The 58th Annual Delta Exhibition Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR June 10 – August 28, 2016
By Carolyn Furnish
This year’s juror, Elizabeth Garvey, gleaned 30 artists from 457 entries. In her juror statement, she wrote, “I gravitated to artists who were willing to tell me a story. More often than not, those were folks who entered more than one work (three being my preference).”
This statement leaves me with at least two questions. Should this juror’s preference have been included in the entry instructions?
If so, it would have helped the artists decide what and how many to enter, as well as boost Arkansas Art Center coffers. My second question is simultaneously aesthetic and subjective: Does it take at least three artist’s works to “tell a story”?
That said, I was most struck by the 58th Delta Exhibition’s fine collection of drawing, and, as it turns out, one of Garvey’s main areas of focus in her own gallery is drawing and works on paper.
The overview of the Delta is a study in mini-one-person shows. Most of the artists chosen are represented by two works. Quite honestly, in most cases, while it is always delightful to see multiple pieces, I’m of the opinion that a singular work most certainly is capable of telling its own story. One of the single works that stands alone to tell a story is Steven Barker’s The Absurdity of Stacking Turtles, representing reptiles within a pen and ink scientific illustration milieu, struck through with humor. It is a wonderfully powerful piece, and its size, 66 x 42 inches, adds additional impact. Barker starts with a base of Galapagos-sized tortoises, and continues, building a pyramid that is completed with what looks to be Snapping turtles atop Box turtles, all pancaked atop each other, offering various points of view of “turtle.” The middling-sized turtles register fierce emotions about their close proximity, not to mention their sandwiched situation.
Barker’s title, The Absurdity of Stacking Turtles, too, suggests a story. His use of a gerund (stacking) describes an action, adding mystery. The viewer asks: Was an outside source “stacking” them? Or, better yet, were the turtles painstakingly, slowly, but surely “stacking” themselves? Is there a why, or an absurdity, to either eventuality? Or is it an absurdity to even ponder it all? Ultimately, Barker has employed a familiar image, which writ large, and represented repeatedly, creates a fresh new one, and the possibility of a tale, or many.
David Bailin has two works in the Delta: Sofa and Lamp, a recipient of a Delta Award. Both suggest multiple storylines within each single work. Lamp is large in scale at 79 x 84 inches, combining charcoal, oil, pastel, and coffee on prepared paper. Because the piece is unframed and the paper is dense, the work has the satisfying weightiness of a woven textile. A variety of figurative and abstract drawing comes together. Fine geometrics draw the eye in and through the space. The spare use of bright red and blue pigments add elements of the unexpected to the dominant sepia field. The title, Lamp, is “told” through a void in the drawing. The base of the lamp is a solid part of the sepia elements, but the lampshade is pure light, pure paper, outlined only by the faintest sepia lines with perfect bits of red pigment dashes. Classic perspective is used to draw the viewer in to the lamp’s void. The lines also begin to reveal the figurative: faces, a wine glass, a roof, then a building, and a table. Bailin offers the viewer a collection of objects and characters to create a story. Yet, he doesn’t force one. It’s left up to the viewer. Lamp’s abstract is there as well, to stand on its own.
Anais Dasse has two works in the Delta: The Daughter and Kids Are Terrible People Too. Both pieces are on a continuum, and have shared elements that make them read as a pair. Dasse’s work is haunting, eloquent, exquisitely made.
In The Daughter, a figure is gazing off scene wearing what appears to be a native parka. Two deer have nestled down near. Then the viewer notices another deer. Along with the cover of foliage, it forms shelter, standing over the daughter and two deer. All three deer look out toward the viewer. Deer caught in the headlights.
Both of these Dasse works are filled with symbols. At first glance, there is a familiarity about them. The viewer strains to classify: the chalk or white paint markings on the daughter’s parka and three deer: a North American tribe? South or Central American? Mexican? The upper deer is marked with a series of crosses; the lower left deer is marked with an intricate star burst; and the lower right deer is marked with what might be a map—dashes leading to where X marks the spot. A closer look reveals, more accurately long guns, AK47s? With multi-round magazines? The dashes, or pathways of a “map,” are pathways of bullets. The X that marks the spot becomes a target.
In Dasse’s Kids Are Terrible People Too, a traditional cockfight is in play. One kid wears a bird-like mask with an Aztec-like design. Another figure is marked with Dasse’s French “tribal” symbol, the fleur-de-lis. She was born in France and now lives in Little Rock, AR. Emphasizing the connection to The Daughter are more firearms. One kid’s chest and arms are marked with handgun designs expelling gently floating rounds. They echo the round marbles, presumably used as betting marks, strewed around the cockfighting space. Another kid, face-painted in a quasi-Apache manner, gently holds its fighting cock, ready for the ring. Two central figures—a child dressed in black and a black cock—stare directly at the viewer. Deer caught in the headlights. Dasse’s artist statement can be read at www.anaisdasse.com/about. She has a shape-shifting approach to her story telling and a professional background to go with it.
The 58th Annual Delta Exhibition has many stories to tell. I recommend you go and listen.
Carolyn Furnish is a tapestry artist living in Little Rock, AR