On view now through July 19, this year’s National Open Juried Exhibition (NOJE) offers a satisfying view of contemporary voices ranging, as expected from Providence Art Club (PAC), from the traditional to the experimental. There is only one problem, which hopefully Michael Rose and this team will correct next year: the NOJE needs examples of new media including digital and video/film and installation within the mixed-media and new technology formats.
This year’s presentation is slightly smaller in the number of works, more manageable, and is less aggressive concerning subject matter with overt political and cultural commentary. Unlike last year in which the feeling of political activism was obvious, this year, the works on view offer more subtle and elegant visual remarks about ongoing relevant social and cultural concerns. The work that marks the exhibition with the tone of tasteful confrontation is the painting selected as Best in Show, a formidable oil painting, marble dust on canvas portrait called “What’s preventing you to say it?” by Mark Allen.
The painting depicts a portrait of a brown young man shown with naked shoulders, and what appears to be a left hand over his mouth, and looking at the viewer with eyes that are thoughtful, and maybe sad. What is remarkable about the portrait within its traditional foundation is the luscious blue-toned paint smothered thick over the figure’s nose, mouth and chin. It is the blue paint over the mouth that tells us that this painting is clearly a remark about silence and repression. It immediately brings to mind the musical genre the Blues, specific to the African American experience and narrative, making the painting a powerful commentary on concealment and the blue-ing of black voices.
Other works within the tasteful confrontation category are:
“War” by Deborah Baronas, charcoal on paper drawing with dye on linen overlay, in a poplar frame. Baronas’ “War” engages a difficult subject — the ongoing cycles of human-made war — via a mixed method process. The dyed linen overlay depicts figures and horses in a manner that makes them look like ghostly figures suggesting past battles and killing fields where both humans and animals perished. The drawing underneath is an amalgamation of recent and long-finished war scenes continuously active within the landscape connecting past to present.
“Corrections” by Winnie van der Rijn, a digital image transfer on fabric with hand embroidery, was awarded the Marjorie Curit Award for Nontraditional and Contemporary Work. “Corrections” is a fabric piece depicting 12 panels showing the relaxed face of the same middle-aged woman. On each face are lines that are reminiscent of plastic surgery cut lines draw by the doctor to indicate what is wrong with the face and what will be corrected. The commentary about ageing within this fantastic work by van der Rijn is obvious and visceral.
“Dapper is the City” by Matthew Hall is a color digital photograph within a minimalist conceptual style. It depicts what appears to be a headless clothing mannequin dressed in masculine clothing in which the focus in on the upturned stiff white collar partially surrounding the headless neck. The photograph’s composition places attention on the geometric patterns of what is physical and visual while alluding to conceptual possibilities.
“Bubble Gum on a Regular Cone” by Robert Moore is an acrylic on canvas painting of a singular subject — fun sugary food — in large-scale. In this work, it’s the scale of the object itself — the cone and pink gum-ice cream styled to appear equal parts solid and melting and unbalanced, ready to fall — which makes this work an excellent example of tasteful confrontation.
“Stories to Tell” by Barbara Johansen Newman received an Award of Merit and is an acrylic painting on wood within an architectural salvaged frame with found vintage objects. It’s a vertical figurative image of a heavily tattooed woman, with one breast exposed. Her tattooed body and minimal clothing allude to her activity and work as a carnival and circus performer and is perhaps a greater metaphor for women’s lives and work overall. The style of this work is highly popular today and is not new being that it derives from the grand aesthetics of circus art of the past. What makes this piece a good work of art is the manner in which the artist has depicted the expression in the woman’s eyes. Newman has captured the essence of her attitude — confident and a bit wary, full with hidden and powerful narratives. Her expression says, “Been there, done that, and I know exactly what’s going on, but I’m under no obligation to explain anything to you.”
“Conversion of St. Paul (After Caravaggio)” by Peter Campbell is a traditional oil on canvas that plays formally with light, shadow and depth, and tricky composition, depicting the scene when Saul of Tarsus is struck blind by a brilliant light and hears the voice of Christ, done with contemporary plastic Lego figures instead of the human form as was accomplished by Caravaggio in his famous 1600/1601 painting.
Other works deserving of attention and discussion are: George Turner’s postcard sized, gorgeous moody watercolor “Rift,” which received an Award of Merit. The work is so small and easy to overlook in the large gallery space, but it’s worth your time to seek it out. It depicts what appears to be a broken rope bridge that has fallen from across a deep chasm or ravine. Another work that may be overlooked because of its traditional still-life domestic interior scene is the expressive, colorful, semi-abstracted oil, acrylic and charcoal painting “The Other Side//Christmas Afterthoughts” by Abba Cudney. An ongoing favorite of my mine is the intellectualism of Kevin Gilmore who is showing “Maximum Spans,” a work that is typical of his evolving experiments with geometric space, collage, and text-based visuals.
Although a bit too decorative for my personal taste, Allyson Childress’ “The Rose Is For You,” a resin with glass paint and gold ink work, is a fine composition done with a complicated process worthy of study and admiration. Likewise, Ellen Schiffman’s “Yet Still a Proud Voice,” a craft-based sculpture made of cotton twill which received the Marge Dalenius Award of Sculpture is a skillful construction and beautiful even though, for me, it’s too pretty. A work that surprised me, and I would consider for my own collection, is Linda Megathlin’s “Equivalencies,” a mixed media photo transfer depicting a pomegranate and a ball of pink yarn side-by-side. The lovely-ness of the image is muted by the slightly decaying fruit and imperfect yarn wrap.
Another that I would collect is Georgia Nassikas’ “Around,” a powerful encaustic on birch board. This encaustic work did not receive an award of recognition by PAC, but Taleen Batalian’s “Moving Surface,” an ink, encaustic, oil on wood panel painting, a more obviously visually pleasing work, won the First Place Edward Mitchell Bannister Award. And, while there is no argument that Batalian’s work deserves the award, my preference in the area of encaustic goes to Nassikas because her piece requires the viewer to think harder to notice the complicated material layering.
Lastly, there’s Molly Dickinson’s “Invasive Species,” a fluorescent acrylic, gold leaf and oil painting of orange fruit and green foliage. At first glance, this work did nothing to impress me. What happened next is that I took a step closer to examine the surface of the painting and the substrate to discover something marvelous and fun — the painting is on particle board, a raw wood compressed surface which provides the work with an exciting texture and cheeky and loveable attitude.
PAC’s National Open Juried Exhibition provides what you need to have a solid discussion about contemporary art as it is today. It lacks examples of new digital media, which is the only drawback, and it could also benefit from more sculpture. My hope is that is Lisa Barthelson, who is showing three paper constructions, will return next year with one of her larger-in-scale installation pieces. Another recommendation for PAC is one of John Buron’s video/film surreal works. For more about the exhibition https://providenceartclub.org/
(The “National Open Juried Exhibition” continues through July 19 at the Providence Art Club, 11 Thomas St., Providence, Rhode Island. For more information, call (401) 331-1114 or visit providenceartclub.org.)