender showed me his extensive collection of Bob Marley posters by the light of a disco ball. Deep Elvis is your Mom’s stories about scaling the fence at Graceland when she was a child. Deep Elvis is knowing where Elvis’s honeymoon house is without knowing how you know (it is in Palm Springs.) It is personal and ineffable and as beautiful as any Elvis sweatrag bought off eBay for a mint.
The best example of Deep Elvis that I can think of is Ron and Lew Elliott’s motorcycle shop, SuperCycle, located at Bellevue and Harbert. Ron and Lew were commissioned to build a three-wheeled motorcycle for Elvis. They gave it to him, eerily, exactly one year before the King died. They keep a full-scale replica of the bike in their in-shop Museum, which also hosts leather-wearing fashion mannequins, a bunch of overgrown plants, wooden tiki sculptures old magazines and postcards and plaques and brochures, and, of course, tons of custom bikes from the brothers’ long custom automotive careers.
Community-themed murals are often big, colorful, optimistic, and kind of terrible. For some unknown reason, neighborly virtue is universally painted in watered down oranges and neon greens. Communityish things are always created with the exact emotional range of the bureaucracies that commission them. They are hard to get right and easy to get wrong and either way we are stuck with them.
Jason Miller's new mural at the Gaisman Community Center in Gaisman Park (near the intersection of Macon and Covington Pike) is not terrible. It is big and colorful, but more weird than optimistic. The mural features Gaisman community members suspended in a larger than life, gravity-less parkland. A white-haired, wizardly-looking man plays pool. Elvish community members, as portrayed by Miller, go about their normal community center routines— working out, playing bingo or pool or basketball, or jubilantly doing the splits—but look very like mercurial forest nymphs caught at play. A few of them hold their bingo boards and stare knowingly at you, as if the bingo boards held incalculable secrets. The mural is big and detailed and just mystical enough as to not be drab. You can get lost in it.
The mural is not visible from the street but is definitely worth some investigation if you are in the area.
Read more in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Cincinnati Art Museum president Martha Ragland said that Kitchin is an "accomplished museum leader" who has a passion for art and a commitment to community.
This past weekend at Crosstown Arts, artist and U of M professor Cedar Lorca Nordbye began the install for his upcoming show, “To Frame - To Construct - To Occupy," with two materials: more than a ton of fresh lumber and four big, empty walls.
"There is a sense of wonder,” Nordbye says, “to coming into a room and seeing this much wood...I thought, ‘When am I ever going to have piles of lumber and a huge empty room again?”
Nordbye is no stranger to wood-centric installation (past works include cluttered and colorful “Everything Connects to Everything” as well as a sparse and dark related work, “Everything Connects to Emmett”), but “To Frame” is the artist’s most ambitious installation to date. For the project, Nordbye sourced lumber from several local sources and recruited around 30 people to help paint the boards.
Using the wood, Nordbye will construct a small house inside the Crosstown Arts gallery space. The gallery walls are painted to appear as an active deconstruction of the house — Nordbye brings his talent as a draftsman into several huge, fragmented murals. Following the exhibition, the lumber will be donated to Habitat for Humanity and used to construct a new home.
Nordbye says, “This project goes back to a fantasy that I had about 10 years ago. I thought, ‘I would love to have a contractor deliver the whole lumber load and let me work on the wood and then have it be randomized into the construction of a real house.”
“To Frame” treats themes of diaspora and residence. The show, rapidly and intuitively drawn together, takes place in a spare moment of the whole project. Nordbye plays the role of artist-as-orchestrator — pulling together disparate people and materials — for the final structure, a marked record of its journey.
Opening is Friday, April 25th from 6-9 at Crosstown Arts (422 N Cleveland.) Show runs through May 24. Casual artist's talk at 6:30 on Friday.
I recently stopped by Mary Jo Karimnia's painting studio, a cement-floored building that backs up against the Cooper-Young railroad tracks and houses several Midtown artists. You might recognize Karimnia's work from last summer's Five-in-One Steamroller Printmaking day (her mammoth woodcut features a woman wearing stripey knee socks) or from the Cleveland Street Flea Market, where she helps craft displays. Mary Jo's current group of beaded paintings and tie-dyed woodcuts seem at home next to her studio mate Mark Nowell's half-assembled and colorful scrap metal sculptures.
Karimnia, who recently received an ArtsMemphis ArtsAccelerator grant, has been at work on the series of beaded paintings (most of which depict women in historical costume) for several months. The work is painstaking— she uses thousands of tiny "seed beads" to make each piece— but feels playful. Commenting on her preference for work that is bright and synthetic, Mary Jo told me, "I can't stop. I can't help it!"
