The Spiritual and the Material in the Work of Collin Rowland

 The title of Collin Rowland's current photography show posits a dualism between two realms (spiritual and physical). The two sides appear as distinct subject matter in his work: the first, the use of light as a symbol of a transcendent illumination; the second, a focus on sensuous materiality without any reference to narratives.
A good example of the first is his photograph Captives Set Free (2009). It depicts a prison corridor, but the corridor is empty. All the doors are open, and an impossibly bright sunlight blazes at the end of the tunnel. The light has presence here, like a vision, since prisons rarely have such access to the sun. However, the vision takes place in the absence of anyone to set free. Hence, the viewer experiences a kind of post-vision experience, as if the space itself is sacred.
The religious narrative is abandoned in his second focus, a straightforward fascination with weathered materials. A good example of this is Withering Trophies. Piles of rusted objects take on his interest, but for no discernible reason. The formal arrangements of these compositions are not especially striking. There seems to me to be a compensatory grounding here in the sensuous, a longing in this artist to move away from a conception of the spiritual as transcendent (the Medieval conception) through direct sense perception: the here-and-now.

These two directions unite in the work Flowers of Freedom (2009), a closeup of old wood, its gray paint flaking off. Similar to a harmonious impressionist painting, the work is beautiful; the stripes on the wood appear like the stems of flowers wavily reflected on water. Like the second type of work mentioned above, it focuses on sensuous materials, but instead succeeds in depicting these materials as an image of the spirit.

I learned later that the two images I requested here for this review were the only two in the exhibition taken at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp just outside Berlin, Germany. It is an eerily moving acknowledgment of the suffering of those interned there, recalling a time and place in which one would have found the justification for a Godless world.
- A.C. Frabetti

Collin Rowland. 'Freedom: an Exploration of the Relationship between the Spiritual and Physical world through Mixed Medium Photography' at TAZA, 2900 Jefferson Ave. in Clifton/Cincinnati OH. Through April 3rd.
Visit Rowland's site by clicking here.
Photos: Above, Captives Set Free (2009). Below, Flowers of Freedom (2009). Photos courtesy of the artist.


Constantine: Comic Images to Abstraction

Jake Constantine's paintings in his current exhibition at Semantics Gallery were composed by manipulating, via video editing software, cartoon/pop imagery from television and other forms of entertainment (per the artist, “Ren and Stimpy, Spongebob Squarepants, Transformers, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Futurama”, among others).
The original figures were sketched by artists and designers to communicate a kind of personality or charicature (in general). In Constantine's art the figures' personalities become inessential, even an obstacle, to be sufficiently mutated beyond recognition through a total concern for their formal properties. For example, in his piece Happy Happy Joy Joy (2009), he has perfectly centered a small red fragment of the figure's head. The rest of the composition falls mostly under this central point.  A large swathe of negative space remains in the upper portion. Perhaps inspired by Mondrian, Constantine has balanced the colors harmoniously, and used the black lines to assert the relationship of all the parts.  As opposed to Mondrian, the lines are more sinuous (also, a lesser-known fact of Mondrian's work is the  the presence of palette knife strokes).
Cartoons and comic book figures traditionally utilized a limited color range due to the exigencies of early media (i.e. the comic book printing press used primary colors). Contemporary cartoons (such as Sponge Bob) have moved beyond this limitation, but nevertheless offer a color range far more limited than that typically available to a painter. Hence the color palette of Constantine's work has a somewhat small color range, although within the context of art history his art almost accidentally falls under the De Stijl approach, sans the aesthetic ideals.
In his latest pieces, such as Big Sponge (2009), the transformation is total. The original figure (SpongeBob) has disappeared; the only aspects remaining are the color, line etc. I find them to be the most attractive of all his works. They give context for all the other pieces: the exhibition as a whole becomes the visible process of the artist's push towards abstraction.
- A.C. Frabetti

Jacob Constantine. 'This is Not a Test' at Semantics Gallery, 1107 Harrison Avenue, Cincinnati, OH. Through March 27.
In photos: Above, Happy Happy Joy Joy (2010). Oil on Panel, 32x40in. Below, Big Sponge (2010). Oil on Panel, 32x40in.
Visit Constantine's web site by clicking here.

Video Journalism: Interview of Kim Flora at PAC Gallery

Video by Dania Eliot

'Personal Vistas: New Paintings by Kim Flora' at The PAC Gallery, 2540 Woodburn Avenue, Cincinnati. Gallery hours: Friday and Saturday 2:00 - 7:00 p.m. Sunday 12:00 - 4:00 p.m.  Call 513.321.5200 for more information. Exhibition continues through April 11, 2010.
Partial online slideshow: http://www.pacgallery.net/exhibitions/kim-flora/index.html


