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Masquerade: The Constructed Self

Artlink’s Self Portrait show

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-02-16


The identity of a community is said to reside in the art and culture which it produces. Many times, this expressed identity takes the form of some idealized, projected version of itself, meant to carry a message about the values the community holds. Other times, the art of an era is self conscious and critical, providing an honest and humbling view of itself at its weakest or most intimate moment. Effective artists can be seen as a microcosm of this process. Because of this, the self-portrait has become an incredibly effective and powerful tool, in the modern era especially, to spread an idealized or intimate version of oneself through a controlled image.

Artists like Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, and Chuck Close have made their own image ubiquitous in this age of mechanical and digital reproduction, providing even more tension to the facade of the individual, making it both intoxicating and shallow. Other artists, mostly lesser known, like Claude Cahun, Nikki S. Lee, and Egon Schiele have exhumed the darker, awkward, deprecating, and critical aspects of the human psyche which, quite contrary to being a facade, have the prospects of swallowing the viewer whole in the complex interactions brought on by viewing.

Fort Wayne artists would seem no different, in that they use their many talents to create both beautiful and honest images of themselves and the world around them through the worldview seen in their self-portraiture. Artlink promotes this exploration of self-portraiture with "Self Portrait Exhibit,” a regular exhibition on a near biennial schedule. This time it included many new artists, and newly hewn faces of some of Fort Wayne's regulars.

With over 130 artists represented in this exhibition from throughout Northeast Indiana, it is interesting to notice the similarities and difference between artists from different locations, lifestyles, and backgrounds. Artists like Patrice Farmer, Tyron Johnson, Matt Kelly, and Paul Demaree give us quirky, stylized, colorful representations, while Kevin Leigh-Manuell, Dennis M. Hettler, and Mary Aldridge Adams certainly went in a quieter and brooding image accompanied with a limited palette. No doubt these variances were as much a testament to the artist's moods while producing the work as much as the concepts which they wished to represent.

Ales Pancner's somewhat psychotic figurative abstraction entitled "Who am I" certainly encapsulates a sense of lost identity, and a grasping at stability. Its rainbow palette cuts the somewhat disturbing image with a light-hearted feeling giving it just enough ambiguity to make it more interesting. Terry Ratliff, Caitlin Crowley, Bill Shewman, Kim Helman, and Elizabeth English provide more conservative self-portrait studies, almost documenting more than commenting on the images being produced. Pamela Pfrang's self portrait "Pam in Mexico" intriguingly documents as well as expresses in a very curious way, perhaps even without the intention of the artist. Pfrang's mixed media image, enclosed by an appropriated wooden picture frame is teeming with emotive colors, subtle color shifts breaking the background into through basic unites of foreground, background, and sky, while Pfrang's own image is almost ghost-like, hovering and flickering on the surface in a proportion making her front and center in the viewer's perspective. Pfrang depicts herself in cool tones surround by a warm background, leading view into the picture plane as they focus on her face. Pfrang's line quality is reminiscent of artists like Francesco Clemente and Japanese Ukiyo-E wood block designers.

Other stunning images in this exhibition include Theresa Thomson's "Madame T" based off of the Sergeant painting "Madame X," Heather Miller's exploration with diverse media "Self portrait", which includes the artist giving a good sneer, Suzanne Galazka's "Shazam @68," an amazing larger profile of the artist in charcoal and pastel, and Richard Tuck's "Duality," a strong yet simple ceramic piece. Samuel Parker's "Patiently Waiting" — a monotype which brings strong recognition to Weimar Era Germany and the Expressionists as well as the Viennese Egon Schiele — is wonderful. As only he can, Patrick Gainer's incredibly confronting and metaphorically sexualized "I'm not your babe", certainly makes an impression. The image, which is a nearly flattened, simplified line drawing of the artist's stylized image on the body of speckled pig like character equipped with cloven hooves and somewhat more anthropomorphized genitals.

Arthur Cislo, never providing a dull piece, serves the viewer "Aetat 66," a low-key but haunting image of the artist, staring straight into the viewer, is composed of undulating textured colors, surrounded by a simple background which flows from warmer to cooler tones. "Aetat 66" is like a cross between Giacommetti and Bonnard, as Cislo expertly picks up skin tons and the sculptural nature of his face through yellows, teals, blues, as well as more traditional skin tone related colors. The combination of these colors, with the artist's defiant and prepared gaze provides an almost unsettling image.

Easily the two most intriguing images in the exhibition are Rebecca Stockert and Drew Allegre's "Contemporary Courship", and Jay Bastian's "Self Portrait." Stockert and Allegre have collaborated on an image which is photographic, oil on paper, and collage. The image ends up looking like some sort of indie record cover art with Stockert and Allegre in bed, not unlike John and Yoko, wearing abstracted rabbit masks, surround by curious objects, with very large "+" and "-" symbols hovering above each of them. While the ultimate meaning of the image is lost on the viewer, the elements themselves and their combination produce an incredibly evocative final image.

Jay Bastian, one of Fort Wayne's best kept secrets, reminds us again that he is both a great painter, and a great image-maker. "Self Portrait" nonchalantly infects the viewer with its simplicity. With less than ten colors, Bastian is able to produce an incredibly convincing visage of himself. The economy of paint and brush strokes, contrasted by their expressive application, produces a graining, almost vintage film feeling to what at first glance could be something more out of post-impressionism or an early Picasso structured figure. Bastian uses all of his tricks by making a coy image, just colorful enough to draw the viewer in, to begin the path, following the brush strokes and get lost in the structure of the head and eyes as they are sketched into existence.



Self Portrait Exhibition
Artlink, Auer Center for the Arts
January 20-February 29, 2012
www.artlinkfw.com
260-414-7195

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