Dennis Harrington, director of downtown’s Weston Art Gallery, looks for connections when he brings artists together for exhibition. This time, however, he did not find a common thread linking artists Diana Duncan Holmes, Elissa Morley and Todd Reynolds, whose work is now on display. So there’s no need to overexert yourself in search of a common theme. Enjoy each exhibit for its individual mastery.
“I’ve always played with movement, chance and light,” Holmes says, speaking by phone. Holmes says that she was struck by the austere landscape of Reykjavik, Iceland, during a month-long residency. She describes an environment of green moss, blue lagoons, black lava fields and white glaciers.
“It made me want to go into my subject matter almost at the cellular level,” Holmes says.
This became the impetus for her current exhibition of digital photographs Movement, Chance, Light. She moves her lens in so close it obscures her subjects to abstraction. From this vantage, a wadded up tissue is bursting with expression, like folds of drapery on a Bernini sculpture. If there is any fear of photography stealing the soul, than she traps the spirit of journal pages, blown-out tires and rust, exposing their innermost character.
The work is almost synesthetic. “Abstract #3 (journal pages),” a 12-panel photo on aluminum, vibrates with musicality. The simultaneous contrast between the white of the pages and the black between pages creates a flicker effect if you stare long enough.
In “Blowouts,” the frayed remnants of blown-out tires have new life in an eight-panel photograph.
They look like the bare limbs of trees silhouetted in a lightning storm. They are writhing and dangerous. “They are hard and horrible when you pick them up on the highway,” Holmes says. And yet she thinks of them as underwater. They do the slow dance of submerged hair. There is movement everywhere in her large photographs and yet Holmes views the exhibit with a sense of calm.
Reynolds’ Utopia shares the dark undertones of artists who lived through persecution and genocide. Chief among these influences is Francisco Goya, whose Los Caprichos etchings were shown recently at the Taft Museum. Reynolds’ painting “A Baker Bakes His Cake” is a commentary on the cutthroat nature of the art world. The artist is a court jester, slumped on the floor with his little pallet and brush. He is modeled after “The Dwarf Sebastian de Morra” by Diego Velázquez, the Spanish master painter. Depicting the artist as a fool is a familiar motif in Goya’s Los Caprichos. In one instance Goya depicts the artist as a monkey painting a portrait of a donkey.
A small painting in Reynolds’ Fish Eaters series plays off of Goya’s “Saturn Devouring One of His Sons.” Like Goya’s monster gorging on human flesh, a bald man (possibly Reynolds himself), stuffs an entire fish in his mouth. Both paintings elicit disgust.
“Sleepwalker” is Reynolds’ horrific take on modern war. A girl screams as the soldiers who raped her cover their ears; four hounds of hell stand guard. The dogs are all appropriated from the paintings of Velázquez, including “Las Meninas.” No longer benign pets of princesses, the canines are the watchdogs of war’s atrocities. A nude man, the gatekeeper of hell, holds one of the dogs on a leash. The girl’s pale white flesh echoes the peasant in a glowing white shirt of Goya’s famous “The Third of May,” which depicts the execution of Madrid citizens by Napoleon’s troops. Like Goya, Reynolds’ scene is sharply illuminated as if by stage lighting, turning the theatre of war into a violent play we watch from the audience.
Morley’s Vision: Things That Fly on the street-level gallery is a realm of stillness and renewal. Her landscape on translucent vellum spans much of the window space. Pinks and blues predominate, as do swimming pools, tropical plants, butterflies and sailing vessels, all depicted in two-dimensional and sculptural forms.
Movement is hinted at everywhere in her work. It is in the limbs of her faceless swimmers and the fluttering butterfly wings, yet the work is so calm as to have a deadening effect. The swimmers, who writhe in an undulating bay, are almost corpselike. The video of fluttering butterflies projected on the wall is on a loop. The insects repeat their dance again and again as if trapped in a jar.
As I was standing with Harrington in this eerie calm, the door opened. In walked assistant director Kelly O’Donnell with a burst of air that whipped through the gallery. The tops of the drawings are affixed to the wall but their bottoms flail with the sound of noisy wrapping paper.“We’re going to get the blowing effect in here,” Harrington says.
MOVEMENT, CHANCE, LIGHT, VISION: THINGS THAT FLY and UTOPIA are on display at the Weston Art Gallery in the Aronoff Center for the Arts (650 Walnut St., Downtown) through Feb. 27. Visit www.westonartgallery.com for more information. Elissa Morley will give a gallery talk 2 p.m. Feb. 5.