Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Action at the AcA


Slammed!! Sensationalism and Culture in the Squared Circle is a catchy title for an exhibition. The punchy word refers to the art of wrestling and the squared circle to the ring in which it takes place. Set at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, the group show co-curated by Jaik Faulk, visual arts director of the AcA and Ben Hickey, curator of the Hilliard University Art Museum, assembles the works from more than thirty artists who answered an open call. The selected works are displayed in the main gallery of the venue and include paintings, drawings, videos, photographs and installations.

Back to the seventies, the world of wrestling is in full swing, so are motorcycle gangs. Streetfighters: Ninjas, 2016, a video from Generic Arts Solution is a great introduction to the show with two mechanized centaurs (the artists) disappearing in a cloud of fiery smoke accompanied by a soundtrack  of engines, screeching tires and brakes. The machine, two conjoined motorcycles, is also displayed close by. The main gallery is a wide open space filled with a lavish display of art works related to the theme of the exhibition, each artist represented by several carefully selected works. The four oils on canvas from John Isiah Walton made in 2018, especially relevant to the topic, appear to have been inspired by the show's title and vice-versa. The paintings feature colorful wrestlers in a ring surrounded by a black background. This is a short description of the narrative pieces. Their titles provide a cue to the depicted scenes like Super Dome F5 which, according to the artist, is about "The Undertaker's shocking defeat at the hands of Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX", or The Perfect Plex, for Suplex an offensive move with several variations. The visual recording of  these famous moments provide a way to build a collective memory of the sport and create a bond among the fans. I have to confess I am not one of them. Clueless about the art of wrestling, I look at the works from another angle. Catching the free fall of a blond haired wrestler in Wrestle Mania 2k or a scream of victory in Sharp Shooter, the artist offers the best view with his close-ups allowing to seize the pinnacle of the move, the fleeting moment that makes history. The contrast between white mats, fighters underlined by the blue halo from the spotlights and a dark invisible crowd, brings a spiritual dimension to the competition. Colors become a tool to express the tense atmosphere, underlying the loneliness of the fighters and their status as heroes in the squared circle, surrounded by unseen spectators but so present in the shadows that we can imagine hearing their cheers and jeers. Beyond figurative, the artist's technique with his vigorous brush and vivid colors, translates the physicality of the encounter. 

Walton assimilates all the attributes of neo-expressionism for his inimitable style and proceeds to apply it to render raw, brut scenes about a "world of power and display" best seen through his eyes. 


photographs by the author:

"Sharp Shooter"

"Wrestle Mania 2k"

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