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.
Lester Merriweather has been doing a lot with Memphis art for the past decade, but 2013 may have been his most remarkable year to date. In addition to curating the University of Memphis's new Fogelman Gallery, he was featured in group shows at The Cotton Museum and Material and held two excellent solo exhibitions, "BLACK HOUSE" and "WHITE MARKET", at South Main's TOPS space. He produced an entirely new body of collage pieces, worked with ArtsMemphis and the UrbanArts Commission, and was a constant presence at openings and events throughout town.
The first time I visited Lester's studio, I found him standing several rungs up on a ladder, affixing a picture of a bejewled female wrist to the top of a 12 foot canvas. He was putting the finishing touches on the body of collage work that would form the first half of his solo exhibition at TOPS. Around us, glossy magazines were stacked floor-to-ceiling, along with Tupperwear containers full of carefully extracted clippings.
The collages, many imposingly large yet sparse, feature delicate wreaths of jewels, sunglasses, watches, lipstick, and other luxury ephemera. These images are interspersed with deconstructed pictures of celebrities, or parts of celebrities. The works are about wealth and race and pop culture, and about how human bodies are co-opted by the brutality of capitalism. In following weeks, hanging in the grimy TOPS basement, they looked both bleak and luxe.
I recently visited Merriweather in his studio for a second time, to talk about 2013 in Memphis art and in his work.
Flyer: You devoted this year to making work and showing work in Memphis. As an artist who has shown internationally, but who has spent his career here, what was that like?
LM: It's a mixed bag. You always have positives and negatives from situations in which you are exhibititing work. There were high moments, like being able to do the 100th show at Material. I think everything came from just wanting to focus on changing things in my studio, and developing different bodies of work that I had started on, and just wanting to get actual ideas materialized.
There is a long way to go for Memphis's communities, in terms of how they receive, understand, and support art. But a lot of my work, this year, was to achieve that specific goal [of making and showing work in Memphis]. TOPS was a highlight, because I felt like I got a chance to do several different types of work, and make them all work within the space. There are two other Memphis shows coming up on my radar. But I want to use this next year to travel [my work] to other museums and other spaces, and other places….The thing about Memphis is— you could say sometimes— the audience is relatively particular… it is not like you will be blackballed from the art world if you make a misstep here in Memphis. I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do.
"I just enjoy all of my paintings. When I started assembling the wall grouping, friends said 'you're not going to group all of these in one large grouping?' I did because I just like to be able to sit and look at all the works at one time." — Mrs. Joe Pless, from a 1970s Commerical Appeal article
I recently ran across this headline while looking through old clippings in the Memphis room of the Central Library. It got me thinking: who collects art in Memphis these days? We have big-time collectors, like retired NBA player Elliot Perry, or businessman John Jerit, whose folk art collection I covered for the Flyer earlier this year. We have out-of-town art enthusiasts who lend parts of their collection to the art museums around the city. But whenever I ask, "What does the Memphis art world need?" I hear a chorus of "more buyers, more buyers, more buyers."
Memphis does need more buyers, and not just big time collectors, but micro-collectors: those of us who choose to spend any extra cash on a painting rather than a new margarita machine. I am curious about Memphis' every day art collectors. How do we come by our mini-collections? Galleries? Kickstarters? Friends? How do we display the works? Does anybody still display art in "groupings", a la 1970s home design?
My guess would be that people buy art because they know the artist, or because they fall in love with a particular work, or because they need some decoration for above their couch. But maybe, with Etsy and Kickstarter and the strange art-purchasing animal that is Saatchi Online, the landscape for art buyers has changed.
Valerie Pirainowill be giving a talk at Crosstown Arts tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 20), 6 p.m.. The emerging artist, who lives and works in New York, was previously a resident artist at The Studio Museum in Harlem, and has shown work at Queen's Sculpture Center and Chicago's Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. Her Crosstown show, "Reconstruction" combines recent works with earlier installations.
Piraino works largely with transfer process, a method that she says is "very much embedded with photography." Most recently she has been working with fabric transfers, though her Crosstown show contains earlier iterations of this interest: slide projection, printmaking, even embossed wax seals.
The show consists of five correlated installations: an array of small, handmade prints depicting old furniture; a row of vignette-shaped, framed mirrors; 11 wooden frames that contain projected slide images from several decades ago; and another slide image, projected into a corner at slightly below waist-height. The gallery space is bisected by a makeshift wall, giving the room a sense of front and back.
The idea of a transfer operates in "Reconstruction" in a couple different senses. There is the obvious transfer of one material to another, but there is also the thematic transfer of memory, both personal and historical. Piraino's work attempts to reconstruct personal and family history but pays material reference to Victorian-era (read: American Reconstruction-era) furniture.
Piraino began this work when she inherited a large collection of family slides. She says, "Much of the context [of the photographs] has been lost as family members passed away. All of that has since been folded into the work and has really become a central question for me... how to you reconcile having personal objects with very little context?"
