Back to the Future Fair at Chelsea Industrial

Contributor: Adam Timur Aslan

It’s challenging to make an art fair futuristic as with fairs in general, the goal is to sell art. What sells easily at art fairs? When viewing fairs like TEFAF, the answer can appear to be: paintings on canvas which date back to the 16th century. This begs the question, “…how does one create a futuristic experience inside a model that is structured around cotemporary paintings that will sell?” Future Fair is one visionary model attempting to answer this question.

Future Fair’s main answer is to focus on “cross-gallery collaboration…with partnered exhibitors in shared spaces”. The fair also brings budget transparency and profit sharing as additional futuristic elements. While many strong works are featured in this year’s Future Fair, currently in its second edition, these four presentations definitely stood out.

Paradice Palase shows the work of Sadia Fakih, who brings an array of 2D elements, color and figuration to explore a range of themes that include culture relating to her South Asian heritage, astrology, intersectionality, and feminism. 

Work by  Sadia Fakih for Paradice Palase (Photo by Adam Aslan)

Elijah Wheat Showroom presents the work of Hope Wang which features hand-weaving, screen-printing, painting, and photography to explore meaning within the architectural fragments of memory.

Work by Hope Wang for Elijah Wheat Showroom
(Photo by Adam Aslan)

Meanwhile, ADA Gallery exhibits works from Laura Zuccaro that transform structures into worlds that are uniquely defined by Zuccaro’s interest in color, space, and shape.

Laura Zuccaro Big DΛƬΛ .4, 2021 colored pencil on paper 11 7/8h x 12w in, (image courtesy of artist and ADA Gallery)

Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery has chosen to create a summery euphoria via the figurative works of Norwegian painter Audun Alvestad. 

While in many ways creating an evolved version of an art fair is challenging, the collaborative efforts of the galleries and the overall curatorial vision throughout the fair make this effort successful.

Future Fair is located at  Chelsea Industrial 535 W 28th Street New York, NY. The fair runs through Saturday May 7th. Visit https://futurefairs.com/ for more information. Closing event scheduled for Sunday, May 8th at House of X – more info below!

Monumental: Queen Andrea in “Letters Forever” & Cern and Nola Romano’s “Urban Encounters” at AHA Fine Art

Two separate exhibitions hold court at AHA Fine Art with both Queen Andrea in Letters Forever and Cern and Nola Romano in Urban Encounters through March 13, 2022. AHA Fine Art (56 Bogart Street in Brooklyn) hosts these exhibitions, both of which span the range of physical space in a scale reminiscent of urban art found across the streets of New York City.

Install views of Letters Forever and Urban Encounters

Queen Andrea is a prolific artist whose installations feature prominently throughout the five boroughs. Queen Andrea (aka Andrea von Bujdross) was drawn to the growing field of street art in 1990s New York City in her early teens. She cut her teeth with some of the most daring street artists working in the urban area. Her intuitive grasp of a color theory, stenciling and a strongly cultivated personal aesthetic leave a strong impression on visitors to Letters Forever. A prolific fine artist, muralist and designer, visitors have plenty to digest — from her masterful use of organic line, circular and curved elements and carefully applied gradient.

Artwork, ”Flourish” by Queen Andrea on view in Letters Forever at AHA Fine Art

Works such as “Believe” (2022) and “Flourish” (2022) (above) offer positive messages that are presented in bright neon colors across sweeping backdrops. “Flourish” offers a scale in dialogue with her public murals, with cotton-candy tones spanning the canvas in gradients spanning from navy to cornflower blue to burnt sienna. The artist presents powerful meditations on transformation in these recent paintings, harnessing inspiration across multiple formats, including jewelry, sculpture and painting.

Cern, “Ocean of Devotion” oil on panel, 30 x 20” from the exhibit, Urban Encounters
Install view of works by Nola Romano, Urban Encounters
Install views of Letters Forever and Urban Encounters

Meanwhile, the opposing gallery walls feature a double exhibition of works by Cern and Nola Romano. Entitled Urban Encounters, the show presents figurative works presented in bright colors, with distinctive styles presented that are unique to each artist. As per gallerist Francesca Arcilesi, “Cern is the type of artist whose life and craft are intensely intertwined. The wall, panel or canvas act as an expression of a much deeper, layered mantra and perspective on how to go through life. His art consists of abstract, smooth, blended lines with elements of clearly defined edges and imagery.” This tension between Impressionism and Street art remains present throughout Cern’s artworks on view, creating a harmonious effect that invites the visitor to linger, discovering beautiful, illusory details in these poignant compositions.

