ATHICA Emerges II gives Athens’ residents and visitors to Northeast Georgia an opportunity to experience exciting new work by three local artists: Jon Barwick, Kim Deakins and Rylan Steele all share an interest in creating and depicting space, whether that space be interior, exterior or abstract. Although each employs radically different media and methods, Barwick’s large-scale mixed media paintings, Deakins’ sculptural installations and Steele’s photographs all prompt us to consider how we interact with the space that surrounds us.
Steele depicts recognizable spaces. He photographs stark interior home or work settings, contrasting strictly organized spaces with extremely cluttered ones. He captures places that are comforting and still, but also vacant and perplexing. Devoid of human presence, his color photographs suggest that someone has been there, or will soon return. Although ordinary, Steele’s locations—offices, businesses and storage spaces—are all made alluring through sensitive framing. The artist notes, “My photographs are of the unnoticed works of art that can be found in our daily lives. I am aiming for consistency in my photographic approach to all the various places these mysterious details can be found within our contemporary experience. I attempt to make photographs of specific places that feel like the stereotypes, while simultaneously highlighting the nuances that make them extraordinary.”
Steele is inspired by people’s adaptations of their settings, whether those choices were influenced by personal preferences or constrained by functional requirements. Stairs, Athens, Georgia (2008) exemplifies this idea (see image on back). The photograph depicts five beige steps within a set of stairs with a flanking blue-gray wall at the left. Each step holds a stack of boxes, phonebooks, manuals, or papers that pile up against the wall. The jumbled mess may seem disorderly, with the calendar falling down at the bottom left hand corner, but perhaps this represents someone’s concept of organization. These stairs may be the perfect shelf or filing cabinet for the owner, who knows what each of these objects are and where they are located. In Monitors, Athens, Georgia (2008) (see image this page) we see a similar accumulation of objects. The computer monitors are placed facedown on top of one another, on wooden pallets and on the floor. The rigid grouping of the machines shows a sense of orderliness, and seems appropriate for the technological objects. Yet the storage space seems stagnant and unused; the cool lighting and shadows convey immobility—the space is most likely left alone, with very little action from anyone that would disturb the stillness of this room.
Steele monumentalizes everyday subjects, in the tradition of William Eggleston, one of the leading color photographers of the twentieth century, who captured an array of subjects but who most often focused on characteristics of contemporary society. Eudora Welty wrote of Eggleston’s work: “He sets forth what makes up our ordinary world. What is there, however strange, can be accepted without question; familiarity will be what overwhelms us.” This statement could be applied to Steele’s photographs equally; his compositions present us with head-on views of typical spaces, but again, through careful framing, he imbues them with intrigue. Steele notes that he approaches places “based on my own cultural expectations or previous experiences and attempt to search out the details of these ordinary places that identify them as unique.” Fred’s Cribs Office, Athens, Georgia (2007) (see image in checklist) is a simple shot of a printed couch in a wood-paneled room. Without considering the title, this may be someone’s home or office, but there are no other personal decorations—no signals as how to interpret the space. The casual setting conveys a vague sense of familiarity, yet the off-center composition, bright lighting and details such as the imprinted squares of discoloration on the wall where framed pictures once hung, give the space its distinct identity.
In dialectic opposition to Steele’s identifiable interiors, Barwick’s large-scale paintings send the viewer into otherworldly realms. The massive size of the canvases—typically over five feet wide—inundates the viewer with layered compositions of abstracted objects. Evoking the busy mental space of our contemporary, technologically driven society, the artist creates fields of powerful mechanical and natural forms that replicate the juxtaposition between humans and their environments. The images’ graphic quality and intense colors have the impact of an action-packed comic book blown-up to a daunting scale.
