Saturday, February 27, 2016

Order in Chaos

Can you see a link between a leaf and an iceberg, hurricanes and galaxies, the brain cells of a mouse and your ear? Referring to rules of mathematics and geometry like the Golden ratio, the Fibonacci number and fractals, Sarah House's works reflect on her love of nature and her search for its "interconnectedness" through patterns. The twenty pieces selected for the exhibition Artist Spotlight: Sarah House at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art represent a diverse sampling of her work. The ceramist favors the media due to its versatility, combining shapes and colors, sculpture and painting. After obtaining a BFA from Temple University's Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, she was the recipient of several prestigious ceramic art residencies and graduated from Tulane University with a MFA.
In glass cases, on pedestals or attached to the walls, most of the sculptures have a "natural" look due to their earthy colors and unpolished surface. Spheres for Self-Similar or dodecahedrons for Ode to Mandelbrot are assembled to create the final work, which itself could be part of a bigger installation. Water Study 1 and 2, flat thick pieces of ceramic with an abrupt edge, appear to be made with a cookie cutter: leaves? coastlines? The title gives the answer. A series of works have a similar haptic roughness with mountains and deep valleys, creating bare, moon-like landscapes sprinkled with ocher to underline the relief. Among these, It's Alive 1 and 2 have dynamic features with the material falling from the pedestal, petrified in action, puddling on the floor.
The display is somewhat odd with a few sculptures placed at floor level in glass cases below traditional potteries from the permanent collection, and the narrow space allotted for the exhibition puts some constraints on the artist who created installations in other venues. Sarah House through her works allows us to consider the media beyond its utilitarian aspect and discover its potential for artistic expression. Following the visit, one will be looking for the universality of nature expressed through the ad infinitum repetition of primary models, varying in scale.
Can you see a link between mountains and tormented waters?

photographs by the author:

"Water Study 1"
"Ode to Mandelbrot"
"Hydro Dynamo"

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sculptor with a Vision: Martin Payton

A recent trip brought me to the Ohr O'Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, Mississippi, where fifteen sculptures from Martin Payton are on display in the African-American gallery for the exhibition Rhythm and Movement, Sculpture by Martin Payton. The show is the occasion to look back at thirty years of the artist's career with works ranging from 1979 to 2011. Well-known in New Orleans for his public sculptures from Savoy, 1990-2001, along the Poydras Corridor, Damballah on the Loyola University campus to the Contemporary Art Center's ceiling, his most famous piece in the city, Spirit House, 2002, was created in collaboration with his mentor John T. Scott. After getting a BFA at Xavier University, he studied under Charles White at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles where he earned a MFA. Payton finds his inspiration in dance, music, charismatic characters, creating works heavily influenced by his African-American heritage.

From the entrance, the visitor is facing a massive piece representative of the sculptor's technique, the assemblage of  recycled industrial steel parts. Referring to the carriers of torches during the Mardi Gras parades, Flambeau, 1997, defines the setting of the room with its symmetrical imposing shape dividing the gallery in two sides, each lined up with smaller sculptures on pedestals along the walls. Abundant leaflets are available, providing a short biography, artist statement, title and one line description of each piece. At first, the layout of the monochrome black sculptures appears monotonous and the silence becomes oppressive. Mali Andante, 2009, and Stitt, 2004, characterized by simple shapes assembled to create sober and harmonious pieces, are a great introduction to a detailed visit. Stitt, one of my favorite, is like a syncopation, a curved line suspended in the air, off balance, followed by its more elaborate version Dolphy, 2007, farther down. Three sculptures in the round, T-Bar Giga, 2009, Bamana Bourrée, 2009 and Mali Andante, 2009, are laid on dark steel pedestals muddling their silhouettes. In Jarrett, 2004 and Tyner, 2001, Payton provides visual cues about musicians and their instrument, but the two compositions stay flat and static. Sorcerer, 2010, is a more elaborate symmetrical sculpture, with a body surmounted by a symbolic circle and two antennae-like appendages while Ibeji, 2004, referring to twin births is a combination of two geometric forms, masculine and feminine.
At the end of my visit, I realized that most of Payton's sculptures were two dimensional. This is somewhat confounding in view of the artist switching early from painting to sculpting due to his interest in the three-dimensional approach of the latter. Apparently, working with welded steel requires the addition of heavy bolts resulting in two-sided compositions (one "good" and one "bad" side) displayed along the walls. However, the sculptures in the round would have benefited from a better location in the center of the room, enabling the visitors to appreciate them fully.
The unique exhibition allows a better grasp of the artist's work, heavily influenced by his mentor John T. Scott and one can appreciate the constancy of subjects, media and techniques over the past three decades. Related to music, natural forces (Kilimanjaro, 1999) or charismatic leaders (Avery, 1999), all of Payton's works aim to higher goals and gain from being interpreted in the context of culture, identity and heritage.
What shines throughout the show is the artist's ability to give a soul to the dark cold metal.

 photographs by the author:

""Dolphy", 2007
"Bamana Bourrée", 2009
"Sorcerer", 2010

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

About Sculptures, St. Claude Arts District

Three sculptors showing in the St-Claude Art District ought to get mentioned before their exhibit is taken down next week: Jeffrey Rinehart, Aaron McNamee at the Good Children Gallery and Cynthia Scott at The Front.

Jeffrey Rinehart's four sculptures at Good Children are spread in the backroom, allowing a walk around them while the height of the pedestals facilitates a bird eye view. They are made of  gypsum and the pure white of the material is highlighted by the artificial grass-green they are laid on. One of them, Complex Napoleon, 2015, combines a Neoclassical portrait of the emperor crowned by the symbolic laurel wreath, resting on a pair of female limbs in a sensual pose, and a thin outstretched hand hiding his sexual organs. The idea of adding feminine features to the historical figure, questioning his gender, is provocative and fits in the Metamodernist movement which is about rewriting history, reconstructing, remixing and the creation of challenging works.

In the front room, Endless Schnoz, 2016 and Lips and Noses, 2016, from Aaron McNamee through repetition and accumulation are all about the symbolic protuberance. Organ of smell, the nose, we are told, defines character and from Cleopatra to Cyrano de Bergerac has made history. The totemic pieces are a celebration of the phallic emblem while Son/Father, 2016, a wall sculpture featuring a young hand holding a large finger/penis, rejuvenates the myth of Kronos and the Freudian father complex in this playful and irreverent version.

Across the street at the Front, Cynthia Scott's hanging sculpture takes over a large space with its shadow spread on the white walls. The intricate structure built with plastic, metal, and mesh, mainly white, has cage-like features resulting in an eerie feeling of entrapment offset by the dreamy shadow in the background. A short text from Macbeth provides the key to the work and its title Poor Players, Strutting and Fretting, 2016.

photographs by the author:

Jeffrey Rinehart, "Complex Napoleon", 2015
Aaron McNamee, "Endless Schnoz", 2016
Cynthia Scott "Poor Players, Strutting and Fretting", 2016