Nola Romano’s works balance the personal and the universal, the delicate and the resilient. Her works, primarily acrylic on wood panel, present the complexity of the world: both the idealism of the world to be and the persistent reality of longing, fear and dread. Her portraits of young girls and figures with fantastical attributes create a sense a magical realism, heightened by the visual texture she creates in this painterly vignettes. These paintings communicate transience and endurance in equal measure, presenting the beauty in the world around us through the lens of fantasy.

Make sure not to miss Letters Forever and Urban Encounters in its final weekend on view at AHA Fine Art, 56 Bogart St, from 1-6 pm through March 13.

Bringing it All Together: Collage Artist Kelly Dabbah Exhibiting at Miami Art Week

With collage techniques, many moving parts can become one. Nowhere is this more clear than in the work of Swiss-born artist Kelly Dabbah. She has a lot going on and it is clear that this why collage has become her preferred method of art-making. “I am quite precise, which is why I like the possibilities of editing and flexibility that collage has to offer,” she remarked in our phone conversation.

Kelly Dabbah photographed by Ian Evan Lam

Digital collage can be employed on many different materials. Most recently, she released a limited edition series of skate decks and bucket hats on NTWRK, both printed with her signature digital collage works. During Miami Art Week she is showing work from her “mirror” series of collage printed on mirrors, and a vintage chair upholstered in a collaged textile that celebrates the bling aesthetics of LA, aptly titled: “You Can Sit On It.”

During this past year, Dabbah spent a sojourn in LA where she was embraced by a group of musicians and producers – including ThunderCat, Anderson Paak, and Derek ‘Mixed by Ali’ who have all commissioned work from the artist. Elements from that LA lifestyle populate her mirrors and especially the textile of the vintage chair. Borrowed from cannabis culture, “pass with care” is a phrase that reoccurs in the artist’s work. Decriminalization and legalization add cause for celebration de-stigmatizing the subculture that has welcomed her since her teens in Geneva and throughout her time in New York and LA. 

You Can Sit On It (Back) (2021) By Kelly Dabbah. Chair and printed textile. Photographed by Dom Stills.

On view in Miami, “My Best Friend, My Worst Enemy” depicts snakes, flowers, palm trees, and the third eye – crying. “Like youth, flowers wilt,” says Dabbah about her incorporation of flowers which are included in much of her work. In “Cara Said ‘Bacon!’” a hand steadily holds a needle filled with Botox. The mirror series speaks to impossible beauty standards and the contradictions that make up femininity. The mirror series speaks to impossible beauty standards and the contradictions that make up femininity. Miami is a fitting place to showcase Dabbah’s work, because unlike Basel week in Switzerland, emerging artists can make a mark during Miami Art Week. The diverse audience of artists, athletes, musicians, celebrities, the it-crowd, and people looking for a good party are a collecting group attracted to artists who work across disciplines and whose work embodies a millennial and painterly cut and paste aesthetic that is steeped in lifestyle symbology.

Detail, ”Cara Said Bacon!” by Kelly Dabbah (2021.) Collage printed on mirror, 36×50”. Image courtesy the artist.

The ease in which Dabbah works with brands and drops limited editions is a result of her training in Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design at the New School. She has painted on leather jackets for American designer Anna Sui for her Fall Season Fashion Week show, worked on a neon collaboration with Yellow Pop, a neon company, and last Halloween, she worked with the Italian notebook manufacturer Moleskine to customize notebooks for in-store shoppers, among others. “Working with an artist allows brands to connect more authentically with their consumers,” says Dabbah. Although she speaks a language that corporate clients understand the artist is not all business; she has the mind of an artist – boundless, experimental, slightly erratic, but deeply visionary. As art, fashion, design, and branding continue to merge we look forward to following Dabbah’s contribution to this growing space. 

