November First Friday: Election Edition 

Looking at Art, Trying to Deal with Election Distraction

click to enlarge Carl Pope with portrait of Mari Evans
  • Carl Pope with portrait of Mari Evans

It was a busy, busy First Friday in Indianapolis that I began in conversation with Carl Pope - for a forthcoming NUVO feature - at Tube Factory artspace, which is run by Big Car Collaborative.

When I walked into Tube Factory, Pope was putting the final touches on his exhibit based on the work of Indianapolis-based poet, educator, and essayist Mari Evans, one of the founders of the Black Arts Movement, and whose mural now towers over Mass Ave.

Pope, born in 1961 in Indianapolis and currently a resident here, has exhibited his installations and artwork at the Museum of Modern Art and The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago among other places.

Talking with him got my mind off the forthcoming presidential election, if ever so briefly. He talked about Evans' desire to create an inclusive language for both laymen and academics that includes an African-American perspective.

“Mari talks about the problem that we have with using language to voice our own experience instead of using the definition of others and how in mainstream society our experiences are discounted and denied,” Pope told me. “I think she’s calling for us to reconsider not only what’s going on in language but to come up with a solution for it.”

The most striking thing about Pope’s exhibit at Tube Factory is a whole wall of the main gallery devoted to quotations from Evans' work in all kinds of different fonts.

The particular source for these quotes is a book of her essays entitled Clarity as Concept.

“It’s my reading of the text,” Pope says.

Here’s one of Mari Evans quotes from her work:

Many years ago, in response to my concern that African Americans were often the unwitting victims of language that viewed the world from an Anglo-American perspective, I began to advocate that one of the responsibilities of African-American scholars was to redefine the lingua franca in order to force recognition that the definitions a multicultural society must, in an effort towards accuracy, reflect the concerns, experiences, and nuances of the total society.

Is it possible to read the above paragraph and not think of the Black Lives Matter movement? I wonder if the founders of the BLM movement might paraphrase Evans’ words to describe their own use of the phrase Black Lives Matter, even if they aren’t aware of Evans’ work (Actually, I find it hard to imagine that they aren’t aware of it.)

Anyway, I made a note as I checked out Pope’s large display of Evans’ bite sized quotes - sized perfectly to fit on your Smartphone - to read a chapter or two of her book, which was available at Tube Factory - before I left.

But I forgot, I have to confess. I’m so, so distracted these days. And this election isn’t helping things.

At the next gallery I visited, which happens to the mega-exhibit (87 works in all) of Kyle Ragsdale’s most recent work entitled INsignificant, which includes a selection of his charcoal on paper drawings as well as printmaking in addition to the impressionistic painting that he is most well known for. (I find the title to be an INteresting play on words, as you can take the title one of a half dozen ways.)

The paintings in the main gallery, based on historical photos of people and places in Indiana, some as surreal as they are impressionistic, and wildly colorful. “General of Sobro” depicts characters in Revolutionary War type garb in bicorne hats both upside down and right side up. As in other exhibitions of Ragsdale’s painting, the people depicted sometimes seem to dissolve into the expressively colorful backgrounds.

click to enlarge General of Sobro by Kyle Ragsdale
  • General of Sobro by Kyle Ragsdale

But maybe the generals of South Broad Ripple are good at going incognito.

More interesting to me were his charcoal drawings such as “Planters” depicting a number of head portraits of women, gazing down demurely. “Dreams” is a beautiful, simply drawn drawing of a woman in profile.

With this exhibit of Ragsdale's work, you can either see his world in black and white or in color. I suppose I prefer his less colorful, more down to earth work.

From time to time during First Friday I would check my cellphone to see updates on the election. One of the blogs I pay attention to on a more or less regular basis is Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, in which he had an interesting election update on Nov. 3 entitled “Why Clinton’s Position is Worse than Obama’s” He was commenting on recent polls that have shown Trump gaining in the polls in New Hampshire, a state that the Clinton campaign had considered previously to be in their firewall.

And Silver, a statistical maven who just so happens to be a second cousin of mine, used a colorful metaphor in place of his usual black and white statistical analysis.

