Lori Waxman, art historian and Chicago Tribune art critic often travels to destinations normally off the beaten path of mainstream art coverage for her project, 60 WRD/MIN Art Critic. In cities such as Knoxville, Milwaukee, Kansas City, and Normal, Illinois; she has set up shop in an art space or institution, stood her post for six to eight hours at a time, and written short-form, critical reviews, free of charge, on a first-come, first-served basis. A variety of artists — emerging and established; students and seniors; self-taught and academically trained — typically show up, some traveling several hours, drop off their work and in search of a nugget of critical feedback. Reviews are promised to be ” thoughtful, and critical, but not necessarily positive.”
Some stick around for their 20-minute time slot, watching the monitor (or projection) that displays a live feed of Waxman’s writing and self-edits. This, and her placement in the gallery window, also makes this something of a performance piece. This past weekend, Waxman set up at Institute 193 in Lexington, which “collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to produce exhibitions, publications, and projects that document the cultural landscape of the modern South.”
The reviews from each 60 WRD/MIN Art Critic intensive are then published in a local publication. BURNAWAY is pleased to be the partnering publication for Institute 193. The reviews and images with a time stamp and signature are below.
Most structures have an underlying geometry. This is true for buildings as it is true for human beings and other life forms. Molly VanZant sketches industrial architecture, with special attention to chimneystacks and utility poles, and she has also painted a shimmery eight-pointed star shooting through a midnight blue expanse. In certain strange pictures these subjects come together—geometry overlaid atop structure, structure revealing its inherent geometry—and in these communions VanZant reveals a beautiful and otherwise invisible logic. There is the circle that squares perfectly inside a rusty silo, but also the quatrefoil penciled in, like a mathematician’s graffiti, over the sky-blue sidewall of a warehouse. Most glorious of all is the orange hexagon that rises out of six overlapping circles, hovering against an old purple shed. They might be atoms, bubbles, breath, or something even more mysterious.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 10:29 AM
John Harlan Norris
What is a self? Philosophers and physicians have long debated this question, focusing variously on the ways in which we transcend our bodies or are rooted in them, are tied to our genetic makeup or are influenced by our surroundings. In a series of ostensible portraits, John Harlan Norris adds an unsettling twist to the ongoing discussion. His oversize canvases look at first to be pictures of bright jumbled kid stuff—think Tinker Toys and plastic straws strewn all over the floor—but on second glance most coalesce into precarious busts, complete with eyeglasses for seeing or a boom box for speaking. Reminiscent of the hyper-controlled surfaces, garish colors, and quotidian subjects of artists like James Rosenquist or the Chicago Imagists, Norris’s paintings nevertheless represent the self of today, attuned as he or she or they is to social media, gender flux, the hipness of eighties style, and the constant threat of disintegration. One false move and everything could fall to pieces—and then be reconstructed, perhaps a bit differently next time.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 11:04 AM
When a boy does a handstand, the muscles in his calves go slack, the blades of his shoulders stick out sharp, his toes twist in concentration, and his torso stretches taut and curved. I note this by looking at a bronze sculpture by the late artist Tuska, a long-time professor at the University of Kentucky and a master of the human form. Tuska sketched and sculpted the figure in all manner of pose, but it is his attention to the upside-down body that strikes me especially. An accordion-fold book filled with pen-and-ink images of Icarus reveals the plethora of ways muscle and bone react when falling. We all know how to stand upright—it is one of the most important physical lessons we learned as a species and we practice individually as children—but the opposite is less true, though equally important. How to be upended, how to tumble, how to plummet—and, hopefully, how to land.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 11:36 AM
Around the time of the 2016 presidential election, I found myself taking solace in the night sky. The universe was still going to be intact in four or eight years, regardless of what happened down here on planet Earth. The portfolio of Elizabeth Hagan, who works as a graphic designer and also teaches mediation techniques, includes a series of images that seem to espouse a similar philosophy. In one, a woman draped in chartreuse and magenta prances lightly along the trail of a shooting star. In another, a young man sits on a blue light beam, clutching a letter and resting his head on his hand. The sky behind them shimmers a deep black-purple. Hagan’s illustrations predate current politics by about four or five years, but that’s just the point. Good or bad, now or then, this too shall pass. Meanwhile, the stars will keep on shining.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 12:03 PM
