Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Irby Benjamin Roy, Chicken Episode, 2008, mixed mediums, found objects

Ed McGowin's retrospective exhibition Name Change is currently up at Herron Galleries in Indianapolis through April 17. Upon entering the gallery, it is difficult to believe that all of the art on exhibition was created by one person. There is photography, bronze sculpture, painting, woodcarving, and minimalist sculpture. The subject matter is as varied as the media, ranging from iconography of dogs in odd scenarios to exploding ice cream cones to depictions of specific people and storytelling narratives. McGowin has had his name legally changed a total of twelve times, and creates art for each of the names (including Ed McGowin). Each section of the exhibition contains a framed, screen printed copy of the official name change document for the respective artistic persona. It is truly incredible how each "artist" has his own style, subject matter and quirkiness. The exhibition includes art that McGowin has produced throughout his entire career of nearly 40 years.

Alva Isaiah Fost, Four Modules, 1972, vacuum formed and painted plastic

The following is McGowin's own description of his artistic agenda, taken from the catalog:

This project was started in 1970 to explore a theory I conceived about the way art history would evolve in the future. I developed this theory as a means of freeing myself from a system that I found frustrating as a young artist at the beginning of my career: That my work should develop as a linear chain-link model with each creation leading logically to the next. Instead, I preferred to envision my work as a three-dimensional sphere getting larger over time. To demonstrate this theory I had my name changed legally twelve times in the District of Columbia court system. For each name I created works of art and exhibited them at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1972. For the past thirty-five years I have continued to create works for the twelve names.
Had I created all of these works under one name, I believe they would have been received very differently, with critical analysis of the development of the artist figuring prominently in the consideration of each piece. The different identities under which I made this art may allow for a broader approach to receiving these images, without tying them to past history or future expectations.

When the names of McGowin's eleven personas (his given name is the twelfth) are arranged in the following way, the first letter of each name can be taken to spell out "A line in time."

Alva Isaiah Fost
Lawrence Steven Orlean
Irby Benjamin Roy
Nathan Ellis McDuff
Euri Ignatius Everpure
Isaac Noel Anderson
Nicholas Gregory Nazianzen
Thorton Modestus Dossett
Ingram Andrew Young
Melvill Douglas O'Connor
Edward Everett Updike

McGowin is certainly a multi-talented artist, but his prowess in woodcarving stands out the most. Some of his art is embellished with elaborately carved frames, as in the second photo below. His art is extremely curious; it almost verges on kitsch at times yet it is so bizarre and interesting in its subject matter and execution as well as choice of materials that it has no trouble securing its place in the world of fine art.

Top image: William Edward McGowin, left to right: Musician, 2004, cast bronze. New Jersey, 2003, foam and board model. Librarian, 2004, cast bronze.

Bottom image: Nicholas Gregory Nazianzen, Workers Waving Goodbye, 1994, pastel on linen, carved and painted wood frame

The artistic persona that stands out the most is that of Thorton Modestus Dossett. "All of Thornton's work is about race. It's about the way that, particularly where I grew up in the deep South, the two races come together. One society that was occupied and defeated after the Civil War, another society that was enslaved; two badly damaged psyches in that respect, but yet they come together to create some really remarkable, interesting things," McGowin explains. The carved wooden pieces cast interesting and elaborate shadows onto the gallery walls when they are installed, which serves as an interesting metaphor for the shadows that racially charged incidents have cast over America.

The piece below tells the story of Oseola McCarthy, a washer woman who saved money from washing shirts at $0.15 a piece and gave the University of Southern Mississippi $150,000 in cash to help minority women go to school. The scholarship fund she set up now receives many contributions from around the United States.

Thorton Modestus Dossett, Oseola, 2001, carved and painted wood and urethane

This piece is about the coming together of music in Mississippi. The life stories of Robert Johnson (in black), Jimmy Rogers (in white), and Elvis Presley (in blue) are depicted. McGowin is attempting to show how blues and country music came together to form rock 'n roll.

Thorton Modestus Dossett, Johnson, Rogers, Presley, 2002, carved and painted wood and urethane

This painting depicts the murder of three young African American boys by the KKK. McGowin thus works to show a broad view of racial issues in the South encompassing both positive and negative stories, all told in his characteristically unique and quirky manner.

Thorton Modestus Dossett, McAlpin, 1999, enamel on canvas

McGowin has twenty permanent public art commissions and his art is held in the collections of The Guggenheim Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, The Hirshhorn Museum, and many others. He is Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York at Old Westbury.

