Recently opened in fall 2021, take it easy has quickly become known as a gallery that champions artists with experimental, risk-taking practices. In its first exhibition of 2023, the Atlanta gallery opened its doors to Caleb Jamel Brown and Faith Icecold, two artists known for their raw, unconventional styles of art. Titanium is a liberating, organic, and somewhat playful dialogue riffing on Black life and its connections to nature. The exhibition is not only about the work, but how it is experienced.
Forgoing a traditional artist statement, the artists tapped writer Nicholas Goodly for an original poem to accompany the work. According to Brown, bucking the tradition of an artist statement is their way of questioning the obligation placed on artists, especially Black artists, to tie their work to a strict set of rules and specific explanations. Exploring the space with only a poem and checklist in hand, I enjoyed approaching each of the pieces as a free thought.
This type of open consideration offered an intuitive experience that appropriately matched the nature of the artwork. I was able to approach each piece with an inkling of its meaning, which grew as I took in the formal elements of the work. Both Brown and Icecold’s works were parallel in this way, with each piece seeming to begin with a thought and expand, intuitively, into a bigger idea.
Brown’s suspended work Self Portrait (goes right through you) shares his personal history using organic materials sourced from his own body, tools from his work as a plumber, and artifacts that connect his family history to the Earth. The piece includes locks of his own hair and dried kombucha (SCOBY), replicating flesh weaved throughout galvanized steel stucco netting along with plumbers’ putty and glycerin. Among other materials, the artist lays casts of his grandmother’s corn-shaped cornbread pans at the base of the sculpture.
The mix of organic and inorganic elements is apparent throughout the exhibition, in both material and concept. Icecold, for example, presents viewers with Look at the Metrics, a wall-hanging laptop crafted out of glazed ceramic with a bright red candle burning on a small pedestal jutting out from the artificial laptop’s screen. The laptop pops against the bright red spray-painted gallery wall. The installation is an interesting play on modern-day technology merging with natural materials like fire, ceramics, and the immaterial elements of linear time and magic, as Faith includes in the material list.
There are moments where Brown and Icecold’s work have a clear dialogue with each other. In their pieces interpreting water, each artist presents their own perspective on the same subject. With Made Someone Else Cry During Crit, Icecold shows examples of water in several practical applications, while Brown takes a more innovative approach in his piece Soaking Wet, where he incorporates inorganic materials to represent the power and motion of water without using the element itself. Neither piece offers any clear representations of Black life or its connection to nature, which made the pieces feel incomplete as they relate to the theme.
Perhaps this was intentional, as part of the artists’ goal is to challenge the way Black art exists in the abstract world. As Brown points out, there has been an obligation placed on Black artists to create work that is didactic and literal. In their efforts to release themselves from those limitations, Brown and Icecold create pieces that may be difficult for some to get their arms around. Maybe the action viewers must make to better grasp the complexity and depth of the message is to experience exhibitions like Titanium that favor opacity and compel us to examine our expectations of Black art.
Titanium offers moments of bold expression, and I found some pieces quite moving. While the overall show felt slightly disjointed, it was exciting to witness two artists take risks and express their rights to create without limitations. Perhaps this exhibition would have benefitted from a stronger commitment to the theme of Black life and nature. My experience as a viewer was more positively affected by the ways I connected with individual pieces rather than my overall perception of the exhibition.