Where I Was Found: Exhibition by Taylor Norris

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Over the past few years ETSU art students have experienced growing opportunities to investigate various mediums and artistic genres, though the options available have long been quite eclectic: paper-making, encaustic painting, weaving, lithography, bookmaking, digital and film photography, dyeing, various firing techniques for ceramics, and so on. (The challenge I found at ETSU was narrowing my focus enough to fulfill a “concentration”, which I’ve heard many other students and alumni in the arts comment on similarly.) Sound, performance, and installation art has been creeping in as well.

If I am correct, Taylor Norris’ Where I Was Found painting and installation exhibition in the SUBmarine Gallery, an entirely student focused exhibition space on campus, came about because of a class that she’s taking at ETSU. Whether all the students will have mini-exhibitions as part of the class, I’m not sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Norris simply made enough cohesive work to merit a small exhibition. She seems fairly prolific and highly interested in experimentation. (Update: I have been informed that students can sign up for the space and scheduling is on a first come, first-served basis.)

Joyce Pensanto came to mind after looking over the images Norris posted on Facebook of her exhibition. Not to mention a quick mental slideshow of other images I’ve seen by artists using American pop culture references, specifically relating to cartoons and comics, of which there have been many. This kind of work has never particularly interested me, though seeing Pensanto’s Batman Returns early last year and now Norris’ recent work has had an illuminating effect.

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The first mixed media painting on the left is both dark and radiant with color. Given the gesture of the cartoon hand and the dangling tethers (yes, tethers), this felt very appropriate as an entry piece. I walked in, looked around, and immediately felt pulled over into this corner. I feel invited. Coerced might be more accurate. The action’s immediacy becomes dull after a moment, and the piece settles less active, less alive. But more on that later.

This painting also sets the tone for the rest of the show. The “tone” being of one akin to consuming too much candy on Halloween night, with colorful wrappers strewn about on the floor, crinkling in that slick, special way that only paper coated in plastic can do. Your teeth feel gritty, your tongue is multicolored mud, your insides heavy, your blood syrupy, and your head spins with jubilation. You may never sleep again. You may die right there after slipping momentarily into a coma.
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When I first looked at this piece (the image immediately above, title unknown), I interpreted it as a window. Later, while scribbling some notes into my journal, I looked up at it and saw a canvas stretcher. In both interpretations, which are in a sense the same interpretation, it was difficult not to think of myself as looking  through it, inside of it, and outside of it. “It” being an imagined barrier that is permeable like skin, represented by the transparent sometimes pink, sometimes red plastic wrapped, scorched, and stretched across the frame. My perspective, as I imagined it, slipped back and forth through the plastic, and I could see myself as this cartoon, see myself through this cartoon.

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There’s an excess of material sensation and messiness in this painting, which threads throughout every other piece in the show. Moldy Marill, a peculiar, circular specimen that is actually acrylic on a Pokemon toy, looks like a long-neglected toy or candy designed by the same people who came up with gummy brains, sour eyeballs, or absurdly large gobstoppers. The taste bud texture combined with the weathered snow cone colors haphazardly bleeding into each other makes a very touchable (lickable?) yet grotesque object.

As for its placement, I suspect it was not a lazy choice of convenience for Norris. She could have easily found a small, rectangular pedestal to place Moldy Marill unceremoniously on top of, but instead she chose a tall, slender, circular object that has obviously been painted black, and rather roughly at that. The height of it (making the piece about chest level or higher for viewers), the slick, reflective quality of its surface, the “useful accident” of its spatially sectioned out interior, and the gloppy dull black paint job all tie into the show as a whole. I don’t love this curious little piece, but I appreciate its detail and how it relates to everything else in the gallery.

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Moldy Marill, acrylic on Pokemon toy

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Loose Wires, acrylic and chandelier

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Gonzo, ink wash on paper + Alf Inhaling, pen and colored pencil on paper

The exhibition has a rather “homey” feeling, like a “family friendly” sitcom in the 1980’s designed by Bill Murray’s character in Scrooged prior to his Christmas miracle transformation. It’s bright, excessive, bold, dramatic, and ever so vaguely threatening. There’s a “window”, a “television”, a “family”, an oddly and grossly food-like item, and a light fixture, albeit a broken one. I am disappointed not to have seen an old couch that no one ever wants to sit on because it’s caked, coated, sliced, stitched, and all manner of other activities into an entirely Other object.

Is this a space where fictional beings and “real” beings can converge on the same point?

