Public Art

Feature: The Reactionary Dynamic In Public Art

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This article is an updated version of material originally published by Arts-Louisville.com in August 2017. Used with permission.

Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

“The word ‘deface’ derives from ancient Rome,” explains sculptor Matt Weir, “where the public would smash away the faces on images of leaders after they had been disgraced. Emperors would have statues of themselves everywhere, and if they were overthrown they were erased.”

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Louisville joined other American communities in the struggle over public monuments honoring Confederate leaders when the statue of General John Breckinridge Castleman near the Cherokee Triangle was vandalized with bright orange paint. Within days Showing Up For Racial Justice organized a passionate but peaceful public demonstration at the location, and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer issued a statement directing the Commission on Public Art (COPA) to conduct a review of all public statues in the Metro area to determine what issues need to be addressed.

It seems a worthwhile and important response to community outcry, but in all of the press generated, there has been very little written about how artists feel about all of this, especially sculptors of public art who are today creating such monuments.

Early iteration of Matt Weir’s statue of Colonel William Oldham. Photo by Keith Waits.

Early iteration of Matt Weir’s statue of Colonel William Oldham. Photo by Keith Waits.

Matt Weir is working to complete a commission for a historical statue in Oldham County that will commemorate Colonel William Oldham, a Revolutionary war figure for whom the county is named. The statue, which will be approximately seven feet tall, is to be installed in front of the LaGrange Library by July 2018. The uniformed figure is captured in a humble posture, rifle resting on his shoulder, and the horse’s bit and bridle dangling from his right hand is a nod to the tradition, missing here by deliberate choice, of showing military figures atop a stallion.

The weary, home-from-the-front attitude is a contrast to the heroic Castleman on horseback but reflects the common, everyman quality of the history. Weir states that Oldham has no significant military accomplishments of note, and he was killed in his early 30’s at The Battle of the Wabash, in which his unit was decimated by Native Americans onto whose land they had entered as part of a troop movement north. “There is a sense that he would have likely served as a public official if he had lived,” Weir says. “It’s unclear exactly how they came to name the county after him, but there is really no public sculpture in Oldham County, and Judge David Vogel (who commissioned the statue) wanted to change that, and this seemed like a good place to start.”

When asked about his feelings on the issue, and the Castleman statue in particular, Weir speaks in thoughtful terms that reflect his conflicted feelings: “Some of these pieces that are coming down in Baltimore and Durham, to my eye, looked like beautiful work; examples of important sculptural techniques, and, as an artist, I do feel sad they are disappearing. The Castleman statue is, I think, the only horse and rider statue in Louisville, and it’s a landmark that the neighborhood has used for a long time in its branding.” Weir shows me a cup from the Cherokee Triangle Art Fair showing the event logo that incorporates an image of the statue.

Ed Hamilton at work in his studio. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis/courtesy of LVA.

Ed Hamilton at work in his studio. Photo by Sarah Katherine Davis/courtesy of LVA.

Ed Hamilton has made his reputation as a sculptor of memorial statues, primarily recognizing African American History, and he echoes these thoughts in his own observations: “As an artist, we need to look at work, and I had studied the Castleman statue over the years because it is a gracious, artistically rendered piece. I didn’t even realize for a long time that it was a Confederate officer because he is not wearing a designated uniform. But now I need to rethink the underlying meaning of that statue.” Hamilton’s most recent work, a bust of Underground Railroad conductor George DeBaptiste, was for Madison, Indiana. Among his other monuments are The Spirit of Freedom, a memorial to black Civil War veterans that stands in Washington, DC,  as well as monuments dedicated to Booker T. Washington, Joe Louis, York (William Clark’s manservant on the Lewis and Clark Expedition), and the slaves who revolted on the Amistad.

Ed Hamilton’s statue of York, who was part of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Ed Hamilton’s statue of York, who was part of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Hamilton was previously a member of COPA, and he says that the commission expected to follow the process that they took in making a recommendation on the statue at the University of Louisville that was relocated to Brandenburg Kentucky. A series of public meetings were scheduled and the first meeting was held in September, but soon Metro Government and COPA decided to develop a different approach, one which will attempt to establish a contextual foundation for approaching public art and the winds of change.

Sarah Lindgren, Public Art Administrator for Metro Government explained the shift in perspective: "We are working on our plans for a community conversation about race and the history of slavery—and how it impacts our world today. The topic of public art and monuments is just one component of a larger plan that Mayor Fischer will be discussing in the near future. The Commission on Public Art began a process of reviewing artwork and monuments in public spaces during a public meeting in September, and that process will continue along with the community conversation."

 COPA has set up a link for the public to provide comments here.