I am neither a reader of poetry nor a sayer of prayers. And yet, I would readily hang Derrick Meads’s “During #47” by my bedside, in place of both. For the past four or five years, Meads has been crafting small blocks of rich, glossy cherry wood, coating their top surface with a matte white finish, then carving the text of tiny blessings into their every square inch. The words are dense, terse, and unexpected, secular and ripe with organic metaphors. The incisions are angular, taut, and compact, half written, half inscribed. The effect is intense and profound, as if the lines of William Wordsworth and Emily Dickinson had been reduced to their essence, rewritten into mantras, and tattooed across the body of a person or the trunk of a tree. Poems and prayers both involve introspection and practice, and the most generous of them eschew judgment in favor of benevolence. Meads combines all that here, and lends it to the reader with grace.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 12:44 PM
Since at least the dawn of postmodernism, we no longer trust in the idea of singular truth. This is the case with photography as with history: an image shows only what the photographer includes in the frame, a story tells only what the narrator describes. What gets cropped or burned, who won or lost, mightily affects the final picture. Hayward Wilkirson produces weathered photomontages of Roman sculptures, neat digital drawings of water glasses and sex dolls, and lead sculptures of paper airplanes that, despite their marked differences of material and content, all get at this core: there isn’t just one truth, and it likely isn’t what it seems. Not in terms of gender, power, or even simply the way something looks to the naked eye. “Paper Airplanes,” Wilkirson’s most recent series, approaches this complex notion most accessibly. We all folded paper as children, and we all tried to fly them, with greater and lesser success. Is a paper airplane still a paper airplane if it’s made from a thin sheet of lead? All that seems certain is that it will crash.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 1:58
There’s almost nothing lovely about the subjects Christine Kuhn depicts. Among them, her mixed media pictures illustrate a murdered woman, a young boy neglected because of the methamphetamine epidemic, a child as the silent witness to domestic violence, and the unfair burden of female aging. The images themselves, however, have all manner of preciousness built in: the otherworldliness of magical realism, the shimmer of a rainbow palette, the dense gleam of the epoxy resin under which it all lies. This tension is crucial—it makes you look at something you otherwise might want to ignore—though sometimes lessened by a cartoonish quality. A separate series of miniature collages that recall the Merzzeichnung of Kurt Schwitters testify to Kuhn’s ability to see beauty everywhere, even in scraps of packaging. That may be a more useful approach to the ugliness of the world than it at first seems.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 2:37 PM
Once upon a time, an artist wanting to make a self-portrait would have put paint to canvas, tried for a good likeness, and called it a day. In his exhibition “The Ghosts,” Colin Doherty achieves a contemporary kind of portraiture via a pair of antique hobbyhorses, a thousand old tobacco sticks, a luminous geometric abstraction, a half dozen blown-up photographs, paintings of still lifes and people, and a music video. Why so many materials, so many mediums, so many other folks? That’s the self today: seen from multiple perspectives, through objects and possessions, ideas of place and time, actions and personality. Doherty isn’t just the straightforward image of Doherty, he is his kids, his lovers, their travels and objects. He is painting canvases, driving a pickup truck, searching the sky, gazing at his daughter. Is each individual artwork successful? No, of course not. Some try too hard, some not hard enough. That’s the mess of life, lived and represented.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 3:08 PM
Many are the reasons for making art: political protest, intellectual exploration, formal experiment, memorialization, visionary illustration, and so much more. Zanne Jefferies is driven by an alternate pursuit: love. Creating art is not the same as looking at it; what the artist achieves through her practice differs greatly from what the viewer gains. Normally art criticism considers the latter, but in the case of love, and in the case of Jefferies, the former is crucial. The care and attention she lavishes on a charcoal portrait of her granddaughter or on a sunny pastel of flowers indicates a great level of care and attention felt for these subjects in real life. But grandchildren and flora can only take so much love. Beyond a certain point, best to turn to paper. Jefferies fills the frame, as if she cannot get enough. In the exception that proves the rule, she does this even with a swirly abstraction that recalls the endpapers of Victorian books.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 3:34 PM
Clay Wainscott paints pictures of local architecture, nudes, people he knows, random household objects, flowers, and highways. It’s an array of subjects quotidian and broad enough to feel random and meaningless. He paints these canvases big and he paints them glowing, a quality achieved through the layering of pure acrylic color in a glossy medium. That iridescence, in combination with certain themes, matters: kettles on stovetops and tangles of bikes do not usually merit such attention. Flowers and nudes, on the other hand, have been admired long enough. What more do they need, really? But the steps in a parking garage, now there’s something that hasn’t gotten enough love, not from architects or car drivers or artists—until now. They can only be the better for it.
