Emerging Artists Make the Most of Their Youth
Whoever said youth was wasted on the young hadn't spent much time with young artists, who are pushing the boundaries of their youth to the fullest. Below, we feature just a few of the many talented emerging artists in our community.
Installation artist and Marlboro College senior Eric Gushee is showing work at Through the Music this month. While an installation is a rare enough event in town to warrant a peek, you will probably want to stay a while and savor the experience. Gushee describes his work as "an exploration of materials," many of which he finds on the street. Old t-shirts and pieces of foam are favorites. He infuses the t-shirts with lacquer, which gives them a jaundiced-looking, crinkled stiffness, and cuts graceful ripples in the foam. He also makes paper out of whatever he can find, including locally prevalent locust bean pods. "The first thing [when planning an installation] is just making materials -- enough to occupy a large space," he explained.
As the pile of materials grows, Gushee will begin to stitch things together, but he does not plan the architecture of his pieces ahead of time: "I am creating all the materials, and I have no idea idea what it's going to look like until that second. I have a lot of trust and faith in my materials." The space will determine the final shape of the piece, and Gushee prefers "awkward spaces, not a conventional gallery sort of environment." He likes the idea that his work, rather than elevating the space they occupy, can "give the viewer a new understanding of the space and the materials I use." The final piece is a complex, organic-looking network of ceiling-hung materials grounded by guy wires. A recent exhibit at Marlboro college featured his three-dimensional pieces installed in front of blank canvases, emphasizing the point that the pieces do not represent something -- they are something. "I'm trying not to turn them into something else," Gushee explains. "I'm in love with my materials.... I'm trying to draw attention to everyday-life objects that are commonly overlooked."
An overlooked object you'll especially notice is one that galleries tend to control very closely: the shadow. Gushee's pieces derive much of their life-like appearance from the intricacy of their interstices, and, like Calder's mobiles, they project equally intricate shadows, which the viewer can appreciate fully by walking around the piece and viewing it from different angles. The installation, says Gushee, is "more a moment than an object." But you'll want to make that several moments per piece in order to get the full effect.
Rafael Kelman, also a Marlboro College senior, will be showing in tandem with Gushee. While the two share a propensity to "take material as inspirational subject matter," in Kelman's words, this artist's work responds to a very different impetus and inspires a very different response in the viewer.
Kelman is currently working primarily with one material: cardboard. "I'm really intrigued by these anonymous stories told by cardboard," he said. "It's also just a fun material to work with; it can be cut, torn, rearranged and used for two dimensions or three." It is also attractively "accessible and free," and Kelman means that both ways. It is easy to acquire, and, as a common material, it is intellectually "accessible" for the viewer. Ask any kid whose parents have just bought a large appliance: there is nothing intimidating about a cardboard box. "I have this ideal that art in some form should be accessible to everybody to make and see," Kelman said. "There's an aura surrounding [art] -- the perfectly stretched canvas, rabbit-skin glue.... With cardboard, you can see it's tacked together of materials people use in everyday life."
The challenge, of course, is to take something as accessible as cardboard and make it into something that speaks to the soul. Kelman achieves this by using his considerable talent and sense of humor to elicit emotional responses to little pieces of shared symbolic systems: recognizable visual images, or words and numbers. He delights in randomness, and often when describing his creative process uses the phrase "as arbitrarily as I could." This process started out with Kelman "exploring the sort of familiar but very impersonal relationship people with with newspaper images, like hamburger meat." Once you place these familiar images into new contexts, such as an art gallery, "this absurd reality can be explored."
Kelman lately completed a (non-cardboard) piece called "soaked mashed however" that strung together subject lines from Spam e-mails. He superimposed the resulting poem on a photo he had taken of a pile of logs on which he had drawn eyes, a nose and a mouth: "absolute sentient Lifelong happiness/ alas offers only delusive shortcut," the text begins. Those familiarly dysphasic Spam subject lines, he explains, "have emotion and potential symbolic substance, but it's almost completely open-ended." The work amplifies and celebrates this open-endedness, allowing the viewer to complete it at his or her discretion. "I like viewers to feel intrigued and want to know more," said Kelman, "but not feel like they can't know more."
