36 Views of the Lions Lair - Gary Isaacs

Life Outside The Lair

Eric G. Nord

From its creation in the mid 1820's, Katsushika Hokusai's, 36 Views of Mount Fuji, has delighted and inspired artists and art lovers throughout the world. In the two centuries since, the iconic series of woodblock prints has spawned a number of variations and spin-offs, including the equally iconic, 36 Views of the Eiffel Tower, by Henri Riviere, from 1902. However, I would be hard-pressed to identify another similar series which referentially embodies the spirit of the original, while cleverly recontextualizing its intent, as uniquely and eloquently as Gary Isaacs' current photography exhibition, 36 View of the Lion's Lair. 

Isaacs' success with his homage to this Denver dive bar and music venue, via this popular vehicle, stems primarily from his decision to employ Hokusai's concept as a technical excercise, providing him with a set of specific restrictions, within which he is able to tap a wealth of seemingly limitless possibility. Similar to the Mount Fuji series, Isaacs has chosen a particular subject — in this case, the Lion's Lair — to anchor each image within a relational framework, while including a wide range of other subjects, that upon first viewing might seem ancillary. However, as one delves into the details of each photograph, it quickly becomes evident that the subtle little idiocyncracies one discovers in each image are the true meat of the visual meal the artist is serving up, presented upon the familiar template of the Lion's Lair facade.

Like many of the businesses which popluate Denver's Colfax Avenue, infamously referred to as "the longest, wickedest street in America," the Lion's Lair boasts a facade that is evocative of a bygone era, yet feels oddly timeless as a result of its longevity. This quility has allowed Isaacs to create a body of work which seems to have been accumulated over a span of several decades, but in reality was produced over just the past six or seven years. This manipulation of time powerfully serves the entire exhibition and accompanying special edition photography book, by emphasizing the history of the Lion's Lair and it's long-lived impact upon the culture of Colfax Avenue. Time is blurred, and while a photograph may only appear to be historical, the nostalgia it evokes reinforces the true history of the building.

For me, the most significant impact of Isaacs' work comes from the wit and contradiction he has achieved in taking the "36 views" series and applying it to the mundane. Hokusai, and even Riviere, chose subject matter that was majestic - a snow-capped mountain peak, and a colossal feat of engineering. Their work explored the various aspects of life that were occurring around those important landmarks. Yet, the human-scale settings and various details seem secondary to the primary subject. Isaacs has similarly explored the various aspects of life occurring around the Lion's Lair. And while the building most certainly holds special meaning to a number of people, its existence is, more often than not, taken for granted by those who drive or walk by it on a daily basis. Isaacs provokes us to not only take notice of it, to consciously reflect on its place within Denver's culture, but to also notice and acknowledge the intimate and insignificant moments of life that are occurring around it. These are moments that we may miss or be unaware of as we pass by. Isaacs discovers their power, their poignancy, their timeless beauty.

The Dive Bar at the End of the World

Eric R. Dallimore

36 Views of the Lions Lair is just a much a portrait of Colfax as it is an homage to the greatest of Denver rock and roll dive bars. Gary Isaacs uses his adapted pre WWII 16mm lens to capture more than just bold and striking images of a favorite haunt in Denver, he captures all of the life that jostles quickly by in front of it. In the gallery, there isn’t one image of the interior of the Lair; no drunken hobos, no ladies chatting up the boys, no fist fights or laughter. It’s all about the architecture of the façade of the Lions Lair resting peacefully as the backdrop to the bustling breath of city life out front. In the book you will find one solo image of the interior of the lair, but that’s because in the corner of the image you can see the outside world.  There she sits in every image, proud and stoic with stripes of blue and gold across the roofline as life passes by on the infamous Colfax Avenue. That’s what this show is all about, Colfax and the Lions Lair, the Lions Lair and Colfax. This is street photography at its finest for Gary recognizes all of the extraordinary and beauty in the subtle motions of what passes before his eyes. These moments of exquisite and singular allure reveal themselves because Gary has put himself in the right situation for it to happen…right in front of the Lions Lair. Those citizens who were caught by Gary’s lens portray every walk of life, just as every type of person can be found drinking at the Lair (It has been creditably rumored that Governor John Hickenlooper even hangs out here).

Gary had 12 lanes of energy passing in between himself and the Lions Lair to steal images from: two lanes of people walking by on the sidewalk in front of the Lair, a parking lane, two traffic lanes heading east, one turning lane in the center, two more lanes heading west, another parking lane, and finally two more lanes for pedestrians heading up and down Colfax right in front of Gary’s favorite position (grab a pencil and draw a map, it will make sense). From these 12 intersecting lines of motion Gary sat patiently over 6 years to capture a fleeting composition.

36 Views of the Lions Lair will live on; it is a timeless collection of photographs that will never lose its power. They are also timeless in the sense that you cannot tell when these images were shot; this is Gary’s great trick. Sure, there may be one or two images with a smart car or some modern clothes in it, but there are also beautiful young afros and old middy haircuts, 50’s + 60’s era Cadillac’s, and 80’s Bonneville low-riders with gold rims. When you combine these images with Gary’s oftentimes distressed lens effects you aren’t sure what era these were shot in. Each image also has its own unique treatment to emphasis the power of the subject presented. Most photographers would never be so bold or multi-faceted to present so many styles in one art exhibition. Most photographers find a style and stick to it, sometimes for a lifetime. Gary’s work does this also, but by being honest to each image by employing a variety of hues, saturations, de-saturations, black and white, or x-ray manipulations to best convey the mood and message in each image.