—Lori Waxman 3/23/17 4:04 PM
I am not especially into skulls, punk rock, S&M, or gore—the dominant imagery of Matt Minter’s paintings. So let’s leave that provocative, edgy, and very hard-to-ignore stuff aside for now and notice what’s more subtly present. One, meticulous renderings of the figure, mostly in black and white, with the occasional addition of red. Two, strong use of triangles, parallelograms, and solid lines. Three, schematizing of painting itself, through the depiction of splotches, drips, and even, in the case of “In Her Power,” an artwork-within-the-artwork. Oddly, that description could be applied to the pop art masterpieces of Roy Lichtenstein. What to do with that correspondence? Well, pop was all about elevating low contemporary culture to the level of high art, and using commercial techniques to do so. Minter does something similar, with one plus: the messiness and grotesquerie of his chosen subject are made orderly and controlled through his rendering.
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 2:27 PM
Since the late 1980s most homes in the U.S. have included a microwave oven among their appliances. I grew up listening to that hum, watching that spin, seeing that glow, hearing that beep. But until I looked at the work of Kristin Richards, I had not yet encountered the microwave in an art gallery. That’s odd, come to think of it, as the objects of everyday life have figured prominently in artworks since at least the age of Pop Art. In her installations, Richards has taken on the microwave as modified ready-made, as site, and as metaphor. Installed outdoors at night near tract housing, a dozen of them radiate alien life, though it isn’t clear if they wish the inhabitants well or harm. Stacked in a tidy grid of 49 units, they form a wall-size computing center, controlling who knows what. It all works uncannily well, and there isn’t a frozen burrito in sight.
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 3:02 PM
Garrett O. Hansen
Garrett O. Hansen is rightly concerned with the overwhelming presence of guns in the United States. To this end, he has collected spent slugs and cardboard target backings from shooting ranges, and has focused his camera on individual bullet holes. Each of these physical fragments of gun culture is transformed into something unrecognizable: images of torqued metal that resemble Chinese scholar rocks or abstract sculpture; brittle cutouts that recall the organic fragility of dry leaves; stark glowing pictures that conjure black holes or seething masses. What to do with the unexpected and undeniable beauty that results from all those mutations? Can it be harnessed to critical effect? Those are tricky, crucial questions which any artist—including Hansen—using abstraction to deal with weighty subject matter must ultimately confront.
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 3:39 PM
Scientists and doctors can peer into the human body ever more clearly and deeply. But is what they see equivalent to who we are? A series of Plexiglas panels by Hannah Moles opens up these and other questions about the relationship between the stuff of our bodies and the makeup of our selves. Moles took cheek swabs from herself and female members of her family, then extracted cell samples and bacteria on which to base subsequent portraits. The resulting paintings are strange, ethereal, and, for me at least, full of loose figurative associations: Mother Earth, a globular body with arms, a floating pair of eyes, swarming animals. Do they offer, as Moles suggests, the most honest possible portraits of the sampled women? I hesitate to agree, and yet, as someone who knows the power of malignant cells, I cannot disagree either.
