Flashback to Now: OAC Support for Individual Artists
Flashback to Now, on view at the Riffe gallery until October 18, brings together a fascinating assortment of works from 15 artists, each of whom received an Ohio Arts Council fellowship in the 1980s. The works on display represent a wide array of styles and media, including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, textiles, ceramics, basketry, and metalwork. In the case of each artist, pieces from the 1980s—when the artist received the OAC award—are shown side by side with more recent work, allowing us the rare ability to examine and appreciate the trajectory of an artistic career. With the Ohio Arts Council celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year, what more tangible and meaningful way to recognize the value of this organization than by showcasing the strength of the artistic endeavors it has supported over the years?
The OAC began the Individual Excellence Awards program in 1979, and continues granting these awards today. Artists are selected to receive these fellowships in recognition of their creative accomplishments, and the award is designed to support artistic exploration and development by providing funds for items like equipment and materials. Ann Bremner, curator of the exhibition, took on the daunting task of combing the long roster of artists who have received OAC support and narrowing it down for the exhibition. To do so, she began her selection process by focusing on award winners from the first nine years of the program who are still based in Ohio, and are still creating art.
One of her goals, as she painstakingly selected the artists and individual works for this show, was to allow the inevitable exchanges between the past and present to emerge and engage us. In some cases, the contemporary pieces are an extension of earlier works, in others, a radical departure. In addition to the high caliber and visual richness of the pieces included, one of the true delights of this show is the ability to ponder these interplays and examine what Bremner calls, “The threads that link their earlier works to their more recent ones or the ruptures that separate them.”
For some artists, such as Maureen France, the continuity between her photographs from then and now is clear. The sensitive eye and compositional finesse that characterize the early silver prints are clearly evident in France’s recent works. In both, the placement of the central figure is carefully orchestrated for maximum formal and thematic effect. In Ostriches, 1988, a single live bird is centered in front of a spirited mural of cavorting ostriches. It is framed so that it appears to be part of the group of painted birds behind it, and yet as we follow that long neck up to a soulful, dark eye and proud head that just barely breaks free from the roofline behind, we sense a touchingly vital presence.
Similarly, the female boxer at the center of Footprints on the Moon, 2014, appears to be part of a pattern of circular forms, of lights and darks, and absorbed by her setting. At the same time, her central place in the image, flanked by a poster of the great heavyweight Rocky Marciano and a sign bearing the inspirational quote “Footprints on the Moon Anything is Possible,” alerts us to a deeper layer of meanings and associations—history, violence, power, strength, and gender—that are at play in the quiet intensity of this moment.
Sometimes apparent continuities can hide surprises. For example, the lush landscapes of Brinsley Tyrrell share a boldly vigorous approach to rendering the natural world that remains remarkably consistent across the 30 year period they span. The Lodging Road Behind the Chaparral, 1981, and the more recent Winter with the Sparrow Bush, 2011, are both large and sumptuous, dynamically rendered with vivid colors and undulating line. However, as you get closer to observe the detail you realize that the early work is done with pastel on paper whereas in the later work, the artist has achieved the same lively fluidity with glass enamel on steel.
For other artists, a change in their medium is more clearly observed, although their sensibilities often remain the same. Gregory Spaid’s early works are meticulously colored silver prints depicting carefully constructed and repeated arrangements of children’s toys. Dense, richly textural, Coloring #20, 1982, is a tapestry of intricately woven shapes and forms. Despite the everyday-ness of the objects depicted, here they have been combined and reconfigured into something enchanted and other-worldly. In Spaid’s recent works he has moved photography into a more sculptural context. Using common household implements, like brooms and hoes, in combination with photographs, he creates spare, 3-dimensional assemblages like West | East, 2013. Here, an edging tool is flanked on either side by a matched pair of photographs in which railroad tracks converge on the horizon. With the curved blade forming the head and the horizontally mounted images resembling wings, this object achieves a haunting totemic quality as Spaid conjures up magic from the seemingly mundane.
In Mary Jo Bole’s Cleveland River/Factory Scene, 1983, the artist re-imagines an urban industrial landscape as a whimsical world of animated architecture and crayon box colors. Buildings and bridges bend and sway. The river snakes through the center, linking the foreground to the background where silvery grey smoke pours from factory smokestacks. Growing like trees, these plumes lean to the right, beckoning us down the stair-stepped buildings that return us to the viaduct at the front. The contrast between this bright and boldly dimensional ceramic world and the carefully delineated drawings from her recent book, Combing Columbus, is certainly a dramatic one, and yet her singular compositional sensibilities remain strongly evident. Although the medium is quite different, you notice that in this series of pencil and watercolor drawings, as in the earlier piece, Bole allows her subject matter to live on the page, playfully animating it though her skillful manipulations of context, scale, and form.
With so many innovative artists involved in this exhibition, there are many more provocative juxtapositions and delightful thematic threads for you to explore and enjoy. Spend some time wandering through the gallery or participate in one of the upcoming events listed below.
Exhibiting artists include Dorothy Gill Barnes (Worthington), Mary Jo Bole (Columbus), Nancy Crow (Baltimore), Jack Earl (Lakeview), Maureen France (Cincinnati), Henry Halem (Kent), Frank Herrmann (Cincinnati), Janice Lessman-Moss (Kent), Charles Massey (Columbus), Paul O’Keeffe (Cleveland Heights), Penny Rakoff (Cleveland), Aminah Robinson (Columbus), Gregory Spaid (Gambier), Brinsley Tyrrell (Ravenna), Garie Waltzer (Cleveland Heights) and Walter Zurko (Wooster).
All Flashback to Now events are free and open to the public. Upcoming events include:
Wandering and Writing: The Idea of Place in a Gallery, Thursday, Sept. 17, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
How do we find our place in a gallery, responding to the works that most compel us to write? Ohio poet Terry Hermsen has years of experience guiding both students and adults through galleries around the state. Explore fresh techniques for “entering a work of art” using poetry or prose from his book Poetry of Place (NCTE, 2009). Registration opens July 23. Secure your spot at riffegallery.org.
Free Family Workshop with artist Leah Wong, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2-4 p.m.
Artist Leah Wong will guide families through a combination of basic calligraphic brush and scissor cut techniques. The resulting paper cutouts will be used to construct a collaborative installation on view within the Riffe Gallery through the close of the exhibition. All children must be accompanied by a registered adult. This workshop is geared toward children age 6-17. Registration opens Aug. 14. Space is limited, so secure your spot at riffegallery.org.
Gelatin silver print
16″ x 20″
“Footprints on the Moon,” 2014
Archival inkjet print
32″ x 44″
“The Lodging Road Behind the Chaparral,” 1981
Pastel on paper
26″ x 40″
“Winter with the Sparrow Bush,” 2011
Glass enamel on steel
36″ x 48″
Mary Jo Bole
“Cleveland River/Factory Scene,” 1983
22″x 22″ x 8″
Collection of William Busta and Joan Tomkins