May 4, 2014

"Mayhem" 4/29-5/30/14: Juror Statement

Mayhem – the word conjures so many actions, events, tragedies and catastrophes, and these equally evoke many images in our minds. As a theme for this exhibition at Gallery Underground, I was not certain of what to expect from the artists’ submissions. What I discovered was a wealth of strong visual statements in a variety of mediums that inform us of the multiple understandings of that word. 

It is mayhem that drives the administration of protective services for the public as our first responders attempt to suppress and control random acts of violence and terrorism. Yet the rampant televised media imagery of S.W.A.T. teams and police squads moving into position with bulletproof vests, shields and automatic weaponry do little to dispel our collective apprehension that mayhem cannot be contained. Ernie L. Fournet’s exquisite pen-and-ink acrylic, “Controlled Chaos,” captures both the precision of police forces responding to an unseen “situation” as well as our own anticipatory dread of the outcome. The piercing intensity of the cops’ eyes that we glimpse through their hoods makes it clear a terrible price is to be paid either way.

Mob gatherings, whether to “Rave or Riot,” have the real potential to catapult all those present into instant mayhem. Jessica Mickey’s oil on canvas, illuminated by a single flame, reveals a dark ritual whose inhabitants may be joyful celebrants – or are they bloodthirsty anarchists? The canvas appears to have frozen that moment in time just prior to our resolution of its meaning.

And yet we still optimistically expect our world leaders to craft peace from mayhem and create order from chaos. But Kathy Turner’s kinetic sculpture, “Game of Thrones,” suggests that our world leaders are interchangeable, bobble-head puppets, changing political positions on a whim, and even that “Patriot” whistle-blower is just as guilty for fueling our increasing level of “Big Brother” paranoia.

But at the “End of the Day” it’s just us humans quietly sifting through our frenetic thoughts. Sheila England’s pen-and-ink drawing records one such “day’s end,” her protagonist lost in reverie – or is it anguish? – struggling to make sense of life’s insidious and circuitous questions. Why are we here and what does it all mean? Sometimes our life’s purpose seems to yield only a dead-end, like Bryan Jernigan’s “Internal Dialogue,” an acrylic and bungee cul-de-sac of trussed-up tensions. At other times we may need to mute a troubled past, like Malone Ceppetelli’s “Behind His Eyes,” by layering our memory with color and scrawled text.

One solution to all this mayhem may be art. All the artists that I selected for this exhibit clearly demonstrate that art is both a defense as well as an expression. Art can even use the mayhem as a distraction, like Alex Beck’s nightmarish frenzy of random, drunken couplings in “Passengers on the Wagon,” that provides an exorcism of the continuous sexualized imagery that we’re bombarded with daily.

Contemporary art runs the gamut of all possible expressions by a culturally and ethnically diverse population of artists. Perhaps the constancy of this plurality of styles is simply in response to our times’ mayhem. We have only to gaze upon the distressed features of “Richard,” a powerful portrait by Sarah O'Donoghue, to understand that his face is a visualization of the solitary battle that each of us quietly wages privately within each day. And maybe it is the consistency of our shared struggle that contributes to our humanity in spite of all the mayhem. 


IMAGE: Jessica Mickey: "Rave or Riot" (2013); oil on canvas; 18x24 inches.

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