"Garry R. Bibbs: Steel Resolve
Through April 28
Jean Michel Basquiat may have made a name for graffiti as a valid form of expression in fine art, but the drug culture he immersed himself in ultimately undid him. Today, African-American (and non-African-American) artists continue to appropriate graffiti, or a graffiti aesthetic, as a communicative tool — but it’s a delicate balance between appropriation as trend vs. authentic expression. Garry R. Bibbs, associate professor in sculpture and printmaking at the University of Kentucky, employs graffiti authentically, speaking as an African-American male who is concerned with, as he writes, “resolving issues about religion, race, sex, family, health and government.”
That’s a tall order for anyone, and in his most recent solo exhibition, Steel Resolve, on view at Ruschman Gallery, Bibbs may not have resolved these concerns, but he does address them gamely. Bibbs’ sculptures and monoprints are paradoxically uplifting, even when he’s taking on the Bush White House or African-American stereotypes.
Art doesn’t generally deal with such things subtly, and even if it were possible, it wouldn’t be Bibbs’ bent. But if there’s subtlety to be had, it’s best achieved in “Oh Say Can You See,” a steel, stainless and aluminum riff on the American flag — its stripes culled from what appear to be street signs in red, white and blue. Projecting from the top of the flag is a scope-type object, reminiscent of a missile. As Bibbs’ sculpture goes, this is uncharacteristic for its tight composition and singular theme. And it is lovely.
Bibbs’ more characteristic sculptures are generally larger scale and represent a more frenetic and yet accessible approach. “Times of Confused Cycles,” in welded aluminum, seems simultaneously ripped apart and joined together in a dancing composition of circular forms that act as a sort of container to the spraying metal tubes fanning out from the center. A wedged form emanating from the lower portion resembles a beak. A photo-transferred image onto Plexiglas, somewhat indiscernible, appears to include a computer keyboard, offering something more to puzzle over.
Bibbs’ prints reflect a similarly vibrant aesthetic. Graffiti is a primary component, as are appropriated images of men with Afros or prominent African-American figures such as Condoleezza Rice and Coretta Scott King, these alongside President Bush (with the White House as a backdrop), or fashion cutouts. “Praises To A Hip-Hop God” includes a boom box and dark clouds lit by a saw blade sun, the requisite graffiti running across the top. Bibbs’ prints are enlivened with brilliant color, including a recurring sky blue and egg yolk yellow.
Through the busy haze of metal and two-dimensional images, Bibbs steps off a tightrope of potential proselytizing and invites us to see the troubled world as he sees it: as a place of hope. As Basquiat is credited with saying, “Every single line means something.” Bibbs invites us to figure out just what that something is.
Steel Resolve, sculpture and prints by Garry Bibbs, is on view at Ruschman Art Gallery, 948 N. Alabama St., through April 28. Call 317-634-3114 for hours and information.