Thursday, September 1, 2011

Who Am I This Time? Hero Worship @ Mindy Solomon Gallery

Mindy Solomon Gallery View

They all had them: Clark Kent (Superman), Mindy McCready (Hit Girl), Bruce Wayne (Batman), Barbara Gordon (Bat Girl),  Peter Parker (Spider Man), Yeoman Diana Prince (Wonder Woman),  South Park's Cartman (Coon), Jamie Summers (Bionic Woman), Billy Batson (Capt Marvel),  Tony Stark (Iron Man), John Reid (Lone Ranger), Sir Robin of Loxley (Robin Hood), John Clayton III, Lord Greystoke (Tarzan),  Selena Kyle (Cat Woman),  Dave Lizewski (Kick Ass), and many, many more.

Mindy Solomon Gallery, exterior view.
A hero, superhero or costumed crime fighter needs at least two things besides a little courage and the wisdom to do the right thing: A secret identity, and a costume, which is always individuated and unique, if a little outre' fashion-wise. The secret identity is usually to protect the friends and families of the Hero from becoming targets by proxy to his enemies and lets them walk among us, unnoticed. Any of us, well, among those of us who are really fit, could be one. It also buys heroes the occasional respite from the endless duty, and a semblance of a regular life, though intimacy is almost always a problem because of the secret life they must lead. His own name remains a secret, in the same way that in pre-Christian times people were given two names, one was kept secret and written down in a safe place to protect the bearer from curses which when placed upon their public non-real names had no effect. In the case of a Hero, the Fighting name is empowering, as is the costume, and transforms their identity into the heroic form. The citizen name is secret in heroic mode, and the costume is kept closeted in citizen mode. In the same way clothes make the man, costumes signify the Hero  (and quite often, the villain, who tends to stay in character, instead of leading a double life). We are dealing with identity, masculinity and transcendence.

David Hilliard, "Rock Bottom"

On the right is "Rock Bottom", a triptych of the artist and his father, at either end, and the river, the same one they're in, flowing in between them. Hilliard, who has an MFA from Yale, and so far has a Guggenheim and a Fulbright under his belt, works in a combination autobiographical/fiction style that could pass for a kind of photographic American Magical Realism with persistent self-referential allusions to the medium. David and his Father look like before-and-after versions of each other. They even sport the same tattoos. The middle panel can be viewed as a metaphor for Time. Who is the hero here? The Father, looking back, away from his son, in a meditative way, or his (self-admitted) gay son who has become a well-known and highly renowned artist? To me, they stand on common ground.

 “With multiple panels, I can deal with still life, portraiture and landscape within one photograph — it’s really decadent in that way, and even with these individual moments there is a continuum,”
                                                                                             --- David Hilliard

Chris Rush, "Fuzz"

 This extraordinary oil painting done on copper by Chris Rush titled "Fuzz" caught my attention. Why did Mindy include it in this exhibit? Look carefully. With the hair, sideburns, obligatory tattoo, and black shirt, we are seeing a costume, one of a young male, trying to assert a sense of identity through signifiers.

Jeremy Chandler & two of his works.

 Jeremy Chandler is a photographer based in Tampa, and was the City's Photographer Laureate VI. His work covers a lot of ground, with repeating themes focused around identity, cultural artifacts, & tensions between Man and Nature, some of which we see in three photographs he has in this show. A ghillie suit is a form of camouflage used by hunters in some parts of the world. It involves literally affixing plants and bits of cloth to match the ambient colors and forms. Nowadays, people tend to see them on the Military Channel's shows on snipers, who are quite good as camouflaging themselves.

