Friday, September 3, 2010

Ashley Barlow at Anderson Creative: On the Rocks, Re-Imagining the 50’s

Thursday night was the preview opening of a delightful show at Anderson Creative Gallery. Let me first mention however that it was a theme event as far as dress, 50’s attire encouraged, so does that mean everybody at the preview show for the upcoming Censorship show will be naked? Just a thought….

A year ago when I reviewed the Blind Date show, I mentioned that this aspiring artist needed her own solo show….seems like others agreed. Craig Joseph and Kevin Anderson assumed the big brother / mentor roles and guided this young lady (she’s 25 so I can say that…..I could be her mother) to push and explore and develop a body of work based on her passion for the 1950’s. Her brief gallery talk was enlightening more about her than about her work (a comprehensive statement is on the wall as is Anderson’s style…the type set is getting bigger too, thank you) which introduced us to a very warm and personable woman that can present herself well in front of a crowd. I found that refreshing as so many young people are ill-equipped to verbalize cohesive thoughts with genuine passion. Her training in the arts, not that that is a necessary component for any artist, consisted of 5 classes in college, printmaking being her favorite.

The exhibition presents 18 or so works, depending upon how one counts them, displayed in and around vintage 50’s furniture and accessories. My husband spotted his grandma’s table right away. The hanging window pieces and a packed flashcard clothes line divided the space so that one seemed to walk a floor plan rather than a gallery. How many young people even know what a clothespin looks like anymore? That is where I found several pieces with the most obvious humor, “Girl”, “Play” and “Make” the latter of which is ironic because it has a phone cord hanging down. Ironic because the building across 4th street used to be the Ohio Bell building where my Dad worked as a supervisor of a thousand telephone operators back in the day when 8 feet of spiraled cord was all the privacy distance anyone had on a telephone. Images of my parents seemed to be in many of the collaged figures found within her work, cut from vintage magazines and then embellished with paint, fabrics, feathers, stamps, thread or whatever other material would enhance her message.

In Craig Joseph’s remarks, he called her work fun and whimsical but with a darker edge. I agree with two out of the three. Darker is not the word I would choose. I’d say snarky but that’s mine so let’s try edgy. In my notes I wrote that the work is like a wound with a scab on it. Okay, bear with me here….. A scabbed wound is a sign that a surface has been disturbed, something has taken place, much like the creative process, it probably involved a bit of pain. The scab itself is textural and sometimes colorful, uneven on its edges, hiding something deeper, not that your soul would leak out should it open up. Scabs itch, they beg for some attention. Some people can resist, others cannot, just like her work. Some can be easily interpreted and others require one to stop and scratch the surface (not really, Craig might slap you). If one gives into the itch and pulls away part of the crust (I apologize if you are eating something right now, which is really bad because you could spill it on your computer) then the wound (image) will seep and bleed and sting and get your attention. That is the beauty of intellectual humor and wit, it takes a bit of digging to really understand the message. I was drawn to her imagery and her statement because of this aspect, a spirit I share with my own work.

I am coming upon my word limit so let me hit the highlights. Look carefully when you go. I almost missed the pants hangers used for some two sided flashcard “mobiles” (flashback of Clair Murray Adam’s 2-sided pieces). The words are the same on both sides of the piece, but the settings are different, one home and one work; read it and think about what that means. Those hangers were used to keep creases in dress pants back in the day, much like the illusion that lives were neatly presented, crisp and clean. One only has to move down the wall to one of my favorites, “Whether I say yes or no, I’d still be lying”, a work based on the concept of paper dolls, grown up style, or the other direction to “TV Machine” which is cranking out perfect couples for public consumption to understand how life was represented on both sides of the scab.

One of my two favorites was the elevator piece (of which I neglected to write down the title, but hey I’m still learning this writing stuff….) that told a full story and had a black and white floor. The scale of the canvas and the simplicity of how the concept was done, all fit together. It could have gone too literal which would have taken away from the charm of the vintage imagery. The other piece is the one depicted in all of her local PR, “if I say no, no one will believe I am honest” because of its scale, color, message and signature thought behind the whole series. I imagine that it is difficult to find vintage pieces at such a large scale due to printing processes in the 50’s. My advice to her (Craig and Kevin got their say after all) would be to get cozy with Kinko’s color copier and enlarge some of the cutouts for even more possibilities as this series continues to develop.

I am fond of referring to an artist’s voice. Ashley Barlow has found hers for now and it will continue to grow and deepen as she explores different methods of expression. This show has a wide variety of ideas that speak to her exploration and possibilities. It is not time to edit, it is time to push. Push scale, push media, push use of materials upon which to create work. Branch out into the influences of the cold war and the growth of rock and roll. She has a long and successful creative career ahead of her and with the guidance of other artists (and an understanding husband, invaluable I must add) we will surely be hearing about her in the future, all the way from Minneapolis (sorry, I could not read my own abbreviation!)

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