She took a few minutes to speak with me about her work and upcoming shows.
On a cold evening this past February, I paid my first visit to Southfork: a single-room gallery in Midtown and something of a sleeper among the city’s house galleries. Southfork is also (and more usually) the home of Lauren Kennedy, whose work with Ballet Memphis was recently spotlighted in the Flyer’s 20<30 issue.
Kennedy’s apartment is modestly sized and warmly decorated. The Southfork space occupies its own room, but Kennedy encourages artists to respond to as much of her apartment as they like. The signage for the Southfork’s current exhibition of two Texan artists — a tableau illustrated with portraits of the collaborators and their pseudonym, “Chuck + George” — hangs in Kennedy’s dining room next to unrelated posters and tchotchkes.
Kennedy founded Southfork in 2012 with the idea of a running a space where her daily life and her work with art can interact. “For the last show,” Kennedy says, "the artists worked a photo of my grandmother that means the world to me into their installation. I really love that.”
Which is not to say that the Southfork project is entirely dictated by the home-gallery aspect. Rather, Southfork, like Adam Farmer’s GLITCH or Joel Parsons’ Beige, provides artists who otherwise would exhibit at white box galleries or sterile museums with the opportunity to create and show work in an environment activated by a living space. Southfork has recently hosted micro solo shows by up-and-coming New York- and Chicago-based artists Jay Shinn and Heyd Fontenot.
The current Chuck + George (monikers of Brian K. Jones and Brian K. Scott) installation was originally created for a space at the University of Arkansas but was modified to fit Southfork, and will run there until the end of April. Kennedy says, “I love how [this show] fits kind of awkwardly in the space because it wasn't made for Southfork … because the images are all self portraits and the work really does feel reflective of each of their personalities and the nature of their long standing relationship.
"And,” she adds, “I love how Beetlejuice-y it feels."
Don’t miss "Cerebral Settings" tonight from 6 to 11 p.m. at GLITCH (2180 Cowden).
Brooklyn-based sculptor Esther Ruiz will present a series of “imagined landscapes” inspired by “space operas, pop culture, geometry, and the setting sun.” Her landscapes — miniature geometric line drawings and brightly colored plexiglass tableaus — are backed up by a series of star-scape murals by painter (and GLITCH founder) Adam Farmer, as well as soundscapes by musician Todd Chappell.
When I stopped by GLITCH earlier this week, Farmer and Ruiz were busy figuring out where to plug in a yellow neon orb (Ruiz, laughing: “I’m not sure if this sculpture is finished”) and how exactly the guest book — an old legal pad — should be attached to one of the walls. The remnants of last month's show by digital artist Lance Turner were mostly concealed beneath the more minimal ("cerebral") current display. Painted blue cardboard, left over from Tyler Hildebrand's November installation served as a light-blocker for windows.
Ruiz is a Rhodes graduate and Houston native who has made her mark in New York upstart galleries such Brooklyn Wayfarers and Airplane Gallery. She has also shown locally at David Lusk. Her strange, compact figurations make reference to digital odysseys and sand gardens, Los Angeles swimming pools and futuristic fictions. They bring out a clean, meditative aspect in the post-psychedelic GLITCH space.
Painter and Material Art Space founder Hamlett Dobbins has been spent the last several months in Italy, having been selected for a prestigious fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.
Tonight, Dobbins' "The Attendant," which includes he's created during the fellowship, opens at David Lusk Gallery.
Dobbins took the time to discuss his work and the fellowship with Exhibit M.
It seems as you went from working in a largely curatorial role in Memphis to being able to totally focus on your own work in Rome. How has this been for you? What are you working on? What are you looking forward to?
I've always been a person who has done a number of things: running Material Art Space, curating and teaching at Rhodes, being a parent and a painter. I'm not a parent who teaches or a curator who paints; I see all these things as one practice. I am just doing what I need to do to be a whole person living a full life in art.
That said, this time has been interesting to just focus on painting. I spend my other time with the brilliant and generous Rome Prize Fellows who are here with me. This is a magical place, it really is. I haven't made any huge changes to the work I do in the studio, aside from savoring this amazing gift of time. It allows me to take more chances, re-investigate old paths while exploring new ones. I'm looking forward to seeing the two dozen new paintings in the space there at David Lusk Gallery and seeing how they interact with one another.