These kinds of public sculptures demand substantial research, often as a part of a proposal the artist submits before they even know if they have the job. “It is a job,” Weir tells me. ”I do personal work which reflects my particular aesthetic, and that that is very different from this sort of commission, but my name is on that statue forever, so I want to feel good about it. We don’t know exactly how long bronze lasts, but the oldest surviving bronze statue is thought to be 6000 years old.”

But would he take a commission for a statue honoring a Confederate figure? “For me, personally, no, I wouldn’t do it.”

Historically bronze statues are almost always tributes to individuals of power and influence. The cost of such projects means they are often driven by wealth and privilege, and the innumerable Confederate statues throughout the United States are inextricably tied to a campaign to reinforce Jim Crow laws across the American South in the years between 1890 and 1920, a period often referred to as “the nadir of race relations in America” by historians, so there should be no mystery about their original intention. More were erected in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s as a response to the Civil Rights Movement. “What’s happening now is reactionary,” claims Weir. “Just as the statues themselves were reactionary. Idolatry through figurative art has always been reactionary – always driven by the new regime.”

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When I ask him how he feels about the Durham statue being pulled down in the dark of night, he offers: “As a sculptor, that really hit home – what if that were MY work? I would rather see these changes occur through public dialogue. It’s an opportunity to heighten awareness of public art and the issues surrounding these Confederate monuments.”

“Whatever happens,” observes Weir, ”it seems like there is no win here.”


This Feature article was written by Keith Waits.
In addition to his work at the LVA, Keith is also the Managing Editor of a website, www.Arts-Louisville.com, which covers local visual arts, theatre, and music in Louisville.

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Painting

Vignette: Joshua Jenkins

"Two Folk Musicians In Nature" by Joshua Jenkins, Acrylic & mixed media, 60x72x1.5 in, 2017, $3000

"Two Folk Musicians In Nature" by Joshua Jenkins, Acrylic & mixed media, 60x72x1.5 in, 2017, $3000

JoshuaJenkins' human forms are distorted and at times can seem like disfigured scribbles of a body. His people previously seen at leisure in the city streets or in the public square, have now moved into the bucolic countryside of open fields and forests. His disruptive and freeform line, an influence from the Expressionist movement and the energy of street artists, illustrates humanity breaking free of the constraints of society – Jenkins’ characters are almost never working. Yet in “People in the Woods” the individuals are caught in a visual pattern of nature. This artist’s fascination with, “the raw textures that plague old cities”, seems to here be supplanted by the organic textures of nature, both welcoming and vaguely sinister.

"A Contemplation Of Nature" by Joshua Jenkins, Acrylic & mixed media, 36x24x1.5in. 2017, $1250

"A Contemplation Of Nature" by Joshua Jenkins, Acrylic & mixed media, 36x24x1.5in. 2017, $1250

His Artist's Statement includes this declaration: “Art to me is the soul’s communication - a response to experience and life. This theory is what drives me to create, because I feel as though I have to so for my own wellbeing. Like many artists I use art as a source of therapy—coping with day-to-day stresses, romances, my sexuality, my childhood, and my ongoing struggle with institutional religion. However, not all inspiration comes from my life, observing the people around me also inspire me. In some regards I consider myself a voyeur of life. People intrigue me not only on a physical plane, but also on a deeper emotional level. I tend to feed inspiration to myself from the lives and emotional distresses of others. Ultimately, my work is not to create art at the expense of my own or anyone else’s miseries, but rather to shine a light on the commonalities between us all.”

“It has become apparent to me that my approach to art is to try and give a fresh voice to the Fine Arts, pulling influences from past movements and acknowledging trends that are in today’s culture. I must conclude that my art is always evolving and will also stay true to my original drive for creating, which comes from my soul—the inner voice that I have learned over time to never question.”           

Jenkins currently has a "Holiday Pop-Up Art Show" at Mellwood Art Center in conjunction with KORE Gallery. The show features some recent works from his one-person exhibit at Lenihan Sotheby’s  Summertime along with other works I have done over the years including a few new pieces done over the past couple of months. Jenkins himself will be available in the gallery on weekends. Otherwise people can get access through KORE Gallery during the week. 

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Mellwood Art Center
#187 (entry off the courtyard)

Tuesday through Friday: 11 AM to 5 PM
(get access through KORE Gallery)

Weekdend Hours:
Saturday, 12 to 4 PM, Sunday, 12 to 4 PM

Hometown: Poughkeepsie, NY
Education: BA in Digital Media with a Minor in Studio Art, Marist College (Poughkeepsie, New York)
Website: http://www.joshjenkins.com
Instagram: joshuajenkinsart/
Gallery Representative: Joshua is self-represented locally, but have works at Revelry  & KORE Gallery, New Editions Gallery (Lexington), CAZA Sikes (Cincinnati).