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Where I Was Found, installation

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I may or may not have been allowed to do this, but I stepped inside the installation. It wasn’t as overwhelming as I had expected or hoped it to be while standing upright, which may explain why I really wanted to lay on the floor. The experience could have been stronger if perhaps the space felt entirely composed from floor to ceiling. The space is too strictly rectangular to be womb-like, but certainly tomb-like. (It may have been an accident, but the papers roughly stop at about 6 feet.) Looking at it from outside the installation, as it was probably intended, it reminds me of old homicide crime scene photographs or Otaku bedrooms. I suppose some combination thereof.

Since I saw a bag of more papers, drawings, and paintings beside the door, I don’t think Norris had any shortage of items to attach to the walls, which makes me wonder based on what parameters or goals did she determine where to crowd the space and where to leave it relatively empty. It looks a bit less thought out than other pieces in the show, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but suggests that it could stand to be reconsidered and possibly altered in the event of another installation.

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Upon further reflection, various points in this exhibition made me think of death or endings. Is the extended hand actually a fallen hand? Are the tethers broken, leading to nothing except the realization of loss? Or perhaps worse, a change that is already happening? The cartoons and puppet theatre this exhibition references were all created by adults. (Is there a show made for children created by children? Seems unlikely.) They become the friends and inspirations of children, but they are first imagined, realized, and cherished by adults. Adults who can sometimes manage to create characters that outlive them (Walt Disney, Jim Henson, Charles Schulz to name a few). What does that mean?

“Where I was found”, the title of the exhibition and the installation, can also be interpreted as relating to death. “The body was found…” is the beginning of a sentence heard in many televised news reports as well as fictional programs about homicide detectives and CSI investigators. Norris adopting the voice of the witness, she places herself outside of death in the linear, fleshy sense. Nurtured by cartoons, she becomes a cartoon. Well, sort of.

I could be reading this into the work, and Norris might totally roll her eyes if she ever reads this post. That’s okay. At the risk of sounding apologetic, this post is just my interpretation and the show itself was compelling enough to merit sharing that interpretation, if only to encourage disagreement or discussion. Hopefully there will be more of these small shows. If they are treated with the same enthusiasm as Norris, this bitty gallery could host some interesting tangents.

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Second Saturday: At PROJEXx w/ Joseph Riner, Sterlin Hammon, Joybang, & Nerve Endings

As I typed “Second Saturday” into the title space, I stopped momentarily because I don’t know if Second Saturday on Walnut St will continue and grow without Nikki Hamblin in Johnson City. I hope it does (though obviously not for PROJEXx). And I hope that title reads like a talk show intro.

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Catherine Murray’s Letter to Mrs. Ramsay

“The Edge of Things”, 2009. Bronze, wood, lead, and paint.

I finally made it over to Catherine Murray’s Letter to Mrs. Ramsay at the Johnson City Area Arts Council Gallery. In case you haven’t been there, it’s a nice little space that’s easily accessible downtown (in the same building as Main Street Pizza). I haven’t been to many exhibitions there because, for whatever reason, it’s a bit off my radar. I don’t often know what’s in there. The only four times I’ve been to the gallery it was because a friend or acquaintance was involved with an exhibition. I suspect this gallery might have the issue multiple venues in this area experience as well — lack of exposure.

“Artemis”, 2012 + “Demeter”, 1997 + “Aphrodite”, 2012.

Perhaps most recognized as a sculptor, Murray actually began her artistic studies as a painter. I’m not exactly sure why or when she moved over to sculpture as her primary medium, but encaustic seems like a good bridge between the two. The medium lends itself well to being layered, built up, and carved into. The surface texture feels a bit mysterious, but very physical. Perhaps it’s the shifting opacity, the way the surface looks tranquil yet sticky, physically and psychically sensitive. The affectation feels mutual between object and viewer.

“Erebus”, 2012. Encaustic and mica on wood panel.

“Blossom”, 2012. Alabaster and cast iron.

It usually annoys me when people make artwork and title it a word that is heavy with meaning like Artemis, Demeter, etc. because it creates issues for both the artist and the viewer. If the artist making the work attempts to describe this word in an iconic, broadly applicable way, they tend to fail miserably. The task is too hard. The work suffers. If the work is a conscious attempt to spin a “twist” on the common perception of the word, it tends to be trite. Successful attempts tend to be more personal, less self-conscious. Or humorous.

While looking at Murray’s mixed media paintings, I got the impression that each work was a meditation on something in particular, but not weighed down by it. Each one feels like a conversation that she had with herself, with her memories yet it was really readable to a viewer. When looking at Aphrodite, for example, moments in the painting struck me as being revealing without force, such as the small deer in an obscured forest, the seashell, and the vulvic green shape slightly off center.

“Aether”, 2012. Encaustic and gold leaf on wood panel.

“Aphrodite”, 2012. Encaustic and paper on wood panel.

