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Privileged Moments on a September First Friday

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Falcon by Tasha Lewis

The Harrison Center was bathed in the color blue Friday night thanks to a photographic printing process called cyanotype. This process, the type of process widely used to produce blueprints before the advent of digital media, renders stuff blue! And both Tasha Lewis and Casey Roberts had work at the Harrison Center for the Arts that utilized this process, exploring its possibilities while acknowledging quite a bit of the history of art of the past 3,000 years.

But I found the show “Stitched: New Work by Tasha Lewis" particularly relevant in terms of provoking thought, engaging an audience, and experimenting with media. (And it made me ponder the stupidity of Michael J. Lewis's essay in the July/August edition of Commentary Magazine entitled "How Art Became Irrelevant" because artists like Lewis and Casey Roberts are living refutations of this writer's thesis.)

Take, for example, Lewis's "Falcon,” one of the more provocative works in this show. The subject of the sculpture is a nude woman squatting, with a falcon’s head. And the skin, as it were, of this hybrid woman/bird is rendered with fabric printed through the cyanotype photographic printing process and stitched together. Why is this creature squatting, seemingly in the process of metamorphosis, looking so vulnerable? Whatever the answer, it’s pretty amazing how Lewis has rendered this sculpture so lifelike. A sculptural cousin of the aforementioned work, “Venus,” recalls Greco-Roman sculpture with its bust female form, but uses the cyanotype printing process to portray the eyes.

And Lewis has 2D work here as well. Her 2D fabric collage—“Indiana State Museum” is an interesting and colorful take one of Indy’s overlooked architectural gems (also using the cyanotype process).

The work, however, that first impressed me when she showed at the Harrison Center back in 2013 — was that of involving sculptures of animals bisected by glass. And there are echoes of that work in her current work as well: Here you see a menagerie of birds with their heads bisected/entrapped in the interiors of bell jars (glass containers sturdy enough to contain a vacuum, used in many scientific applications).

So what to make of this show that riffs on everything from Greco-Roman sculpture to the shock art of British artist Damien Hirst, an artist notorious for his dissected sharks and cows in see-through vats of formaldehyde?
(And I can’t neglect to mention Lewis’s mobiles with cyanotype butterflies that recall her “Butterfly Swarm sculptures” installed at various venues around the country. Unlike in Damien Hirst’s 2012 Tate show, which resulted in the death of 9,000 real butterflies, no butterflies died in the creation of this exhibition.)

I’d like to think that Lewis’s art has more to do with transformation and life than death, which seems to be Hirst’s big thing. And while fabric is not as permanent a medium as stone, no art is permanent in the long run, whether in art or architecture as last week’s destruction of 2,000-year-old temples at Palmyra, Syria by ISIS makes depressingly clear. But art survives not only through durability of media but through a perpetual metamorphic flux of innovation and experimentation that goes on despite the finger-wagging of cultural conservatives and the ruthless destruction of iconoclasts. And Lewis’s work is certainly a great— and particularly relevant—example of this.

Now on to the work of Casey Roberts: the title of his show, Privileged Moments (with everything in a row) has something to do with a copy of “Cluster’s 1976 LP Sowiesoso” that “came in from Karma records on the eastside of Indianapolis” and a white buffalo being born on a farm in Ohio during a partial solar eclipse. You figure it out.

But creating a contemporary personal mythology seems to be part and parcel of Roberts’ art. Part whimsical, part prophetic. The real pleasure in looking at his work is his artistry and inventiveness using the cyanotype printing process to create deceptively simple images. His cyanotype drawing "Sanctuary (flooded in golden light)" shows a moonlit watery landscape, with waves rustling the water, low blue cliffs in the backdrop and in the center of it all a snowy egret (or a Herron). Might this be a reference to his time at Herron School of Art and Design back in the 1990s? (He told me no when I asked him). His works hearkens back to Chinese landscape painting and Japanese printmaking but very contemporary artistic processes are also employed. For example, in order to create the rippling waves in the aforementioned work, he sprayed with an autopaint gun.

And Roberts has 3D work here as well. His collaboration with ceramic artist Barbara Zech allows him to transfer his whimsy and his personal mythology onto ceramic and there are many examples of their collaboration in this show.

Ancient Wisdom Revisited by Casey Roberts and Barbara Zech
  • Dan Grossman
  • Ancient Wisdom Revisited by Casey Roberts and Barbara Zech

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