Six years is a very long time to work on a single project and I salute Gary for his passion and dedication. When he presented this concept to me I thought it was the greatest honor. When we hung the show up and six years of dedication finally came to fruition, I saw Gary light up and become a playful child again. His smile was contagious and his friends and fans came out in droves to support and see his vision. This is what an art project does to artists, it can pull us in so deep for so many moons, but when we are finally finished and show it to the world, it becomes this entity, this beautiful child that we nurtured and fought for and then it is there for the rest of the world to experience, finally and forever.

 

Lament - Lauri Lynnxe Murphy

The Graceful Sorrow of  the Goose and the Moose

Eric Robert Dallimore

The beauty of Lauri Lynnxe Murphys work is her ability to allow her art to balance between graceful beauty and the grotesque; to balance between playfulness and sorrow. Throughout Lauris latest exhibition Lament, she uses paintings, sculptures, and photography to reference our addiction to oil and the devastating effects it is having on our planet. Lament is a body of work that is not spiteful, nor can it really be considered activist art. It is merely a comment and observation of our current ecological condition brought forth in the most elegant fashion.

There are all of the ingredients present within Lament for it to become the aforementioned angry, activist art: references to dying animals, iceberg and glacial imagery, oil rigs (including the Deep Water Horizon Disaster), and petroleum everywhereon everything. However, with each of these elements in this exhibition there lies Lauris delicate touch, her powerful swing of the bat, but a soft blow to the viewers senses. Bright and playful colors are carefully present next to the off-putting black and slick bitumen and resin. Lauri very nimbly walks on top of the sticky resin from which she will not let herself, or her work get bogged down in.

The show opens up with two very striking pieces: The Sound of a Blind Flight and The Physical Impossibility of Extinction in the Mind of Someone Living, two sculptures created from taxidermy animals. At the entrance, a young moose is precariously walking across a white landscape with oil dripping from its feet. The positioning of the animals quarters and its malnourished form give off the impression that this animal lives in a barren land, one that has been taken over by the oil that it is so desperately trying to avoid getting stuck in. The moose does not have a head, but a Rainbow Bright assortment of colors for an elongated neck that turns into a glowing white chandelier. The missing head does not disturb you, you may barely even notice that it is not there, for the power of the chandelier resting on top of a lake of dried, shiny, black resin is almost too beautiful to care. This broken and twisted chandelier could represent the actual antler of the animal itself, but due to the elongated neck, Lauris narrative carries you so far that you dont even look back to wonder how or why it exists. Its a new animal, born of the twisted landscapes tar sands and fracking can only produce, yet it is still of nature, so it is still full of color and beauty. Sitting just across from this piece is a taxidermy goose, with a head that is also missing; in place of the missing head there lies a trumpet bell. Behind the goose is a splatter of auroral, holy, purple powder that trickles down to the floor. This creature too must have spawned out of the wasteland of our industrial encroachment, it floundered and flied to try to survive but its death came to it against the gallery wall. The holy soul of the goose is splattered across the archway, released in a final, triumphant blast from the billowy body. The last delicate words of this creature are inscribed on the foot: be kind. Are you listening? We have deformed these creatures, yet their majestic colors do not fade, and on their way out they beg for kindness.

There is A Fine Mess within the gallery. It carries with it more shimmer and shine of petroleum and plenty of color from petrified cotton candy and thread. These macro photographs are stark and draw you directly in with the glisten of the petroleum. It lifts the chroma of the cotton candy and thread off the 2 dimensional photographic planes, floating them within its mass of billowy layers, covering some of it in the depth of the Vaseline, still visible but in a shrouded mystery of soft focus. The images are appropriately sized at 30x40 allowing for a vast work to be presented. An alluring balance is struck by presenting four of them for the exhibition at Leon.

Plastic is everywhere. You may not be aware of it, but in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there sits a gyre, a floating mass the size of Texasthe majority of the debris is made up of tiny pieces that measure in millimeters, the remains of larger objects broken down by the ocean environment. In other words, it's much more of a plastic soup than a plastic island. And it turns out there is a rather huge helping in the Atlantic Ocean, too. Lauri has created her own Gyre inside of Leon, made up from hand blown glass and a magnetic lab stirrer. Watching this small Gyre swirl and float, you can be lost in the beauty of reds, oranges, pinks, whites and blue, hypnotically floating across the white bowl. Then you remember what it represents, and you try to tell yourself not to become angry, to not go out and rent a giant speed boat and grab the biggest net you can find, and swoop this trash up because it will all be in vein. The particles are too tiny pick up; the fish are already feeding on their minuscule pieces. Dont worry, the scientists are coming up with plans to fix it. The scientists will fix it, right?

I thought I would not become worked up when writing this curators note. Lauri was able to present environmental tragedies in such an elegant fashion; I must learn to be more like her. I wish more of us were like Lauri; aware and conscious of our effects. Lauri made a very respectable and conscious decision to use the very same product in her work that she loathes, petroleum. She will not hide from the fact that she lives in todays society, that she cannot hide from the fact that it is present, it is not going anywhere, so she will embrace it and use it, as a person of modern ilk. That is also what makes this show not activist art, she knows the creation and viewing of this work will change nothing, it is simply a comment on where we are now as a society.

