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Major Chord

Artlink Regional Award Winners' Exhibition

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Artlink's 2010 Regional Biennial Exhibition was one of the best in recent history, and ended with three winners, chosen out of dozens of great artists, Justin Johnson, George Morrison, and Jake Saunders. These three artists have each constructed a distinct studio practice, have experience creating specific bodies of work, and exhibit both formally and conceptually superior pieces on a consistent basis. While their work is wildly different from one another, the quality of the work presented makes for a strong show in its own right.

Another key aspect of this exhibition was Artlink's new location, inside of the recently renovated Auer Center for Arts and Culture. The space, almost double Artlink's last incarnation, allowed a much larger exhibition of the three artist's works, with the whole exhibition easily containing fifty to sixty pieces. The space also provides the work a good deal of curatorial breathing room, making reading a piece much easier, not getting caught up in the work next to it so easily. Another impressive curatorial note was the way that the work is segmented while still allowing an easy flow from artist to artist. The overall reading of the exhibition is smooth and varied.

As for the work itself, it ranges from the philosophical, to political, to irreverent. Justin Johnson and George Morrison's works take a more methodical, calmed approach, while Saunders' more experiential non-narrative throughout his pieces is jolting, but brilliant. Between Johnson and Morrison, it is interesting because Johnson's unconventional mixed media work follows more traditional paths, while Morrison's timeless material of clay is nearly treated in a singularly minimal style, but breaks many traditional ceramic boundaries.

Justin Johnson's work is a combination of iconography and material process, with hyper-articulated images of formally organic foci (be they figures, insects, or objects), usually hovering in an abstracted, ablated space which is made by the interactions between glass, paper, gilt, and graphite. While Johnson's subjects are usually "spiritual, historical, or classical archetypes" as he says in his artist statement, one can't help but see the overall treatment of his pieces as being drenched heavily in stoicism and alchemy. From Greco-Roman marble, to the mathematics of a constellation, to the key egyptian image of the Scarab, Johnson's work reads like a primer for some sort of initiation.

The meticulously crafted tools and objects in his pieces like "Diesis", meaning a number of things, including medications in pitch, and the typographical "double-dagger", used to denote a third footnote, are especially connotative of the alchemical. The diesis shape could be mirrored by the filaments of the lightbulb in his piece "Diesis, and the lightbulb is placed above two red shapes at the bottom of the image, signaling the viewers eye to travel up and emphasize it. The single "dagger" or half of a "diesis" symbol is also used to denote death, perhaps making the diesis a "double death"? In another piece, "Danse Macabre", Johnson places an incredibly tall, notched, golden dunce cap on a beautifully rendered skull. This image has a strong resemblance to the proto-celtic Golden Hats, which are archeological anomalies that are believed to have had calendrical and religious importance. This image is placed on a piece of found paper, from a book entitled "The Danse Macabre" meaning the dance of death, a medieval concept mean to impart the universality of death. These strong connotations of death would seem to be a new aspect of Johnson's work, beyond the decaying antiquity which has always been present.

George Morrison's work, also a shift from what could be described as his "normal" work, is based almost entirely off of the universal brick. Morrison notes that brick may just be the most common connection between people and ceramics, as well as being the most common man-made construction material. Morrison's work was inspired by a brick shard found at his home, after it was constructed. Morrison apparently then set out to form an extrusion template which allowed him to "mass produce" brick-like masses of clay. The final works are reminiscent of small scale Richard Serra sculptures, where subtle angles and placement of weight reverberate into the space around pieces and become quite perceptible to the viewer.

In pieces like "Don't Think Twice, Its All Right", Morrison contextualizes his pieces against one another, sharpening the perception of the space, or lack there of, between his humble ceramic forms. Morrison's most impressive pieces were installed together and this presentation composed of "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da", "Hang On Sloopy", and "Eight Miles High" really became an architectural dialogue, where pairs of forms were relating to each other specifically while each pair was communicating with each other as well.

Jake Saunders' work was easily the most contemporary in its method of installation (no framed work, all paper hung by clips and pins), and the "thesis, research, augment, present" method of conceptual production going in to each piece or body of work. Saunders' contributions to the exhibitions include exquisite paper cutting and collage pieces like "Death camp" a psychedelic paper-cut image of cows behind cages with the words "rGBH Death camp" scrawled across the image, and "St. John's Head on a Platter" another paper cut piece using black on black paper to compose the head and face, making the viewer manipulate the light hitting the page to highlight its features. Other types of work include woodblock prints like "Eat You Sucker", inkjet prints on paper like the series of abstracted images all entitled "Hope", large scale acrylic paintings like "G(M)encode 4", and graphite pencil drawings like "Clarence Thomas". This wide range of media, all done on large and scale, show off Saunders' ability to finesse any material to his purpose of expressing a concept.

Jake Saunders' work was all taken from two of his past series of work, "Murder Ballad Pars 13 & 15", which depict the atrocities of "big agriculture" like Monsanto, an the devastating effects that they have on communities around the world, in this exhibitions, case, Indian for the most part. Images which seemingly have little to do with others, like "Clarence Thomas", begin to weave themselves into a more coherent story once the viewer educates themselves on each images involvement. Jake Saunders' makes no statement about the truthfulness of the pieces he presents, and likely, doesn't care much about the perceived truth in his work. Saunders's artist begins with, "This exhibition represents the work that I didn't destroy from April to July, 2010" and elaborates on an entropic philosophy which rejects our ability to find freedom and ends with, "There is no way up, there are only varying rates of decent."

Award Winners from the 8th Artlink Regional Exhibition
December 9, 2011-January 11, 2012
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