Monday, November 21, 2011

Social Distortion @ C.Emerson Fine Arts

CEFA, main gallery view

Lori Johns, owner and director of C. Emerson Fine Arts (CEFA), defines this show's title as: “an insightful visual journey into the changes people undergo due to the sociological impact of culture in this country and in particular one artist’s immigrant perspective.”

W. Hutton, "A Poor Master"

On the left is "A Poor Master", by W.Hutton. It is a mixed media work on wood. There's some folk art in here, of the kind one might see in the American South. The artist chose to work in this style. Note how differently the frame is painted. In spite of its first-glance apparent simplicity, this is a complex work, nucleated around the idea of serving Mammon, and the human costs of that. The artist has personally witnessed part of the conflagration of lives and people's futures that were turned to ashes with the current economic disaster. This work is among other things, a capsule of the times, insight into what money is, and a warning.  The dollar sign's color speaks of emotion and glows like a neon sign. The tentacles or rays emanating from it reach out, penetrating the darkness. Words sequentially reshape the image as you read, in a similar manner to the changes that people undergo due to the shifts in  their culture.

Thought Coalition, "Untitled"

This used to be a tabletop in a studio at Ringling. Students there used it to prime their surfaces, leaving preambles to paintings. Later it was removed and destined to be painted on, but ended up in a hangout where people were encouraged to draw on it. Norbert Dirr, of Thought Coalition, who shepherded this thing through its paces, saw that it had become a collective work on its own right.
  This is one of those works that de-and-reconstructs itself as viewing distance varies. More artifact than art, like graffiti from a lost civilization. Up close it looks a little like a conceptual/cultural time-map, dense with overlays that alter readings depending on the layer one starts from and where on the piece one decides to enter.

Rebecca Skelton, "Body Image"

There are several drawings in this show by Rebecca Skelton. On the left is "Body Image". A female nude takes up half of a male onlooker's gaze. Her head even with where the man's right eye would be. The tidal pull between the feminine sight and the male gaze. Look again. There is a secondary nude draped across the male face staring back.

Rebecca Skelton, "Breech"

In these drawings, we find conglomerates of figures, exaggerated -- or missing -- body parts. Limbs, mouths, etc. emphasize or de-emphasize expressive potential of the figures in ways that are familiar to most viewers. We may have never literally looked like that, but we've felt that way, or made others do so. They are like meeting an intimate stranger.

  Intensely human, and expertly rendered, Skelton guides but does not coddle us through the shoals of memory and experience.

Justin Nelson, "Sever the Head, Kill the Beast"

On the right we have Justin Nelson's "Sever the Head, Kill the Beast". Acrylic and ink on paper, it is a human figure appearing to be covered in leaves in an artichoke like manner. The effect is one of accretion, or layers, and it also brings to mind the mythologically ubiquitous Green Man [Link]. In the tale, he challenges Sir Gawain to a strange duel: To behead each other. Sir G. goes first, beheading the Green Man (GM), who picks up his head and saunters off until their appointment for part II, wherein it's Sir G's turn. I won't spoil that story by divulging the ending. This man has an uncovered hand which is placed over his heart. His severed head hovers over the neck, and if you look, you can see growth rings in red around the center, just like a tree. The artist says the works from this series are inspired by photographs taken in his travels.

Joe Walles, "Internalized"
Joe Walles works in the classic idiom of the street photographer, incisively and fast. This is the result of decades of experience, a mature vision, specialized equipment, honed reflexes and the insight to project into the future, because in photography, if you see a fluid situation in the viewfinder, it is already prolog. Walles' work is evolved from that of the 1950's in many ways. One of them is that he is not simply fixated in the Decisive Moment, but is fluent in the "in-between" moments that make for a much richer expressive spectrum. "Internalized" is one of those moments. A young man in motion(and Walles has no problems working at the edge of coherence with motion blur), lost in a personal reverie, flits by, looking like  Fallen Angel trying to find his way home.

Yanuary Irasema Navarro, "Keys"
  Yanuary Irasema Navarro is the artist mentioned in the beginning paragraph as the artist with the immigrant's perspective. She describes this work as "imaginationscapes".  In her work titled "Keys", we see a surreal mosaic of independent landscapes, each with its own perspective. The effect is multidimensional, in time, but also outside of time, through the lens of memory. The narrative aspect gives it the feel of medieval paintings where a Gospel story is told in several unframed vignettes in one painting. Of course, the viewers back then were very well acquainted with the stories depicted, giving them insight into the order of reading the images, insights into their meaning, etc. Here, we have no such luxuries, and the feel of it is that of an illustrated myth. As a fellow immigrant, I can empathize with this.

Congratulations to the artists, Lori Johns and CEFA for putting on a very good show.

--- Luis

C. Emerson FIne Arts
907 Central Ave  St. Petersburg, FL 33705-1646

(727) 898-6068


  1. went to see the show . Thanks , Luis, I might have missed it. Rebecca Skelton's drawings were quite sensitive,intimate and yet dramatic. The quality of all of the works in the show have merit.

  2. Anon, I agree. That show was quite strong.