Jeremy Chandler, "Eric in Ghillie Suit"
There's a lot of irony in hunting. The hunter is simultaneously at one with Nature and also separate from it. He assumes the role of top predator yet knows he wouldn't survive long in Nature if left on his own. He camouflages himself to blend in, it while it slowly tries to engulf him. His weapon is rarely hand-made from natural materials, instead, it is an industrial item. In this image, we see Eric (who has appeared in other Chandler pictures) wearing a ghillie suit made of flowers apparently from the very field he is standing in. It is only because of the figure's verticality that it is easy to see. The darker treeline in the background highlights Eric's head, which is downcast in a pensive or contemplative pose. It brings to mind hunting, camo and the tensions between man and nature, and also an ancient figure, the Mythological Wild Man, which has many names (Green Man, Woodwose [Link], Wilder Mann, Homme Sauvage, Huommo Salvatico, etc). He is often depicted covered in plant life. Albrecht Durer painted one [Link]. His earliest appearance in history is in the Mesopotamian "Epic of Gilgamesh", a heroic tale in which he plays Enkidu, the Natural Man to Gilgamesh's civilized City-Slick Hero. Chandler's other two pictures in this mini-series are titled "Ghillie Suit 1" and "3". Is this a sequence of some kind?

Jeremy Chandler, "Ghillie Suit 3"

Jeremy Chandler, "Ghillie Suit 1"
On the left, in "GS #3", Eric is not visible, but standing. He looks a little like a standing sheaf of corn or barley, except in this case, of flowers. In "GS #1", Eric is crouching or sitting in the suit, in a similar location to the first picture shown, but now almost disappearing into the background. Interestingly, the artist described the ghillie suit as being " a wizard's cloak.".

Other Jeremy Chandler Works in Gallery B @ MSG


Mark Newport triptych

Mark Newport knits hero/superhero costumes. They are huge, oversize creations, some with head coverings curiously resembling the ski masks that hold-up men usually wear. The suits look suspiciously like XXXXL versions of the little union suits children wear for pajamas. Mark made the triptych on the left. He's in the middle panel looking like a Batman who needs his ears trimmed. On the panels on either side are close-up bust-length photos of grim-faced, super hero Batman dolls . Mark's benign countenance contrasts with the other two and sets us up for looking at the knitted suits.

Mark Newport, "Ribbed 2"

On the right is a headshots of  "Ribbed 2", by Mark Newport. Note how the head mask looks like a ski mask. These must be Winter outfits, they look really warm. There's a lot of fashion humor in these costumes. A  criminal would be more likely to cease and desist via laughter than flee in fear of any hero in this guise. 

Mark Newport, "My Batman"

On the left is Newport's "My Batman". This is easily the most delightfully Noir Batman ever. The sight of this very, very Dark and Droopy Knight would send anyone fleeing. The ears are more than a little akimbo compared to the erect audio-acute versions on the er...real Batman. Why all the imperfections? These are nothing if not human, vulnerable heroes. Their powers are our powers.

Detail of "My Batman"

These suits aren't armored with anything besides individuated anonymity and humanity. That's the wellspring of  their strength.

Mark Newport, four knitted Hero Costumes

Mark Newport, "Naftaman" detail.

Mindy Solomon compares Pavel Amromin's beautifully crafted porcelains to Meissen. They are extraordinarily good, and classic-looking, but their content is not. Amromin says that he likes a disparity between the precious presentation (a la Meissen) and the content. In these works, the figures do not parallel and exalt the charmed lives of prospective patrons, nor their fantasies or history. They parallel the all-too-real and pervasive violence and inhumanity of the world. 
Pavel Amromin, "Little Helpers"

On the left is Amromin's "Little Helpers". The figures are human-proportioned, bipedal, jackbooted and dog-headed. There are three of them: The victim, who is prone and getting stomped on, the victimizer, who seems to be cheerfully going about his actions, and the third figure, who looks a little worried, but is an observer. He is what Amromin refers to as "the silent witness". He objects to what is going on, but does not make any effort to stop it. He is us. All three of them are. These are stereotypical roles for males in the world. Although they seem at first like three individuals, they represent a system. None of them are inherently good or bad, they're just acting out the roles they've been handed.  

P. Amromin, "Little Helpers"

 Congratulations to Mindy Solomon Gallery for a fascinating show on a difficult theme.  I also want to take this opportunity to wish Mindy a successful Art San Diego fair, which is in progress this weekend.

 Mindy Solomon Gallery, 124 Second Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. Through Sept. 17. [Link]

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