The 7 Iceberg Asphaltum Paintings and 5 Spills are two sets of more delicate works of art in this show. The paintings have a powdered, translucent grade YUPO backdrop to which Lauri has painted oil and bitumen on top of. The soft greys, blues, pinks, and purples create a late afternoon sunset to these glacial forms, perhaps wishing them all adieu, for they will all melt soon and these monoliths of ice and rock will sink back into the ocean. I must give a nod to my co-curator Eric Nord for recognizing the power of hanging these pieces according to their horizon lines; this curation creates a magnificent display of imagery. Sitting next to them, the 5 Spills are perfect little tragic worlds, places where rivers of oil spills move across sandy landscapes. Its as if Lauri took a small slice of a Los Angeles waterway, a small puddle of water underneath a broken power line across the empty Midwest, or a broken carnival at Christmas and placed it upon the gallery walls. The shadows beneath this set of sculptures potently mimic the 7 Iceberg Asphaltum Paintings (once again, hats off to Mr. Nord for this discovery).

A small dream was finally realized for Lauri with the opening of Lament. Lauri told us that she always had a specific concept in mind, but never executed it. She wanted to create a pile of resin antlers, stacked tall and interlaced with one another. This vision was finally realized at Leon with the creation of Ghost. The individual antlers come together as a nest, a collection of twisted lines cast in clear acrylic and milky white. Ghost reminds me of the old black and white images of the great buffalo slaughters. Ghost is a Wild West where the buffalo no longer roam.

Where Ghost is the remnants of a trophy animal, Kodiak is a once mighty beast that has been reduced to a slumbering version of itself. Oil is seeping from the head, neck, and eyes, with two beautiful drops of drool hanging from the mouth. Kodiaks expression is almost begging for mercy or help. Much like The Sound of a Blind Flight and The Physical Impossibility of Extinction in the Mind of Someone Living, Kodiak is an animal transformed because of oil abuse and greed. A grove of trees grows from the head which also makes the piece seem as if it is a representation of the spirit of a mountain. The spirit of the mountain was that of a great ancient bear from which the forest grew, from which he hunted and in turn protected. In order to protect his forest, he has allowed it to grow from his own body. He has lifted it as high as he can and as far away from the oil as he can carry it, but it is leeching too quickly through his skin. He cannot protect the forest for much longer; the oil has grown too powerful and too widespread. Perhaps that is what he is begging for, a new protector of the forest. 

A large part of Lauri Lynnxe Murphys work over the years has had to do with bees. She has given her artwork over to bees to allow them to create honey combs over them. She has collected dead bees and honeycomb fragments as she has collaborated with them and found new uses for them. Frozen is made from a rare moment in a bee colony. When the temperatures drop low so suddenly, bees will dive into the comb surrounded by one another seeking warmth. These impeccably preserved corpses are eternally frozen in this dire state and Lauri has placed them atop a resin glass with elegance and poise. The textures of the honey comb, the black death of the corpse of the bees, and the hard striations of the resin glass work well together. Its an odd pairing, but Frozen is a great link between her past work and her present show.

Several of the works in the show were born out of the process of another piece or created using the detritus from a work of art. The 12 Oil Slick Collages came about from such a process. These abstract paintings are created from bitumen that flows across arches paper like aerial photographs of rivers and valleys. Some have a rainbow slick that you would find in an oil spill. They remind me of the media coverage from the Deep Water Horizon disaster, the holographic shine of the oil across the waters surface. Sitting just across from these is a reference to that exact disaster from Lauris Doilies of Imminent Destruction series. The two present at Leon (Crystal Clear and Deepwater Target) are created from borax crystals and plastic bags, respectively.  Though the borax crystals arent poisonous, one cant help but feel like they are deadly (much like the dispersants used after the Deepwater Horizon disaster). The plastic used in Deepwater Target are from plastic bags and the Target logo can brilliantly be seen all over the delicate lacing of this laser cut work of art. The other bags used in this piece melt into a soft hue of blues and pinks. Sitting beneath the Doilies are three Oilglobes, a clever reference to the snow globes we all played with as children. Oil and water do not mix and this interactive work of art mesmerizes as the oil floats across the surface of the trapped water. Again, I cannot help but to think about all of that oil floating around the Gulf of Mexico after the BP disaster.

Perhaps the cleverest title in the show is The Ass End of a Painful Situation, the back half of a taxidermy Nyala, its body hollowed out and filled with a forested mountain landscape with a single oil derrick placed within and is illuminated by a bare light bulb. The oil from the derrick is seeping down the valley within the body cavity like a river and a single drop gathers on the wood stand below. The Ass End of a Painful Situation is the most direct reference in the show to the destruction our greed for oil is causing. I am glad that Lauri made such a direct comment. I enjoy the beauty of each piece and its elegant and sometimes abstract reference to oil, but in this moment, I am glad she put it out right there in front for us. The directness in the piece also comes from the use of a red paint on the interiorthere are no rainbows here, no glitter, and no happiness. Its a gutsy, frank and forward piece of art.

Lauri Lynnxe Murphy’s voice is more powerful than ever, so I hope you are paying attention. You do not want to miss out on anything this brilliant artist has to offer. With Lament, she was able to experiment and stretch out her artistic limbs. I think she realized that she can reach much as far as she knew she could, Lauri is a jovial and confident artist.  She will continue to present her work with grace and dignity, and will always be true to her artistic genius. It has been the greatest honor to work with Lauri to present Lament.

 

Ms. Murphy's Curious Emporium of Conspicuous Oil Consumption

Eric G. Nord

In order to successfully discuss Lauri Lynnxe Murphy's art, and her most recent exhibition, Lament, I feel the need to first address the subject of the artist, herself. A while back, Ms. Murphy shared with me that a colleague had once called her an artist's artist. A distinction that she felt was both exceedingly honorable and subtly dubious. And while I am sympathetic to her concerns, that success can be elusive, often late in arriving, or even posthumous, for those whose work might be admired more by their peers than by the public at large, I have to take this moment to reassure her of the tremendous appeal of her work, and remind her of the level of honor that moniker bestows. In my opinion, she is an artist's artist because she is an individual whose artistry is expressed through every single atom of her being. It is not a past-time, a dabbling, an interest, a vocation, nor even a "profession," for Ms. Murphy. Art, for Lauri, is as inherent as breathing; it, quite literarily, is.