Don’t miss Kelly Dabbah’s showcase “Cara Said ‘Bacon!’” at Booth C07 at SCOPE Art Show during Miami Art Week 2021. 

A New Romantic: Pamela Casper’s “Earthscapes” at Reeves-Reed Arboretum (Summit, NJ)

Artist Pamela Casper’s Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World, on view now at Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, NJ, honors the power that nature has to inspire, to awe, and to overwhelm. Casper is able to capture, ”a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower,” in the words of Romantic poet William Blake. In many ways Casper’s solo show, a mini-retrospective for the artist, brilliantly captures that wondrous sense of natural awe redolent of the Romantic movement, with a nuanced portrayal of natural phenomenon at turns imaginative and insightful. Casper’s works on view span mediums ranging from works on paper to mixed media and sculpture, offering visitors a varied means of engaging with the environment.

Installation view of Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World, a solo show of works by Pamela Casper

Works such as ”Roots and Insects,” ”Gothic Underground,” and ”Underground Glow” allow guests to burrow down into the impression the artist has created of roots expanding deep underground. Rich jewel tones and minuscule, detailed lines trace the most powerful and life-sustaining part of a tree: its root system. Casper’s paintings evoke what they don’t show, giving the impression of destiny with lush, painterly brushstrokes hinting at the rich ecosystem lying just out of view of the human eye.

Roots and Insects (2016) Pamela Casper, watercolor on paper, 24×36”

In addition to the artist’s Tornado series (see cover photo) which brings to life the transformative power of nature and calls into question our tenuous relationship as stewards of the environment, the artist also works with reclaimed materials. ”Abandoned Nest” re-imagines barbed wire as a bird’s nest, painting a bleak future for a world in which scant natural materials are available for creatures to depend on. The sharp angles jutting across one another are juxtaposed with a bird’s feather: a reminder of what’s left for us to lose unless we begin reimagining ways to provide for a sustainable environmental future.

Abandoned Nest (2013) Pamela Casper, barbed wire and feather, 18×9”

Pamela Casper’s ”Earthscapes: Emerging to a Brighter World” is on view at the Reeves-Reed Arboretum’s Wisner House in Summit, NJ, until October 31st, 2021. Check the Arboretum’s website for hours and special events before attending: https://www.reeves-reedarboretum.org/visit/ .

“Wall Sandwich” at Amos Eno Gallery a Delectable Treat

“You cut a hole in the building and people can look inside and see the way other people really lived… it’s making space without building it.” – Gordon Matta-Clark

Industrial materials and a delightful array of dimensions provide new angles on urbanity in “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich,” on view now at Amos Eno Gallery at 56 Bogart St through Sunday, July 18th.

Installation image, “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich” at Amos Eno Gallery. Image courtesy of the artist.

Esposito is a Queens-based artist. A born and bred New Yorker, the artist’s familiarity with the city permeates every aspect of the exhibition. Construction is one constant traversing the city’s streets, and familiar sights such as dangling shoes and lath wood, metal and cement confront urban residents at every twist and turn of the city’s winding streets. Eroding painted signage from days gone by are visible on the sides of buildings from overpasses and aboveground subway lines throughout the city, revealing varying degrees of erasure as they play out across the skyline. Fences separating properties across the city’s five boroughs range from elaborate, pointed arches to brushed chrome. All of these experiences and more infuse “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich” with a potent representation of how residents and visitors interact with spaces surrounding them in urban landscapes.

Works on view present a study in contrasts, with the artist embracing industrial materials and artistic processes in equal measure, forming a strange yet powerful combination. Works included in this exhibition, such as “Split/Connect” (below image, work on right,) incorporate oil, tar and steel rods, while artistic techniques like painting, collage and assemblage are utilized throughout. Lath wood and bricks form the structure supporting the artist’s large-scale work, “Wall Sandwich,”: the exhibit’s namesake. Notions of the simulacrum pervade the show as well, with paintings of wood boards flanking actual wood structures, such as with “…Only inches away…,” and “Exterior Clapboards: Detroit”, questioning how the structures which we perceive around us in cities can both reveal and occlude vibrant histories.

