Jose Rios, Clown Posse, pen and gouache, Ties That Bind, Seventh Annual Community Juried Art Show at Off the Wall Gallery
By the time Clown Posse was presented to the panel of jurors assembled at Off the Wall Gallery curator Jody Sweitzer‘s place on her sweet flat screen TV, they were ready for a jolt of color. In the first round, the jury looked at over 200 images by about 50 artists while artist statements were read explaining how the artwork relates to the theme Ties That Bind. It was a lot to take in, DoN knew many of the artists but lots of others were new to him and as each image was connected to a statement, the idea of what the best representation of theme could really be emerged. For the second round of viewing, renowned photographer Rick Wright joined Elizabeth J. McTear, Marlise M. Tkaczuk, Melissa Ezelle and DoN as we looked at them all once more, each scoring our favorites in different ways. And then we looked at them all again and began the process of elimination.
There was some disagreement with Jose Rios’, Clown Posse because the color looks so bold standing on it’s own on a monitor and what do clowns have to do with Ties That Bind anyway? Jose Rios is an art student at Oasis Arts and Education, he wants’s to “inspire hope in others and myself.” The jury agreed that clowns connect deeply with people on an emotional level, a common childhood thread of fun and fear, the naive primitivism and cartoon pop color of the painting is right on trend and when you see the artwork with the rest of the show, the piece speaks in a quieter voice. During the opening reception the artist sat in the booth under his painting and worked on drawings of super-heros.
The team sifted through images for several more hours, with breaks for strawberry rhubarb pie, and argued the merits of each piece, we had to narrow the selection down to a manageable number of artworks that would fit the limited wall space and DoN learned a good lesson. Presentation is key; art shows are juried looking at digital photos which make the images all the same size on the screen, make sure your photo is the best possible.
Alice Gonglewsk‘s artist statement accompanying the popsicle stick constructions that look like a drawing/sculpture hybrids is a poem which begins, “Organize the dreams and moments, find connections, find a true tribe…” A good tip if you’re stuck writing an artist statement is to remember you’re an artist and can say it with words in a poem. If you can bring a tear to the juries eye, go for it. The graphic pieces present themselves as drawings in space, floor plan-like, with simple forms and materials representing the complex setting of a life lived.
Bound took the “top” prize, there were different levels of adherence to the theme instead of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, but the small ceramic sculpture exemplified the concept on so many levels, mixing metaphors, exquisite detail and finish, and a strange dada-ist narrative that is hard to put in words, as if we’re aware of being yoked and thinking we’re one thing instead of another; each creature believes it resembles the other because it can’t see itself. The artist describes the relationship between the figures as, “tortuous”.
The image of Berkley House, oil on pine, by Russell Brodie, is about life sized, the paintings are small and very realistic. In the jurying process the paintings looked as big as the other works, the images all presented relatively the same aspect ratio to one another, and presented on the screen large it was hard to imagine them small. The artist says he “wants to draw the audience in.”
DoN loves the fact that The Soap Dish was awarded most abstract interpretation of the theme. How can a photo be abstract? But in this case many of the artworks were impressionistic, not abstract per se, and Nicole Giusti‘s still life photo combined with the tense narrative of her strained relationship with her grandmother transformed ordinary soap into doppelgangers, simulacra and ghosts of unpleasant memories. The repeating patterns, pristine color fields and limited palette resonated the theme of uncomfortable ties to family that reads differently for each viewer.
Stephen Millner‘s Air Support collage is poignant and direct to the point, ties to military people is special, enduring and hopeful. The cancelled air mail stamps speak of countless expressions of hope and love, military families send care packages of stuff soldiers can’t get in Afghanistan or even on military bases, DoN has two nephews who have been deployed to the wars, Kurt is in Iraq right now working as a contractor, Buddy is back on active duty and could deploy anywhere, anytime. Art that reflects military life touches DoN‘s heart, the ties of love and hope bound with anxiety and fear is potent.
All of the jurors thought of their grandmothers when presented with Egg Beater, an exquisite ink drawing that is simple, descriptive and active. The image represents a tool that ties us to fond memories, the old fashioned kitchen utensil able to mentally transport us to a place in the past with cake batter and whipped cream. Even the angle of the egg beater hints at activity, actions and achieving goals.
Jena Serbu, detail from Crickets, diorama with marionette- style low-fire clay figures found wood construction by Dawn Smith, Ties That Bind, Seventh Annual Community Juried Art Show at Off the Wall Gallery, photo courtesy of OTW@DF
Crickets is especially interesting because the piece was made on spec. The artists submitted a proposal with drawings and samples of some completed elements of the sculpture, the artist statement dealt with marital discord, problems from the past and angst of modern life. So the artists took a chance the jury would give them the go ahead to complete the piece, the presentation of the idea was fulfilled exactly as proposed and is a powerful presence in the show.
Ties That Bind, Seventh Annual Community Juried Art Show at Off the Wall Gallery
Awarding the prizes was a surprisingly simple and satisfying exercise. Each juror picked their top three favorites in each category ranked in descending order, if two or more pieces were selected by the jurors the scores were added and the highest scores received an award – a cool tie-dye kit.
DoN was honored when Togo Travalia asked him to help jury the show, Off the Wall Gallery at Dirty Franks has a long history of exceptional art shows. The Ties That Bind, Seventh Annual Community Juried Art Show is beautiful, sometimes challenging with a wide interpretation of a theme based on three simple words and what they mean to different artists. The ties that Off the Wall Gallery has to the Philadelphia arts community binds artists in a welcoming place, not afraid to take risks with art, challenge norms and raise the conversation to new levels when it comes to art interpretation and exhibition. Ties That Bind, Seventh Annual Community Juried Art Show at Off the Wall Gallery is on exhibit through August 3rd.
Written by DoN
Photographs courtesy of Off the Wall Gallery at Dirty Frank’s Bar except where noted.