Taking the above into consideration, I hope I am able to do justice in discussing her work through explaining my very personal experience with it.

Murphy begins her exhibition, Lament, with a striking installation piece which, not only sets the mood and defines the subject of this body of work, but slyly references another work, offering a critique of artistic fame, and implying an entirely different type of lament. The Physical Impossibility of Extinction in the Mind of Someone Living, a riff on the title of Damien Hirst's iconic shark, is a captivating, deceptively simple, yet surprisingly complex, psychological work. Murphy has taken the taxidermy form of a young moose, stretched and extended its neck with a rainbow-colored, malleable tube, and replaced its head with a chandelier, lying in a pool of oil (represented by a petroleum-based black resin.) For me, the piece addresses our dependency on energy, as well as our act of distancing ourselves from the results and repercussions of that dependency. The chandelier, which remains lit for the entirety of the exhibition's run, is not directly connected to the animal form. Instead, it is limply placed upon the floor, unable to be supported upright by the animal's long, candy-colored, serpentine neck. We, as a culture, obliviously consume tremendous amounts of energy, while somewhere far away, beyond our immediate concern, a young moose trudges through a barren, snow covered landscape, its legs piercing the crust and dredging up sticky, black oil, that drips from its hooves. In a particular small detail, Murphy has succeeded in creating a hair-thin tendril of oil which connects the rear hoof to a pool forming below it. The detail is both achingly fragile and immensely powerful, qualities I find to be apt descriptions for much of Ms. Murphy's fine work. With regards to the artist's Hirst reference, I see it as a critique of artistic fame, and its ability to deceive the lucky recipient into believing they are immune to becoming obsolete, losing their relevancy. In contrast, throughout her Lament, Murphy's relevance is very apparent to me.

Lament is a unique exhibition for Ms. Murphy, and exemplary of a new direction for the artist, though not through any change in her artistic process or output, but in the inclusion of a wide array of her work that, in the past, was often overlooked or ignored by gallerists and curators. Murphy is an explorer, who will find purchase in a concept, then thoroughly investigate a myriad of artistic possibilities. She is fearless in her utilization of materials, and tireless in her experimentation. In preparation for the upcoming launch of her Tiny House Project, Murphy has been evaluating her usage of petroleum-based products throughout her daily life as well as in her artistic process. By analyzing her own dependency, she has come to realize just how pervasive these oil-based materials are within our contemporary culture. This, understandably, has created a certain degree of cognitive dissonance in her practice, yet has allowed her to come to terms with this contradiction by embracing the use of these materials in order to make a statement about our dangerously casual use of them.

Lament includes a variety of sculptural installations, paintings, and photographs, that all incorporate some type of petroleum-based material. From micro-digital photographs of petrified cotton candy suspended in petroleum jelly, to laser-cut plastic Target bags, to mono-prints of bitumen - a printmaking substance retrieved from the Tar Sands - on arches cover, Murphy has created a variety of provocative images that strike a skillful balance between aesthetic appeal and substantive content. Visitors of the gallery are often first struck by the disparity of the work, sometimes assuming they've wandered into a group show, yet through their process of discovery, quickly realize the true cohesiveness of the artist's work, and the impressive dexterity with which she is able to successfully articulate her ideas through the various media.

In addition to the first work I mentioned, there are several other works within Lament that I feel are standouts, based on what I have witnessed through the public's reactions, as well as my own attraction to them. Crystal Clear, is a wood laser-cut depiction of the Deepwater Horizon, the site of BP's infamous and disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Murphy has treated the surface of the wood, allowing Borax crystals to form. Borax can be used as a mild detergent to clean up oil spills and stains. The delicate precision of the laser-cut image belies the enormous destructive mess its subject released upon our environment.

Occupying the center of the gallery is, Kodiak, a sculptural work composed of a taxidermy bear head with gauges taken out of its face, and on which Murphy has created a diorama of a forest, with oil (black resin) emerging from beneath, pooling, and dripping down the sides of the form, while two hand-blown, glass droplets of drool hang from its mouth. Though more direct in its expression of the artist's theme, I find that it succeeds in capturing the imagination, perhaps through its sense of playfulness and use of humor, despite the clarity of its foreboding message.

Of all the work included in Lament, The Ass End of a Painful Situation, appears to be the work that resonates the strongest with most visitors. Within the hind quarters of a Nyala - an antelope-like animal from Southern Africa - Murphy has created another diorama of a forest, in which a derrick is pumping oil to the surface, covering the landscape in black tar, and dripping out of the animal onto the pedestal below. The back wall of the animal's interior appears similar to intestines, imagery that is also prevalent in the artist's bitumen mono-prints previously mentioned. For me, the appeal of this work is in its evocation of an oddity one might find in an old curio shoppe. It also recalls the dark mahogany walls of a study in a large mansion owned by a Victorian-era oil or railroad Baron, littered with the taxidermy remains of exotic animals, and the scale models of his industrial holdings. It is one of the most disturbing, and yet, most fascinating works in the exhibition.