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 4:06 PM
Marcia Lamont Hopkins
We like to control animals and nature, but when they get beyond our understanding things tend to get interesting. This is true of Marcia Lamont Hopkins’s photographs, too. Hopkins envisions overgrown forests, historic graveyards, farm animals, and occasionally people, often in combination, in impeccable digital prints that blend multiple shots into believable wholes. The weirder and more convincing, the better: a sheep enmeshed in a dense forest seems as if it and the trees are made of the same stuff, a lama in a rolling meadow becomes one with the horizon and the clouds. Because Hopkins prints these images to look like vintage pictures, from an era before digital manipulation was common, they emanate a sense of eternity. Indeed: once upon a time animals were as sentient as they look here, and the forests as impenetrable.
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 4:43 PM
Charles Parker Boggs
What’s a Southern skater graffitist M.C.-Escher-fan to do when he grows up? Charles Parker Boggs has the answer, and most of it fits neatly inside a small wooden attaché case. The case, like most of its interior objects, is covered with an abject miasma of interconnected pipes and other phallic protuberances, their snotty effluence, and the occasional blank-eyed face. All of it is painted in shades of grey, including a candlestick, a bowtie, a pocket square, a few iron-on patches, and a light switch panel, plus two hats. The hats—one a pork pie, the other a trilby—are presumably worn by the carrier of the case, though not at the same time. All together, they offer to outfit that uniquely dapper yet punk character, wherever, or whomever, or whatever, he is.
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 5:56 PM
Plastic deli bags are the bane of modern environmentalism. They’re also virtually indestructible once produced and distributed. What to do with them, other than ban or tax them in favor of reusable totes? Jessie Dunahoo devised a solution long before the problem arose. Sight and hearing impaired from a young age, Dunahoo, who is now in his early 80s, first began stitching bread bags together when he was an adolescent, as a way-finding system to get around his family home. Over the years his practice has evolved and he’s become something of a connoisseur of plastic bags, assembling them by touch and smell into vast quilts of beige, yellow and white squares, printed with the familiar—and, in the case of older works, bygone—slogans of pharmacies and grocery stores. They upend expectations: of an ugly material and of the senses. A blind man makes a visually moving tapestry, and plastic bags have a smell.
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 6:26 PM
Artists picture what they believe needs to be better seen—either because it is too often hidden, or because it deserves different acknowledgment. In the case of “Feeling Myself,” a series of cut-paper figures by Skylar Davis that depicts female masturbation, both reasons pertain. Davis describes growing up in a small Kentucky town with a fundamentalist Christian majority, and the obligations of local girls like herself to keep their sexuality quiet. In response she’s borrowed imagery and attitudes from porn magazines, traced simple drawings of women pleasuring themselves onto mylar and other decorative paper, and mounted them in the kind of decorative frames you might prop up on a side table in the living room. That’s not the place to stash porn of course, or to masturbate for that matter. But forcing young women to ignore their bodies demands extreme retaliation.
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 6:56 PM
Artists’ books are a vastly underappreciated genre. They have so much to offer, to viewer and maker alike: portability, affordability, reproducibility, tactility. In the hands of Mary Rezny, who has been making them for about a decade, they have something else besides: all four dimensions. In her explorations of the charms of the natural world, Rezny employs photographs to show what a blue sky looks like; pop-up techniques to suggest how a field of Queen Anne’s lace takes up space; and movement to demonstrate the fall of a Ginko leaf in time. “Entwined Nasturtiums,” my favorite of her books, can only be read by a viewer willing to untangle the cords that bind up long accordion-fold pictures of the colorful, spicy flowers. Second to being in an actual garden and attempting this with a real plant—that’s how they grow, after all—would be to do it while sitting indoors in a cozy chair, the garden under a blanket of winter snow. How else than with Rezny’s paper translation?
