BR Gallery exhibits weave tradition, creation themes
Lisa Qualls looks at cultural traditions in modern society.
Dawn Black looks at how those same traditions are different, yet the same in each culture.
And Scott Finch looks at how it all began with a Gnostic journey through creation.
So, let’s begin with Finch, though his exhibit isn’t the one that greets visitors entering Baton Rouge Gallery in August. They’ll see Qualls’ exhibit, Strawmen and Sugarbones, first, then Black’s exhibit, Folly’s Garden, when walking through the hallway gallery before heading into Finch’s exhibit, A Little World Made Cunningly and Other Stories in the back.
They are Baton Rouge Gallery’s featured artist members in August. And Finch’s exhibit sets the scene.
Gone are the large paintings for which he’s known, and in their place are original drawings for his first graphic novel, A World Made Cunningly.
The pages from his upcoming book have been printed on two sides of a roll of paper and looped in the center of the gallery, so the story starts and ends at the same place.
Finch’s story focuses on the Gnostic early church. He developed the idea after a 2010 residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, where he spent long, uninterrupted days in a studio surrounded by authors, musicians and other visual artists.
Then came the graphic novel, a project that returned Finch to his elementary school days, when he used to draw comic strips. The result was a story about a girl with nothing to wear and the universe she throws away.
Finch mapped it out in a 23-chapter project with more than 1,000 panels.
Now the finished product hangs here.
“We decided to show it in a movie motif, like film cels,” Finch said. “People will have to read the story on both the inside and from the outside. I’ve been working with a graphic designer on the layout, and the actual book will be 115 pages.”
Finch took a line from poet John Donne’s Holy Sonnet V, where he declares, “I am a little world made cunningly.” He’s always been interested in Gnostic history and ideas, which led to this work on the early church’s idea of creation.
For now, Finch’s complete book can be downloaded on iTunes or on any eReader.
Finch received his master’s degree in fine arts in painting and drawing from The Tyler School of Art at Temple University in 1996. He’s been an artist member for 10 years.
And from the creation, Baton Rouge Gallery’s August story moves to new artist member Lisa Qualls’ exhibit, Strawmen and Sugarbones.
Qualls is a Baton Rouge native who lives in Houston. Her exhibit of graphite drawings on clayboard explores tribal objects and how they function, fit, balance and adorn the body.
“I think we are tribal even in contemporary society,” she said. “And the objects that we use are tribal.”
“By reanimating the objects with the human form and isolating one part of the costume, the viewer is able to read them in a more contemporary and universal way,” Qualls wrote in her artist’s statement. “Moreover, each work sheds light on the usage of the objects to create an altered sense of reality, removing the wearer from everyday life and creating a sense of clarity.”
For instance, take the veiled woman. There are four drawings of her on the gallery wall. Except for the veil, the woman’s body is nude.
The veil is what Qualls calls a visual marker.
“This term refers to the variety of ways that a group of people identify and distinguish themselves,” she wrote in her artist’s statement. “While such markers might, for those within a social group, aid in social function, boundaries, education and ritual, they evoke fear, wonder or curiosity in those outside it.”
So, the veil may evoke fear or curiosity in everyday modern cultures, but it would be completely natural among Middle Eastern cultures.
“What I didn’t know when I started this drawing was that the model who posed for it shaves her entire body,” Qualls said. “Then I learned later that it’s something that Arabic women do. They pluck the hairs from their body, because their skin is supposed to be silky smooth. It was an accident I stumbled upon the model’s way of doing things and the tradition. It was two completely different things, yet they came together in this series.”
Qualls earned her bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin. In 2011, she received a Fellowship Grant from the Houston Arts Alliance and was a Hunting Art Prize Finalist in 2010.
The story ends in Dawn Black’s Folly’s Garden, where creation gives way to tribal traditions to a look at how individual traditions are almost universal.
Take weddings, for instance. The bride’s face is almost always covered by a veil.
Black has watercolor examples of brides from different cultures, each in their cultural or tribal wedding garb, each face covered either partially or entirely by a form of veil.
On another wall are a series of hooded characters also from different cultures. All are prisoners.
Is there a relationship between the hood and the veil?
“Societal practices of masquerade, uniforms, religious dress muddle conceptions of power and identity,” Black wrote in her artist’s statement. “It is provoking how a disguise (even a uniform) engenders the wearer powerful through his or her clandestine anonymity. Even more disturbing is the disguise’s paradoxical virtue of allowing the concealed individual to be his or her authentic self. Which identity is authentic, the intrinsic self or the identity acquired through masquerade or do they create a third identity through a blending of the two?”
Black has been continuously working on a series of small watercolor on paper paintings depicting people and the objects they use to mask or define their identity. Some 300 of these paintings from this series will be on exhibit at the Columbus Museum of Art in Columbus, Ga., in the fall.
It will mark Black’s first museum show.
Black earned her bachelor of fine arts degree from LSU and her master of fine arts degree, specializing in painting and sculpture, from the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History.
And so here ends the August story of Gnostic creation, its cultures and the symbols that followed.