Arts » Visual Arts

Of Blue Indy and Trump Bling

Feeling kinda blue while checking out the galleries on a December First Friday

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Tiny Trumpkin and Little Mickie by Tom Brown at Gallery 924
  • Tiny Trumpkin and Little Mickie by Tom Brown at Gallery 924


The Blue Indy Artist Reception and Open Studios at the Harrison Center for the Arts was the first First Friday art event that offered me free sunglasses. In exchange, I listened to a company rep's spiel about Blue Indy, Indianapolis’s 100% electric car-sharing service. His booth was located outside the Harrison Center's main entrance, adjacent to an actual Blue Indy car parked in the courtyard.

Blue Indy’s become an increasingly common presence in the Circle City. Their designated parking places and charging stations and distinctive compact vehicles are all over the city now. It's no real surprise to me that they were one of the sponsors for December First Friday at the Harrison. (Let's just say Harrison Center Executive Director Joanna Beatty Taft has a knack for snagging corporate sponsorships.) Accordingly, most of the work in the Blue Indy Group Show included at least some blue in the palette.

This included a highly abstract acrylic painting by William Denton Ray entitled “Trinity” with its three strange totemic figures., The central figure had a head shaped like a triangle. Other aspects of these figures were more geometric than organic. It's as if, in utero, these beings had grown into fetuses by accumulating layers of silicon crystals. I suppose this would be a process with something in common to Ray’s artistic process, which has a lot to do with accumulating layer upon layer of paint until something compelling emerges from the chaos.
TRINITY BY WILLIAM DENTON RAY
  • Trinity by William Denton Ray

Picasso’s influence was surely lurking somewhere in the DNA of this Ray's painting while, elsewhere in the gallery, a portrait of Picasso loomed. Les Femmes m’aiment by Cathy Williams depicts the iconic Spanish-born artist in acrylic, ink, and spray paint on canvas. I was impressed with the bold, vibrant colors. But most striking about the painting are the subject’s eyes, which seem captivated by a passing object of his desire.
Les Femmes M'Aiment by Cathy Williams
  • Les Femmes M'Aiment by Cathy Williams


Another impressive painting is Mary Lessing’s “St. Vincent,” depicting the actor Bill Murray in the guise of Vincent, the movie character that Murray recently portrayed (from the eponymous 2014 film.) In the painting Murray is depicted holding a cigarette against a colorful backdrop akin to many stained glass motifs, as if he were wearing a halo. This oil on board composition also utilizes gold leaf, evoking the tradition of Eastern Orthodox icon-making.

St. Vincent by Mary Lessing
  • St. Vincent by Mary Lessing

Is this painting is a nod to the notion that we are a celebrity-worshipping society? Speaking of worship, the ceramic clay sculpture “Mothering Seas” by Laura Levine, evokes various Hindu deities with it's sculpture of a female with hundreds of hands emanating from her body. This sculpture might work as a reminder of our amphibian ancestors who crawled from the seas hundreds of millions of years ago. And it's a reminder that the seas still nurture life on earth, even the life of the President-Elect (who at this very moment is probably fulminating about some imagined slight, contemplating revenge, high up in his eponymous tower.)

The Donald isn’t the only one with a fetish for skylines. Architecture is perennial subject for artists, and why shouldn’t it be? A building’s architecture can inspire wonder, or it can inspire dread. Diane Staver’s mixed media painting “Hong Kong II” does a little of both with its accumulations of geometric forms, like accumulations of data in a hard drive, coming together in the form of a skyscraper. There are structures in the background that also resemble skyscrapers. But some of them seem engulfed by white-hot flame. As if the artist views such buildings as enormously volatile accumulations of potential energy.

Like the Twin Towers before 9/11.  

Lisa Sears’ "Roma" is much calmer landscape by several orders of magnitude. It's a depopulated landscape, depicting a Rome in ruins. In much of the composition, where the only color aside from grayscale is the blue of the sky, seems pixelated, as if this silent cityscape is a memory barely retrievable from the hard drive of memory.