In its entirety, Lament, is an art exhibition of great breadth and depth in its materiality, yet possessing a definitive focus in its subject matter. Similar to the plethora of oil-based products we regularly employ within our lives, Murphy has provided a wide array of provocative artworks that reflect and reinforce this pervasiveness. The aesthetic beauty of her work parallels the seductive appeal of these toxic products and our reliance upon them. She successfully captures the imagination of the viewer through her explorations, her inventiveness, her playfulness and wit, while never losing site of the implicit seriousness at the core of her reasons for these lamentations. 


 

The New Patriot -Jared David Paul Anderson

Tough Love

Eric G. Nord

The New Patriot, is arguably Jared David Paul Anderson’s most ambitious and courageous art exhibition to date. Investigating the loaded question of what it means to be a patriotic American in our modern society, with its highly bipartisan climate, he has succeeded in offering a series of iconic images that transcend politics and party affiliation, reminding the viewer that our country’s uniqueness is born from the diversity of our individual circumstances realized within our shared cultural experiences. While Anderson’s previous work has centered largely on artistic process and action painting, his new work incorporates rich story telling, personal history, and conceptual elements, which add humor, irony, and pointed (though never strident) criticisms, creating an exciting exhibition that is controversial, provocative, and ultimately, deeply rewarding on multiple levels. 

Upon entering, visitors to the gallery are confronted by, and make eye contact with, an enormous taxidermy buffalo head. Combined with a corresponding buffalo skull hung directly across from it, they create a threshold through which the visitor must pass in order to enter the main gallery space. Death of an American Martyr, defines the exhibition space both physically and metaphorically. By using the iconic image of the buffalo (an animal that Anderson’s father harvested in South Dakota and subsequently fed his family) the artist creates a “sacred space” in which visitors are asked to confront their personal understanding of mortality, while exploring issues surrounding patriotism and our country’s obsession with the cult of celebrity. The skull, which, in reality, is the skull from the very same buffalo, glares directly at its former self, while the buffalo head averts its gaze, unable to confront the reality of its own demise. For me, this is the artist’s criticism of our contemporary American culture, and our unwillingness to face the issues which threaten the wellbeing of our society. Installed on the wall beneath the buffalo head are a series of “bones”, made from fragments of tree branches, painted with white, black, and gold, representing the skeleton of the animal, and further emphasizing the sacred by invoking a burial site.

Once inside, viewers are treated to a series of three exceptional prints, All Too Human #1, #2, & #3, which utilize gold, white, and blue pigment powder on handmade paper. In the prints, Anderson has employed a simplified graphic representation of the American flag, composed in a “golden ratio” or “golden rectangle” spiral of decreasing sizes. The golden rectangle is an aesthetic and mathematic ideal, expressing the infinite reiteration of the original aspect ratio. So, no matter how small the image may become, it repeats the same ratio of height to width. Each frame contains a significant amount of pigment powder which appears to have fallen from the printed surface and collected at the bottom. For me, this brings to my mind that ever-popular jingoistic cliché, “these colors don’t run,” yet implies that despite the deep sentiment inherent in individuals who wrap themselves in the flag, there is still a certain amount of debris, or detritus, which results from our egregious and often misdirected use of its symbolism. Worth noting is the artist’s omission of the color red, replacing it instead with gold. I find this to be a provocative suggestion that what once represented our blood, our passion and willingness to sacrifice for our ideals, has now been replaced by materiality, through our greed and capitalist obsession with perpetual profit.

Inhabiting the center of the gallery is a three dimensional sculpture that bears the same title as the overall exhibition, The New Patriot. The sculpture is another rectangular form, constructed of various pieces of found lumber. Anderson has arranged the work so that the viewer first encounters a side which is burnt and charred black. They also experience the pungent fragrance of fire. As they move around the piece, they are able to view the opposite side, which is white-washed, with a very subtle application of blue and red pigment powder that invokes the flag symbol once again. The work provokes two antithetical, but equally important possibilities in my mind. First, the act of protest by burning the American flag, and Second, the concept of a new flag emerging from the ashes and charred remains of a previous incarnation of the flag.

Another small gem within the exhibition, often missed by visitors because of its location to the side of the gallery entrance, is a video installation titled, “Iowa.” The work is a  looping video, comprised of short clips appropriated from several movies including, Boyz In The Hood, and The Bridges Of Madison County. The clips feature the actors, Ice Cube, Lawrence Fishburn, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Clint Eastwood, respectively, making statements in which the iconic middle-America state is named. Anderson is creating a clever and nuanced juxtaposition, by highlighting the word, but referenced in two very different contexts. It invokes the racial struggles we continue to encounter in our culture, by not only emphasizing the differences between white and black, but also the divide between the inner city and the wide expanses of the Great Plains.

Throughout the exhibition, Anderson employs a variety of iconic American themes, among them, the buffalo, the flag, the actor James Dean, the movie Easy Rider, the stories of writer Jack London, boxing, and the Apollo space program. In his artist’s statement, he suggests that “we are who we were,” reiterating that message in the work by referencing his personal ancestry as well as our collective memories. Though he challenges our perception of the idea of patriotism, his ideas are expressed in a voice that is clearly constructive and positive, even when tinged with an element of “tough love.”   
 

 

In Search of America
Eric R. Dallimore


America is undoubtedly in an interesting time right now. We all have something to say about the woes we are facing as a nation: from the debt crisis, to politics, religion, wars, environmentalism, and so on and on and on. One would think that a show titled The New Patriot would be a vast complaint presented through art on the angst that is stirring in the red, white, and blue pot. These however are not the concerns of Jared David Paul Anderson. In his second show at Leon, Jared has asked us to take a step back for a moment, and go deeper into our own personal lives than these political tensions to explore a wilder, more rustic view of what it means to be a new patriot. 


