On view through January 28, 2012
by Eva Piatek
Although Bambi Gallery owner Candace Karch saw closing the space at the Piazza last spring as an opportunity for a much needed break, she bounced back onto the arts scene in no time, most recently curating Bambi’s first “pop-up” show, Lovely Things, on view at Projects Gallery until January 28. Karch hand-picked four different artists who each work in different media for the show as promising Philadelphia up-and-comers: Bonnie Brenda Scott, Jim Garvey, Stacey Lee Webber, and Matthew Osborn.
Immediately upon entering the gallery, the work of Matthew Osborn floods the eyes, as more than fifty sketches and paintings have been tacked and hung all over the first room. Osborn’s work illustrates the conflicting facets of human identity, typically featuring macabre and cartoon-like creatures that perhaps reference the psyche’s constant tug of war with inner demons. In Beelzebub, for example, the face of one of these half-human, half-monster characters is paired with Osborn’s own writing, humorously egging on the viewer to “Just drink, and I’ll do the rest.” Ranging from soft-colored paintings to scratchy ink doodles that could have been torn directly from the pages of a sketchbook, his execution varies in the works, but he repeats images like skulls, baboons, spades, owls, and striped-shirts. I found the baboon-faced humans funny; their striped faces, appearing like masks, were like satirical depictions of two-faced individuals. The humor of Osborn’s work also manifests on a wall that consists entirely of stained, water-logged drawings, ironically placed around an actual typed notice warning Osborn to pay his water bill before his service gets shut off. I could not help but relate these pages to Bambi Gallery’s flooding incident, as if to suggest something good can emerge from even the worst possible situation. The damage has become part of the creation, as the case with Marcel Duchamp’s shattered The Large Glass residing in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In the next room, the metalwork of “Coin smith” Stacey Lee Webber takes the stage. From my days working at Bambi, I have only ever seen her art in the form of meticulously crafted jewelry made from recycled and transformed American coins. In the gallery, they take on a simplified level of beauty, each piece elegantly plated with black rhodium and framed in handmade maple and acrylic shadow boxes, which she has arranged in a systematic straight line around the room. Among these boxed treasures are three works from her Craftsmen Series, straightforwardly titled Clamp, Mallet, and Wrench, which are precisely what these pieces depict. Composed entirely of pre-1982 pennies, perhaps for the malleability of their pure copper content when exposed to higher temperatures, these sculptures inspire wonder and awe at her flawless craftsmanship while glorifying the beauty of the coin. Pennies, the bane of every wallet’s existence, are not even taken seriously as currency anymore. By manipulating them, Webber puts these pennies in a new perspective. No longer are they looked down upon as “loose change;” instead, they are elevated to items worth holding onto for their aesthetic value, not monetary one. This, in turn, challenges the typical view of the tool, shifting it from an object of function to an object of aesthetic beauty. Blue-collar workers and the tools they use are a recurring theme in Webber’s art. The tools they use to create can be appreciated as creations themselves.
Moving to the very end of the gallery, I was taken aback by Bonnie Brenda Scott’s vivid installation, which transforms the back room into another world. Complete with neon paint, shards of Plexiglas, LED lights, an eerie shadow projection of a dangling hand, and a misshapen figure sprawled out in the center of the room, the installation resembled a cross between a mysterious fantasy land and a crime scene. Two outlines of triangles face each other from opposite walls in the room. They reminded me of thaumaturgic triangles, which are occult symbols often placed near ritual sites to cast spells or summon demons. One is contained within an image of two hands forming their own triangle, out of which bursts a river of cut-out skulls and glass-like shards tufted with LED lights. Four floating palms, surrounding the triangle on the other end of the room, are each pierced by the lights in a way that resembles stigmata, which elevates the work to a spiritual level. Given Scott’s preoccupation with mutation, imperfections, and the human form, these magical “wounds” seem appropriate.
Scott’s on-site wall paintings, made with a condenser, and the distorted Plexiglas figure titled New Dawn Fades, are colored with neon forms that resemble winding intestines. In drawing attention to human biological nature, these works also reference its other inner nature–that which deals with the emotional and spiritual. The visceral nature of Scott’s work certainly relates to Osborn’s, since they both share the concern for the multiple dimensions of our inner being, which can be simultaneously beautiful and horrifying.
When I asked Candace why she felt it was appropriate to show all of these artists together, she suggested that it fell into place from gathering artists with whom she had either previously worked or wanted to work, and that all of them complemented each other in one way or another. Candace described the relation between Scott and Osborn, for example, as “the 3D to his 2D.” Similarly, Jim Garvey’s site-specific installation pairs well with Webber’s metalwork, since they both deal with themes of industry. Like Webber, Garvey re-contextualizes another worker’s tool: the wooden ladder.
On view in the basement of the gallery, Garvey’s installation conglomerates objects like ladders, lights, and projected video, making complex audio-visual interference. The ladders take up the middle of the room and they are arranged together in a noisy jumble, wavering between being tools and toys, juxtaposing notions of work and play. Perhaps they are a visual representation of the clamor seen and heard from the projected video behind them, which consists of snippets of news clips, actor interviews, cartoons, and scenes of explosions. The shadows of the ladders fall on the video projection and fragment it further, making it even more difficult to decipher what is going on. Some portions of the sculptural elements are collaged with wheat paste, Garvey’s own street art, and even pages from old science textbooks. Garvey told me these are all textures and images that interest him, especially in his work as a sketch and graffiti artist. Everything in the room is a manipulation of the environment. The assemblages and lights, integrated with the sound-component, textual atmosphere, and movement created by the video projection, force the viewer to navigate him or herself through the work in ways that are not immediately clear. This kind of manipulation is also a way for Garvey to extend his two-dimensional work and street-art inspired paintings, a few of which hang on the walls, into a something like a live line drawing.
Appropriately titled, Lovely Things features an interesting mélange of artworks that are simultaneously beautiful and strange. The objects displayed, whether coins, pages, crates, or ladders, are typically just seen as “things”–the kind that lie around the house or get tucked away in a coat pocket. When taken out of the context of everyday life and transformed into eye-catching works of art, however, an inherent beauty manifests. It is this aspect of being multi-faceted that I think connects these artists and their works together. The faceted shards of Scott’s installation, the multiple personalities of Osborn’s paintings and sketches, the multisensory experience of Garvey’s environmental manipulation, and the dual function of the coin in Webber’s metalwork all interact with each other in ways that challenge conventional representation of objects, people, and beauty.
Born, raised, and still here in Philadelphia, Eva Piatek is a jack of all trades but is currently pursuing her MA in Art History at Tyler School of Art. She enjoys dabbling in the city’s art scene, has had a few curatorial gigs here and there, and hopes to maybe open her own gallery someday.