A Glimpse of Spitball at the Cleveland Print Room
It’s hard to draw conclusions about the talent and vision of a photographer in a group show featuring two images a piece by each, with artist statements/bios available for only half of them.
Such is the case with many of the artists in Spitball, currently at the Cleveland Print Room. It opened Friday March 2 and will be on view through Saturday April 14. But there are artists in this show who manage to offer a tantalizing glimpse of their visions and their grasp of the medium in just two images.
Curated by CPR founder/director Shari Wilkins and the Loop’s Kory Gasser, Spitball offers a sample of work by 16 photographers in their 20s and 30s. In many cases, the two pieces are so unrelated, it’s impossible to tell where an artist is going with his/her work. In others, the images are so ordinary and lacking in visual interest that they appear to be plucked at random from a pile of snapshots. Are these dull images part of a larger concept in the Garry Winograd/Lee Friedlander tradition? With just two images from each, there’s no way to tell.
Several photographers distinguish themselves, however. Among the ones that immediately jump out from the pack is Alena Rosa Reyes, whose two large, color inkjet prints, “The Art of Longing” and “Some Things You Lose Some Things You Give Away,” are based on indistinct portraits of women, the former seeming to be slowly enveloped by a cloud of red haze emanating from the lower right corner, the other draped in a curtain of superimposed writing. Despite the muted colors, they draw the eye from across the room and hold it.
In colors, but not much else similar to her work featured on the cover of the Spring issue of CAN (a still-life with peaches, butterflies, and a magnifying glass), Kate Sweeney also bases her work on portraits of women, which she slyly subverts to make her point. But visually, she’s the opposite of Reyes. At first glance, Sweeney’s pieces appear to be crisp, accomplished color advertising shots of women’s naked asses, slick and drenched in saturated color. But she injects visual twists that make a viewer do a double take: One is embedded in a sea of apples — rotten ones. The other is wearing a bomber jacket with stop signs on the back and sleeves.
Matthew Beckwith fits right in with the Cleveland Print Room zeitgeist with his vintage photo process (which I’m actually surprised I didn’t see more of in this show). They are more about the object than the image — and they are elegant, minimalist objects, with tiny, square ambrotypes arranged in rows in sturdy, glassless pale wood frames; one a triptych with each piece also encompassing three photos, the other featuring a pair of ambrotype/ferrotypes.
Jamie Richey’s mixed-media collage, centered around the cutout letters of the word “Conflict” (the title of the piece), is a captivating stand-alone. Her other image, “Suddenly It All Became Clear,” a black & white photo featuring photographed images of those words, appeared to have come from a completely different project. I’d love to see more of the former, or just more, period. She’s obviously exploring the juncture of images and words but there’s little stylistic connection between the two pieces.
Anna Tararova’s striking pulp-painted screen prints with their limited color palette have the same elusive vibe as Reyes’, only they are street photos — one inside a transit car, the other of a bike found on the street, that evoke mystery and deliver their impact obliquely. Melissa Sue Jeffries’ large, free-hanging black & white prints make skillful use of empty black space, which both dwarves and spotlights their subjects. Herald Martin seems to be exploring ideas around motion in his blurred black & white carousel shots, which, while modestly small, are visually rich. And Aja Grant’s large, manipulated, double-exposure color pieces are poetic and elegiac.
Other photographers in the show include Kat Cade, Jesse Mervis, Alison Scarpulla, Melissa Schwachenwald, Raymond Scott, Manda Specht, Chad Tindel, and Jessica Will.