Roma by Lisa Sears
  • Roma by Lisa Sears


It’s a work that recalled in my mind both the Roman landscapes by Panini at the IMA (a little) and another work that I had seen earlier in the day. This is a work by Vik Muniz, at the IU Eskanazi Museum of Art in Bloomington, IN. is entitled "Jerusalem (Postcards from Nowhere.)"

Jerusalem by Vik Muniz
  • Jerusalem by Vik Muniz

Muniz, a Brazilian artist who is renowned for making paintings out of peanut butter and jelly among other unusual media, made this landscape in collage from cut postcards and other ephemera.

The painting, while recognizably depicting Jerusalem in many respects, clearly demonstrates a disillusionment with Israeli politics. It depicts a separation wall running alongside the Western Wall, a separation wall composed in part of images of African men in a state of subjugation. It's a pretty obvious link connecting the Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the history of South African apartheid.

While Sears’ Roma and Muniz’s don’t have much in common in terms of mediums, both captured my imagination in similar ways. I suppose both paintings deal with the ways that we picture landscapes in our memories, and in our dreams.

There was no such space for such large scale work in the Tiny Show at Gallery 924, of course, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some large themes in play. In order to see this small scale work with large themes, however, it was necessary to deal with some very large crowds. I had a hard time, in fact, even finding parking. And the gallery itself was a veritable sardine can, packed with patrons looking at art to buy for the holidays.

One of the highlights is Tom Brown’s “Tiny Trumpkin & Little Mickie I & II," a set of small scale portraits of the President Elect and Mike Pence. Pence is depicted in grayscale, against a rainbow backdrop, an ironic nod to his unfriendly stance on RFRA. Trump is depicted in shades of bright orange and yellow, in profile during one of his angry tirades, like a bonfire glowing white hot, feeding on plastic trash.

Who knows how artists will address the coronation of the nation’s first real estate mogul/slash president? What steps will he take to curate, as it were, public response to his rule? His bellicose taunting of various journalists online and during his rallies has prompted a number of journalists to take protective measures.

But what will happen once Trump takes full control of the executive branch, with absolutely no check on his power? Will he use the full force of the national law enforcement and national security apparatus to go after his enemies? So far his targets have mostly been journalists. But that could change. Will he go after artists such as 24-year-old Ilma Gore whose painting Make America Great Again depicted a naked Donald Trump with a micropenis?

Artists shouldn’t fret however. With all three branches of federal government under Republican control, the gutting of the National Endowment for the Arts is pretty much a forgone conclusion. Perhaps it's a foregone conclusion as well that arts organizations, and the artists who benefit from them, will be increasingly reliant on private sources of income.

Don't get me wrong. It's nice that Blue Indy is supporting the arts scene in Indy, which needs all the help it can get. (After all, the for-profit gallery scene here is pretty moribund.) But what happens when Ivanka Trump and her ilk start showering their largesse on the arts community? Will artists all feel obliged to wear Trump bling to openings? I could go on but I don't want to turn this blog into a diatribe.

Merry Christmas everyone. And Happy Hanukkah.

                      ******************

It was a relief for me to leave the crowds behind at Gallery 924 but my heavy thoughts followed me. I headed for the Stutz Business & Arts Center, for their annual Holiday Open House.

Sean Hurley in his Stutz studio
  • Sean Hurley in his Stutz studio

I had a conversation with Sean Hurley, one of the Stutz’s two resident artists this year, who completed his MFA in printmaking at Indiana University this year. (Being a Stutz resident means that he gets free studio space for a year.)

His studio was filled with large, reductive charcoal drawings of various industrial spaces as well as his studios.

“I’m toning my sheet paper with powdered charcoal,” he told me. “And then I’m drawing mostly subtractively with an eraser and with various types of towels and shammies. And then come back afterwards and add back with compressed charcoal.”

He also creates etchings of rural landscapes.

“Drawing for me is sort of like a scientific investigation so I’m very systematic i how I work. I’m looking for specifics in everything I see,” he told me. “That for me is a way of assuring myself that there’s nothing in the universe that I can’t know.”

He told me that he was interested in capturing decisive details.

“Every time I’m able to capture the detail on paper that’s a little like trying to put my ability as a human being,” he told me. “I’m really interested in the spaces that are engineered and designed because I think that sense of purpose that is seen in structures and machinery.”

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