It is hard to say what the work in "Inspired Resistance," the group exhibition currently on display at Crosstown Arts, is resisting. The show features paintings by Nick Pena and Alex Paulus (among others), as well as ink drawings by Bobby and Melanie Spillman and mixed-media work by Joey Slaughter—all talented, if not particularly transgressive, local artists.
Following the success of this past summer's Material Retrospective, "Resistance" continues Crosstown's streak of hosting some of Memphis' strongest group shows. The 55 works included take full advantage of the spacious Crosstown gallery. In the far right corner of the gallery, Paulus' vertical grouping of his sparse acrylic paintings span from floor to ceiling. Nick Pena's Through the Moulin, centered on a back wall, achieves a mirrored depth that does much to balance the surrounding works, many of which employ a flat and illustrative style.
A friendly, graphical note runs throughout the exhibition. Paulus' paintings— each of which feature a line of colorful race flags at the top— constitute about half of the featured work. His flag detailing serves to inexpertly advertise the paintings' central elements: a steak, a woman's bottom, a psychedelic cube. Paulus' useless objects have a zero-sum feeling that contributes to the work's sense of science-fictional groundlessness. This sense is echoed, but treated more deeply, in Pena's paintings, where objects and horizon lines are not abandoned but are endlessly refracted.
Carl E. Moore's works also stand out as smooth but somehow corrupted adverts. In Latex Love, a condom with a broken wrapper sits smoothly beneath two unembellished figures who seem about to kiss each other, in profile. Of all the featured pieces, Moore's work does the most to depart from "Resistance's" somewhat airy headspace.
Ian Lemmonds, the exhibition's curator, writes that the exhibition is about artists being good at being bad at things and that "if you are inspired enough by what you do, that inspiration turns into a kind of resistance." This sounds a bit like a low-brow call to arms; a defense of funny and colorful "bad" work in a perceived fine art world that favors somber abstraction.
"Inspired Resistance" is largely a painting exhibition, so it is possible that the titular "resistance" refers to the particular existential quandaries of 21st century painters. Paulus' sparkly paintings of Barbara Streisand wearing a smiley-face mask may not make you question your human residence in the maw of time, but they do ask you to consider the use of celebrity and pop iconography as interesting heirs to some of painting's traditional concerns.
There will be a gallery talk at Crosstown Arts on Saturday, February 22 at 1:30 pm.
If you've seen the film Into the Wild, Sean Penn's 2007 biopic about doomed, Alaska-bound drifter Christopher McCandless (or read the eponymous book by Jon Krakauer), then you probably know about the artist Leonard Knight. On McCandless' way to the great North, he briefly stops at Knight's "Salvation Mountain"— a big, painted rock in the middle of the SoCal desert.
Knight passed away yesterday at age 82.
Knight's mountain, visible on Google Earth, reads "GOD IS LOVE, JESUS I'M A SINNER PLEASE COME UPON MY BODY AND INTO MY HEART." It is painted (in bright latex) to resemble an Eden, a waterfall, a valley of the shadow of doubt, a Gethsemene. It backs up against Slab City, a neighboring desert community of off-season Burning Man attendees and trailer-dwellers. Knight spent over 30 years crafting his mountain in ascetic conditions, and the result doesn't look, or feel, quite like anything else in the world.
I got a chance to meet Knight a few years ago. He would have been about 79 when I passed through the area, and at the time he was still spry. He gave my friend and I (plus a prayerful full-leather biker and a group of wayward crust punks) a tour of the Mountain, pointing out sections that had been fabricated from old tires and rail ties, or else carved laboriously out of the rough ground. We brought him a bucket of hot pink paint because we'd heard it was customary to bring paint in exchange for his tour. He told us that his goal was to spread the love of God and that he was glad that his work was getting attention.
Knight has been written about as a visionary artist (an expansion on the term "self-taught artist", as many informally schooled artists have been called). His work falls in with that of painters Howard Finster and Bill Traylor, as well as with Memphis' own "Saint Paul's Spiritual Temple"—or Voodoo Village. Much outsider work (as it is also sometimes called) is spiritually-themed and highly colorful. But Knight's mountain is bigger and weirder and less salable than most outsider art, and so—even as it is the most visible piece in its genre—there are still concerns about its preservation.
Hopefully (and probably) Knight's work will meet a better fate than "Saint Paul's", which fell victim to vandalism and abandon after the 1960s. For now, if you're ever driving around in the desert south of Los Angeles, you can stop by and remember what Knight said about his work and faith in Into the Wild: "This is a love story that is staggering to everybody in the whole world."