The work feels very much like the beginning of a new phase in Murray’s career, which is always an exciting thing to witness. At least for me. I remember being in my art classes and seeing that a fellow student made some great leap, and even where there were problems with his or her piece, the energy and potential was there to enable more growth and experimentation. But let’s not over think it. Momentum is momentum, and now is a good time for that.

“Honeybee”, 2012. Encaustic, cloth, and paper on wood panel.

“Queen Bee”, 1993 + “Honeybee”, 2012.

“Sanibel”, 2012 + “Hercules”, 1993 + “Red Deer”, 2012.

Two Way Dream: Paintings by Mira Gerard

Since Mira Gerard was my painting professor at ETSU and we have remained in touch, I’m pretty well acquainted with her paintings. I’ve seen them online and in person, whether it’s her studio, a gallery, or the floor of her living room. It has been an on-going pleasure to see her work continue to develop, and to see it in a variety of places. Recently, I was able to see a grouping of her recent paintings titled Two Way Dream in the Panorama Gallery of William King Museum.

Something I’ve noticed before is that after seeing them digitally, there’s this expectation that the paintings will be larger than they are in life. They seem like they must be large to contain so much energy, so much action and nuance. The painting above, which has temporarily lost its Title, is only 10″ x 15″. Many others are about the same size, give or take a few inches. The intensity of desire, both forceful and lush, slow-burning and flashing, comes across in the digital images, but truly shines when looked upon directly.

“Object Ophelia 5″, 2011. Oil on linen. 16″ x 12”.

So, as you can imagine, I was disappointed in the lighting of the Panorama Gallery. It was dark in that space, with only some cold overhead lights, and although it didn’t prevent me from enjoying the paintings, it certainly reduced their splendor. But this is an issue the museum is aware of already. Proper lighting installation is very expensive. Still, it’s a bit aggravating. I didn’t spend as much time with the paintings as I normally would, although to be fair, that’s in part because there was a reception going on. Two, actually.

Mira posing for Marie in front of “River for Forgetting” (see image below).

“River of Forgetting”, 2012. Oil on linen. 30″ x 58″.

And you know how it is at receptions, especially when two coincide. It’s a bit noisy with chatter, people stand in front of artwork to talk, and there’s concern about wine and whether there are any of those delicious brownies left. God help us if there’s more than three cheese options. While I was trying to see Mira’s painting on the back wall, which I hadn’t seen before, there were about three people who didn’t seem to grasp what I was doing. After a few minutes of me standing awkwardly near them, they shifted to the left. But then more people moved in, attempting to access the dessert side of the table. Basically, receptions are not really the time to see the work — unless you get there early or are just kind of “previewing” it.

Panorama Gallery, William King Museum.

However, I did overhear people commenting on Mira’s paintings, and pointing out this or that favourite. People seemed drawn to the sensual, dripping, vivid, at times muddy, physicality of the paint. The paintings that are pretty don’t have the quality of being “only pretty”, as so often pretty images do. I get a sense when I am looking at these figures that they are moving, but toward what end is often unclear. Isolated in their own little worlds yet still looked upon, they appear almost hypnotized and caught. But not waiting. Not anymore.

It was really great to see another grouping of her paintings, even with the issues present, because I’m always curious about how interpretations and experiences change according to context. And with Mira’s paintings especially, undulation is invited.

“Object Ophelia 2″, 2011. Oil on linen. 16″ x 12”.

Former students, Marie and Amanda, posing in front of rainbow paintings with moustaches from the Dali reception downstairs.

“Sunburst and Snowblind”, 2012. Oil on linen. 24″ x 30″.

Feeling silly at the Dali reception with Mira and her husband William.

PROJEXx + Too Much Awesome

Below is a pictorial interview with a house on West Walnut Street in Johnson City, commonly known as PROJEXx Studio & Gallery. The Too Much Awesome show was still up, featuring work by a few artists from Knoxville. Curl Up & Dye — Justin and Liz — were also preparing for band practice.

FF: Oct 5th

I didn’t get many pictures at all of First Friday because I was occupied at Venus & Fur…

 

 

 

There was a lot of great stuff going on, though, and I recommend trying to see those exhibitions before they come down. I definitely will, especially now that I’m not trying to finish 32 paintings in 2 weeks (read: madwoman).

If anyone has some photos or videos of FF they’d like to share, I’ll add’em to the post. For now, to relieve some of my discomfort about a post revolving around myself, I’m posting a stolen photo taken by Brian Paddock of Joybang playing at The Mecca Lounge downtown. Daddy Don’t of Knoxville played, too. It was a lot of fun. I love that place, those people.