In revealing the interiors of structures and their intrinsic relationship to exterior walls, Esposito notes that he, “concentrates on the interior and exterior of the walls, the space in between, the endless layers of palimpsest both polished and tarnished. It is a study of the soul of New York City.” Repeating motifs jostle for attention with surprising elements, such as a metal tag hanging off a string from the central board of “Leftovers.” City residents and guests strolling through New York will notice hanging objects proliferate throughout the city, whether it’s a hanging pair of shoes on power lines or a misplaced mitten hanging off a wrought-iron fence on a snowy day. The city gives as it takes away: construction materials throughout the exhibition also allude to real estate development and a city in constant cycles of demolishing and creating new buildings throughout the five boroughs. Visitors can approach these themes embedded within the exhibition in view of their own relationship to these different aspects of city life, finding correlations to their own journeys across, below, and around structures in New York City.

Installation image, “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich” at Amos Eno Gallery. Image courtesy of the artist.

The underlying landscape that supports the city’s infrastructure takes center stage in “Chris Esposito: Wall Sandwich.” Thanks to the artist’s clever compositions and keen insights, visitors are able pore over contrasting textures and surfaces presented at a range of scales and form connections between the works on view and the city’s many tangible layers of architectural histories.

Tulu Bayar’s “Traces” Captivates Visitors at Amos Eno Gallery

By Mariel Tepper

Installation view, Tulu Bayar: Traces at Amos Eno Gallery (image courtesy the artist)

A feeling of lightness and buoyancy surrounds viewers upon entering “Traces,” a mixed-media installation by multidisciplinary artist Tulu Bayar on view through June 13th at Amos Eno Gallery. Over one hundred circular works composed of photographic film rolls, ink, and resin float weightlessly on the walls. These are presented in the space at varying heights as if rising and cresting, like a wave, and floating around the viewer. Dark rolls of film spiral, unravel, and protrude from the works with a deliberate sense of gesture and line, while vibrant colors swirl within the transparent resin. Citing influences such as calligraphy, Islamic manuscript painting, and ebru – the mesmerizing practice of Turkish marbling art – Tulu Bayar crafts a distinctive visual language that viewers can interpret and find meaning within.

Anchoring the space are four works which lie flat on plinths, offering the viewer the opportunity to peer down into their depths to explore Bayar’s works in more detail. Here, one can appreciate the materiality present and inherent to each unique work. Layered film rolls and multicolored inks sit on top of each other with a meditative stillness, as if frozen in time. “The gestural record on the surface stages a moment of existence that is no other moment,” remarks Bayar. “By containing that peculiar moment, I feel like I am able to memorialize the process.” 

Installation view, Tulu Bayar: Traces at Amos Eno Gallery (image courtesy the artist)

With “Traces,” Bayar deftly explores the metaphysical, the idea of oneness and the interconnected nature of beings and forms, and how individual difference resides within communal existence. This promotes an attitude of active engagement from the visitor.This lively, interactive process of “reading” reflects Bayar’s interest in the spirituality of mysticism and the teachings of Rumi. “The appearance of things changes according to emotions, and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves,” Bayar reflects, quoting Rumi directly. As we look into these works, we are looking into ourselves as well. As Bayar describes, this series embodies a “form of thinking and discovering a journey on a contained surface.” To embark on this journey with her, all viewers need is their imagination and a willingness to look.

Surface Appeal: MaryKate Maher’s “Echo Echo” at Gold/Scopophilia

Bodies, surface, and space take center stage in MaryKate Maher’s “Echo Echo” on view recently at Gold/Scopophilia gallery‘s space in Montclair, NJ. This was the artist’s first show with the gallery, and consisted of a presentation of recent collages and sculpture work.

Above, Installation image, “Echo Echo” at Gold/Scopophilia featuring works by MaryKate Maher (image courtesy the artist)

Maher’s edges are alternately rough and clean, combining a comfortable familiarity with line, form and gradient to create an elusively unsettling space for encountering her “Surfaces” (the artist’s collages) and “Shards” (the artist’s sculptures.) Interrogating the liminal qualities defining reality and simulacra, Maher’s ability to shift between mediums to hint at the same compositions brings an enticing quality to the viewer, demanding further inquiry. The interplay between dimensionality and plane allows visitors the ability to observe different qualities in each artwork dependent upon their perspective within the gallery’s physical space. Her works (small shard) pink (2020) and (small shard) blue (2020) both suggest a composition vacillating between two- and three-dimensional space: a result of the artist’s keen grasp of sculpture as a medium in her practice.

Above and Below, Installation images from “Echo Echo” solo show by MaryKate Maher at Gold/Scopophilia. Images courtesy the artist.

“Echo Echo” is an exhibition which deftly juxtaposes sculpture against a body of collage: two-dimensional works in dialogue with the arc of space determined by Maher’s swift, organic curvatures forming the outlines of her “Shards.” Maher treats the absence of space as preciously as she delineates the changing hues and gradients of occupied space, allowing visitors to experience different artworks according to their vantage point regarding each of her sculptures, or “Shards.” She provides a similar treat for viewers encountering her “Surfaces”: each collage work creates volumes of space by carving the picture plane into light or dark hues, alternating between an absence and a presence. These self-contained, two-dimensional works enchant while also creating cavernous structures seemingly carving their own static sense of movement that exists beyond the realm of logic.

Maher’s interest in the natural world and our relationship to it is apparent not only in her “Shards” but also in her “Surfaces.” She observes our exploration of space, interrogating interlocking concepts such as form, body and landscape. “Many small movements combine to create a larger, voluminous structure,” notes Maher, and observers of her work within the space will begin to note the various elements which combine yet jostle within her collage works, in particular, forming a cohesive composition from disparate elements. The strength of Maher’s two-dimension works lies within the precarious balance these elements exert on one another, and the tension of line, form and hue that engage and delight the viewer.

“Echo Echo” exhibited at Gold/Scopophilia gallery from January 16-February 27, 2021 in Montclair, NJ. The artist holds an MFA from Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and a BFA from Arcadia University. Maher hails from Philadelphia, PA and is based in Brooklyn, NY. She has been an attending artist at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture (2008), and has exhibited with Socrates Sculpture Park, Triangle Arts Association, and many more. Keep up with her projects at https://marykatemaher.com/ .

I See You: TAFA + Tomo Mori At Home in ChaShama’s 64th Street Location

by Mariel Tepper

 

A nine-year friendship between Ghanaian-native artist TAFA and Japanese-native artist Tomo Mori forms the heart of I See You, now on view at ChaShama’s 340 E. 64th space until March 8th. As Mori notes, “I feel Tafa and I share a deeply human connection. He knows my work since I stared showing in 2011, when I didn’t know anything or anybody in the art community. I always admired his work and I am extremely honored to do this project together.”

 

“We Got You” Tomo Mori. Woven ropes made with discard T-shirts, on view in I See You

Tomo Mori’s fluid, organic fiber art sculptures are comprised of handmade ropes made from discarded and upcycled fabrics given to her by family and friends. Shown alongside  these works are TAFA’s figurative oil paintings are informed by Ghana’s sporting events, public demonstrations and musical performances. Representing the rich diversity and international voices within the New York City arts scene, TAFA and Tomo Mori draw upon distinct imagery and materials imbued with symbolic, cultural and personal meaning, as well as their shared experience as first-generation immigrants: while both of their practices focus on their homeland, they equally embrace their new role as artists residing within the United States.

Personal history and intimate familial connections through material are tenderly woven throughout Tomo Mori’s work. Ropes of discarded baby blankets join together in the artwork Eve to form a loose, heart-like or cradle-like formation, evoking the tender embrace of a mother and newborn child. The prompt, “What do you build when you are given power?” accompanies an all-ages interactive installation of fabric-covered blocks, using social consciousness and inclusivity to shift our cultural narratives about power from division to empowerment. Sanctuary, a dazzling, optically exhilarating patchwork of fabrics, incorporates a vintage kimono, highlighting the comfort, beauty and solace Mori finds within Japanese culture.

“Eve” Tomo Mori. Ropes made with discard fabrics, wire – artwork for I See You

Alongside Tomo Mori’s materiality and indirect allusions to place and cultural symbolism, TAFA’s work keeps an eye towards the ephemeral struggles and achievements that mark the human condition. Each painting appears to be in flux, undergoing a state of change, conveyed by thick, rapid brush marks across the surface and expressive, gestural figures with contorted faces in intensely physical acts. From huddled masses gathered around a football stadium to masses in silent protest, the imagery within these artworks underscores the importance of shared social traditions to unify our collective culture in moments of crisis and uncertainty. Where Mori’s works connects in physical space, TAFA’s work unite the excitement of crowds at sporting events in a shared, communal energy. His exuberant painting style captures the enthusiasm and shared sentiments among large crowds. His work shows us an artistic expression of unity. 

“March, Placard and a Song” TAFA. Oil on canvas – artwork for I See You

TAFA and Tomo Mori both approach their work with deep-rooted and complex associations on topics of heritage, history and social structures, stemming from their own experiences as immigrants in America looking back towards the culture of their homeland. I See You encourages active observation, prompting viewers to look closer at their own surroundings and form deeper connections between place and identity. 

Supported by ChaShama, the exhibition fulfills ChaShama’s promise to give artists space to present their work while fostering community development through the arts. More information on ChaShama can be found on their website. 

The following programs will continue through the exhibition until it closes on March 8th:

Artist Talk: Tuesday, February 25, 6:30 to 8:30pm

Closing Reception, Saturday, March 7, 4 to 6pm

SAT 2/22   Fabric collage workshop by Tomo Mori 2-4pm, all-ages, children with caregiver. RSVP: tomotion@gmail.com

SAT 2/29   Rope making workshop by Tomo Mori 2-4pm, all-ages, children with caregiver. RSVP: tomotion@gmail.com

SUN 3/1    Kora/Djembe Performance by West African musician, Sunday, March 1, 2-4pm

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All events are free and open to the public. Location: Chashama Space to Present at 340 E 64th St. New York, New York 10065 (ground floor)

​Regular Gallery Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11:30am to 6:30pm
Please see the exhibition website in orde to schedule an appointment to visitoutside of these hours:  https://www.tomomoriart.com/i-see-you

On the Road Series Debut Stuns at Jenkins Johnson Gallery

Vertiginous folds of fabric climb in an ambitious ascent, weaving the identity of its creator into every stitch. Basil Kincaid’s voluminous “Love As Patient As the Hillside” (2018) anchors Jenkins Johnson’s spacious first-floor gallery space for “On the Road: Caroline Kent, Basil Kincaid and Esau McGhee”. Curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah, this exhibition, on view through Jan 12, marks the first installment in the exhibition series by the curator. Referencing Jack Kerouac’s influential On the Road, Ossei-Mensah applies the concept of documenting a cross-country journey toward charting the contemporary African-American experience – beginning here with a specific lens on the Midwest. The cohort of artists on view in Jenkins Johnson’s debut “On the Road” work in St. Louis and Chicago, and have lived in and worked throughout the region.

Works by Basil Kincaid including “Love As Patient As the Hillside” (2018) (on right) Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Projects

“Approaching Kerouac’s On the Road, on this cross-country art journey I found myself asking: where are the black and brown bodies?” Ossei-Mensah, Senior Curator at Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit (MOCAD), reflects on his curatorial approach leading up to “On The Road”. In introducing the exhibit and its artists, he mentions being inspired by works by Derrick Adams and Ebony G. Patterson who exalt black bodies, portraying these figures in states of leisure and celebration. These scenes recurred to the curator as he initially viewed works by St. Louis-based Basil Kincaid. Standing in front of Kincaid’s portraits of a picnic, family members relaxing on the grass in the sun on the same quilt on view in “On the Road”, Ossei-Mensah recounts Kincaid’s emphasis on incorporating his family’s history and his own personal memories into these quilted works. This soft sculpture anchors the space, the folds of the fabric softly outlining an absent human figure, anticipating the edges of a subtle form. Kincaid’s works both reveal and conceal the human form and memories, his own and those in his immediate social circle. “Kincaid creates quilted works as portraits of his own family and markers of memory, and his collages and drawings taken in consideration alongside these quilted works express a variety of modalities. It’s important for audiences to be exposed to the breadth of his practice,” Ossei-Mensah elaborates.

