Saturday, February 4, 2012

Following First Friday

Reaction to last night's short, select exhibition-seeing
Jonah Criswell, The Problem, oil on paper, 11"x13", 2011
Image: courtesy of the artist via curator Andrew Lyles; may not be reproduced without permission

Thanks to Alison, someone I know from her writing when I was at the magazine and from her role with a local gallery, I took up the prompt to download my impressions from the three exhibitions I visited last night. Read her thoughts at The Junk Revival; we went to two of the same shows, and I saw two others she didn't, and vice versa.

For me and my mate, it was west Crossroads only—and only the block of 18th and Wyandotte.

We went out early, as in 5 o'clock. Just off work, we Started at Spray Booth Gallery and had the luxury of being able to see every single piece (118) unobstructed and up close. The manipulated photocollage motif, as well as the rough, color-block abstract painting-type seemed to be repeated in a number of works. There were amid too many pieces overall to say that such styles dominated, of course, but I know they represent a trend to which I can't articulate any critical response: I do not see beauty, and sometimes I don't even see craft; I see Idea. I need more discussions with artists—or for you to point me to some articles/new books.

I do "get" the idea of sculptural installations made of pieced-together bits, I think—I enjoy the voice of cheer I feel in them and in their careful assembly: Cory Imig's yellow balloon taped to the wall under stripes of blue, Christina D. Prestidge's presentation of a little one of her acrylic, mylar, and monofilament creations, Matt Jacob's Spectrum of the rainbow's colors put together as a prisim wedge with the open end a masonry of white Tic Tac candies.

The 2D items I wished to purchase fall outside my current budget (Lee Piechocki, Caleb Taylor, Paul Anthony Smith, Waseem Touma, Gabrieila Castanedo, Nicholas Naughton, Ryan Haralson), and even Julia Icicle's crisp charming print, Time Flies like a Banana, at a mere $100, is beyond what I can afford at this time. To be honest, for a lot of us, employment these past four years has been rough!

That's a shame, though, because Andrew Lyles does a great job with that space—in the back of a bicycle shop—and I want him to be able to continue curating there. Maybe I can let the Visa bill linger a tiny bit longer to ensure he gets some money from me? I'm sure Julia wouldn't mind the receipt either. Kansas City artists have a well-worn refrain that selling here is difficult.

The list of "faves" above is not complete, please note, and even as I continue, it won't be: with 118 things to see, a great many of them deserve a critique.

Jonah Criswell's The Problem, pictured above, for example, was not for sale, but we were quite drawn to it. Julia Cole's attractive sculptural triptych All, Nothing, which is also a DIY instructional for carrying out a wish-making ritual, was likewise unpriced but drew me to covet it. The reason might have been the comforting framed presentation of the Job's Tears (coixseed), under glass and with what appeared to be embroidery. Textiles apparently attract me. (I sure could use a wish-come-true, too.)

Textiles: Until I had read through the whole exhibition list, it didn't occur to me that the low, footed ottoman in the middle of the floor was a work of art and not a mere "This is a French salon" prop. Of course it would be made by Ayla Rexroth, an artist and curator whose practice is built around hosting a gallery in her own living space, where works of visual art are "couched" amid furniture and the other quotidian elements of domestic life. And, it would be upholstered in a pleasing light blue fabric that made me fall in love: Alya always wears the most tasteful and put-together outfits. As long as it sounds like I'm gushing, I'll take a plunge further and mention that it's time to get tickets to the Subterranean Gallery's Hot Tub Dialogues series; the first installment is February 11, but it and the February 25th one are already sold out: your only chance is for February 18.

Next stop, across the street:

I am a big fan of Reilly Hoffman's work and of his artistic vision. Transfiguration of St. Bartholomew, when I saw it perched on the hill above Bartle Hall (when it was part of the 10th anniversary 2009 Avenue of the Arts), struck me with a power: tension and transformation, indeed. Since then, we've had some great little conversations about his work and process, and I was pleased that Todd Weiner's new gallery hosted a solo exhibition of Reilly's "fire-painted" metals.

His alms bowls in Alms Matara look as if some god had taken a little spoon and scooped out smooth patterns as easily as a person might etch out little paths in a bowl of ice cream. The marks are deliberate and vibrant. When you look directly at one of the concave discs hanging on the walls and dancing with dozens of light/shadows in all directions, you get the sense that the piece is still moving, that the patterns certainly can't be fixed in time but might come alive again and continue to transform. To me, artwork you literally could spend hours in front of, at a time and repeatedly throughout time, is successful. Seeing them all together tended to diminish them just a bit; there is a tendancy to feel that they are mere multiples while seeking to compare them to each other to detect the differences in the patterns. Each is hand-made individually, though, and the way some were created while being rotated, is evident and exciting to behold.

Reilly was not at the gallery yet, but Todd let me know that the discs are very manageable from a collection standpoint: the large ones weigh about 40 pounds, for example. As alms bowls, they rest equally well on table surfaces, and the presentation of them on solid, rough-hewn wooden ones is a very good choice. There was other furniture there, a tall, thin metal table crafted by painter Robert Quackenbush, who has been collaborating with Reilly for some time.

There were a few smaller angular works on this metal table and on another large table (or maybe flat file) a horizontal triangular set or single work that, I confess, I did not note the title of. It was relegated toward the back, and maybe there were things on the table when we first came in that distracted me.