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"People in the Woods" by Joshua Jenkins, Acrylic & mixed media, 48 x 36 x 1.5 in, 2017, $2200

"People in the Woods" by Joshua Jenkins, Acrylic & mixed media, 48 x 36 x 1.5 in, 2017, $2200

"Untitled Drawing" by Joshua Jenkins, Pastel, Charcoal, and Graphite, 24x18in, 2017 $350

"Untitled Drawing" by Joshua Jenkins, Pastel, Charcoal, and Graphite, 24x18in, 2017 $350


Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2017 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

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Vignette: Jason Bige Burnett

The Vocabulary of Vessels

"Two Cocks Kissing Bowls", Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic, 4.5x5.5in, 2017.

"Two Cocks Kissing Bowls", Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic, 4.5x5.5in, 2017.

Jason Bige Burnett is fascinated with the vocabulary of vessels and how the narratives of our lives illustrate living spaces and reflect daily routines: “Coffee stained cups in the cupboards, hanging plates embellishing the walls, and teapots that remain untouched in glass cabinets, are all artifacts of our own existence. Stains, cracks, and pristine, luster-adorned objects are stories I believe to be worth telling.” As a result, he achieves to create thoughtfully unrefined vessels that celebrate vulnerability and beauty.

Burnett's investigations start with recollections from growing up in a “broken” family. During that time sanctuary was found in cartoons such as the Nickelodeon channel’s Ren and Stimpy, Rugrats and Ahhh! Real Monsters. Revisiting them as an adult enabled him to appreciate how they used bright colors and patterned wallpaper to excite the domestic interiors of their characters’ homes. Since then he has introduced similar elements in his pottery to promote “youthful discovery”.

"Salt and Pepper Shakers, Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic,3.75x2in each, 2017

"Salt and Pepper Shakers, Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic,3.75x2in each, 2017

The adult whimsy of Ren and Stimpy is particularly reflected in the double entendre of “Two Cocks Kissing” bowls, and “Kissed By Queens” cocktail cups. The bright colors and playful design are a cue to have fun with the work, the artist’s intentions being to create pottery and beautiful objects that reflect life’s escapades and serve as a bridge between the real and surreal.

Burnett has an upcoming show and six-week residency at Belger Arts Center in Kansas City Missouri. He just launched a new website and online store called Mr. Benny's Pot Shop.

Immediately following that is the first Southern Crossings Pottery Festival (SXPF), which he is coordinating with Amy Chase and Steven Cheek. SXPF will take place March 2 & 3, 2018 at Copper & Kings in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisvile. The event will showcase potters in the Ohio River Region, including Lexington, Cincinnati, and more. The festival will also include the Empty Bowls Benefit Dinner @PLAY Louisville on March 3, 2018.

 

 

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Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Education: BFA, Studio Art ceramics, printmaking and graphic design, Western Kentucky University; Penland School of Crafts (NC) for 2 years as a core fellowship student; 2012-2013 Artist-In-Residence at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (TN).
Website: mrbennyspotshop.com
Instagram: @mrbennyspotshop

 

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"Kissed by Queens cocktail cups" by Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic, 3.25x3.5in, 2017

"Kissed by Queens cocktail cups" by Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic, 3.25x3.5in, 2017

"Fancy Feast set" by Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic, variety sizes available, 2017

"Fancy Feast set" by Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic, variety sizes available, 2017

"Doughnuts and Daddy plate" by Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic, 7x7x1in, 2017

"Doughnuts and Daddy plate" by Jason Bige Burnett, ceramic, 7x7x1in, 2017

Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2017 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

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Painting

Vignette: Alexandra Kenitzer

"Chocolate Delight" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on Canvas, 20x20in, 2017 $400

"Chocolate Delight" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on Canvas, 20x20in, 2017 $400

"Piña Colada" by Alexandra Kenitzer,  Oil on wood, 38x38in, 2013, $500  

"Piña Colada" by Alexandra Kenitzer,  Oil on wood, 38x38in, 2013, $500  

Visual art can be an incredibly powerful vehicle for tackling many serious issues of the times, calling attention to the horrors of war or bigotry, or gender and class discrepancies. As an incredibly powerful vehicle, it is also versatile, as capable of glorifying some of the most drool-worthy beauty of this world we all share. Emerging artist and painter Alexandra Kenitzer, self-described as “fixated on pretty and complex objects,” has been leaning towards the latter lately, creating a series inspired by a lovely-looking thing that some use to deal with some ugly things.

“I am intrigued by the craft of cocktails and the celebration that goes along with the consumption of the beverage. I see cocktails as a way of celebrating in any sort of occasion,” Kenitzer said. “I find that they are indulgent because they are so beautifully put together and have such a presence.”

The native of Owensboro sees creative possibilities in and out of her studio, whether inspiration arrives from fashion, pastries or her recent series. “I favor creative mixtures … they have a demure quality and we recognize them because they are timeless.”