The central theme of this exhibition is an offering from Jared’s personal narrative of how to be a new patriot, but Jared also uses this exhibition to point out the ways we have not been patriotic.   So is the case with the first piece at the front of the gallery, viewable from 17th Avenue.  “Dump Koch” is about Mayor Ed Koch of New York City who was a lifelong Democrat who described himself as a “liberal with sanity”.  Jared’s piece however points out one of his more insane ideas; to release wolves in the subways of New York City in order to curb graffiti. Graffiti writers across the city began spray painting the words “Dump Koch” all over the subways in response to his ludicrous plan. Jared transforms the entrance of the gallery into a small scene depicting a five legged wolf lurking behind barb wire and bricks with the tag “Dump Koch” spray painted on canvas in an 80’s graffiti style. The body of the wolf has been painted on a canvas, but his head comes to life in the form of a taxidermy coyote that Jared’s own father shot. 


One of my personal favorites in the show is “The Boss” a collaborative piece created from Stephen Daniel Karpik’s boxing glove painted white with the words “The Boss” written on it. Every person needs to be able to stand tall and know that they are their own boss and sometimes you may need to dawn a boxing glove to let other people know it too. I also believe that the words could refer to art being the boss. The height of the boxing glove sitting on top of a pine tree trunk, which has been painted white to match the glove, gives off an air or regalness and triumph. It also suggests to me the meteoric rise in his career that Jared is experiencing right now. Jared has produced a lot of work this year and I don’t see any evidence of him slowing down. “The Boss” stands in front of a photograph of an Apollo space shuttle taking off, which also adds to the feeling of forward and upward momentum. The significance of this awkward curation (the photograph is partially blocked by the sculpture and viewers are forced to peer around the sculpture to fully see the photograph) is to create an emotional direct link from Jared’s passion as an artist to his father’s passion as an engineer and scientist who helped to build the engines on several of the Apollo missions. Jared references his father a lot in this show, there is a beautiful narrative throughout several pieces that translate to the importance of family. I would have to agree with Jared that family is important and it truly is touching to see Jared’s tributes to his own father, who passed away suddenly a few years ago and it seems that in way, this show is a dedication to his pops and the man that Jared has become because of his father’s teachings. 


Jared has made another elegant sculpture piece, which is a new medium for this artist, made from manufactured 2x4 lumbers. The physicality of this piece creates a lumbering flag, one that is stoic and has a weighted bulk to it, carrying a lot of secrets and regrets. Inside all of that bulk lies all of the past troubles of America and the future potential of what America can be. To represent this, one side of the sculpture is scorched, burned down several inches into the sculpture, proving that Jared is ready to burn deep into America’s thick skin to purify it’s beautiful core. The other side of the sculpture is painted white with blue pigment exploding in a burst of stars like a big bang birthing a new universe. There are faint hints of the red revealing itself between the layers of 2x4’s, as if this moment of rebirth is just happening and it will take us some time to truly radiate with our rich USA red colors again. It now seems that our once bold colors have faded due to disastrous foreign and national policies, but these colors will shine bright again with a cleansing. This new phase of patriotism will need some time to prove itself, mature, and move beyond the terrible mistakes of our past.


Jared has always worked with handmade tools, ancient inks, and traditional mediums, so for his first film, it is no surprise that Jared turned to using Super 8mm film. Jared has created an installation of 9 old televisions showing flash moments from a film he shot this past winter with John Hennan, based on Jack London’s short story, To Build a Fire. Jared’s film is the culmination of all of the separate statements held within The New Patriot exhibition. This story is about a stubborn man who despite the warnings from an old man, decides that he will walk 9 hours in negative artic temperatures to get to another campfire to eat meat with his friends. Along this journey, the man is full of several mistakes which will prevent him from making it to his goal. It is the man’s mistakes in the short story that Jared points out to paralleling our current mistakes as faltering patriots. Through this film, Jared begs us to return to nature to understand bliss again, but we will need to have perseverance and imagination to do so. Jared’s acting in this film is emotional and natural, perhaps it is because Jared was raised here in Colorado and like a true Colorado mountain man, is most at home in nature. Perhaps it is because Jared truly does believe that we have become wimps in our society and we need to return to nature to remember how to survive, to fight, and to build a fire again. It is a journey that requires us to have friends and companions along the way if we are to succeed; it is foolish to go out on this new journey alone. Jared’s costar in this film is his very own, majestic, pure white, half wolf half dog, Malachi. There is a beautiful relationship full of kindred love between this dog and his owner, but given that Malachi is wilder than he is tame, he comes across as perfectly at home in the waste deep snow that they are trotting through. These two characters perfectly play the role of civility and primitive, Jared’s two favorite themes. Through his portrayal, I sometimes don’t know who is more wild, the half wolf-half dog or Jared?

 
There are several interactive art pieces in this show, pieces which allow us to deal with our feeling about America in two separate ways. In the back of the gallery, Jared has offered an altar for us to pray at for our future and to beg forgiveness for our past. Visitors are invited to light a candle for their lost brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers, and a place to place a coin or an apple, in offering to the wild gods that our course be set straight, that our prayers be answered, and mercy be placed upon our souls. Several photos of Indian warriors have been painted on and placed at the altar, referring to a time in our history for which we should hold no pride for our ancestor’s treatment of Native Americans. Several other artifacts adorn the piano turned altar, from Mexican figurines (in response to our current mistakes on immigration), leather collars representing oppression, photographs of Billy’s motorcycle crashed on the ground from Easy Rider, as well as old Fanta and Pepsi cans, dented and rusting, as if they were unearthed from Jared’s grandfathers land. Perhaps the most peculiar piece on the piano is a pure magnesium ball the size of a softball that has been painted gold with a number of ‘googly-eys’ attached to it and a mouth. This odd little creature that came from the ocean floor seems to be the temple spirit, the one who will float around and hear your prayers and grant your wishes. It also adds an air of playfulness to this installation, which is helpful to break up the solemn spirit of the piece. Overall, this shrine is an honest lament for the past and is a beautiful testament to Jared’s prayers that this country be healed.


