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E4: A culture of collaboration
Art collective’s show currently at the Lotus Gallery
By Dan Swartz
Fort Wayne Reader
While the general public still considers the Artist to be a lone individual, most likely brooding, somehow anti-social, and controlled by his woes and ecstasy, reality tends to contradict this romanticized vision at every turn. The modern concept of the artist is pluralistic, and many times described more aptly as "cultural producer,"allowing for more than one individual to be included, represent a company or collective, and even take the form of movement of many individuals, identified or anonymous.
Fort Wayne's art scene tends to lean more toward the traditional concept of the individual artist, but E4, a Fort Wayne based art collective, is a perfect example of what a modern concept of the artist can look like.
Currently composed of Eric Tarr, Seth Harris, and Tracy Row (the traditionally fourth member of E4, Jason Stopa, is currently in NYC), E4 exhibits rarely, but always with great fanfare. E4's most recent eponymous exhibition at Lotus Gallery is a continuation of their collaged aesthetic, with a stronger highlight of their collaborative productive ethic. Considered one of Lotus' high ranked exhibitions since it opened, the E4 exhibition has drawn great crowds and sales, proving that time isn't dulling the popularity of the Fort Wayne staple.
Formed nearly a decade ago, and named after its members favorite booth at Munchie's Emporium, E4 has been a major force in bringing Fort Wayne's arts scene closer to a contemporary dialogue, by working with many of the ideas made popular through post-modern avenues during the 70's and 80's. These ideas include the collaborative artistic work itself, pop and kitsch aesthetics, visual irony, the return of the narrative, and a high sense of minimalist abstraction focusing on color and calm compositions. These ideas then spread quickly through both IPFW and USF guiding many of the current local artists. While the current Lotus exhibition is mostly a rehashing of many of these ideas, there seemed to be a further maturity, and another intention in this exhibition beyond past exhibitions of E4's work.
Included in E4's Lotus exhibition are collaborative as well as individual pieces. The collaborative E4 pieces like "Me Wampun," "Palette," "Sour," and "Cherry Bomb," take on divergent forms, including to varying degrees the artistic strengths of each member.
"Sour" is a particularly interesting piece which at first seems rather abstracted with few color fields comprising the majority of the picture plane. However, the focus of the image is centered on a leaping lion figure, surrounded by more painterly brushwork, blurring the space below it, which highlights the word "Sour" constructed by a typography which is cut off by the picture plane and made into the background. Reminiscent of the collaborative pieces of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Francesco Clemente of the late 1980's, pieces like "Sour" show precisely how E4 fuses its contents together into seamed but effective images.
Seth Harris's work is clearly the most distinct within E4, being that it is wholly abstracted. These Untitled pieces all play with color, line, and shape, within somewhat limited square medium-to-small scaled paintings. Reminiscent of a host of abstractionists, Harris pulls subtle tricks to define his own vocabulary, which is softer than most colorfield painters, and less process-oriented than most minimalists. Harris's attention to color evokes both Peter Halley and Josef Albers, his intimacy with line and shape is similar to Ellsworth Kelly, and his miniature details and their effects are an ode to Agnes Martin. Seth Harris' series of mid-range sized Untitled abstractions had the strongest impact of all of the pieces in this exhibition. His color play, repetition, and high quality surfaces are captivating and drag the viewers attention for minutes on each piece.
Tracy Row's work, mostly being portraiture and still lifes, is somewhat of a departure from his older work. These expressive, realistic, documentary images show a maturing of his technical ability and capacity as well as the construction of an overall voice. Including everything from a self-portrait, a fleeting view of a dancer's hands and feet, to an unopened roll of toilet paper, Row gives the viewer a glimpse of a synesthetic memory playing back scenes and emotions through color and constructive brushstrokes. "Thinking" and "Red Face" are particularly strong portraits which evoke much more than the reality from which they were taken. Like the German Expressionist's tones during the turn and first half of the 20th century, Row seems to be highlighting the unspoken aspects of the every day.
Eric Tarr, the bridge between Row's realism and Harris' abstraction, creates pop-surreal images, full of rich color, clean lines, and a penchant for likeness. With motifs to spare, Tarr has the unmistakable ability to popularize and reform nearly any image into a cautious, psychological, and architectural symbol. Pieces like "The Squid and the Whale, Again", "The Outlets, Again", and "Icon and Lust" are good examples of Tarr's immense illustrative talent, command of pastiche, and quiet dark humor. "The Outlets, Again" seems to be one of the most dream-like images, portraying a whitewashed, historic, residential room, with orange electrical cords plugged into every socket, and snaking across the floors and out the windows. Other pieces, like his intriguing portrayals of animals like Sloths and Chimpanzees are more light hearted pieces, which sort of delight in their illustrious images of fur and effortlessly attractive compositions.
Combining all of these skills, E4 has been able to stay consistent, relevant, and active. Another part of their artistic ethos is asking the audience to be a part of their art. In this current incarnation, E4 set out an array of supplies, and asked the exhibitions participants to help them create one final collaborative piece. Hopefully E4, and wonderful venues like Lotus Gallery, will continued to challenge and entertain both Fort Wayne's art scene and the general public, starting new dialogues and engaging all parties by asking them to pick apart their complex images and to help them make some new ones.
June 11-July 12