Of course, many people seek art to help them organize reality, not disorganize it; or to make them feel more serious, not to give them a laugh. But while that kind of art may have a very important place, Kelman feels his kind does too. "I really admire artists who play a sort of trickster or prankster role," he said. A hearty belly-laugh might not be the most common sound you hear in a gallery, but laughter can be sublime. In fact, this work might be seen as a healing tonic. As Kelman himself pointed out, "There's a lot of hope in absurdity."
If Shayna Kipping's work in the window of Zephyr Designs has caught your eye, you are not alone. It is some of the most visible art in town, and Kipping, who works at Zephyr, has heard many comments about it from customers. "There's something funny that happens," she said. "People come in and say, 'I really like those dioramas,' or 'I really like those models'. They hardly ever call them sculptures."
Kipping theorizes that, with the exception of old war memorials, people are not accustomed to seeing narrative, or even representational, sculptures. Nowadays, serious sculpture is expected to be abstract and aloof, but Kipping crafts surreal figures and scenes that appear to be in the middle of something, though it's not usually clear what. While they are narrative in the sense that there is a story behind them, they do not actually tell a story. "Even though I'm setting the stage, I don't know the play from beginning to end," Kipping says. "It's more like trying to create a mood. Paintings do it; why not sculpture?"
Kipping is intrigued by the way people respond to the "doll-like scale" and narrative bent of her work. It can have positive effects, like capturing the interest of children, and less positive ones, like people noticing the "cute" meerkat setting out alone in a boat without thinking very deeply about the vulnerability and loneliness inherent in the scene. For me, her work resembles the music of They Might Be Giants -- a bouncy, sunshiny melody with frighteningly dark lyrics. The contrast of the two makes the darkness much, much scarier.
Because of the responses of her viewers, Kipping has started playing around more consciously with the elements of her work that subtly bend people's expectations. Viewers often have trouble figuring out what medium she uses. More often than not, her figures are made of Paperclay and other "materials people would look down their noses at," but she coats the finished product with mica powder to make it look like stone, or paints them to look like bronze castings. She is also reducing her scale even more, a move that is helping her twist the superficially innocent scenes toward darker interpretations after viewers have already gotten involved. "Working smaller pulls people in more; the pieces pull them in and turn them into spies."
Occasionally, Kipping gets fed up with the the 'cute' comments, though, and she does something that is immediately, unmistakably creepy. "It's in the Hands of the Magicians Now," a pointy-fingered glove sewn together of lead flashing, made the hair on my neck stand up. That was delightful in itself, but trying to figure out why was even more fun.
Kipping's work was featured at Through the Music last month; a few pieces remain there for September.
It is common for emerging artists to participate in the great artistic conversation by having something completely new to say, and without necessarily having to "prove," as they once did, that they can actually draw and are consciously choosing not to. But there are a few very talented artists with immense representational skills who aspire to push those skills to the limit rather than forsaking them altogether. Julia Jandrisits is that sort of artist.
Jandrisits works professionally as a graphic designer, but has had no formal training as a painter. She has developed her own technique, gazing at pieces by John Singer Sargent, learning from books and working from photographs of her friends. Old fashioned? Well, perhaps, but as Jandrisits pointed out, "Realism can push its own boundaries in a way that's steeped in traditional, tried and true methods of producing this certain type of beauty." "The Green Book," for example, while undoubtedly a work of traditional Realist portraiture, is painted on an antique bed board, and portrays a young woman on a sofa, sleeping with a dreamy smile on her face. While it thematically resembles many a portrait of an indolent nude on a settee, the setting is unmistakably contemporary. And it is not the only of Jandrisits' pieces that look like compelling scenes from films. As traditional as one might like to be, there is no removing the cinema from today's reality -- or from today's Realism.
Despite her already evident skill as a painter, Jandrisits wants to study formally, and she is finally getting her wish this fall, in Florence. "I've been looking for years for the right program, from California to Maine to Nova Scotia, but nothing impressed me as much as the Florence Academy," she said. The curriculum focuses on drawing figures from life -- not photographs -- as a basis for advancing one's work as a painter or sculptor. "I've done a little bit of painting from life, but the method that I've developed is completely based on photographs. It will be interesting to break everything down and start over."
Jandrisits was featured at Catherine Dianich Gallery in August, where her friends organized a fund-raising silent auction of her paintings to help fun her travels. Unfortunately, her paintings are not available for public viewing this month, but I have a feeling we'll be seeing her name around again soon. In the meantime, she may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2007, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont