2012 Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Awards Essay

10/13/2012 - 12/12/2012

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2012 Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Awards
Marcus Cain, Anne Austin Pearce, Luke Rocha

Each of the three 2012 Visual Arts Fellows challenged themselves to expand their creative practice, extend their professional network, and develop a new body of work for this exhibition.

To honor the 15th anniversary of the Charlotte Street Foundation and the spirit of community that has evolved as part of their work in Kansas City, we asked the artists to share their work and a conversation with an arts professional in the region. The resulting essays by Kris Imants Ercums, Matt Jacobs, and Joseph Keehn introduce us to new work by three outstanding artists working in Kansas City.

An ambitious and immersive installation by Anne Austin Pearce is informed by her ongoing research exploring the complex ecologies of human and animal relationships and a close observation of ocean habitats.

For artist and curator Marcus Cain, it was an opportunity to integrate various aspects of his creative practice to design an exhibition where paintings would evoke the invisible energy fields of individuals and individuals would gather together to explore the therapeutic network of energies generated via creativity.

The young and confident vision of Luke Rocha resonates even more after a period of dedicated time in his studio and an expanded dialogue focused on the work. Swerving back and forth in time, Rocha deftly gathers, edits, and splices samples foraged from his urban journeys into sculptural assemblages and installations.

We are grateful to have an opportunity, once again, to partner with the Charlotte Street Foundation in recognizing the artists and curators whose work enriches our community.

Raechell Smith
Director, H&R Block Artspace
at the Kansas City Art Institute

Anne Austin Pearce

Like primordial life emerging from the ocean, this new work by Anne Austin Pearce took shape in the swirling waters of the sea. Inspired by walks along the crystal blue shores of Tulum on the Yucatan peninsula, these biomorphic paintings reference the undulating complexity of coral reefs. The Mayan ruins dotting the shores of Tulum as embodiments of human civilization provided a contrastive source for the work. The juxtaposition of coral (Nature) and Mayan architecture (Civilization) underscores a central dichotomy in Pearce’s work, one that seeks to illuminate and reflect upon the importance of natural rhythms in life as opposed to those created by society. This tension between instinctive, emotional life and the rationale of social constructs is further suggested by the work’s title, Animals Do Not Take Vows.

The installation is conceived in two parts with three painted diptychs comprising the first grouping. Like sliced specimens of shell splayed and opened in two directions, these wood-panel paintings are seemingly symmetrical. Rather, they form a dialogical relationship with each pair conversing and responding, yet unique and individual. The second part of the installation recalls the ambling discovery of shells and secret tidal pools that only a walk on the beach can evoke. An installation of parallel slant boards displays two sets of monumental scroll paintings. Composed of layered semi-transparent sheets of archival drafting film, Pearce uses a combination of ink and liquid acrylic. The pooled effect of the paint, which in some passages appears dispersed like dried mud while in others coalesces into a slick, metallic sheen, shimmers like illuminated water. She achieves the effect by applying heat, a kind of geological force that shapes and bends the continuum.

Specimens of coral collected along the Yucatan shore were ever present touchstones during the creation of these paintings. Coral is composed of tiny sea anemones that together constitute a massive collective living entity. These “rainforests of the sea” are cavernous havens that shelter diverse life in the hostile environment of the ocean. As much as coral signifies interconnectedness and community in its most basic and primal iteration, it is also a natural provocation for the jeopardy of technology. Rising sea temperatures caused by carbon emissions have disrupted the delicate balance of coral ecology. For Pearce, this artwork further explores the decomposition of human emotional life prompted by the “fog of distraction” manifest in information technologies like the internet. Pearce remarks: “the internet has atrophied empathy and emotional intelligence… [while] Nature restores it.”*

The intent of the work is therefore therapeutic and reflective. Like an ambling walk along an abandoned stretch of pristine beach, Pearce’s installation of monumental paintings plunges the viewer into the depths of strange time. Strange time is a kind of release from the rigor of historical progression, a temporality that touches the deep recesses of mythological being. Mircea Eliade describes it as “the desire to attain other temporal rhythms than those in which we are condemned to live and work.”** Submerged in the ecstatic imaginaire of “strange time,” Pearce’s artwork brings us closer to the primacy of experience, a kind of blissful striving to recapture that feeling of something experienced for the first time.

*Email correspondence with the artist, Sept. 18, 2012
**Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality, Harper and Row, New York 1963: pg. 192.

–Kris Imants Ercums, curator of global contemporary and Asian art, Spencer Museum of Art

Marcus Cain

In Pulse (2012), we see a painting filled with drips and stipples – sometimes within one another – of assorted hues and dimensions. Moving from edge to center, the distance between each acrylic mark increases to reveal the light, fleshy pink, tonal ground. From a distance, the inner circular form pulses against the condensed dots along the framed, rectangle border. The same hand is found unmistakably in a larger painting nearby; however, in this painting a circular form reveals itself more specifically as a head. Two additional small reveals appear as eyes with greyish green dots acting as pupils. The eyes (or portals) are my entry into the latest works by Marcus Cain. Like the painterly application, Cain’s works are layered with meaning. These paintings are part of an ongoing series of works that explore energy and Cain’s particulate view of the human condition.*

Investigating the space between acts of transformation and shifting identities, Cain has been exploring notions surrounding energy–ways of collecting and exerting–for several years. Perhaps best known for patterned, often plaid, semi-abstracted paintings, Cain’s works are riddled with references, right down to the choice of color (i.e. the greyish green is symbolic of the artist’s childhood home). Aboriginal art, American quilting, graphic design, and hobo art are just a few of the interwoven elements you might recognize in Cain’s artworks. In the wall installation Crystal Blue Persuasion (2007), Cain juxtaposed the use of non-traditional materials and folk art markings as seen in the practices of Bay Mission School artists Margaret Kilgallen and Barry McGee with the stylistic techniques seen in graphic design artist Shepard Fairey.

Borrowing the title from Tommy James and the Shondells’ 1969 brotherly love drug anthem**, the title provides another layer to contemplate. From the deeply personal to the universal, each title is as carefully selected as the systematically, controlled dots are put on each wood panel. In 2009 Cain’s signature bold graphic patterning began to include the influences of Pointillism, which is seen in his most current body of work, yet maintains the emergence of a figure. This transition is seen in Soft Bones and the depiction of a faceless figure, an almost alien-like form, set against a moonlit backdrop of blacks and blues. For Cain, figures “become portraits of that energy as [he tries] to capture something that isn’t necessarily seen.”***

This act of revealing is a continuum of past works and has become an important underpinning of Cain’s overall practice. Describing his artistic practice as “looping the work back upon itself, pulling elements from previous investigations forward ‘through’ the current exploration to establish new relationships that push the work further along,” Cain fuses the seemingly opposites of additive/reductive, abstraction/representational and presence/absence. This methodology is a reflection of how we experience and shape our world. Looking at the past for what has been done; assessing what can be done now; and deciding what to keep for the future. Ample to ponder for the viewer who is willing to look beyond the physical surface of drips and stipples.

*Correspondence with the artist, Aug. 26, 2012
**Pete Dulin, “Marcus Cain: Soft Bones,” Present Magazine, July 2, 2009
***Retrieved from the artist’s statement on Aug. 29, 2012

–Joseph Keehn II, independent curator  

Luke Rocha

First and foremost, Luke Rocha is a collector. His process, part archiving and part rejuvenating, synthesizes the cultural ephemera inherent to a city. His studio is overflowing with old books, magazines, posters, signs, bits of furniture, knick-knacks, and outdated musical equipment. At first glance, this mass of stuff can seem overwhelming and chaotic, but careful inspection reveals that organization and editing are crucial skills for Rocha.

Picking up a practice started by Marcel Duchamp, handed off to Robert Rauschenberg and seasoned by contemporaries like Gabriel Orozco, Rocha’s output includes photography, installation, collage, zines, sculpture, and music. As a self-trained artist, his work displays a refreshingly academic-less aesthetic that blends ubiquitous mysticism, hypnotic symbols, vintage erotica, and nostalgic pop culture.

Rocha’s work relies on a carefully attuned eye that is always on watch for source material in the everyday. Focusing on the “underbelly of society” and the “ramshackle Midwest,” Rocha addresses the politics of gender, race, class, and religion. In Analogue Apache (2011), a Native American mandala is fashioned from mirrored magnets, feathers, a hubcap, and a modified aluminum grill that Rocha found in an abandoned school. The ominous spherical mirror, reminiscent of the domes used to conceal surveillance cameras, acts as an eye looking out while offering back a reflected image. Appearing like an artifact from some modern day mystic, this work asks us to question the place of spirituality in other cultures as well as in our own lives.

It is inevitable that Rocha’s work will reference Kansas City or the Midwest at large because the people and places around him feed his process. In Midtown Survival Kit, Rocha offers an emergency supply package in the form of an overflowing suitcase of crucifixes and praying hands atop a sermon stand. This reference to the abundance of religious paraphernalia found in impoverished neighborhoods certainly speaks of midtown Kansas City, but could apply to most any American city.

Photography is a means not an end for Rocha. In an ongoing practice, he explores rundown or derelict Americana. Rather than starting with printed material or found objects, Rocha uses the city itself as his source, and treats the camera as a tool to cut and paste it back together. In this sense, the practice of photography runs parallel with collage. In Polaroid Studies 2005-2012, we see Polaroid’s, a quickly fading but nostalgic favorite of the DIY photographer, set into hand-me-down frames given to the artist by friends and family. Already charged with the history of housing other people’s beloved images, these frames are weathered and lack the conventional mounting of fine art photography. They act as a solemn metaphor for the fractured framework of the society we face today. Images of storefront windows, hand painted signs, billboards, pets, parents and youths create a timely portrait of both the community member and the community itself.

–Matt Jacobs, independent curator and artist