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Unspoken Word

Word-based fine art at Artlink

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


The considerable amount of word-based art produced over the last year within the Fort Wayne arts scene has been incredibly interesting. Usually, word-based fine art is often subjugated to the realm of political art, or undecipherable conceptual works, neither of which seems to arouse much interest in the average viewer. Without trying, it would seem that Fort Wayne's arts community is well acclimated to the use of words in art, many times finding more of a literary than expository function. This anomaly would seem to denote strong connections to a community of writers, or perhaps graphic designers. Whatever the case, Fort Wayne's art scene has proven itself quite capable in using the word to stir both profound meaning, and profound visuals. This is currently being demonstrated by Artlink's "Letters.Words.Books," and the small solo exhibition by Audrey Riley.

Whether it be the wood printed books (both the cover and bound pages) of Paul Demaree, or David Birkey's folded book UFO, the pieces in "Letters. Words. Books" feature a wide variety of genres, styles, and media. Sharon Jokay's meticulous metal work "Sketch Box" produces an interesting mix of fine art, design, and subtle words, etched directly into the metal to produce both pattern and meaning, and Kristen Bayman's "Great Expectations" presentation of an artist book with an incredibly non-traditional binding, each made for nice surprises throughout the exhibition. However, as in every exhibition, there were a few artist and pieces that clearly commanded the eye and viewers attention more than others due to the presence of the work and to the depth of meaning within it.

Rebecca Stockert's intimidating "FA Q," a vibrant, brilliant, larger than life wall hanging was certainly a leading piece in the exhibition. Floating somewhere between the aesthetic worlds of Margaret Kilgallen's devotion to handmade signs and Kay Rosen's love for stark fonts, Stockert's piece becomes an amusing mystery in a rather straightforward exhibition, and a minimal feat to be appreciated with both the eye and comparison and context of the viewers body. This minimal value being a frequently asked question of itself, "FA Q" becomes self-referential and tongue in cheek.

Eric Tarr's always interesting illustrative work is a natural fit for "Letters. Words. Books." as all three of these descriptions play a large role within his body of work. On display in this exhibition, "Watch Birds," "MA_S," and "Fightin' Words," Tarr's work takes on a stronger graphic novel approach which is interesting, because his work usually doesn't have such a vernacular feel. "Fightin' Words", the strongest of the three pieces, is an image of a young, rake boxer with fists up and head tilted, on a gridded background of cut up antique printed pages. At the bottom of the pagewe see a pair of glasses tucked into the waistband of the fighters shorts.

Michael Poorman finishes off the stand out artists of "Letters. Words. Books." with three incredibly strong contemporary abstractions on found paper. These three untitled pieces are further proof of Poorman's mastery over color and form. In one piece, Poorman presents a graffiti covered notice of some sort, with scrawls of color blocking certain letters, while others push through the artists veil of artistry. Perhaps Poorman's strongest piece in this exhibition, he includes a small bibliography card covered in ink blots, and figure prints, swirling around and through the upside down type set letters.

No description of Fort Wayne's word based art would be complete without discussing the prolific and increasingly significant work of Audrey Riley. In this small but strong solo exhibition in Artlink's Betty Fishman Gallery, Riley presents a range of her works, including some older works on paper, and recent encaustic pieces. Many of Riley's works, though visually quite different from when she began producing fine art, still contain the attitude and irreverence of past works, "Big And Bossy" being one such piece, which uses her new method of carving into a the wax foundations she creates, and impregnating those carved lines with a vibrant color.

The most exciting of Riley's pieces include a new "Other People's Money" and "A Word Is Not The World," both made out of three dimensional wax cast letters, typeset onto the picture plane to produce the final image, being a Glenn Ligon-esque decipherable letter matrix. In "Other People's Money", Riley experiments further and doesn't contain the letters to the picture plane solely as in her other works, and allows the letters themselves to seemingly compose the base of the object itself, attempting to produce a plane of letters supported by letters, questioning the relation between sculpture and painting fully, as well as the legibility of the piece and the role of "reading" and reading the piece. By manipulating wax in such a complex range, Riley's work becomes rich with meaning, unique style, and overall conceptual versatility.

Through all of their uses of words, the artists currently exhibiting at Artlink are breaking with simple rules of the usage of letters and words within fine art. Carrying on a tradition which goes back to early Dada and Surrealist works, word based works provide a strong and open ended dimension to a piece, allowing for a further complexity to the process of deciphering, as well as an odd accessibility to any with the ability to literally read the piece, drawing them in further.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.