Art Exhibitions

Crowing over Kitchens

I mentioned PhoPa Gallery's Inside/Out exhibit in February's post, and I want to make another nepotistic comment that PhoPa has consistently exhibited excellent work the entire time I've been aware of the establishment (also, there's brie at the opening). While the show is sadly over, I attended the artist's talk hosted by the gallery, and it turned out to be one of the most intellectually stimulating events I've attended in a while (excluding the Art History lectures I've been attending at USM, which deserve much more attention, and will receive it). The artists and moderator covered everything from use of photoshop to Maine's penchant for landscapes, but I found the subject of intimate interiors especially fascinating.

At the talk interiors were discussed as an exploration of the ordinary, lending value and contemplation to objects and spaces that often go unnoticed. This was most obvious in the work of Sarah Szwajkos, who photographed others' personal spaces she found compelling, using her photos to inspire curiosity and discussion as to what originally drew her to the space. They explore how we relate to spaces, subjectivity in interpretation calling attention to how spaces unite and divide people in the ways they react to them. Dishes nestle comfortably next to a clean sink, a cupboard cracked to imply another layer to the space, an invitation to look deeper. The ambiguity of these simple interiors captures something remarkably personal to each person who views it, and the artist loses some control over the meaning of their work.

Sarah Szwajkos, Apartment Kitchen with Clean Dishes, Moving Out, Personal Space Series Copyright Sarah Szwajkos
Sarah Szwajkos, Apartment Kitchen with Clean Dishes, Moving Out, Personal Space Series Copyright Sarah Szwajkos

I was struck by this notion of control looking at my roommate Sarah's collaged interiors. In the photographs at PhoPa we see how people inhabit spaces, indicators by which people establish identity and confirm it physically in their personal sphere. I see a lot of this in Perea-Kane's work. Birds in the Kitchen shows comfortable angles and confident lines of perspective of the dormers and counters, studded with individual elements in friendly pinks and yellows. This semi-orderly scene is set with a familiar hand, the sketchiness of the lines lending a sense of the personal. The kitchen is a glimpse into the privacy not just of the space, but of the close relationship of mind to hand.

Perea-Kane, Birds in the Kitchen, 2014
Perea-Kane, Birds in the Kitchen, 2014

The birds in question are cut roughly from black paper. They scatter in the space, lending a malevolence of the uncontrollable. The window looms in the background, but the artist gives no reason to believe the birds entered the room from there. The shapes are superimposed on the painting, born from the perspective of the viewer. They stand tribute to the subjectivity of interpretation inherent in the viewer. While Szwajkos seems to entice the viewer into any attempt at interpretation, Perea-Kane forces them to confront their own voyeurism before they examine the space depicted. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two Sarahs is not medium or surname, but rather that the photographer documents spaces not necessarily her own. 

There's a comfort as a viewer in performing the same function as the artist - we're not alone in our voyeurism when the object is born of it as well.  Perea-Kane depicts her own space being encroached by wild elements outside our control. She reminds one that, in the attempt to grasp at clues of identity and meaning in another's private space we're rarely nothing but another animal fluttering on the surface.

10x10+4 isn't 104.

About a year ago, when I was about to move to Los Angeles, one of the drawing groups I worked for was talking a lot about "ten by ten". I had no idea what that meant at first, but managed to figure out that it was an art show that some of them were involved with in some capacity. That's  all I figured out until this year, when the buzz started again. I decided to ask and was justly rewarded. 10x10 is a annual art show that has been happening more or less every year for the past two and half decades. It features ten artists displaying ten works that are all 10in by 10in, originally for $100 each (this has changed with the times). One of the first things I saw walking into the gallery- a lithograph from Chris Benemen's Highline series.

Originally intended to include the same artists year after year, the group has changed significantly over the years, adding to depth of its history.  Many of the artists in the current roster attend (or host) the drawing group where I first heard about it. Imagine my pleasure to find this year’s 10x10 (+4) show at the June Fitzpatrick Gallery at MECA, a five minute walk from my apartment.

I trudged wetly through pouring rain under Sarah’s polka dotted umbrella to make the opening night. The show was only on for two days, allowing the artists to keep prices low and inspiring visitors to brave the storm. I arrived to a gallery full of soggy people clutching plastic cups of Trader Joes wine, so it was basically like I'd never left my apartment. The gallery was small, and the work on the walls was grouped by artist, so I was able to wander around based on what caught my eye.

An oil by Todd Bezold

The greatest strength of 10x10 was the diversity, seemingly ironic in a show with set dimensions. However, the equal size of each work provided a platform for comparison that focused the attention on the surface of the work rather than that space it contained. The variation in framing was striking, prompting reflection on the importance of framing, often overshadowed by the works themselves. For example, the calm simplicity of Todd Bezold’s ocean landscapes would have been overwhelmed and underserved by a frame; their display without lent presence to the atmospheric works. The variation of artistic mindset and strategy shone in the way the paintings informed each other; every artist's work looked truly unique yet seamlessly linked to the rest of the show. The viewer was pulled around the gallery, led by details of works that shed light on others.

An assemblage by Roz Fedeli

Michael Walek coaxed a stained quality from his gauche landscapes, which looked almost like batiking and played into the soothing folksiness of Martha Miller’s vibrant prints to the left. Pulling patterns from the borders of her work led you to the landscapes of Lindsay Hancock, simple shapes leaving brilliant colors to set the tone of the work. Her straight-lined abstractions of organic forms led you across the gallery to the stark geometry of Chris Beneman's lithographs. The dull tones, long lines and intricate overlapping looked like shadow studies of the many bridges of the area. Suddenly thoughts of metal were on the mind, mottled pipes and secondhand brooches flashing from found object relief sculptures by Roz Fedeli, perched rigid and distinct in the ample showing of paintings.

Next to the curvy metals  lay a series of watercolors by Pat Hardy showing broken ceramics on white cloth, the sharp edges of the watercolor and the smooth sides of the pipes a beautiful contradiction. The intersection of sculpture and painting was completed by Russ Whitten’s incredibly tangible oil paintings, the palate-knife applied paint reaching off the canvas to catch the light in a way that made them into abstract reflection studies as well as moody landscapes.

The benefit of this diversity was in no way lost on the producers of the show. The +4 part of the show's name referenced a juried set of four young Portland-based artists. Many of them were connected to MECA, which is known for an avant-garde curriculum. Of course all artists seem to tend toward the classical when you only see them at drawing group, but it was refreshing to see the melding of established artistic thought and fresh new perspectives. I talked to a woman who had been to almost every show for 23 years, and thought how amazing it would be to see the development of the exhibition over that time. To see the new work in the show solidified the idea of a commitment to the diversity that made 10x10 such an enjoyable experience.

All images lifted from the 10x10 website. Hopefully a more timely post will introduce next year's show.