History, in Piraino's work, is repressed, evidenced only by its inexplicable leftover objects. Her row of vignette-shaped mirrors are marked with a centered, creme-colored wax seal. They cast ovals of light onto the gallery floor. There's a domestic simplicity and beauty to the mirrors, but the work is frustrating. It doesn't tell a viewer what she or he wants to know. It does so purposefully, with reference to one of the most egregious "forgetting" of civil rights for African Americans, post-Reconstruction era.
Piraino's work elegantly conveys a sense of muted history, the artifacts of which have an undeniable coldness. Her installations are less about what were, than what could have been, were history better remembered.
Memphis-based illustrator and comic artist Derrick Dent has drawn for Wired, The New York Times, and The Oxford American, among other publications. His brush and ink illustrations have the technical edge of a careful paintings and the caricatural verve of comics. His distinctive comics style takes its cues from the American graphic underground but deals with text and pacing in a way reminiscent of classic Japanese Manga. Dent’s most recent work, a graphic novella entitled MAJOR SLUG 2, follows the ups and downs of a “guy who compulsively punches people.”
I sat down with Dent recently over a cup of Otherlands' coffee. We talked about dive bars, social media, MFAs, and brush quality. Dent, who is in his late 20s, likes “internet diets” (diets from the internet, not diets found on the internet), teaching, and character studies. He doesn’t like weird pick-up lines or artistic comfort zones.
Memphis Flyer: You brought your sketchbook. Can I take a look?
Derrick Dent: Sure, sure. At one point I fancied myself the kind of sketchbook artist and illustrator who would go to dive bars and draw people. The activities always ended up being mutually exclusive— I never ended up drawing and talking at the same time. Sometimes people would tell me weird stories. Sometimes [the stories] were complete non sequiturs.
... And you would end up illustrating those?
I would end up with the story in the back of my mind, but I always wished that I’d recorded it, if only for posterity, so that I could have held on to the narrative for some illustration project. It was a fun thing, for awhile. It was always a way for me to get out and talk to people.
Somebody is always going to talk to you if you are drawing in a bar.
Yeah, yeah. At the very least it is a “What are you doing?” or “I don’t see that happening very often.”
Anyway, this sketchbook is for this really informal community thing online called InkTober. This concept artist named Jake Parker started it and basically you’re making an ink drawing for every day of October, until the month is over. … That’s what this sketchbook mostly has been. There are times when a note or a small anecdotal detail slips in there.
The final tally for the online vote for the 2013 Flyer Box Art contest was very close, with Lindsey Penn pulling out in front for her Burning Man-inspired box she describes as "chaos."
Congratulations to Penn, who received $500. You can see her box at 665 S. Highland in front of Oasis Hookah Lounge.
Thanks again to the Art Center for their generous support of the contest.
Two very different exhibitions currently on display in Memphis galleries share a formal attention to shape, light, and color. Huger Foote, a photographer of the understated, makes work that matches something in the character of Holly Cole’s rhythmic, geometrical sculptures.
Foote, a Memphis-born and New York-based artist, is showing a new collection of color photography, “Sixteen,” at David Lusk Gallery. The show runs through November 16, with an opening reception tonight, October 18th, from 6 to 8 p.m. Displayed alongside is work by painter Libby Johnson.
Foote’s lens is focused on moments of long-lit quiet. In one photograph, a metal fence casts an array of shadows. In another, grass grows patchily near the lip of a sidewalk.
The work pays clear tribute to William Eggleston, but is less atmospheric and more formal. In many of Foote’s photos, a single, vertical element divides the frame. Spare instances of saturated color are noted against pale backgrounds, a technique that serves to emphasize shape and line within the composition.
And, if you haven't voted yet for your favorite box — the winner receives $500 — you still have time. Voting ends on October 31st. Vote here.
If you’ve never been to Repair Days or, heaven help you, never been to the Metal Museum, this weekend is the time to go. The museum itself (currently exhibiting works by Master Metalsmith Thomas Latané) is hands-down one of the best spots in Memphis, and Repair Days is the museum’s largest event of the year.
I spent a minute trying to come up with an analogy for what Repair Days is in comparison to the city's other annual events. I was pretty unsuccessful. Repair Days is not “like BBQ Fest for blacksmiths.”
The weekend is, as museum director Carissa Hussong puts it, “...its own organism.” It is an informal reunion for craftspeople, a teaching event for young metalworkers and hobbyists, an auction, a dinner party, a family day, and a many-tiered repair market. This is the event’s 34th year.
Matthew Hasty, a landscape painter and featured artist in this year’s Art of Science exhibition (opening Friday at Hyde Gallery), has no idea what cell mitosis looks like up close. His painting, The Echoes of Pneuma, would flop in any science fair, due to its imaginative take on cell walls (Hasty: “I used beef tripe for reference”) and inclusion of some antediluvian forms that seem, at best, misplaced in the cell world (Hasty: “...those parts kind of looks like Grover?”)
