Thursday, March 3, 2011

Art review: 'southXeast' artists mix genres with whimsy, skill

Postmodern Gardening,‭ ‬by Carl Knickerbocker.

By Emma Trelles

There's something to be said for the sort of tradition that manages to intrigue upon each arrival,‭ ‬and when it does so in the guises of filigreed robots,‭ ‬childhood make-believe,‭ ‬or the lipsticked grit of a Bayou starlet‭ ‬--‭ ‬all the better,‭ ‬I say.

So unfolds this year’s‭ ‬southXeast:‭ ‬Contemporary Southeastern Art‭ ‬at Florida Atlantic University’s galleries,‭ ‬which presents the efforts of‭ ‬13‭ ‬Southeastern artists,‭ ‬including three of Florida’s own‭ (‬Carl Knickerbocker,‭ ‬Clive King,‭ ‬and Beatriz Monteavaro‭)‬.‭ ‬Housed in both the university's Schmidt and Ritter galleries in Boca Raton,‭ ‬the show strips the term‭ “‬regional‭” ‬of its aw-shucks connotations and addresses the texture that may be found when playfulness is executed with an eye towards the hallucinatory,‭ ‬whether rooted in the real or in the wholly imagined.

Let’s be clear:‭ ‬this assembly of works is not reinventing the aesthetics of identity.‭ ‬The collage,‭ ‬installation,‭ ‬video,‭ ‬drawing,‭ ‬and paintings found here utilize recognizable tropes to address gender,‭ ‬or to lift the banal into loftier realms of contemplation.‭ ‬Pop-culture personalities such as Elvis,‭ ‬or the racially charged appropriation of a‭ “‬Sambo‭” ‬character,‭ ‬for example,‭ ‬are once again introduced as metaphors for desire or perception.‭

But our recognition of them serves as context for many of these studies,‭ ‬and as a way of entering the psychologies they inhabit.‭ ‬Thus,‭ ‬the familiar is but a doorway to enjoyment,‭ ‬particularly of the skillful use of materials found here.

Stephanie Patton as Renella Rose Champagne.

Upon first entering the Schmidt,‭ ‬visitors will encounter‭ ‬Renella Rose Champagne,‭ ‬a hard-knocked but hopeful singer whose life is portrayed by Louisiana-based performance artist Stephanie Patton.‭ ‬The clichéd details of a life are pinned to the gallery wall like dead and dusty butterflies:‭ ‬turquoise cocktail napkins stamped with Renella’s wedding date,‭ ‬cheap nylon nighties,‭ ‬a CD listening station‭ (‬You had your eye on everyone at the party/All the girls resembled Pamela Anderson Leeee...‭)‬,‭ ‬and some photos of Renella as a spokesmodel for weirdo comfort products,‭ ‬such as an anxiety harness and a heart pillow‭ (“‬a soft cushion that gently supports the weary heart‭”)‬.

The impression is twofold:‭ ‬First,‭ ‬Patton,‭ ‬who has played Renella for‭ ‬18‭ ‬years,‭ ‬confidently speaks to how humor and the careful indexing of personal objects can be used to explore the self.‭ ‬Second,‭ ‬the installation preps viewers for the works to follow,‭ ‬many of which also use levity and the commonplace to investigate how we present ourselves and how we are perceived.

We see this in Kathy Yancey’s mixed-media collages‭; ‬they enshrine the wishful thinking of the young in settings which blend fables with the common,‭ ‬such as a‭ ‬Hieronymus Bosch-like garden‭ ‬assembled from the plastic petals and leaves one might find at a dollar store.‭ ‬Within this thicket,‭ ‬a little cowgirl rides a white pony alongside Elvis Presley,‭ ‬who appears in pre-bloat form and looks upon her with fatherly love.

Imagining Elvis as My Daddy,‭ ‬by Kathy Yancey.

A thumbnail of this same image appears as a painting in Yancey’s‭ ‬Vision in the Waiting Room,‭ ‬which also portrays how invention can allow us to escape our immediate surroundings and transport the self from drudgery,‭ ‬or even misfortune,‭ ‬to faraway places filled with color and light‭ ‬--‭ ‬in this case,‭ ‬an ocean buoyantly cluttered with bright fish and coral.‭ ‬Yancey’s nod to Bosch,‭ ‬as well as Matisse’s dancers,‭ ‬gives another layer of context to her assemblages,‭ ‬and they are some of the most accomplished offerings found in the show.

Also notable are Damond Howard’s transformative wall-sized charcoals of African-American men.‭ ‬Their side-by-side analysis of legitimacy and stereotyping expand figurative drawings into historical and social condemnations.
The Bone of Contention,‭ ‬Diptych‭ ‬4A‭ (‬from Wearing the Mask‭)‬,‭
‬by Damond Howard.

On to the Ritter Galleries,‭ ‬where the exhibit continues in darker confines that are illuminated by Carl Knickerbocker’s raw and garish palettes.‭ ‬In this self-taught artist’s hands,‭ ‬what might typically appear as a cheering living room is instead a fairy tale gone awry,‭ ‬sort of along the same lines as Neil Gaiman’s novel-turned-movie‭ ‬Coraline.‭ ‬As with many of the works in this show,‭ ‬all is not as it initially appears,‭ ‬and one is left to consider not only what’s before the eyes but what has been left out,‭ ‬and why.‭

In Knickerbocker’s work,‭ ‬this includes the featureless face of an elongated woman,‭ ‬looming in a doorway while a smaller version of herself emerges from a garden pot.‭ ‬It sounds amusing,‭ ‬but the artist’s disjointed perspectives indicate something is wrong.

We Saw Creatures,‭ ‬by Beatriz Monteavaro.

SouthXeast closes with an installation by Miami-based artist Beatriz Monteavaro:‭ ‬We Saw Creatures groups‭ ‬62‭ ‬drawings,‭ ‬four amorphous soft sculptures,‭ ‬four latex heads and a‭ “‬Serpent to Sting You.‭” ‬First off,‭ ‬black light rules,‭ ‬and is an element woefully underused in contemporary art because ignoring it discounts the power of time travel.‭ ‬By this I mean black light’s ability to instantly transport us to the tastes of pre-adolescence,‭ ‬such as collecting glow-in-the-dark posters or visiting‭ ‬haunted houses at county fairs.

Monteavaro,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬is unabashed in her tribute to this age,‭ ‬and her monster art features devils,‭ ‬mummies,‭ ‬lizard creatures,‭ ‬and other old-school horror villains.‭ ‬The whole gallery has become the room of a child who’s spent hours reading horror comics or watching‭ ‬Creature Features.‭ ‬Rather than gruesome,‭ ‬the installation is nostalgic and delightfully innocent in its backward glance toward youth,‭ ‬before we learn that there are worse things in the world than the ones we dream up.

southXeast:‭ ‬Contemporary Southeastern Art‭runs through April‭ ‬9‭ ‬at the Schmidt Center Gallery and through March‭ ‬5‭ ‬at the Ritter Art Gallery,‭ ‬Florida Atlantic University,‭ ‬777‭ ‬Glades Road,‭ ‬Boca Raton.‭ ‬Hours:‭ ‬1-4‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tuesday through Friday and‭ ‬1-5‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturday.‭ ‬Admission is free‭; ‬donations welcome.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬561-297-2966‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬‭

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