Phyllis Weston Gallery presents Paper Trail as an opportunity “to explore the brilliant variety of paper as a medium.” But the medium really isn’t the message here. The art of Kim Burgas, Terence Hammonds and teenager Max Unterhaslberger is so captivating that the fact it’s on paper is secondary. Just as fascinating are the trails the artists have taken to this point.
My own path to Paper Trail began as an offshoot from Beyond Emancipation, a winter show featuring black artists at Kennedy Heights Arts Center. Only one of Hammonds’ works was displayed. I wanted more.
Paper Trail presents several pieces from Hammonds’ silkscreen wallpaper series, which juxtapose photos of civil rights figures, R&B/Funk singers and early breakdancers against lacy, ornate patterns. (Some designs were used in Gone with the Wind.) “Look at us. We’ve arrived,” Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, musician Morris Day and the others call out to the owners of slave plantations and the genteel white households that employed “the help.” No longer will African-Americans be treated as wallflowers.
Hammonds is 35. His trail winds from an Over-the-Rhine childhood to the School for Creative and Performing Arts to a scholarship at Boston’s School of the Museum of Fine Arts and a bachelor’s from Tufts and back to Cincinnati, where he’s worked with master printmaker Mark Patsfall at Clay Street Press. There are similarities between his wallpapers and Shepard Fairey’s posters, but Hammonds’ careful study of American history, design and subculture makes his art feel more thoughtful, less pop.
Eager to mirror Hammonds’ path is Unterhaslberger.
At just 18, he’s already described as “an old soul” by local art appraiser Morgan Cobb.
On opening night, visitors kept circling back to his vibrant spray paint works. He drew a range, from those with a 40-year-old paper trail of invites from Phyllis Weston to YPs to fellow students from Purcell Marian.
Max — honestly, he seems on the verge of being a single-name standout — started painting at 13, drawing inspiration from the urban landscape. But since January he’s had a studio in the basement of the Phyllis Weston Gallery, and he’ll enter the Art Academy of Cincinnati this fall. At the opening, as he excitedly flipped through mounts of his works, his words flowed as quickly as a burst of paint from one of his spray cans. “He brings the energy of youth without ego,” Cobb observes.
On the walls are miniature versions of the type of elaborate graffiti found on abandoned buildings. “Anxiety” is the title of one colorful jumble. But the young artist also creates quiet studies of color that perfectly convey the warmth of a violet sunset or calm the mind with the cool blues and greens of a spring day. He’s transformed his street tag into beautiful calligraphy. Repeated swirls of “Max” take on the appearance of sand dunes or ocean waves.
He had “a devoted sense of his artistic practice already, and ideas in his head,” gallery director Cate Yellig says. “He made a conscious decision to move to fine art and be represented.” Weston’s gallery just happened to be on his walking route, and he had crossed paths with Yellig before, when she was with PAC Gallery and he was at Elementz. Yelling says Weston, the grand dame of Cincinnati’s visual art scene, just fell in love with the teen’s sketches.
New York artist Kim Burgas majored in Asian and Mideast studies at UC, and her path has wound through Oman, Yemen, Turkey, Japan and Indonesia. Along the way, her art has been influenced by butoh dancing and the textiles and headdresses seen on her travels.
In her sinewy, almost abstract portraits of women, Burgas finds beauty in aging. “Wrinkles tell elaborate stories of our past,” she says. Wielding a pen like a Botox needle, she turns each line on a face into part of a gravity-defying fashion accessory of delicate dots, lacy details and the occasional pop of color. “There’s an interplay between strength and subtlety,” Cobb notes. The woman’s face nearly disappears into the headdress and the rich narrative it represents.
As I looked at Burgas’ portraits again, suddenly I saw in them Phyllis Weston, always a fashion plate with her hair up in a twist. In Burgas’ work, the paper trails of three emerging artists and their champion meet.
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