We were early, after all. Todd did move the reception flowers a bit later, I noticed, and he shared a glimpse of his collection in the office (local artists like Davey Gant … and I forget, because I was being a "regular gallery person," not a journalist taking notes. There was a triptych video column of Richard Welnowski's images from Iceland). Suffice it to say that he's functioning like the Byron Cohen and Dolphin do, for example, in representing certain people, whose work you can see on hand at any time. The main gallery space has been cleanly closed off and built out to erase most reminders that this used to be the Cocoon Gallery of the Arts Incubator, and in the little hallway hang an accessible selection of original prints for sale, including 19th century hand-colored German etchings, as well as items of Dali, Mir√≥, Calder, and other heavyweights.

My husband was tired from a long day of installing a vinyl wrap on a truck, so we headed back to the car instead of over to Baltimore Ave. The spider paintings I saw through the window at Apex Gallery (Crossroads Dentistry—another commercial+art promo combination), though, were too intriguing to pass up. Some of you may know a thing or two about my thing about spiders …

Keith Russell's Arachnévolution: Spiders and Stuff was a colorful experience. Not sure why his show title includes "stuff," for the other non-spider subjects are from his "made up faces" series: semi-grotesque bubbly folks with wide-awake eyes.

He's been painting spiders since his time at the Kansas City Art Institute (class of ‘08) and told me people used to bring him live spider models all the time. He paints from live/dead models and from photo books. His craft is fairly well developed in oils, and his technique is straightforward, no matter what surface he's using—aluminum, wood, or canvas.

The choice to find one subject and repeat it in a variety of forms (he does sculptural spiders, too) can be a pitfall, and unlike, say, Peregrine Honig's wispy watercolor-and-ink girls, Keith's spiders are not carrying a socio-political message. The painting titles do tend to express that his spiders are other-worldly, almost spiritual. Spiders, of course, have long figured in Greek, Native American, and other cultural cosmologies.

Their role in life as a somewhat creepy necessity, as artists who spin technical and beautiful webs, as a predator that, in some cases, can inflict deadly wounds to us personally, and as a creature whose secreted product is among the lightest yet strongest material on earth demonstrates that the arachnid is a push-pull of light and dark elements, and powerful.

A deep subject after all. My favorite painting was, Keith told me, his very latest: a vertical composition in mostly whites, with the spider folded up into a triangle, head-down, descending as that one kind of fattish spider does from a thread—but dropping toward a blueish black opening almost like a vortex or surreal portal amid misty clouds.

He had one work there made back in 2009, and I could tell his paint-handling ability, though quite good then, is continuing to grow. I look forward to seeing where the "spirit-spider" goes.

The back part of the space was hung with large paintings by J.T. Daniels, mostly striking portraits (which are not represented on his site) of black men and women; they are very visceral and communicate clearly what I imagine to be real people's personalities, in posed moments that are not really poses, because you have the sense that the same gestures are frequently repeated elements of their geniune character. It was like walking in on a conversation but being held mute by the reality that, after all, these are paintings, and to talk to them literally, you would have to be a bit touched in the head.

That was our night; even at 6:30, Crossroads looked a bit deserted, but I heard from others that things picked up later on. Snow & Company, on that same block of Wyandotte, was absolutely packed. Who would have thought that frozen adult beverages would be so popular on a chilly rainy night?

Notes in addition to the usual PS, All opinions here are my own, and no one edits this, so any errors are also solely mine. Corrections are appreciated:

Since I'm likely considered a "blogger" and not operating under a sanctioned publication, I did not include Alison's last name or places of employment, since her site does not, even though on Facebook, where I first saw her link to her First Friday post, obviously, we all know who we are.

The discussion about what "is" a journalist and what private information is fair to share is one that will never end. Let's talk about it sometime?

I make no bones about the fact that I am not really an art critic; I have been a writer my entire life, and I have a long history of viewing art in the Kansas City area, as well as a long history of being a writing instructor and editor. I did spend a few semesters in art history classes at UMKC in the not-too-distant past. This is not really "a review."

I am well aware that some sentences I choose to write are indeed SENTENCE FRAGMENTS. Shudder. As a respected professor once told us, you can break the rules when you know them.

RE: Peregrine—yes, she does much more than paint images of distraught or maligned young women. You know I know that; I was just using that as a springboard example : )

If you know of any artists/places above who do, in fact, have a web presense to link to, I'd be glad to know. I do my best to search.

This post is mad-long, and anyone who actually read the whole thing is a better person than I.


  1. Hi, Tracy,

    Thanks so much for featuring my blog here. I am glad my gallery hop post inspired you. Whereas my post has a "Alison is out and about having a fun night out in the KC art world" tone, yours most certainly has a more critical pov. When I was reading about the XOXO show, I kept thinking, "Oh, I should have mentioned x and y! Why didn't I!?" Overall, this little glimpse of the studio lives of the newest generation of artists left me feeling hopeful (I know there are established folk featured, as well.). Anyway, I really enjoyed your perspective on the work. I was also very impressed with Reilly Hoffman's work, and I especially responded to the installation in its entirety and that beautiful wood table, in particular.

    I am most interested in Art Practical's KC project. Unfortunately, I was under the weather and didn't make it out to their lecture. I heard from another friend that I should make contact.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Alison :)

  2. omg. so delicious and filling. thank you :) -Amelia