Where There Is Hope 

Powerful insights from 10 young artists at the Dixon.

Joel Halpern’s softly muted, hauntingly beautiful painting Bust a Move

Joel Halpern’s softly muted, hauntingly beautiful painting Bust a Move

Dixon Gallery & Gardens' current exhibition, "10 Under 30," is filled with strikingly original, relentlessly honest works by 10 young artists who blur the distinction between high and low art, blur the boundaries between genres. Included in the lineup: Kate Bradley, Eric Bork, Lauren Coulson, Eli Gold, Joel Halpern, Kyle Holland, Jesse Nabers, Emma Self, Rhonda Spight, and Alex Warble.

Self is a mixed-media artist who makes her own paper, binds her own books, then turns them upside down and inside out. In Double Houses, Self's book covers are transformed into steeply pitched roofs and her soft-pulpy paper becomes pages on which the lives of the families inside will be written.

In the bronze/steel/aluminum sculpture Modern Tragedy, Eli Gold confronts us with a ballet dancer whose feminine instincts, sense of balance, and milk of human kindness have been irrevocably harmed by a regimen that has become too demanding and mechanistic. The dancer's strong, straight right leg ends in a fully arched foot and perfect toe stand. Her extended left arm completes a posture so textbook perfect that she looks frozen in time in an en pointe position she could hold forever. But something is terribly amiss. The dancer's face looks tortured instead of disciplined. Her left leg and right arm are missing, and her womb and right breast have been replaced by a handgun. The weapon that has maimed the dancer is now pointed toward the viewer, poised to go off again.

Though Gold's darkly patinaed bronze dancer was sculpted long before Black Swan opened in movie theaters across the country, there are powerful parallels between the film and the sculpture — both brutal and beautiful works about a ballet dancer's descent into madness and the damage we can do to ourselves and others in the name of art.

In Joel Halpern's softly muted painting Bust a Move, row after row of sagging electrical lines and tilted telephone poles are punctuated with pale gray facades of businesses and homes. All signage and adornments have disappeared during decades of disuse and disrepair. In a landscape that is both desolate and hauntingly beautiful, the last rays of light glow in a mix of pollution and humidity that is tinted with the unmistakable blue cast of dusk. 

Another economic downturn — homes foreclose, businesses fold. Halpern goes deep into Memphis, deep into the Southern ethos as he strikes that same beautiful and tragic note, that same mix of desolation, longing, and resilience of the human spirit that fills the wail of the blues trumpet and twang of the country guitar.

In Lauren Coulson's haunting photographic transfer and acrylic on panel Rebirth, a nightmarish creature inhabits a dreamlike landscape as strands of straw wrap around a woman's thick thighs, stunted shins, and tiny feet. Long grass hangs down like locks of hair from the skulls of cattle that have replaced the woman's head and chest. Empty eye sockets look directly at the viewer with the unsettling power of a cautionary tale about gender expectations that can stunt body and mind, about creatures whose udders and docility are more valued than their cognitive functions. Coulson reaches into collective consciousness, into dark passages of the psyche that can unsettle but also serve as a deep pool of self-awareness and creative insight.

For On Sunday Nights, two of Eric Bork's friends (and classmates at the time) invited the artist into their home and into their bathroom to record a scene so tender and private it feels more intimate than sex. In this compelling portrait of relationship, the man sits on the commode, lid down, while his partner bathes in the tub several inches to his right. Bork convincingly simulates the way artificial light turns moist beige tiles into a mist of gold and the way light reflects off the mirror-like lip of the porcelain tub to brighten the underside of the woman's breasts. 

Though they never touch, the couple's bond is palpable as they mirror one another's mood and mindset — with the same tilt of head, the same relaxed face and gently closed eyes, the same easy intimacy of sharing tub and toilet in one another's presence, and, most importantly, their trust that each will understand the other's need for this moment of silence.

It's Sunday night: time to process the week ahead. Bork captures that moment so completely as a young couple juggles employment, classwork, family responsibilities — each developing his/her artistic voice while still finding time to nurture a relationship as side-by-side they go into that deep, quiet space all artists must learn to access.

Through March 6th

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