Visionaries and Voices (V&V) has experienced many changes in the decade since it was first incorporated as a nonprofit organization. During the late 2000s, V&V put on countless exhibitions (inside and outside of their own galleries), hosted street festivals, outgrew several studios and opened a second location in Tri-county to serve clients farther from their Northside gallery. As the organization has evolved, so has its administrators’ approach to curating exhibitions.
Local curator Matt Distel was named executive director in early 2012, and his fine arts background (consisting of everything from running his own gallery in Camp Washington during the late ‘90s to working with and for most of the art museums in town and nationally) was no doubt a major factor in his selection as candidate. While he has recently been appointed as both Adjunct Curator of Contemporary Art for the Cincinnati Art Museum and Exhibition Director at The Carnegie galleries in Covington, when he leaves the gallery this coming June, it will be with a different approach to exhibiting and culling the work of V&V artists.
The current exhibition at V&V showcases the drawings of Kathy Brannigan and Rob Macke and smartly incorporates elements of installation. Up, Up, Up and Up features Brannigan’s and Macke’s works in subtle white frames against backgrounds that provide additional layers for understanding the artists’ works.
Brannigan’s Shel Silverstein-esque line drawings on white paper appear to spill out of their low-profile frames and are visually connected via the artist’s recognizable hand-style. Directly on the walls underneath her drawing of a Goodyear blimp, Brannigan also adds wire as a 3-D element, visibly echoing her drawn lines throughout Up, and the effect is particularly successful.
The curatorial concept of Up is related to Brannigan and Macke’s “interest in objects and spaces above [their] heads,” and, for Brannigan, that is manifested in her depiction of flying objects.
Birds, blimps, space shuttles and jets are reimagined in the artist’s unrestrained line, which she uses to build up the composition in a way that is reminiscent of early synthetic Cubist works. For example, Brannigan’s “The Space Shuttle That Limped to Orbit in Lima Peru” features the artist’s free-form use of shapes to depict the cloud of smoke that happens during blast off, and — while her attention to details are meticulous — the contrast between the vertical/crosshatched lines of the shuttle and the cubist smoke circles are so visually appealing that one can hardly look away for want of discovering where Brannigan actually picked up her instrument off the panel.
Macke’s colorful works on the opposite side of the gallery contrast with Brannigan’s (mostly) black and white works, but he has an equal fascination with flying things; in Macke’s case, his imagined hybrid hawk or eagle creatures. Each winged-character is combined with real animals and/or mythological beings, and 18 of the paintings on canvas paper are scattered along the wall.
The names and bodies make the discovery of each cross-species entertaining, but Macke is most successful in his use of color, and the hawks (what appear to be the bad guys of the bunch) look like nightmares come to life. Hawks in Macke’s world are identifiable by their black wings, compared to the eagles’ white ones, and they all come to life atop Contemporary Arts Center preparator/artist Michael Stillion’s installation of Macke’s drawing.
While the eagles and hawks clearly have parenthetical backstories, a mere look at Macke’s “Dragawk” — an emerald green, pug-nosed creature with a golden beard and fire flares coming out of his nostrils — is enough to know this is one bad dude. In “Dragawk,” Macke abstracts the omnipresent wings to the point that they look to be a dark shadow hovering just behind this weighty creature, and the effect is disconcerting but powerful.
Like Distel, current V&V Exhibitions Coordinator Krista Gregory has a similar background in running galleries. Gregory was co-founder and director of Aisle Gallery for five years and she worked with Macke and Brannigan on Up’s exhibition installation. According to Gregory, V&V has added new staff and energy in the past few years to result in “a major shift from a social services organization with an arts component to an arts organization that happens to work with artists with disabilities.” If Up is any indication, we’ve only more good exhibitions to look forward to from V&V artists.
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