Works by Esau McGhee (L and R) flank a work by Basil Kincaid (Center) for “On the Road”, Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Projects

Nearby mixed-media works masterfully contort inside their custom-built frames, wrestling against the weight of anticipated right angles with their calculated curves and bends. Wooden frames and compositions both bear witness the masterful range of Chicago-based Esau McGhee‘s practice. Working from his studio in East Garfield Park, McGhee takes his initial training in photography through the filter of working as a street artist to construct complex compositions, some with a graffiti mark-making tool, in vivid patterns and hues. Applying an intimate repetition of found pattern, McGhee combines a balanced approach to construction and composition to exquisite effect. These collages flatten notions of ownership: referencing found imagery as a diagram of public space, McGhee integrates patterns, colors and printed materials found within the mass-produced and the everyday. McGhee observes, “This collective experience that we all share with public spaces… it’s not my space, it’s not your space, it’s really ours: it’s going through an evolution as dictated by us.”

“Summer Love” (2018) and “Star Gazing” (2018) by Basil Kincaid, Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Projects

Approaching Jenkins Johnson’s lower gallery space, Ossei-Mensah expounds on his initial approach when formulating this inaugural iteration of “On the Road”. “As a curator, it’s key to find ways to challenge myself to not subscribe to a particular style,” reflects Ossei-Mensah. We take a moment to gaze around at the show before he continues, “As a project space and commercial gallery, Jenkins Johnson is the perfect place to mount “On the Road” – I’m thankful that they were willing to take a risk on a show of artists whose work audiences here may have never encountered, providing a platform for these artists in an accessible, domestic space where diverse audiences can feel a sense of belonging.”

Ruminating on the importance of crafting inter-regional dialogues with diverse artists whose work may not (yet) be featured on Artforum or headlining Christie’s auctions, Ossei-Mensah presents a measured viewpoint on why he began this series with Midwestern artists. In addition to his role building a platform for artists from across the region (and the US) at MOCAD in Detroit, he observes the area is full of sometimes overlooked talent. “Artists in the Midwest are making interesting work, and can be diamonds in the rough whose work merits new platforms. These are artists whose work shouldn’t lie undiscovered: there is a narrative guiding each artist’s body of work. These artists are all committed to their practice – what they will produce next will be truly remarkable.”

“To Summon the Objects in the Room, Pt. 2” (2018) and “Alterior Motives” (2018) by Caroline Kent Courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Projects

The final gallery yields exquisite works by artist Caroline Kent, whose work spans text and abstraction. Ossei-Mensah identifies what first caught his eye about her abstract works: the forms placed within a black ground. “Using a black ground in these works asserts her position,” notes Ossei-Mensah. Our conversation centers on the relative dearth of black women artists working in abstraction, and how by foregrounding these works within a black space the artist subtly re-orients the context of these compositions. Meanwhile, two text-based pieces nearby include the artist’s own written work, placed in dialogue with monochrome hues of paint created by the artist’s finger marks. Aspects of Kent’s identity intermingle in these works, while her larger abstract compositions evoke disparate actions and forms. Taken comprehensively, Kent’s body of work absorbs a multitude of influences while incorporating her own precise palette: what Ossei-Mensah refers to as a “a pictorial index she sees built into the world of gestures around her.” We stop in front of two works by Kent, “Carmicheal and Eloise” (2016) and “I Would Call…,” (2016), before Ossei-Mensah continues.  “Kent’s work demonstrates her commitment to pushing the limits of abstract language, with her focus on building a syntax and toolbox: a reservoir of forms and colors placed upon a black ground. When taken in context with her text-based works there exists a variety of aspects in her practice, a remarkable plurality.”

Reflecting on Kent’s practice, Ossei-Mensah inadvertently observes the power propelling “On the Road” forward. “This work pushes the visual language to its breaking point,” he observes. Works on view by Kincaid, Kent and McGhee push the envelope, breaking boundaries across mediums in a well-balanced survey of formidable contemporary artists living and working in the Midwest.