Abstraction & Absence: Photography by Joe Hedges

Joe Hedges might be seen as a 21st-century Pictorialist.
A photographic movement that began around 1885 and declined after 1914, Pictorialism’s practitioners tried to emulate painting and etching so as to “legitimize” photography as an art form. They used soft focus, special filters, and lens coatings paired with extensive darkroom manipulation.
How like Hedges’ work. He uses seconds-long exposures, adjusting the focus and changing the focal length, and swaying and jolting the camera. The Pictorialist’s darkroom manipulation is a direct ancestor of Photoshop.
But unlike them, Hedges’ goal is not to approximate fine art—that battle having been won. Instead his techniques transform the mundane into the mysterious.
Still like the Pictorialists, Hedges has an affinity for Impressionism, which aimed to capture the shimmering light of the moment—or moments. Think of Monet’s many views of haystacks, the Rouen cathedral façade, and water lilies. Hedges collapses all of those moments into one image, recording light as a temporal event, and giving new meaning to “speed of light.” His zips of light infuse his images with energy like a comet streaking through the cosmos, a strike of lightning, or a jolt of electricity. This might be the photographic equivalent of action painting.
Although Hedges uses the real world as his subject, he is not documenting it. He’s far from Eugène Atget who recorded Paris at the turn of last century, or, a little later, Berenice Abbott, the American equivalent.
And unlike another street photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Hedges does not seek to capture the “decisive moment.” He admits he is “not interested in freezing a moment in time.” Instead he records “possible moments that did or did not exist.”
Although Hedges is fond of gritty street scenes, I prefer his views of nature. Sweep with its stand of slender trees with a foreground of tall grasses is haunting.
But then so is Enter& Exit. A “doorway” of pulsating light becomes a spectral presence, but what is to be made of the nearly parallel streaks of light on the right-hand side? He leaves that to the viewer to decipher.

- Karen S. Chambers

Joe Hedges: 'City Lights: Abstraction & Absence' at the Artisans Enterprise Center, 25 W. Seventh St., Covington, KY. Through April 9, 2010.
Photos: Enter & Exit, above, and Sweep, below. Photos courtesy of the artist.
Joe Hedges is a musician as well; visit his site by clicking here.

There will be a free artist panel (featuring Joe Hedges and Holland Davidson) on Wednesday, March 24, 2010 from 6-7pm at the AEC.


'Unemployed Title': Keith Benjamin at U·turn

A combination of hung, mounted, and free standing sculpture; Keith Benjamin’s exhibition 'Unemployed Title' now on view at U·turn Art Space suggests that moments of inspired originality can sprout forth from even the most mundane, routinized of tasks (lifting weights, maintaining physical health, and taking a shit). The form of the work succeeds in expressing content, in spite of some limitations imposed upon them by title and presentation.
Upon entering the gallery one is likely to first encounter Monster; Benjamin’s human scale assemblage of found object, and recycled cardboard.  Monster presents the viewer with an expansive web of cardboard strips that intimate the underlying structure of modern high-rise construction. These cardboard “I-beams” sprout from the stripped-down carcass of a former weight bench and expand perilously as they rise to a height just above that of the onlooker. The effect is immediate, but Monster is not without its drawbacks.

The appreciation of the formal elegance of Monster (and several other pieces) is often cut short by the constant reaffirmation of its source material: a weight bench, beer boxes, and glue. If, instead of leaving these elements in a naked state, they had been treated uniformly (unity of color perhaps?), the viewer would be free to apprehend the significance of the accomplishment and contemplate the ironic, visual paronomasia of a tense, visually heavy (but physically light) object placed precariously on a weight bench.  Instead of the potential freedom of aesthetic experience, the viewer is dragged down by the constant reminder of what these objects are, and attempts to penetrate deeper into the work are met with unnecessary roadblocks.

The high point of the exhibition is undoubtedly the modestly scaled #2 Series.  Carved from pieces of walnut to resemble stylized feces, these works exhibit a rare sensitivity to material. Benjamin shapes these pieces of wood such that we are invited to appreciate the natural beauty of substance concurrently with the hand of artist.  The elegant, architectural forms that emerge from And Then, and Signal in particular, create a graceful interplay of contrasts. These seemingly fragile, rectilinear structures pleasantly diverge from their solid, sordid, earthbound bases. In terms of presentation however, the elegance and integrity of the #2 Series is compromised by the realization that in place of a pedestal, the pieces are presented on a sheet of plywood, on a foosball table!

As a whole, 'Unemployed Title' presents a sense of heightened expectation that is satiated despite the problems mentioned above.  On view for the next month on Saturdays from 12-4, or by appointment, this show is capable of rewarding visual investment, and should not be overlooked.
- Alan Pocaro

Keith Benjamin, 'Unemployed Title' at U·turn Art Space, 2159 Central Avenue, Cincinnati, OH.
Regular gallery hours Saturdays 12:00-4:00 PM. For more information, or to make an appointment, please contact the gallery by e-mail: u.turn.artspace@gmail.com. Through March 27th, 2010.

Photos: Installation view of Monster; below, installation view of an overall shot of the #2 series on the table except for #2 #5 (Signal). Photos courtesy of the U·turn Art Space Collective.
[full disclosure: both Keith Benjamin and Alan Pocaro teach at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.]