"Heroworship: A Graphic Tale of Epic Proportions.", opened August sixth at C. Emerson Gallery. This space was founded in 2006 by gallerina Lori Johns, who was immersed in the St Pete arts scene long before that. She is a serene, laid-back, intensely observant person, passionate, daring and knowledgeable about art. Comitted to showing edgy, non-mainstream work, Lori is a veteran, survivor, and nothing if not a risk-taker.
Mankind's earliest written stories are about heroes: From Mesopotamia, The Epic of Gilgamesh, ca. 2500 B.C., From Greece, The Iliad and the Odyssey, ca 1200 B.C. and in English, Beowulf, around 900 A.D. In these stories, and many more, the hero has his Shadow, sometimes personified. Gilgamesh has Enkidu, Odysseus has Achilles, etc.
This show brings us new conceptual ways of looking at Heroism and recontextualized ways to tell the Tale. The allusion to a Graphic Tale makes me wonder if Lori has put together a meta-Graphic, non-linear Novel (where the questions about Heroworship are common) of sorts here.
What are the Heroworship Graphic Tales the artists tell? Most are about dualities, how they create & support the field created between them. They are relational narratives. As the sage said, "All men may be islands, but beneath the waters, we are all connected."
Frank Strunk III's single work in the show, a series of vertical wood slats about an inch wide (and 2+ ft tall, spanning around three feet altogether), some of the slats are of different lengths vertically, and the tall ones are singed at the edges. It is easy to imagine the shortest route between two points in life as a straight line. In practice, the route rarely, if ever, works out in a straight line. Corrections have to be made, even on autopilot, -- and often. Strunk's work is partially a paean to his father, and his ability to take control as needed. There's a small cut-out frame within the slats and in it is a photograph of his father's strong and experienced hand.
Story-telling has a strong tradition in Louisiana, where Raina Benoit comes from (though she is well- traveled). She has developed a syntax of her own using the materials of art and the relationships between them. In her work in the show, as in "Neighbor", she deals with the everpresent tension between vegetation and the man-made environment in Florida.
Dirk Dzimirsky ("Black Noise") rejects the generic simulation of beauty we currently live under by showing us the signifiers that make us human, external and internal, skin and substance to essence: The human as living narrative.
Jay Hollick's humorous, self-referential, questioning of societal signifiers through form are simultaneously whimsical and serious explorations. See "Deconstructed Bicycle".
Richard Green's iconic heroes, depicted in near-abstract, bright colors, thread the edge and return to us. See "Alan Shepherd, and the Void"
I had the privilege of a long conversation with the affable Edward Lightner at the opening of the show. He is sensitive to the dualities of things like Nuclear weaponry and War: How the threat of Apocalypse has (so far) worked to prevent it from happening. MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) meant there would be no winners, no matter who fired first, and no one fired. In the drawings are labels from AIDS/HIV meds. He balances their beneficial effects with the brutal costs, and as with the Nukes, embraces and understands the complexities of what for many are knee-jerk reflex issues. Hero and Anti-Hero. Lightner's work consists of highly-detailed yet abstracted pen-and-ink drawings with very, very light, almost imperceptible, color washes.
"Fizeau Plumbbob 11kt #1"
In spite of their initial impression as pure abstractions, soon the feel of the familiar, our own history with the imagery of the nuclear age, bubbles up from our subconscious. We know this Epic Tale: It is part of us.
Ps. Heroworship: A Graphic Tale of Epic Proportions. August 6 - September 18. 2010. at C. Emerson Gallery, 909 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 898-6068 or c-emersonfinearts.com. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday or by appointment.
To learn more about Heroes, a good place to start is Joseph Campbell's book The Hero With a Thousand Faces.