A process-oriented artist, Kenitzer likes a large canvas, laboriously executing minute details that communicate the finer qualities of her images. She lovingly lavishes color on both her objects of desire and their backdrops, mixing oils to get the color combinations just right. She cites Kehinde Wiley as one to “obsess over,” specifically how he uses patterns in his coveted portraits.

Her “Martini” has a multi-dimensional effect, eagerly jumping in front of the viewer to create a chaotic space where a cocktail and the wallpaper behind it fuse to suggest a zebra. Yet her “Bloody Mary” and “Pina Colada” use calmer, far more open spaces like a veteran jazz bassist to highlight their few, very important details. Meanwhile, her self-assured donuts stand out against contrasting backgrounds.

Kenitzer paints by hand in a consistent style, varying only when a certain piece requires more – or less – impact. She spends most of her time focused on backgrounds, noting, “Being as close to perfect or perfect is what the pattern painting is about. It becomes more about the complexity of how fine the lines are.”    

"Sprinkled Pink" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on Canvas, 20x20in, 2017, $400

"Sprinkled Pink" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on Canvas, 20x20in, 2017, $400

Hometown: Owensboro Kentucky
Education: BFA, Oil Painting, University of Louisville Hite Art Institute
Website: www.alexandrakenitzer.com
Instagram: @alexandrakenitzerart

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"Bloody Mary" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on Wood Panel, 30x50in, 2013, $800

"Bloody Mary" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on Wood Panel, 30x50in, 2013, $800

"Martini" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on Wood Panel, 25x32in, 2013, $1200

"Martini" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on Wood Panel, 25x32in, 2013, $1200

"Lemon Lover" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on canvas, 20x20in, 2017, $400

"Lemon Lover" by Alexandra Kenitzer, Oil on canvas, 20x20in, 2017, $400

Written by Peter Berkowitz. Entire contents copyright © 2017 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

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Painting

Vignette: Celia Kelly

"Spencer County Farm Lane" by Celia Kelly, oil on canvas, 14x18in, 2017, $300

"Spencer County Farm Lane" by Celia Kelly, oil on canvas, 14x18in, 2017, $300

Celia Kelly is a landscape artist working primarily ‘en plein air’. Kelly enjoys the challenge of “navigating a variety of conditions” – discerning color, form, and space within the constantly changing natural light. Plein air might seem old-fashioned, but a better description might be ‘timeless’’, for many artists a nearly spiritual relationship with the mercurial personality of the environment. Temporality shows up on the list of media for many contemporary artists, yet it has always been a part of the plein air experience, a tradition for painters that dates back several hundred years.

"Springhill #3" by Celia Kelly, oil on panel, 11x9in, 2017, $100

"Springhill #3" by Celia Kelly, oil on panel, 11x9in, 2017, $100

“A few years ago, I switched my focus from painting urban scenes to rural landscapes,” Kelly tells us. “This has allowed me to leave the city, spend an entire day outside exploring vast open spaces. I have come to love the geometric compositions offered through open fields, hillsides, rows of trees, highways, and still waters. I also look at stagnant, standing structures (such as a barn) and see how it fits into this natural environment. One of my favorite subject matters are fields of grapevines, because of the symmetrical arrangement and cultivation is involved within the rows.” 

“I like to describe my painting style as one that straddles a divide between abstraction, representation and impressionism. There is a spiritual connection that occurs between landscape artist and the landscape. I attempt to capture this through the use of color, value, and expressive brushstroke. In other words, I don’t see the need to paint every leaf. When one travels, impressions are made, and I try to do justice to my own impressions of these landscapes through my work.”

Most recently, in August, Kelly participated in the notBIG group show at M.S. Rezny Gallery in Lexington, Kentucky.

Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky
Education: BA, Centre College; University of Louisville, post-baccalaureate studies, Painting
Website: celiakelly.blogspot.com

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"Tobacco Storage" by Celia Kelly, oil on panel, 8x10in, 2017, $125

"Tobacco Storage" by Celia Kelly, oil on panel, 8x10in, 2017, $125

"Yellow Field Stripes" by Celia Kelly, oil on canvas, 18x14in, 2017, $300

"Yellow Field Stripes" by Celia Kelly, oil on canvas, 18x14in, 2017, $300

"Sunswept" Celia Kelly, oil on panel, 11x14in, 2017, NFS

"Sunswept" Celia Kelly, oil on panel, 11x14in, 2017, NFS

"Harper's View" by Celia Kelly, oil on canvas, 12x9in, 2017, NFS

"Harper's View" by Celia Kelly, oil on canvas, 12x9in, 2017, NFS

Written by Keith Waits. Entire contents copyright © 2017 Louisville Visual Art. All rights reserved.

Are you interested in being on Artebella? Click here to learn more

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