On Friday February 20, Mason Murer Fine Art opened a group exhibition featuring artists Phil Ralston, David Leonard, Linda Mitchell, Mary Anne Mitchell, Nash Hogan, Karen Hollingsworth, and a special Benny Andrews exhibit. The gallery seems to be separated by materials and subject matter; mixed media and more abstract work to the left, with more singular mediums and realist work on the right (photography and painting).
The Benny Andrews exhibit, “Musical Interludes,” greets viewers as they walk into the gallery. Andrews takes the presence of musicians and transforms them into a collaged painting full of texture and vivacity. In “Rock” (1995), Andrews collages together a long-haired, bell-bottom wearing musician rocking out. The musician’s gesture, hair flying backward, back bent as if just coming up from a head-banging riff he just finished, speaks of an impassioned moment in which he has been completely caught in performing music. Andrews uses a material reminiscent of aged shag carpet to create the rocker’s hair and bell-bottoms. In “Ode to the Road” (1999), Andrews creates an image of a lone musician, his back to the viewer, looking toward the open road. The musician appears to be leaning on a multicolored palm tree rising from the bottom left corner. Again, it is the subject’s gesture which is telling of Andrew’s understanding of musicians. The musician’s back is slightly sloped, his guitar by his side. Andrews has textured the musician with different materials that provide ridges for the pants and breaks in clothing to give the character depth. This exhibition will have a special opening March 12th to benefit The Atlanta Community Food Bank.
Phil Ralston and Dennis Campay use paint, pieces of photographs, stamps, disruptive perspective and other small inclusions that allow the viewer to be engulfed in the details of each work. Ralston’s work recently won him a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and is comprised of mixed media on wood panels which create vividly colored gridded architectural landscapes (reminiscent of Matta-Clark’s photographs of bisected houses). Each piece has intersecting lines that create a “window within a window” feel. This view, as if looking into a space, is further pushed by Ralston’s inclusion of pieces of photographs or other pictorial elements inside the fields of color. Ralston provides clues and bits of information to ponder in pieces such as “Los Gamelos Ampicos” (2008), which includes a photograph of houses in the top center of the piece, or “Space Junk for Don Helms” (2008) and its centered photograph of a person, possibly be Don Helms, or “Tongva Heartbeat” (2008) with slices of a photographic portrait that only shows the female figure’s forehead and hairline.
Dennis Campay’s mixed media pieces on wood panels, unlike Ralston’s work with its focus on abstract linear form and vivid, almost neon, color, employ a more muted pallet that depicts cityscapes. In two separate but linked pieces, “Park to the Left” and “Park to the Right,” Campay uses two separate panels to disrupt the viewer’s vision of a park scene. In these pieces, Campay paints a split view of a park creating an almost 180 degree view of the park, as if the viewer was sitting on a bench. In both pieces, hung side by side separated by only a few inches, Campay stretches the field of vision by elongating structures such as a church on the left or a baseball field on the right. Campay’s style is rough and heavy, but expressive in the use of materials. Some of the figures in the pieces, whether a building, chair, or tree, are reminiscent of Basquiat’s forms; however, unlike Basquiat, Campay is more focused on the overall image rather than marks on the canvas.
While Campay and Ralston’s mixed media images appear at first glance to be “normal” paintings, Linda Mitchell’s pieces can only be seen as mixed media. Constructing canvases from old wood (possibly furniture, or maybe planks from an old house) she paints fantasy stories that include anthropomorphic animals. Mitchell also adds pieces to the paintings as in “Gate: History” (2008) where she has placed wood in the middle of the piece in the shape of a post-and-lintel (think Stonehenge). The construction, scenes, and the aged look of the pieces all give the feel that these materials have a history. This history, though, is not of the material’s former state (was it a couch? some stairs?) but more how people may have imagined these materials. For example, the imagined history of a couch might be a fort which children created by pushing them together. Mitchell seems to be exploring this imagined history of the material by painting fantasy scenes; she is asking the viewer to remember and take part in the exploration of imagination.
Transitioning from mixed to singular mediums, painters Nash Hogan, David Leonnard and Karen Hollingsworth are featured on the right side of the gallery. Nash Hogan’s large scale paintings depict his interpretation of the places he has visited. In London, 2007, Hogan creates a sense of place and time by painting together multiple views of the cityscape in vivid colors, cross-hatching and overlapping different scenes into one large canvas.
Leonard and Hollingsworth use realism to evoke emotion in the viewer. David Leonard’s depiction of cityscapes, while smaller in scale than Hogan’s, still give a sharp sense of place. In the ten pieces on display, Leonard paints in pastel colors reminiscent of early color photography. The work invites looking, either to carefully study the detail of the scene or to discover Leonard’s use of color to create varying moods. Karen Hollingsworth paints scenes from windows with a sense of nostalgia. Hollingsworth captures, much like Leonard’s paintings, realistic scenes of a moment in time in which the light she paints transforms a mundane scene into something aesthetically beautiful. These scenes create a feeling of remembrance, as if recalled from travels. While the painting may show a home’s interior, the view is always towards the outside, whether an ocean, rolling green hills or a beach.
Photographers Bud Smith and Marry Anne Mitchell are exhibited on different sides of the gallery, but are supported by surrounding works. Smith’s black and white photographs of Motown and A&M musicians are positioned close to Benny Andrews’ work. Smith’s work compliments Andrews because it depicts recognizable musicians (Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gilespie, Diana, Ross, Miles Davis, etc.) captured in moments that reveal their passion for music and the personality they bring to it. In turn, this revelation of the musicians’ character and passion reflects Smith’s own love of photography.
Mary Anne Mitchell’s photographs, on the other hand, take a different approach to capture emotion. Positioned between Ralston and Hogan, Mitchell, much like these painters, has mastered her black and white craft to create images that seem like snapshots from dreams. The pieces instill a sense of wonder and awe, leaving the viewer to question the reality of the photographs. This surrealist nature is pushed by Mitchell’s use of tradtional black and white photography; all the pieces are gelatin silver prints (around 20″x16″, some larger, some smaller) in which Mitchell manipulates the print by accentuating grain, manipulating exposure in places and abstracting views to enhance the surreal quality. For example, in “Freeze Frame” (2008), alabaster white leaves occupy the upper foreground, while a blurred and grainy scene of a front porch with its lights on takes up the rest of the picture.
Nabulsi is an artist living in Atlanta