Architecture is supposed to be the most accessible art form. As New York Times critic Allison Arieff wrote in 2012, "Architecture…carries a burden that the other arts don’t — it must reconcile aesthetics and ideas with user functionality. A painting or a novel need only please or provoke its audience; it doesn’t then also require setbacks, parking minimums and LEED certification." Buildings are everywhere. Not everyone collects oil paintings, but everyone uses buildings.
Arieff's op-ed ("Why Don't We Read About Architecture?") goes onto criticize writers for using words like "demassification" and "attitudinally" to describe architecture. These words are inaccessible for the majority of people (who, assumably, didn't have four+ years of theory education at the College of Their Choice.) Instead, she suggests writers use clean, simple, action-driven language to describe the functional arts.
But what to do when the architecture is not functional or accessible? Or, in the case of "Protoplastic," Igor Siddiqui's recently-opened exhibition at TOPS Gallery, when an architect has architected…well, art?
Siddiqui, a professor at the University of Texas in Austin, is a Yale-educated architect and the principal of Isssstudio, an architecture and design firm responsible for projects like "Mas Moss" (a curtain made from soy-dyed biodegradable cable and ball moss) and Ceramic Tesssseltile (an irregularly shaped tesselating tile that "produces the greatest degree of variation when multiplied across the larger field.") His design work is mathy and techy and Green, and the online descriptions of his projects throw around terms like "morphogenesis."
"Protoplastic" can be understood as a flexing of the same design muscles that shoulder the architect's professional work. The installation, designed particularly for TOPS, involves custom acrylic moulds and biodegradable reliefs. Sheets of bright-white plastic are impressed with radial patterns of lines. The sheets are arranged in a free-standing pattern around the space. In the small basement gallery, the viewer could conceivably feel as if she were in the middle of a large, elegantly executed rodent maze.
It is difficult to confess. Confessions can be genuine, but the "confessional" is a codified genre, with all the perks and failings of a genre. Starting with St. Augustine and perhaps continuing to James Frey, the confessional has seen some high and low points.
Chris Miner, the video artist and director of Crosstown Arts, knows this well. The artist's latest show, "The Gospel According to a Young American" is a comprehensive retrospective of almost 15 years of video art. Over 40 videos, broadcast on 20 boxy televisions, comprise a record of Miner's confessions— about marriage, faith and understanding. The pieces vacillate between Miner's raw, un-ironic self-professions and deftly ironized portraits of his surroundings.
At its best, the work is both on-its-knees and conscious of that well-worn pose. At its weakest, (and, perhaps, in the most genuinely vulnerable pieces, such as when Miner critiques his Mississippi heritage) the work seems to not know to whom it is addressed: God? Fellow men? The artist himself?
The exhibition, open through February 15th at Rhodes' Clough-Hanson Gallery, is loosely arranged like a church: pew-length tables and TVs are arranged in wings around the gallery, while a single alter-like television sits centrally in space. There is a small side-gallery with humble fabric benches and several televisions placed on low pedestals.
The televisions loop Miner's grainy clips, all shot on a camera and in a style that the digital generation has dubbed, reductively, 'VHS.' Miner favors a slow pace— single frames with minimal action, shots of old photographs, or frames of an unmoving landscape. If there is action in the shots, it is only to show the minuteness of human movement in an otherwise unerring stillness.
This February, Memphis will see the return of gallerist, art consultant, and painter Jay Etkin. Etkin previously operated first-of-their-kind galleries in the Cooper-Young and South Main neighborhoods. His South Main gallery closed in 2008, and Etkin relocated from Memphis to Santa Fe. After six years away, Etkin will re-enter the Memphis art scene by opening another Cooper-Young space, at 942 S. Cooper, only a stone's throw away from the location of his first Memphis gallery.
The new Jay Etkin Gallery is an old storefront space (formerly an overstuffed odds-and-ends shop) incarnated into a large, track-lit white room. Floating display walls are buttressed by steel columns. Etkin worked collaboratively with architect Jeff Blackledge to leave parts of the building's original structure revealed: cement floors and wooden rafters provide some context for the white box gallery space.
Hayes uses steel and "altered books" to form his works. The steel is exactingly cut to form parameters for old book pages. The pages are arrayed so that attention is drawn to the mass of their edges— gilded, watermarked or tiered, drawn from antique reference books. The steel pieces that support the pages could be seen as parabolic book covers, but the visual analogy is not a heavy-handed one.