An overabundance of elements is paralleled by Barwick’s process; his mixed media works derive from drawings that are continuously manipulated before he attains a final composition. While the artist sometimes uses his own hand to make changes by re-drawing or tracing, he also uses “machines” to alter original drawings: photographing, scanning, or printing a computer-generated version of an image, linking these technological means of production with hand-dependant processes. An overabundance of references forms a third parallel, revealing Barwick as a product of our Transmodern moment, to borrow critic James Mahoney’s recently coined term. Barwick’s dynamic compositions are fueled by the elegance of his crisp lines, which conjure a sense of depth evocative of the complexities of M.C. Escher’s works (sans that illustrator’s literalness). In Barwick’s heavier shapes there is an implied bawdiness akin to the robust visions of R. Crumb or Philip Guston. Yet lighter works like Panorama V, with its wistful silver and turquoise hues, summon up the serenity of nineteenth century Japanese prints.
Barwick’s A.D.D. I (2007) (see full and detail image this page) proffers an array of shapes, seemingly hurtling through space, with light beams intersecting the entire composition. Like spotlights, the white rays beam out of various objects while highlighting others, conveying a quasi-spiritual effect. Similar to the notion of “holy light” or halos seen in Christian imagery, the rays of light emphasize the almost mystical place technology holds today. Barwick’s concentrated use of energized geometric forms recalls work by Futurists such as Gino Severini, Giacomo Balla and Umberto Boccioni (active 1912-13) who were among the first artists interested in depicting motion and speed, hallmarks of a then nascent mechanized modernity. And of course, many of Barwick’s methods can be traced to modernist originators of collage (not only literal collage, with various objects, but also the layering of various images), such as Picasso and Dadaists Kurt Schwitters and Hannah Höch. These artists were the first to grapple with how to express the enormity of the changes in our mental landscape newly littered with an overabundance of visual information, in their case in the form of print, in our case in the form of Internet connectivity.
Related is the fact that Barwick is open to hanging his paintings in either a horizontal or vertical orientation, either as diptyches or separately; apparently they can operate in real spaces in as many different ways as they depict imaginary spaces.
Multiverse I (see images on checklist) and Multiverse II (see image this page), both from 2006, are earlier acrylic paintings that attain a collage effect by layering images, without the use of actual collaged and manipulated drawings. With a blast of neon reminiscent of 1980’s graffiti art, the pair—each 5’ x 7’ tall—take up an enormous amount of space. Placed adjacent to one another in a corner space of the gallery, the diptych envelopes the viewer. Their titles refer to an all-encompassing universe of images. The black background, mimicking our notion of “outer space,” unifies the floating objects’ interactions with one another. In these pieces, as well as in all of Barwick’s work, there is a remarkable sense of an eternally churning motion taking place in spaces that are simultaneously microscopic and macroscopic in scale.
Deakins’ installations are similarly executed on a grand scale and also use a palette reminiscent of graffiti-influenced 1980’s artists such as Kenny Scharf or Keith Haring. But her monumental paper, fabric and wood structures refer to specific exterior forms, intermingling with the actual three-dimensional space of the viewer. The two works included in this exhibition are the beginning of an ongoing body of sculptural installations comprised of hand-cut, painted pieces of paper and fabric. Through Synthetic Landscape (see image next page) and Prisma Peak (see image on the page after next) (both 2008), Deakins expresses her interest in why we manipulate our natural environment. Manicured lawns, bushes and landscaping directly alter the natural growth of plant life. Kudzu, which Synthetic Landscape refers to in its massive draped form, is an aspect of the Georgia landscape that inspires her, in part because it directly opposes the controlled preciseness of such created environments. The mass of hand-cut triangles of black painted craft paper cascades from the wall onto the floor, where a swooping wave of neon pink merges into blue and ends in a point directing the viewer to three freestanding objects. These multifaceted forms flaunt a bright green color associated with the natural landscape. The artist aims to offer a “tactile and engaging experience for the viewer” by encouraging interactions between viewers and her large-scale sculptures that are akin to our experiences of nature outside the gallery.
Deakins draws on the legacy of 1970’s sculptors like Lynda Benglis, who used the wall as a major feature and often projected sculpture into the viewer’s space and Robert Morris, whose draped forms were similarly wall-based. But her work is perhaps most reminiscent of 1980’s installation artist Judy Pfaff in the manner Deakins goes about conflating elements of painting and sculpture, synthesizing bright, shocking colors with expansive shape and form, and creating the impression of walking inside an abstract painting.