I had a chance to talk with Ed about his art recently. See what he had to say:
*Note: At the beginning of the video when Ed says "non-linear," he meant to say "linear."

Conversations With Ed McGowin from Charles Fox on Vimeo.

Friday, March 12, 2010

NERS: Magical Wonderfulness

NERS currently has a solo show at Big Car Gallery in Indianapolis called Magical Wonderfulness. After his abrupt departure from Indianapolis on a Westward road trip to national parks and different cities which resulted in a blog called The Magical Wonderfulness of PBS Goes West, he has returned to his native Indianapolis and created this show of 28 new framed works, all of them inspired by and created after his trip. The works are all made with markers and discarded paper that often has printed text on the opposite side that still shows through. Seeing this text faintly on the other side of the paper sometimes affects his compositional elements, and also serves to remind the viewer of issues of sustainability, which is important to the artist. NERS explains, "I had very little materials to work with, which suits my work well, but just working with a few materials, being highly technical with graphite or Crayola marker."

The iconography in this body of work is largely based on animals, which is inspired by NERS' experiences in national parks during his voyage. Animals have often figured into his artwork in the past, but they are especially prominent here. The familiar rainbows that NERS loves to utilize are also present, but in Magical Wonderfulness the art has become decidedly more violent. There is lots of gore and disembowelment throughout the work, which provides an interesting juxtaposition to the rather light and flowery iconographic elements that the violence combines with in these drawings. There is also a great emphasis on what is drawn due to the large amounts of negative space, which is used as a compositional element. Since there are few backdrops or background details, each image commands the viewer's full attention.

Producing this artwork represents a sort of catharsis for NERS as he grapples with emotional strife and difficult life circumstances. His past work has included sculpture and photography, and it is interesting to see such a focused show from him that is all drawings and all based on a set of experiences and feelings. The well-chosen, bright colors and tight line structure in this body of work are excellent.

Care And Boo 2010
help a friend out. 2010
Desert Albedo 2010
Attack On Christmas. 2010

Ya I Shot a Bear Once, But Only Because It Shot Me First. 2010

I had a conversation with NERS. See what he had to say:

Conversations With NERS from Charles Fox on Vimeo.


Erin K Drew's show Metamorpher at Big Car Gallery in Indianapolis showcased various recent artwork including sculptural installation, site-based painting, and framed works. Combining what appears to be innocent, cartoon-like iconography on the surface with more cynical undertones, Drew says that this body of work is helping her to get the past out of her system and move on with her life. "There's a lot of oversimplification of imagery," she says to explain the juxtaposition between childlike forms and dark emotional backdrops. The work evokes the imagery of the Tom Tom Club's cover art and the work of artists such as Bruce Nauman, Christopher Wool and Richard Prince through its reference to neon signs, its semiotic wordplay and its sharp sense of wit and humor. Some of the images below showcase Drew's artistic process insofar as it flows from source research material to the artist's notebook and finally to the gallery wall. For an added bit of irony, Drew utilized rejected blends of house paint for the wall mural in this exhibition, slyly mirroring her feelings of dismay.

Gender relations are also at stake here; Drew appropriates the form of the obelisk and completely flips its usual connotations. Whereas such monuments usually are phallic and serious in nature and commemorate honor, success, and actualized events, Drew's monument to boys she has had crushes on is feminine and playful and commemorates dishonor, defeat, and fantasy.
"All binaries are illusory," she is quick to point out.

Drew's play on cliches and wording in Metamorpher is quite clever. "OPPORTUNITY" spelled out in metallic birthday party banner style lettering ends up signifying two words even though only one is written ("Golden Opportunity").

"Party of One" simultaneously plays on restaurant reservation speak and conjures loneliness and self-celebration.

The "Liquid Courage" piece is especially interesting because it appropriates the iconography of liquor store signs that is all too commonplace and renegotiates its signification to endorse and broadcast what is normally taboo and shameful, the notion of needing liquor to have courage. Liquor, a commodity, is replaced by liquid courage, a form of existential way-finding. Drew muses that she is "Facing my problems, but also not facing. There's a veil."

Drew succeeds in making what is truly a very personal body of work both accessible and thought-provoking to a wide audience through her wit, light/dark humor and reference to popular vernacular. Her command of multiple mediums is impressive and her use of colors and source material is unexpected and unique. I had a conversation with Erin in two parts about her show. See what she had to say: