Who is Greely Myatt? How could he merit eight running art exhibitions, an unprecedented event in the history of Memphis and the Mid-South?
Explore some of his 80-plus installations and sculptures currently on view at Memphis galleries, museums, and alternative spaces, collectively titled "Greely Myatt and exactly Twenty Years," and you'll discover that Myatt is one-of-a-kind. Part artist, part Buddha, part son of the South, Myatt has produced a body of work that's both complex and laced with sly humor and homespun wisdom.
Iconoclastic, unexpected, and paradoxical are some of the descriptors that come to mind when viewing work by an artist who makes quilts out of street signs and replicas of Philip Guston's bandaged, disembodied head out of wire and styrene peanuts. In the installation A Brief History of Modern Sculpture at the Art Museum of the University of Memphis (AMUM), real soap bubbles spill over the top and fall down the sides of a tall wooden plinth as Myatt spoofs his own title, gets sculpture off its pedestal, and suggests that art is an effervescent and ongoing process that can neither be briefly described nor divided into discrete categories. Other mind- and material-bending works include Sweetwater, an installation at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in which an antique lawn mower rolls across the museum wall lopping off cotton roots that have pushed their way through the sheetrock.
One of Myatt's most personal and iconic pieces, A Fool w/ an Idea or Two, hangs at the Brooks and graces the cover of the beautifully written and printed catalog that accompanies the show. The "fool" in the work is a figure made out of pieces of reclaimed wood and is the height and size of the artist. It stands on a soapbox or pulpit or podium — objects familiar to Myatt, a University of Memphis professor who grew up in a small town in Mississippi in the 1950s. The artist's alter ego reaches out to grasp a light bulb that hangs from the ceiling. The bulb is real and hot. Myatt could get burned. Like a child, like the Buddha, Myatt's willingness to take chances, to play the fool, to see each moment anew enable him to create strikingly original, often profound works of art.
Some of Myatt's work is downright beautiful, like the nearly 8-foot-tall candelabrum titled Shades that hangs from the ceiling at AMUM. One hundred or so light bulbs (some spent, some still burning) are strung together with strands of wire that spew from the top like a fount of electricity. While Shades elicits all kinds of associations about the way ideas spark, illuminate one another, burn bright, and burn out, this wild spray of wire that tops milky, incandescent, and smoky-gray surfaces is, first and foremost, a radiantly gorgeous work of art.
The empty speech balloons, question marks, and succession of window frames at Memphis College of Art's On the Street Gallery seamlessly match Myatt's work with a college-sponsored venue charged with teaching students how to talk less, look more, ask questions, and explore as many levels of meaning/materials/mind as possible.
Myatt's steel-rod and monofilament installation Pie in the Sky flies high in the canopy of tall trees at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens. Instead of the promise of a sweet hereafter, Pie in the Sky is, indeed, the outline of a slice of pie with a scalloped crust that also looks like the cockscomb and beak of a rooster about to crow.
Much of Myatt's art evokes thoughts just taking shape, ideas about to be spoken (or crowed), something about to be revealed. Another variation on this theme is a partially opened zipper embedded in the sheetrock of one of David Lusk's white gallery walls which suggests we may glimpse something still deeper about the structure of art.
Roomrug, the installation at Rhodes College's Clough-Hanson Gallery, provides one of those glimpses. Four large black corner pieces that nearly fill Clough-Hanson's floor space bring to mind the minimalism of Donald Judd and Robert Morris or a magician's black box that has been split into quarters. On the floor inside each corner, Myatt has fashioned a section of a rug out of brightly colored broom handles. Step into the center of Myatt's house of mirrors. You'll see rugs proliferate in infinitely deep space as Roomrug shapeshifts from minimalism into folk art into a vertigo-producing illusion that is also resonant metaphor for Myatt, a Mississippi-born, postmodern magician who spins objects and ideas into ever richer configurations.