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Audrey Riley: form follows function
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
Audrey Riley’s Fine Art career has exploded over the last four years. In fact, to miss her art in Fort Wayne during this time, you almost had to be purposely avoiding it. After being included in a succession of group shows at Artlink, University of St. Francis, and Allen County Public Library group, Riley continued to flex her prolific artistic talent by taking part in Artlink’s “Regional Award Winners” three person show, and a solo show in South Bend at the Spurious Fugitive Gallery during October and November.
All of this should impress the viewer even further once they understand that fine art is actually Riley’s new pursuit after 24 years of owning and being the creative director of the advertising agency Riley+Company in Fort Wayne. This background in graphic design and advertising is apparent when you see her immaculately composed images of tops, ribbons that spell out words, and occasionally, body parts.
The artwork is an ingenious mix of minimalism, pop art, and color field, mixed with woodturning, printmaking, photography, typography, writing, and assemblage. While using all of these different formal concepts and techniques, Riley has been influenced by many artists working in these practices. Ed Ruscha was noted while talking to the artist for many reasons, including his 50-year career with a steady artistic progression, his use of linguistics, and, as Riley states, “(his ability to) draw a picture of a word like it was a vase of flowers.” Other notable influences include the great sculptor Lee Bontecou, whose work influences the assemblage aspect of Riley’s work, the graphic designer David Carson, the French Nouveau Realisme artist Jacque Villegle, and Fort Wayne woodworkers who taught Riley, Tim McIntyre and Bob Bahr (who she affectionately refers to as her “woodsmen”).
The synthesis of these parts can be taxing for Riley, sometimes taking a while to resolve. Her more time intensive pieces like “Telling Time” and “Who Does your Hair” can have more than 200 hours in them from the construction of the base to the final touches. However Riley shies away from keeping exact logs on hours worked after so many years of logging her progress in 15 minute intervals, 8 or more hours a day, 5 days a week as a graphic designer.
Riley’s art has a core of stability and flux. This dichotomy allows her to be daring and vivacious, taking her viewers with her through her explorations of form and color, while leaving a “trail of bread crumbs” for them with a consistent iconography of spinning tops, the use of words, and arabesque line work. The themes of accumulation and the spinning top can be seen as a metaphor for each of us progressing through our routines, our work, thoughts and emotions, and lives. The metaphor is then steeped with meaning when paired with the words used in each piece. The words used either sharpen the concept of the piece like “Who Does Your Hair” mentioned earlier, which depicts a women, staring back at the viewer amidst a swirl of words saying things like “ Better than”, or “Wittier than”. Other pieces like “Pause” or “No Love” have the stated words paired with her signature tops. The ambiguity resulting makes the pieces feel more like questions or self-conscious statements being presented to the viewer. This self-reflective character gives the work a zen-like quality, even though the picture plane is exploding with detail and form.
One thing is for certain; Audrey Riley has made her mark on the Fort Wayne art scene, and isn’t stopping here. “Rhythmicity”, Audrey Riley’s solo show with Spurious Fugitive Gallery, in South Bend is a prime example of this. Not only was this show attended in full force, but also Riley was named Spurious Fugitive’s newest represented artist. Spurious Fugitive Gallery has also included 5 of Riley’s pieces in their most current group exhibit, “Diminutive Fables”, which just ended on Dec. 30th.
This is a great way to show other Fort Wayne artists that they need not think of themselves as “local artists” as most media sources dub them, but can be, with dedication, working national and maybe even international artists. And this is only the beginning. Riley is also constantly researching galleries in San Diego, L.A., Chicago, New York City, and all around the Midwest.
Audrey Riley is currently taking a few weeks off (think of it as the world’s shortest sabbatical) to get a little rest and the creative juices flowing in full force. Her most recent work however is still in a phase of exploration, using a much more minimalist vocabulary, and using a lot of advertising paper as a base. These new works like “The Wake We Make” evoke an almost David Hockney British pop feel, while others are screaming Brice Marden, Lee Krasner, and Caio Fonseca. She said that she is also delving deeper in Barnett Newman and the color field painters, trying to “figure out what they were trying to do”, and hopefully bridging a gap between her work and theirs.
Ms. Riley is a breath of fresh air for the local art scene. She begins an art piece conceptually, starting with a single idea and working it until it is resolved. To do this, she brings in many art historical references, learns new techniques, and makes some up as she goes. Her pieces make clear her will over the material and the confident verve of a real artist. Riley said that she wants her work to be aesthetically pleasing, but also to “spark new thoughts”, and for viewers to use her work to view the world from a different perspective. So far, she is exceeding everyone’s expectations.