Sometimes you need an outlet besides prayers and forgiveness, sometimes this country makes us so mad that we just want to punch something. Jared’s second interactive piece hangs from the ceiling of Leon and is a bronze sheet, covered in a patina representing a series of flags in the “golden ratio” (also present in the All Too Human paintings) and a pair of boxing gloves with an “X” on the left glove and an “O” on the other. This flag is your punching ground for taking out all of your woes and anger you have with Little Miss America. The piece roars and crashes like a symbol when punched, as if America herself is crying and moaning at you for taking out your anger on her…but she deserves it. She made you pay too many taxes (bam), she doesn’t support education enough (boom), she is a greedy and has spent over $1.57 trillion on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (smack!), she is an oil hungry lady who respects corporations more than she does her own citizens (pow!). These are actually words overheard this month when patrons stepped into the gallery, several of whom dented the sheet of bronze and one feisty soul who knocked the piece off the wall. Look out lady liberty; you’re losing friends left and right. 


Jared David Paul Anderson is truly in a moment of brilliance in his art right now. He is exploring new themes in his work that seem to be coming from the deepest part of his spirit. His work is honest, courageous, bold, and becoming more mature and refined. Jared proves that he really is a patriot; he cares about this country more than most. To represent his truest thoughts Jared is exploring new mediums and breaking free from his comfort zone of sumi ink paintings. This show makes me want to pray to the little gold covered magnesium god, that he will allow me to jump forward a few years to see what else Jared will create and have to say in his art. I don’t think that I can wait for his next art show to see what he will create next. 

 

Nothing is Yours to Keep -Travis Hetman

We are all in this together

Eric R. Dallimore

 

The black void of space is bigger than we can fathom. The infinite realms of possibilities within this void are more than our minds can imagine. Across this expansive, empty mass, time and matter behave in ways that baffle the most brilliant physicists. In Nothing is Yours to Keep, Travis Hetman offers us a glimpse into a beautiful, unifying theory that all of that floating star matter is actually us, that the time we inhabit now is not separate from the time that our grandparents and ancestors lived in. You and I are not separate; the computer screen you are reading this on is also you and is the acrylic paint and the doorknob across the room.

In his major installation, Dark Matter Gathering, an assemblage of over 300 found black and white photographs Travis has offered a seemingly infinite universe that reads like an American folklore meets the Twilight Zone. These appropriated antique photographs in one way feel like your family’s long lost photo album, or when seen in another way they appear to be an alternate universe that operates parallel to our own. In each photograph, tiny little universes appear, suggesting that the thin veil between our universe and other universes is everywhere around us. Where this dark matter appears, the laws of our known world fade way, causing the images to rearrange in surprising fashion. Through the careful and meticulous placement of each of his tiny dark matter clusters, group photographs and landscapes become a stage where nothing is separate, yet an infinite realm of possibilities exist. In a brilliant stroke of poetry, Travis has installed this massive collection of photographs to begin as nothing and end in a pile of disassembling nothingness on the gallery floor. Travis is a researched artist who is demonstrating the theory of an expanding universe that will eventually collapse on itself, both literally and figuratively.

Throughout the exhibition Travis uses the gallery space itself as a demonstration of his thesis: that we are all one and the tiny particles that unify us are all around us. The archway becomes another portal into another universe, dissected by a line that stops at a specific point, like a watermark after a flood, covering portraits of long lost strangers halfway to three quarters in pure dark abyss. This watermark of a galactic void is beautifully echoed on a pillar inside of the main gallery space. (I can’t help but be amazed at the haunting familiarity of this watermark to the one I experienced in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina).  A rip in the ceiling has playfully been turned into another cosmic gap, with a ladder falling from the ceiling that is just out of your reach, suggesting that a portal to another universe is within our vision, but just beyond our grasp.

Another theme that has been present in Travis’s work is the baseball player from a bygone era. Travis uses these players like the players of the game of life itself. Being a man from the Midwest, these simple American icons speak directly to Travis’s upbringing while simultaneously reflecting his understanding that all of this life, as serious and as beautiful as it all is, is in essence one big game in which we are the players on a cosmogonic stage.

In a series of hyper realistic graphite and acrylic drawings Travis playfully uses phrases taken from Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and poses them with images of weapons and marble like portraits of famous stoics and philosophers. When these three elements are combined they force you to realize that even the most powerful and brilliant of philosophers and philosophies are nothing more than an inflated ego. The opus of this powerful notion is in the three largest pieces in this show: Just Add Water, Beyond Good and Evil to the West, and Beyond Good and Evil to the East. This series could be seen as individual pieces or as a triptych which serve to examine the petri dish of thought, were both the absurd and the highest intellect came from, expanding to the farthest borders of where the human mind can reach, a place of both danger and caution as exemplified by the two sharks swimming menacingly along its borders that break down into the dark, galactic matter present in all of the other works across the show.

