Peril, time, memory: BAYArts’ annual juried show
Friday March 8, BAYArts hosted its opening reception for its annual juried exhibition.
The exhibition was open to any artist, professional or amateur, 18 years or older. A total of 74 individuals participated. This year, Jenniffer Omaitz and Mark Inglis served as judges. Omaitz is a painter and educator based out of Kent. Inglis is the vice president of marketing and communications at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
The Best in Show award went to a trio of small sculptures by ceramicist Kimberly Chapman, collectively titled “A” is for Active, “S” is for Shooter. All three objects could comfortably fit together on an end table. Yet despite their small scale, they are haunting in both their appearance and their meaning.
As suggested by the title, the series is a statement on life in a country where spree killings are routine. Not even children are safe from gun violence, as the deaths of Tamir Rice, Saniyah Nicholson, and Tariq Morris have demonstrated (to say nothing of the massacres in Newtown and Parkland). Chapman illustrates the vulnerability of the young by dressing three infant busts in grotesque, tattered costumes.
Two of the outfits remind us of the emptily symbolic, “thoughts-and-prayers”-oriented attempts Americans make to protect their youths. A newborn’s eyes peek through the goggles of a Disney-themed gas mask. In “Be Brave,” a feathered Native American headdress sits atop an infant’s soft head, as if the cowl could confer a warrior’s strength or protection.
However, the third piece drops pretenses and calls the American child what it is—a “Sitting Duck.” Underneath the brim of a waterfowl onesie, a baby’s round face beams, blissfully unaware of the peril it lives under.
Chapman’s series makes visible a painful, profound tension in American life, that between violence and kitschy self-assurance. If not for their costumes, the porcelain babies would not have looked out of place in a collection of Hummel figurines or Snowbabies. Many of us repeat rosy platitudes about childhood in America, like the one that says any kid can grow up to be President. But too many children don’t get to grow up at all. In their rags and war gear, Chapman’s babies look like inhabitants of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, wearing the last symbols of the pre-collapse world. Chapman’s series does not so much suggest that time is running out before a firearm-driven Armageddon. Rather, they suggest we already live in the wasteland.
Jurors awarded First Place to James March for his painting “End of the Beginning.” As in much of his recent work, March layers different styles of abstraction on top of each other. A black smear seeps through the “gaps” of a line of vertical bars. Flat squares of sky-blue hover like neon ghosts. A sphere is defined by its perfectly clean, round circumference; but a black and chaos roils within it. “End of the Beginning” embodies a new level of sophistication in March’s command of color. Earth tones, blacks, and fluorescent colors dynamically balance each other. No one color or tone predominates, but the canvas never feels overly busy.
Michaelle Marschall took second place with “Selective Memory,” a reduction woodblock print of a willow tree. The tree is an irregular thing, bent forward over the marshy pond by which it grows. Chunks of ice float on the surface of the slow, green water. The sky is partly clouded, and colored with surreal orange-tan. Wind-blown snow has accumulated on one side of the tree; icicles may well be mixed in with the downward-draping tendrils on its branches.
The strange color palette, combined with the work’s title, suggests the painting is not of a tree, but a recollection of a tree. Or perhaps the crookedness of the trunk represents memory’s selectiveness. It is “skewed,” as our retellings of past events are often “skewed” to cast ourselves in the best possible light. The work is enigmatic, but not intimidating or frustrating. Marschall invites us to explore and speculate.
Third Place was awarded to Tina Ekins’ “The Many Names of Odin.” A soft-focus photo of an iceberg is overlain with liens of black runes, presumably those of a saga of the Norse gods’ king. The berg obviously points towards the Arctic climate of the Nordic nations in which Odin was worshipped. But the ice may hold a deeper, more urgent meaning. Unlike the gods of Greek, Hindu, or Abrahamic religions, the Norse deities could and did die. Odin himself was fated to be swallowed whole by a demonic wolf in the apocalypse of Ragnarök.
The glacial ice of the poles has for millennia been taken to be an immutable feature of the landscape. And yet, it is melting, due to humanity’s industrial policies. Though we might worship a thing, or stand in awe of its silent, sublime greatness, it can be mortal. Ekins’ pairing of a doomed god and a vulnerable environment creates a sobering atmosphere of dread.
A pair of Honorable Mentions went to Lisa Schonberg and Patty Flauto. Schonberg’s “Super Moon + Story Water” is a relief monoprint that evokes both nature and the mystical. Intersecting webs of blue, purple, and gold could either be vegetation or networks of pure energy.
Flauto’s “Tempest” is a triptych of small abstract expressionist paintings. The maelstrom it depicts is not the clean sort of rain that leaves everything smelling fresh afterwards. It is a torrent of gray, black, russet, and jaundiced yellow. Splashes of brown and beige suggest the human skin, naked and vulnerable to the elements. However, the flesh tones are the largest and most central elements in “Tempest II.” Humanity can endure nature, maybe even dominate it. Bu this dominance is fleeting, and we are soon again under the mercy of the cosmos. By “Tempest III,” the flesh-colored patches have shrunk to their smallest size.
The Director’s Choice award went to Anne Manley’s “Wonder,” a graphite and pastel drawing of a young boy in a moment of unselfconscious happiness. With dark, close-cropped hair and broad nostrils, the child is racially ambiguous. A slight smile spreads across his face as he wipes brick-red pigment off his hands onto his bare torso. He might have been playing with paint, or muddy clay. In any case, he’s made a mess that allowed him to make something, or learn something. It is a moment he may not even remember, but will still contribute to the person he becomes. He is in wonder at what he has made, and the audience wonders at his potential.
The juried show will run through April 6 at Bay Arts’ Sullivan Family Gallery, located at 28795 Lake Rd., Bay Village. For more information, call 440-871-6543 or go to bayarts.net.