It’s a good painting, even if (actually, because) it makes a human cell look like a Dantean underworld. For the hard science side of things, there’s Dr. Sharon Frase, an electron microscopist whose research was Hasty’s inspiration.
Frase and Hasty will both be on hand at this Friday’s opening to answer questions and talk about their work.
This is the third year that St. Jude has put on the Art of Science, a project that partners local artists with St. Jude’s scientists. This year’s pull includes video installation, dance, clothing design, painting, sculpture, and graphic art.
It’s a week of oppositions in Memphis galleries: high-brow meets low-brow, the natural meets the plastic, and the old meets the new. At David Lusk Gallery, the paintings of Leslie Holt and sculptures of Wayne Edge are (respectively) cynical and stoic; hot pink and earthtoned. At Memphis College of Art, the main Rust Hall Gallery is devoted calming depictions of the Gulf Coast, while the neighboring Alumni gallery is full of Chloe York’s bright, cartoonish paintings. At Five in One Social Club, artists have revisited oldtime woodcut printmaking with new(ish) heavy machinery.
Memphis College of Art is displaying "Horn Island 29." The Rust Hall Gallery is packed out with student, faculty, and alumni work— all inspired by a May 2013 trip to Horn Island, off the Gulf of Mexico. This is the 29th year that MCA has sent a group to the island. The resulting works run the gamut from traditional painting, to cartoons, to metalwork and conceptual sculpture.
The best work this year comes from Slade Bishop, whose linocut prints of various forms of crustaceous life seem an appropriate reflection of the Island’s creative environs: meditative, simply executed, serious without being somber. Bill Nelson’s careful paintings and Adam Hawk’s fabricated steel-framed sculpture/painting also stand out.
Luke McDowell showed three enigmatic photographs that he shot at night from the actual inside of a dead jellyfish, using a waterproof camera. McDowell, a recent grad in illustration, said that he never expected to take photographs from the innards of sea life but, when he found the jellyfish on the beach, he thought, “Why not?” The results are as painterly as they are photographic, echoing a cross-media note that is repeated throughout the exhibition.
This Friday at 6 p.m., Memphis-based sculptor and installation artist Jessica Lund will be giving a talk about her most recent show, "WREFORD," in the gallery at Crosstown Arts.
Attendees of the talk might hear stories about Lund’s former landlord (Wreford himself), or the resident apartment complex cat (Elvis), or about what it is like to live in an apartment that, according to Lund, “looked like a scene from Hoarders.”
Lund, who recently received her MFA from the University of Memphis, says that her interest is in how people relate to the spaces they inhabit; how architecture shapes people and their habits. Lund's concern is with mundanities of property: a neighbor who threaded his failing fence together with an old garden hose, or a weekly $2 fine levied on apartment residents who failed to correctly dispose of their trash.
"WREFORD" is a paean to life in a low-budget apartment complex. (Plexiglass sliding doors, whitewashed metal fences, hair-grain carpeting over cement floor. Rooms that have been vetted by flea bombs and laden with roach motels. For those with an architectural bent: last-ditch Corbusian modernism, rentable for $600ish bucks a month.)
The back wall of the show is composed of insulation, layered concentrically, a zen mounting of that sublime pink stuff usually only seen in half-lit attics. The wall works as a humorous backsplash for other elements of Lund's show, including an axial sculpture of plywood and intricately cut carpet samples, located center-gallery and looking something like an imploded building.
Lund’s show also conveys a sense of constantly being monitored through motion-censored lights, placed above a series of wall-mounted shoe box sculptures. It is a clever play on the practice of lighting individual paintings in a gallery from above. Rather than unobtrusive track lighting, Lund includes intrusive high wattage outdoor lighting; rather than paintings, small boxes coated in camo duct tape and mesh, arranged into pseudo floor plans.
Lund’s show is cleanly executed without losing a sense of the intuitive. It is successful at communicating the indefinable atmosphere of a place without sacrificing humor.
The talk, and following keg party, will be held at Crosstown Gallery from 6-9 p.m., Friday August 30th.Images: Katie McWeeney
Memphis art collector and business owner John Jerit has one of the most unusual collections of art in the country.
Jerit, whose company American Paper Optics, has a corner on the 3-D paper glasses manufacturing market, collects folk art. A lot of folk art— enough to cover the 20-ft high walls of his Bartlett office, to fill a large Memphis home, and to occupy several storage units.
"Folk art" is a blanket term for Jerit's collection. More correctly, he collects work by self-taught, visionary or outsider artists. It includes memory works (paintings based on artists’ memories rather than observation), wood carvings, tramp sculpture, trench art and handmade circus paraphernalia. A large part of the work is Southern, though some is from other corners of the country. A small amount is European.
Housed in this collection, alongside works that Jerit purchased for as little as a couple hundred dollars, are works by Henry Darger and Martin Ramirez. Darger and Ramirez are two of the best-loved (and, for a collector, most-sought) self-taught artists.
Images: Brett Hanover