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 7:28 PM
In an age in which most digital devices are capable of taking an excellent and infinite number of photographs and videos, almost none of which will ever be seen more than once or twice on a screen, Sergio Pineda takes Polaroids. Kodak stopped making the instant analog film in 2008, but it has since been recreated by a new company at a pricey average of $3 a shot. For that much money, every picture starts to count, an expectation challenged by the casual nature of Pineda’s images. In them are lovers, parking lots, building seen from odd angles, a lamp, vagrants, a tray of cocaine, nearly all of it in blown-out or scratchy colors. But it must matter, enough to expend precious film on, and why shouldn’t it? Nan Goldin proved it more than two decades ago in her intimate photographs of herself and her friends: life is worth recording, up close and from all angles.
—Lori Waxman 3/24/17 7:59 PM
Curious things happen when a painting gets turned sideways or upside down. I did this to two of Kaitlyn Melvin’s canvases and suddenly random contours became rolling hills leading to a vast horizon; mauve and rose stripes resolved into the wide bands of a pastel sunset; floating squares settled into a row of squat buildings; curved lines traced pathways across the land. A third painting was already filled with striated vertical shapes that suggested a cross between jagged cliffs and a dense mass of skyscrapers, so I left it upright. Melvin’s paintings are thinly painted, with little depth and much drawing. It can be hard to know quite what to make of them without the kind of anchor that landscape provides: floating about in non-space is not as compelling as it might seem. The surprise isn’t so much that a grounding in the three-dimensional is necessary here—it is in many facets of life and art—but that it turns out to have been there all along.
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 10:23 AM
In China, it has for millennia been traditional for a painting to go through multiple copies. An original landscape scroll might have been inked in the 6th century then recreated and lost a dozen times over by different artists in the new styles of later eras, complete with lengthy poetic inscriptions added by this and that owner. This is called the archaeology of the image, and David Austin offers a contemporary version of it in his series of mutated paintings. To make them, Austin digitally manipulates pre-existing canvases then, coming full circle, sends them off to be painted in China. Dozens of images are in process, but the one that is complete offers a reworking of Gabriel von Max’s 1885 portrait of a visionary nun. Austin removed the religious references central to the original and altered the woman to resemble his late mother, but otherwise the pictures look similar. In the archaeology of the image, something new is added with each subsequent version. That’s true here too, though it has to do with digital techniques and global outsourcing, but what could be newer than that?
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 11:02 AM
Marta Dorton generates rough, dappled paintings with the use of a squeegee and a scraper. The resulting pictures are abstract, loosely patterned, all-over surfaces rich in layer. Seen from certain orientations, they also become landscapes, sometimes more than one at a time: the ocean, the mountains, the plains. This does not always happen with squeegee abstractions—the grand master of the genre, Gerhard Richter, achieves nothing more and nothing less than color, movement and texture in his oversize canvases. But it does with Dorton’s. “Why” is a question only the artist can answer, but “how” is something for the viewer to ponder. Is it the accumulation of paint that registers as organic matter? Is it the variegated blues and ochers that read as so much water, sky and earth? The natural world is filled with wonders, as is the painted one, and sometimes they are one and the same.
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 11:31 AM
Calvin R. Geist
Art, despite what certain folks in the White House and on Capitol Hill would have you believe, is not elite. It is created by people of every age, of every level of education, of every occupation, and of every nation. Even war fails to stop it: it gets made in the trenches. Calvin R. Geist, who has worked in the oil fields of Grand Isle and painted houses in Lexington, loves nothing more than to put brush to canvas. He makes sincere pictures of horses and flowers and reproduces the still lifes and garden scenes of professional artists he admires. Geist’s paintings evince less a love of their subject than of painting itself: as a world of color and touch and attention to get lost in, for hours, days or weeks at a time. That’s as valid a way to expend energy as any other, perhaps much more.
