If you believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, then what if pictures can talk? And not only to us but to each other?
That promise of visual conversation informs “Artist As Curator: Talk to Me,” the new show at Westville’s Kehler Liddell Gallery
This is the fourth annual edition of the show, in which 15 of the cooperative gallery’s members select an artist who wows, engages, challenges, or just plain pleases them and invite the guest artist to contribute work to show beside that of the members.
Then we members of the public get to walk around the gallery during the run of the show through Aug. 6, and not only look at the results, but read some of the reasons (printed on candid labels) why one artist wants to show beside another.
There’s a husband member, Tom Edwards, whose guest artist happens to be his wife, and not only because of the relation. The small wall-hung sculpture of Tom Edwards reads like a house with open but darkened shutters and seems a good domestic fit for Linda Edwards’s small thimble-like bejeweled sculptures nearby — as if, slowly, Linda’s pieces are making their way over for a visit to brighten up Tom’s place.
At least that’s the impression the side-by-side works gave Liz Antle-O’Donnell, a gallery member and coordinator of its growing number of art-themed public programs on a recent tour of the show.
Antle-O’Donnell invited well-known local sculptor Howard el-Yasin to join her in the seven feet of gallery space allotted to each of the artist pairs.
“We first met bonding over bark,” Antle-O’Donnell said of meeting el-Yasin at a Westville Art Walk event several years ago. Antle-O’Donnell was showing some of the small rectangular pieces she fashions out of sycamore bark and then adheres to a panel.
When she went to el-Yassin’s studio, she noticed a work of his that used the same bark. She suggested that it might be included along with her panels in the show. El-Yasin also has “Faggots,” a large bundle of wood that he’s painted black and hung in the middle of the gallery, as well as “Balls,” several large cannon-ball size constructions of sweet gum seeds deployed on the floor.
El-Yasin likes his pieces to be not only free standing, but positioned in a way that people can walk around them. Antle-O’Donnell’s pieces are firmly affixed to a wall.
She said their conversation — among the artists as well as the works that they’ve positioned in the Whalley Avenue-facing corner of the gallery — has to do with how art contributes to the larger conversation about “attempts to control the natural environment, and of course it doesn’t obey,” she said.
It’s also about the obsession with collecting stuff. Both Antle-O’Donnell and el-Yasin suffer from this artist-as-hoarder condition. Their conversation appears on a recording that you can listen to as you enter the gallery.
In the middle of the western wall of the gallery, Antle-O’Donnell pointed out another conversation in full swing. Gallery member Julie Fraenkel’s painting “Little Red” (perhaps as in Riding Hood?) of a woman and wolf was hung beside her guest artist Warda Geismar’s much larger painting of a wolf and a woman called “Aligore.”
The wall label, with the gist of this artists pair’s conversation, reads in part: “I asked you to exhibit with me because I admire your images of women, and I’m attracted to how you depict women and wolves in a way that feels both wild and tame to me.”
Geismar responded, in part: “There are many nuances and complexities in being women, in being wolves: Both prefer to communicate through words/sounds and body language rather to argue or fight…. Neither wastes resources in that women plan and wolves consume all that they capture and no more.”
“They’re in an intimate conversation,” Antle-O’Donnell said.
Meanwhile, Brian Flinn chose to invite an artist — in his case, Michelle Thomas — because he admired her work from afar and actually had not seen it in person until the show. Photographer Marjorie Wolfe chose somebody she has known for a big portion of a lifetime.
In her admiring wall label words for fellow photographer R.F. Wilton, whose evocative photographic still-life images are arrayed beside one of Wolfe’s signature land’s end settings (both artists prefer people-less stages to work on), Wolfe wrote, “Curiously, I was Bob’s high school girlfriend’s art teacher in 1970. He’d sit in my classroom, perhaps absorbing something of what the new teacher had to say. Perhaps not. But admiration has been mutual since 1996 when I first saw Bob’s magnificent black and white landscapes.”
Antle-O’Donnell reported that the show’s July 8 opening, featuring a panel with some of the artists, had “a lot of great conversation” among the humans as well as the visual works.
On July 23 at 10:00 a.m. there will be a public program billed as “story, song, and art activity for all ages,” inspired by the exhibition and orchestrated by Antle-O’Donnell.
That program, as well as others spun from the gallery’s activities, is funded by a mayoral cultural grant to a new Westville non-profit called ArtEcon, Antle-O’Donnell added.
Other artist pairs, not mentioned above, conversing in the show include: Robert Bienstock and Michael Kozlawski; Penrhyn Cook and Terry Dagradi; Rod Cook and Jaclyn Podlaski; Joan Jacobson-Zamore and Sarah Gustafson; Sven Martson and Linda Lindroth; Roy Money and Tom Peterson; Hank Paper and Polly Shindler; Mark St. Mary and Geoffrey Detrani; Gar Waterman and David Brown. Kehler Liddel Gallery is at 873 Whalley Ave.; for hours and more information, click here.