Prisma Peak is a freestanding sculpture made of multi-colored paper and fabric that flows from a single vertical post. In its striking stance, as if it is in the act of being pulled vertically by an invisible thread, Deakin’s work bears similarity to conceptual object sculptors of the late 90’s, such as Anish Kapoor, who imbued primary minimalist forms with rich referential layers. The sleek black that appears beneath two layers extending from the center is juxtaposed by its vibrant colors, a method that is employed on a larger scale in Synthetic Landscape. By opposing elements: many colors and black (the absence of color), Deakins utilizes extremes. The concept of opposition is a fundamental quality of Deakins’ sculptures, one that harkens back to seminal 1960’s sculptor Eva Hesse, who noted it as an important part of her work.
The title of Deakins’ sculptural installation, Synthetic Landscape, is itself intentionally self-contradictory. In her statements about the work, the artist discusses our human need for natural landscapes, calling attention to the fact that the majority of landscapes surrounding us are artificial constructs, as are her own representations of them. Further complicating these ideas, Deakins’ process of painting and cutting paper reveals her manipulation of these materials; by hand-cutting each triangle she creates lines with an organic irregularity that would not derive from machine-cut paper. Deakins’ sculptural installations’ interpretation and replication of our surroundings can be understood as models of our world and thus commentary on our current state of affairs, relating them to the underlying themes of Barwick and Steele’s work.
All three of these artists focus on the way we manipulate, alter and live within our surroundings. Each aims to inspire within us a renewed awareness of the spaces we occupy.
—Eva Maria Lundin, Curator
with editorial contributions
by Lizzie Zucker Saltz, Director
Curator and Artists’ Biographies
Eva Maria Lundin is a local art historian and lecturer at Gainesville State College and the University of Georgia. She earned her M.A. in Art History from UGA in 2006. This is her debut curatorial turn.
Jon Barwick is an M.F.A. candidate in Painting and Drawing at the Lamar Dodd School of Art of the University of Georgia. He graduated cum laude with his B.F.A. from Columbus State University in 2005. The artist has been teaching at UGA for the past two years. He has exhibited his work since 2006 in group shows in Columbus, Athens, Atlanta, and New York. He was recognized in New American Paintings, vol. 64 in 2006 and in the upcoming New American Paintings, vol. 76, and the Southeastern edition of 2008.
Kim Deakins is also a current M.F.A. candidate at the Lamar Dodd School of Art of the University of Georgia. She earned her B.F.A. in 2006 from East Tennessee State University. Her work has been exhibited since 2003 in Tennessee and now in Athens, GA. She, too, will be featured in the forthcoming Southeastern edition of New American Paintings.
Rylan Steele graduated with distinction from the M.F.A. program in Photography at the Lamar Dodd School of Art of the University of Georgia in 2007. He completed his B.F.A. from Florida International University in Miami in 2003. He has taught upper level photography courses at UGA since 2005. Steele has exhibited his work since 1999 throughout Florida and Georgia, and in more recent years has shown across the Southeast region. Steele’s photographs were also shown internationally at the UGA Study Abroad program in Cortona, Italy. In the fall, he will begin teaching at The University of North Carolina, Asheville.
Artistic Director’s Notes
The ATHICA Emerges program was designed to offer local emerging artists a chance to stretch their wings and mount significant bodies of work. Unlike last year’s debut run of the ATHICA Emerges program, by sheer coincidence, the artists that curator Maria Lundin selected from over a dozen entries for ATHICA Emerges II all happen to be affiliated with the University of Georgia's Lamar Dodd School of Art's M.F.A. program. This is a happy coincidence, as it gives us a chance to applaud the vitality that the LDSOA—newly moved to spacious digs on East Campus—contributes to the community at large, as well as to ATHICA in particular. Although there is no formal connection, during these first six years of our existence easily half of our curators, volunteers and Board members have been associated in some capacity with the LDSAO. We are glad to be able to give this talented coterie of artists the chance to exhibit their work here. I am grateful to Maria Lundin for her many hours of hard work and dedication in arranging for this exhibition.
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—Lizzie Zucker Saltz, Artistic Director