“If you’re only ahead in exactly enough states to win the Electoral College, and you’d lose if any one of them gets away, that’s less of a firewall and more of a rusting, chain-link fence,” he wrote.

Anyway, enough of politics.

Next stop was Marna Shopoff’s “Shifting Perspectives,” at Gallery 924. It showed her shifting even more away from architectural subject matter on which she often based her depictions in previous work into the realm of hard-edge painting meets op art. Looking at the magenta-heavy “Ascent” is almost like looking into a prism. You see swirling bands and ribbons of bright saturated color folding up one on top of the other. 

click to enlarge Ascent by Marna Shopoff
  • Ascent by Marna Shopoff

“What if we set aside the need to represent what we see and instead respond with how we feel?” she writes in her artist’s statement.

Perhaps one of her paintings, "Glass Ceiling" is a giveaway about how she feels about the upcoming election?
click to enlarge Glass Ceiling by Marna Shopoff
  • Glass Ceiling by Marna Shopoff

At the entrance of the Raymond James Stutz Art Gallery I caught the tail end of an “Art of Recycling” competition public preview. Kristy Hughes was one of the artists gathering her artwork on display - a piece similar to what she exhibited in the May 2016 Gallery 924 show entitled “Seeing Is Forgetting.” It’s a mixed media painting that will be part of the Indiana Recycling Coalition annual fundraising gala REVENT to take place on Nov. 12, 2016.
click to enlarge Kristy Hughes with her work
  • Kristy Hughes with her work

Hughes and other involved artists got to tour Recycleforce, “a certified Indy e-cycler” and got shopping stipends to spend at Goodwill and Indy Upcycle to find materials to make their art.

At the Stutz Gallery itself there was a colorful linoleum block print by Charles Cooper depicting two hands clasped together, one blue, one yellow against a background as red as the reddest state on the FiveThirtyEight blog website.

And then I went to the Circle City Industrial Complex where I saw the Indiana Downtown Artists and Dealers’ Association Member Show. The first place winner of this exhibition was a painting entitled “The Robots Have Taken All the Jobs in Hell." This particular Hell borrows something from Hieronymous Bosch in terms of style and subject matter (except for the robots). Somehow the depicted robots are both scary and cute. Curiously, the sky is raining down upside down letters (all capitals) on the assembled masses in line. It’s a working class man’s nightmare, no doubt, but there are similar things, perhaps, going on up on up the surface, with the way our polar caps are melting and with certain politicians abusing language in ways that should make George Orwell sit up in his grave and belch.

click to enlarge The Robots have taken all the Jobs in Hell by Robert Allan James
  • The Robots have taken all the Jobs in Hell by Robert Allan James

I wound up in Fountain Square after all this to see the final show at iMOCA at the Murphy entitled “Unloaded,” featuring work based on Americans’ love affair/dangerous obsession with firearms. The show will be up through Nov. 19 at the Murphy and continues in iMOCA's other space at CityWay through Dec. 31. (And for the record, I think it's good that iMOCA will vacate the space, particularly because of the spillover noise on a nightly basis from the adjacent Hi-Fi Night Club is a big, head-pounding distraction.)

One piece on display echoed the text based work by Carl Pope that I had seen at the Tube Factory that afternoon, a wall-hanging poem entitled "The Last Time I saw Virginia Woolf" by Cathy Colman with both contemporary and literary resonance, with its mentions of militias in the woods, suicide-beckoning rivers, and prescribed medications.

It was nice to see a poem such as this given some breathing room in this exhibition space. And poems, after all, have certain characteristics that can cross the line into the realm of visual art. So why shouldn't they appear side by side with paintings in a gallery? Consider the realm of Concrete poetry, a form of poetry in which the shape of the arranged words is just as, if not more, important than the actual meaning of the words.  

Speaking of shapes, "Cross for the Unforgiven" by Mel Chin, in the shape of a Maltese Cross, had a certain chilling beauty to it. That is, it's good that the guns are rendered inoperable, and the artistry is exceptional. But maybe, just maybe, there's a whiff of fascism about the thing too.
click to enlarge Cross for the Unforgiven by Mel Chin
  • Cross for the Unforgiven by Mel Chin

What could be a better place to wind up on a pre-presidential election day First Friday?


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