Nothing is Yours to Keep is a remarkable reminder to all of us to rethink our place in the universe, to rethink time, matter, and reality itself. Travis Hetman’s body of work is meticulously crafted, immensely intelligent, yet very approachable. Every one of his pieces in this show can and must be viewed in multiple ways. Be it with humor, wonderment, skeptical curiosity, or pure child-like imagination; come to this exhibition with an open mind to look at our world in the reflection of an infinite and vast multiverse full of possibilities, truths, and facades.

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It Does Not Matter

Eric Gustaf Nord

 

I imagine that, given the task of expressing the enormity of the universe as well as the impermanence of human life, many artists would either suffer from grandiose delusions in a foolish attempt to exact the infinite on a monumental scale, or end up miring themselves in a morose sentimentality of loss and regret. Not so with Travis Hetman. His smart, succinct exhibition, “Nothing is Yours to Keep,” tackles these subjects with subtle grace, impeccable craft, and a sharp-tongued wit.

Hetman is an immensely talented draftsman, possessing not only a dexterous skill to rival the very best of illustrators, but also an investigative mind that grapples with deep philosophical concerns, elevating his accomplished work to the realm of first class, fine art. Instead of falling prey to predictable artistic pitfalls, as previously mentioned, Hetman manages to articulate the pervasiveness of space and the transience of existence in a series of works so delicate and precise that I am compelled to invoke the age-old question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”

Some would argue that contemplating such a rhetorical, theoretical, or quasi-theological question is a colossal waste of time. In fact, our modern society has appropriated that very question from centuries past, and reintroduced it into our contemporary lexicon, for the express purpose of criticizing and condemning the impracticality of such lines of thought. However, those who would do so, completely miss the point, so to speak. So, what is my point?

The purpose of that seemingly ridiculous question is not to extract some methodical numeration or calculated guess. The answer is of no consequence. Instead, like Hetman’s work, it is a vehicle of perceptual transformation, positioning us between the ubiquitous and the elusive, between the mundane and the sublime. Hetman’s altered photographs allow us to capture a glimpse of what lies outside our limited vision and beyond our determinate life span. Like the very best poetry, his art can open our minds to the illimitable expanse which lies between individually articulated words, or allow us to feel the potent silence which underscores all existence.

At Hetman’s opening reception, a few people asked me to explain the connection between the three distinct sections of the exhibition: the “Dark Matter Gathering” installation, the “Baseball” images, and the “Philosophers” images. Following is my personal experience and understanding of each and how they interrelate.

In “Dark Matter Gathering,” the vintage photographs that Hetman has appropriated and altered, evoke in me a sense of nostalgia, and recall certain memories of my family. I feel a strong affinity with many of the images. Exploring all 300 of them, I remembered relatives who have passed, or candid moments from my childhood. However, I also enjoyed another, larger experience through Hetman’s thematic explorations, e.g. the calculated obliteration of faces, the clever unveiling of celestial curtains, the insertion of imposing, perspectival monoliths, all expertly integrated into each photograph in a wide variety of unique ways. Utilizing repetition, Hetman removes all personal sentiment, and imbues the installation with a humbling, yet comforting acknowledgement of our collective mortality. Through theme and variation upon variation, his images reminded me of the cyclical nature of our existence, from our celestial origin to the mysterious realm of our unavoidable fate.

The “Baseball” works also invoke nostalgia, incorporating both uniforms from the past, as well as the iconic shape of the team pennant. The theme of dark matter from the installation is repeated in the gloves or cleats of the players, while hands, arms, and torsos disappear within complex geometric mosaic medallions. The monolith reappears in two images as a reversed white void, punctuating a frozen moment of physical action with a startling shock of emptiness. The plywood pennants emblazoned with the deprecating phrase, “You’re never going to make it,” seem cynically comical, but belie their true intent. Taking his inspiration from a “lullaby” by the sumptuously guttural Tom Waits, Hetman is playfully juxtaposing the goal-driven mindset of competitive sports with the all-too-human condition of insatiability. We humans are never truly satisfied, and therefore, always in pursuit of something else, something more, cursed with the burden of never achieving absolute fulfillment.

Lastly, the “Philosophers” images address issues of human flaws and fallibility. Five small portraits of classic Greek philosophers are paired with five weapons of violence and five short phrases taken from Nietzsche, expressing what he believed was the primary failure of each of their respective philosophies. I am provoked to imagine the words of these great, though fallible, philosophers, being manipulated and turned into weapons, antithetical to their original intent. The central triptych of the exhibition explores the journey from natural law (the outward edges reintroduce the dark matter theme as a dark ocean from which fearsome sharks emerge) toward another jumbled geometric mosaic where the social relevance of stoicism and the socratic method are overshadowed by the cartoon antics of Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and Tom and Jerry. For me, this implies both the comical dysfunction of philosophy within the noise and clutter of contemporary society, as well as the underlying philosophies one is capable of gleaning from the unlikely origins of the cartoon storyboards of Disney, Warner Brothers, and Hanna Barbera.

Throughout Hetman’s exhibition the dark matter theme permeates his work, sometimes as the primary focus, and other times as subtle references of our universal commonality. As a whole, I feel the work addresses three activities that we, as humans, participate in, hoping to compensate for our lack of control over natural forces: the documentation of our lives, the involvement in simple games that provide us with definitive outcomes, and the construction of theoretical principals of behavior through which we hope to achieve desired results. Despite our attempts to mold our realities and stubbornly hold on to fleeting moments as though they were immutable absolutes, Hetman skillfully reminds those who view his artwork that, in the end, it does not matter, and “Nothing is Yours to Keep.”