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 12:01 PM
Elaine Horn has a knack with the palette knife, as well as with the colors orange and green. She applies them equally to depictions of horses, architecture, nudes, ships and portraits. The results are instructive, as these subjects otherwise have little in common, be it cultural, biological or aesthetical. And yet Horn treats them similarly and it mostly works. The colors are jarring but familiar, in a 1970s sort of way. The marks of the palette knife—square, uneven, sharp—imbue everything with dynamism. Her most broken-up pictures, including a large brooding portrait of a woman and a small tight one of a horse and jockey—recall the atomism of Cubist canvases and the heady speed of Futurist painting, respectively.
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 12:33 PM
Art practices can be private or they can be public, though often as not it’s somewhere in between. Virginia Ferraris, who was born in 1913 and passed away in 1990, attended Moore College of Art in Philadelphia back in the 1930s. Like many women, her professional studies soon gave way to the realities of life: childrearing and, after her husband died, earning a living for her family. But along the way, and especially later, she attended to the beauty of gardens in vibrant, large, all-over watercolors. They’re lovely to behold, as are the kind of dense blooming gardens on which they are based. Gardens take up much more space than a large sheet of watercolor paper, however, and not everything is always in bloom, so Ferraris devised a method than can be deduced by looking at her careful, spacious sketches. The final works don’t just reproduce one corner of one garden, they blend many, until finally the entire picture plane is filled to the brim with geraniums, roses, petunias, princess flowers—and butterflies, flitting in and out of the petals that give them camouflage.
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 2:13 PM
Automatism, invented by the Surrealists in the mid-1920s, was an artistic process for bypassing the thoughts of the rational workaday person to get at a hidden core of desires and dreams. It was often collaborative and could take many forms: drawings, poetry, even walks through the streets of Paris. Chuck Clenney practices automatism today, having devised a variety of tricks for waking in the middle of the night so that unconscious dreams can be turned into subconscious paintings. He’s made dozens of dizzying, cacophonic pictures, and many more poems besides. Is it the marvelous made present in everyday life, as the Surrealists so deeply wanted? It is indeed, as any dream made visible will always be.
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 2:44 PM
Mark P. Morgan
Previously the activity of coloring in between the lines had been thought the purview of children only, but the booming sales of adult coloring books and the art of Mark P. Morgan both prove this assumption dead wrong. Morgan draws dense, dark pictures of forests and fields, nearly covering the page with warrens of hatch marks and tangles of swirls. He’s been making these for years but recently started to make copies of them and color those in—and color changes everything. Where once were shadowy places now live bright ones: verdant moss, rich bark, blushing skies. Seeing two versions—colored and black-and-white—of the same picture is instructive. Seeing three or four would be even more so.
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 3:17 PM
From road maps to stone cairns, humans have invented endless means of not getting lost. We paint arrows on runways so pilots know which way to direct their planes, divide land up into plots and counties so people know what belongs to whom and who’s in charge. It’s all about communicating crucial information about what’s what, where to go, and how to get there. Corrinne LeNeave deconstructs these systems in meticulous drawings that isolate their signs from what they symbolize: a dozen arrows point every which way, with no runway in sight; irregular solid shapes stack up, drawn with a pink ink that gives them no sense of stoniness; a tangle of lines could be anything, though somehow we know it’s highways and side roads. And then LeNeave reconstructs the systems anew, filling in her pictures with short, even staccato lines that connote regular, atomized movement, and drawing them on sheets of transparent paper that allow for layering of place and meaning.
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 3:48 PM
Some artists have a material or a color that they return to again and again. Printmaker Elizabeth Foley has a shape: the circle. As far as simple geometry goes, it’s an auspicious choice, alluding to the sun, the moon and the planets; the wheel; bubbles and molecules; and notions of wholeness. Her monoprints and collagraphs—techniques that produce unique prints rather than multiples—exude above all a sense of balance: between vibrancy and calm, pattern and color, focus and diffuseness. Where to exhibit and view them seems key. In some places we want artworks to ask questions that make us uncomfortable, elsewhere we desire them for solace or gentle distraction. Foley makes the latter type of images, and infinite are the places in which they are needed.
—Lori Waxman 3/25/17 4:11 PM