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Artlink Regional Exhibition
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
Every two years, Artlink presents an exhibition highlighting three of the region's most active and vibrant artists. Last year at the Artlink Biennial Regional Exhibition, Joshua Witten, Wendy Norton, and Andrew Lemmon were awarded $500 and the opportunity to be a part of a three person exhibition. "Regional Award Winners" is the culmination of work over the last year for those three artists.
This exhibition is always a favorite because it gives a larger view of each artists’ development and their over-arching bodies of work. While Fort Wayne is still notoriously lacking solo exhibitions, the "Regional Award Winners" exhibition is very close, given that these three artists have a 2,000 square foot gallery to fill.
While their work does not share many similarities, this exhibition offers a very fresh perspective, offering viewers the opportunity to examine these three contemporary artists working within the Greater Fort Wayne area, and see how they are truly beginning to hone their work into a consistent form. For instance, Joshua Witten, who has exhibited various times with Artlink, delivers a knock out body of drawings, paintings, and mixed media pieces. Through this exhibition, Fort Wayne is getting its first chance to see the repetitive formal and conceptual mechanics in Witten's work.
In pieces like " Hesperideve," "Prometheus," and "The Conversation," Witten's work takes on a deliberate anachronistic turn, comparing mythological and ancient historical concepts with popular cultural references. "Hesperdeve" is an especially poignant image, a female images holding a floating Apple (think, ipod) logo in the palm of her hand, stylized bite mark facing her, with her profile mimicking its own. "Hesperideve," which would be implied to be the name of the woman depicted, seems to be either a personification of the Greek Triadic nymphs, the Hesperides, or a combination of the that word with the name of the West's other famous garden dweller, Eve. Either way, the conflation of terms and concepts make this rather small, intimate drawing a conceptual vortex. Both of the mythological women were the possessors of apples, and the latter, the Biblical Eve, is the one whose notorious bite is possibly being depicted. This conflation of female characters, and addition of the present day, pop-ish, Apple logo create an end result of a beautiful mystery.
In addition to this addictive drawing, Witten continues to puzzle and seduce the viewer with a long stream of structured, elegant, and sophisticated pieces. With a strong range of off the radar pop culture icons like "Mouse on a Motorcycle," "Sony Aibo ERS-220," "March Hare," and "Return of the Fly," to the pair of subtle, incendiary portraits with "Frida Kahlo," and "Malcolm X,” one could literally write volumes about Joshua Witten's pieces.
Wendi Norton, also working two-dimensionally, presents an extremely cohesive body of work which transitions thoughtfully from piece to piece. Norton's mixed media watercolors on paper exude elegiac imagery and references, combining loss and memory into a final object that is steeped in complex design and high craftsmanship. Her work shows off her formal curiosities, and becomes a description of time, through process, in the same way that her content is a depiction of it. "Rooted," a vertical landscape, is a highlight of Norton's work, with its mid and low tone color scheme and surreal collage of objective naturalism in the depiction of a house being paired with a fading and muffled crimson red fleur de lis pattern filling up the majority of the lower half of the image. While the overall concept of the image being a sort of permanence and historical connection to a home, the piece comes off as honest in its simplicity. Norton's other key pieces, like "Microfilm #1," "Little Daughters," and "Unknown" all extend this idea of an anxiety associated with history and old objects, however they reference psychology of the family and femininity more than the commitment to a place which is brought up in "Rooted."
While Wendi Norton and Joshua Witten constructed deeper bodies of work that can be read piece by piece, Andrew Lemmon's two large pieces must be seen through a far more gestalt lense. Lemmon's large scale, mixed media wooden sculptures, because of their relationships to their viewers and the space around them, become something closer to installations. "Sanctuary" especially, takes a very active role with its environment because of the way it forces the viewer to change perspective numerous ways while taking in the whole piece. This very tall anchored and stilted structure takes on a folk feeling through its "stick build" construction, with its many similarities to bird houses and other animal shelters.
But Lemmon's second piece, "A Consequence of Gravity," is certainly his strongest, with its impeccable construction, selection of materials, and greater conceptual force. This near human sized hollowed coned, tethered to the ceiling by an elastic band, sits deliberately hiding itself from the viewer. Upon a further inspection, one notices the many beautifully jointed slats of wood which create a tapered, curved form — in itself an impressive feat — which leads you into the round opening, bisected by a brace, and with radial interior bracing along the side. The small "prize" is found by truly scouring the object and finding the resin encased corn chaff tip. Throughout this whole experience, it is impossible to not compare and contrast Lemmon's work to Martin Puryear, the master craftsman and artist whose small and large scale sculpture can be found in most museum collections around the Unites States. Puryear, like Lemmon, used formal concepts to carry his work and add a slight mystery to the work, which usually carry narrative or concrete titles and concepts despite their almost complete physical abstraction.
Through more exhibitions like "Regional Award Winners," Fort Wayne area artists will be able to not only engage with the larger art viewing public in a stronger way, but begin to develop their work in relation to itself. This is a very important step for any artist, so that they can construct stronger thematic structures in their work, and ultimately, to gain the attention of the more established art markets around the country and world.
"Regional Award Winners" at Artlink, is open from December 11, 2009-January 13th, 2010. Also check out Don Artamas' collection of work, "Yearnings", which is currently displayed in Artlink's Push Pin gallery.