Christopher Mir lecture + The Day on Fire reception

“Devil”, 2012
Christopher Mir
Enamel on canvas

In the very beginning of Christopher Mir‘s lecture, he stated that the lecture would be about transformation. He started off showing us a slide that was the beginning of the transformation – Cave, 2012 – and explained his previous work method, which involved digital collages projected to trace onto canvas and printed as reference while painting. Just as it sounds, it was a very controlled and formulaic process. He started to want a sense of freedom and looseness. Innocence, even. Cave is split into three sections, with a girl kneeling in the center, wearing a pale blue dress and interacting with the foliage in the cave rather uncertainly. It seems like an embrace, a nurturing extension of her arms and fingers. Behind her and to the right, there is a man wearing a ranger hat carrying a flashlight. It’s darker and more barren than the area around the girl. Further behind her toward the top of the painting is the cave opening, full of pale shapes that appear strikingly distant and desirable. Actually, every section of the painting feels desirable, though for differing, uncertain reasons. It just feels that way. You can see the collage process, but it appears looser than his earlier work. It congeals and breathes.

Taking a moment to explain Cave and the following slide, which contained another girl, Mir said, “I’ve always been kind of obsessed with goddesses and heroines and other female figures… I really like to tell their stories.” He went on to explain that he thinks women are more advanced than men “in many ways” and “should be running the place”. He joked about the obvious tension this could cause for many men in the room, and as if on cue several women laughed a bit uncomfortably, with varying recognition or disbelief. Regarding Cave, he spoke of Persephone being kidnapped by Hades, and how this relationship relates to art-making. Forgive me, I’m paraphrasing from memory, but basically Persephone represents innocence and an unburdened desire to create while Hades represents the critic, the negative “father”. He mentioned something along the lines of striving for Persephone, but accepting that sometimes she has to visit the Underworld.

This makes sense with later statements he made, about how painting or drawing an image is a way for him to possess it, and allows him to come to terms with it, whatever it happens to be. The moon and the arctic as iconic yet penetrable spaces. Insect and mushroom “self-portraits” painted like icons, giving them a kind of humor and humility. Mir spoke of seeing Picasso’s Guernica and Goya’s Black Paintings in person, and how they changed his life. Simultaneously, he found the images tragic and comical, fearsome and cartoonish. If I understand and remember correctly, this experience is what eventually led him making his most recent and dramatic shift in work:  he began to take small, quick, and linear Sharpie marker drawings made on photo paper and turn them into larger paintings made with enamel on canvas over panel. Of the process, he said, “The paintings tend be more methodical, but they’re also more fun.” It sounds like he finally gave himself permission to embrace this personal sense of humor — which was so evident throughout his lecture — and this several years long, necessary “side” practice of drawing absurd things onto photo paper. Absurd things that are meaningful and personal, perhaps more so than previously planned paintings. Mir said that he didn’t think about it a lot, but just responded to images that appealed to him, and that quite a few of the images relate to his family.

I found the lecture to be really interesting, and hopefully not just because so much of what Mir said felt familiar to me personally. Considering how widely the lecture was liked, I’m thinking it’s more than that. No one even complained about “that’s why men have nipples”. (Long story.) He said the lecture would be about transformation, and aside from the most obvious representation of that, there was definitely a feeling of momentum toward transformation and uncertainty within that momentum. I’ve become kind of fixated on the concept of FUTURE recently, as if years of my mom taking me to Disney World’s Tomorrowland as a kid have finally caught up, and the awe and fear and excitement are all rushing to the surface at once. For many reasons, both intimate and global, I think that’s probably the case for many people. And who has not experienced an “end” that became transformation? Mir’s lecture was a really great way to enter the galleries and consider the nuanced responses artists offered to “the end times”. And eat Twinkies and Spam, if that’s your thing.

Below are some images I took at the exhibition reception. There are some more at my Flickr account, if you’re feeling curious or bored. Similarly to last Friday, I didn’t photograph everything, not even everything I liked. The videos within this show were perhaps my favourite, and I have no evidence of that except what’s in my memory. Oh, and what they’ve posted on the internet.

An ebook featuring essays by Mira Gerard and Chase Westfall as well as artwork from The Day on Fire is available for free download at Blurb.com. You can also pay to order a hard copy. I highly recommend downloading/buying it if you’re at all interested in this subject and what little you can see of the work on this blog.

“Untitled #15 (Tank Man)”, 2006
Josh Azarella, NY
Archival digital c-print

“Exotic Flora”, 2012
Bryce Lafferty, AL
Watercolour on paper

“Okay With My Decay”, 2011
Ned Snider, NY
Acrylic on canvas
(Side note: Ned and his wife were actually at the lecture and reception, but nobody knew it right away. It was a pleasant surprise.)

Part of “Collected Suggestions”, 2010
Katie Waugh, NY
Graphite drawings

“Black Car Fire With Greens”, 2012
Caroline Larsen, ON
Oil on canvas on board