Carl Solway Gallery Review

May 24th, 2014  |  Published in *, May 2014, On View

By Hannah Leow

Story is an unmatched force.  Stories possess the power to transcend time, to connect human experience, to cross cultures, to resonate on both individual and global scales, to permeate emotion and logic, to unite adversaries, to shift perspectives, to revitalize past, present (especially present), and to renew the future.

Collated on the walls of The Carl Solway Gallery are stories told by ten contemporary storytellers, or artists, if you will.  From cartographic constructions of Cairo, to postmodernism in its barest form (see: John Ashbery, The Leisure Class, 2011) the artists of shooting the moon in the eye compile a library of works laden with hierarchy, heritage, and humanity.

Charles Bukowski’s poem shooting the moon in the eye is the prelude for the series of works to follow.

I think we were
just celebrating
being
alive.

that small room
full of smoke and
music and
voices,
night after night
after
night
the poor, the mad,
the lost.

The poor – Alison Elizabeth Taylor

If you dare to quick search “marquetry” in Google, your results page will be flooded with one of two things; the first being instructional “marquetry-how-to” videos featuring middle-aged men who are (more than likely) gracing the screen in a Hawaiian polo shirt (probably in mid-November.)  The second will be a spectrum of images ranging from ornate Renaissance cabinetry from Chateau de Versailles to mid-century plaques clad with owls and kittens found in your grandmother’s home. It is this very craft of marquetry that Taylor brings into a contemporary context.

With marquetry having deep roots in decorative art, the use of this process in Taylor’s work is a commentary in and of itself.  Decorative art is used to evoke this sense of reverence for the space that you inhabit—a sense of privilege for having been invited in.  In utilizing the process of marquetry, Taylor asks the viewer to revere the subject matter—to feel privileged to have been invited in.

Alison Elizabeth Taylor, Jamon, 2014, Wood veneer, shellac, acrylic, oil paint, 58.5 x 76 inches

Taylor turns the abject into decorative, transforming the viewer’s relationship to the subject matter.  A tribute to the ordinary, a praise to the poor, Jamon is an intricately constructed portrait of two butchers at work. In this confluence of high and low classes, the mastery of a butcher is of equal caliber to the skill of an artist.  Imposing the hand painted animal leg onto the hyper realistic wood inlay, Taylor heightens the interplay between the materials themselves.  Taylor stills this simple moment of service delivery to capture the complexity of the individual and enhances this exchange that by nature goes unnoticed or ignored. The role of the viewer shifts from consumer of commodity to observer of the value of the individual.

The transformative quality of the work as a whole is remarkable.  Reconciling material to process, process to subject matter, and subject matter to viewer, Taylor creates a multifaceted and dynamic interface.  It is no wonder that twice during the opening viewers got so close to the butcher’s face as if to kiss him.

The mad – Trenton Doyle Hancock

A literary work at its core, The Legend is in Trouble is a tale of a Mound named The Legend who is succumbing to the hierarchal powers of his archrivals, The Vegans. The narrative that Hancock composes is one rife with Biblical and cultural implications as well as personal prose.

At face value, Hancock’s artistic process reads haphazard, almost mad, if you will.  The Legend is in Trouble is an unstretched canvas living at 104 x 120.5 inches.  It is comprised of strips of felt, puddles of glue, word cutouts, clusters of hair, painted and drawn handiwork, all capriciously strewn across and throughout one another.  A step back from the canvas will reveal that all of these elements are working together to create the whole of The Legend.

Trenton Doyle Hancock, The Legend is in Trouble, 2001, Mixed media on canvas, 104 x 120.5 inches

The implications of the formal components craft the story of the Mounds, color being one of them.  From the book Pink: The Exposed Color in Contemporary Art and Culture, Barbara Nemitz describes the complexity and controversy surrounding the color as follows:  “From the rosy tint of wind-reddened cheeks to the first flush of arousal, from cherry blossoms to PeptoBismol, pink is a sweet, intimate, fragile and sickening shade.  Few colors trigger more contradictory associations and emotions – tender, childish, plastic, pornographic – or are so symbolic of both high and low culture.”  The potency of the color pink creates a dynamic composition that forces the viewer to engage with the subtle yet confrontational color.  The Legend, and all Mounds, in fact, has an unlikely beginning – being birthed from a masturbating half-creature in the wood when its semen landed on some fertile plants below.  With this origin, we see how pink makes itself present in the work, referencing this private, sexual act.  Pink is embedded throughout the make-up of the Mound, paying homage to its ancestry.

And from this lineage of “spilled seed” we uncover the Biblical notions of Hancock’s work.  From Onan (son of Judah and Shua) to Jesus Christ himself, religious ideologies find themselves as a subtext for Hancock’s narratives.  The climax of the New Testament is the death of Jesus.  But, to his follower’s respite, death is not the end of the story.  In fact, it is from his death that life is born (be-it his physical resurrection, spiritual life, etc.).  It is after the Christ’s death that a story unfolds.  Hancock employs this same plot for his drama.  Upon the very moment of release of the creature’s semen, where it should have fallen to the ground bearing no fruit, life is born and the story of the Mounds unfold.

Hancock’s narratives prove him to be an avid and capable storyteller.  Where this particular work falls short is in its isolation.  Being a scene from a series of works that make up a larger narrative, stepping into The Legend is in Trouble is a little disconcerting.  Providing supporting work for this piece would give the viewer some relief and context.

The lost – James Hill

The fabric of a nation is comprised of many fibers.  Many of these binding threads, if not all, fell consequence to the ramifications of the Civil War, thus drastically changing the make-up of America.  In her book The Republic of Suffering:  Death and the American War Drew Gilpin Faust argues that death was the common experience that altered the American fabric.  She writes, “Some of the changes death brought were social, as wives turned into widows, children into orphans; some were political, as African American soldiers hoped to win citizenship and equality through their willingness both to die and to kill; some were philosophical and spiritual, as the carnage compelled Americans to seek meaning and explanation for war’s destruction.”  Hill copes with these implications in his series “Meditations on the Civil War.”

James Hill, Meditations on the Civil War, 2009, Group of four mixed media sculptures, 6 x 12 x 2 inches, 7 x 10 x 1.75 inches, 6.5 x 7.5 x 5 inches, 17.25 x 9.5 x 3 inches

With a departure from 1860’s ethereal landscape paintings and heroic portraiture, Hills’ approach to storytelling is breath of fresh air—intimate in size, rich in texture, and spatially stimulating.  Drawing direct correlations between his material and subject matter, his works are constructed of fabric, photographs, wire and metal—objects reminiscent of remnants you would find on a battlefield.  These entities are representative of consequential factors of the war, ranging from an individual level to that of the entire nation.

Memorializing what was lost in such a visually collective way, Hill references the idea of shared experience that Americans encountered.  While his pieces function independently of each other, they still contribute to the story as a whole.

we lit up that hotel
with our twisted
souls
and it loved
us.

The stories that comprise shooting the moon in the eye are ones worth reading.  Be-it cultural criticism, historical observation, personal prose, or whatever lies between, the authors of these works empower the viewer to engage with the narrative at hand. American novelist Flannery O’Connor says it wonderfully: “The novelist doesn’t write to express himself, he doesn’t write to simply render a vision he believes true, rather he renders his vision so it can be transferred, as nearly whole as possible, to his reader.”

The other twisted souls whose work is featured in shooting the moon in the eye not mentioned above are: Claire Burbridge, Matthew Picton, Sarah McEneaney, Shinique Smith, Trevor Winkfield, and William T. Wiley.

The exhibition is on display through July 26, 2014.

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