Q&A: Emily Amy Gallery and Oxford American’s Top Southern Artists

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Nikita Gale, Untitled, from the Convergence series, archival pigment print on rag paper, 19 x 13 inches. Image courtesy Emily Amy Gallery.

Shared Southern Stories, currently on view at Emily Amy Gallery, exhibits a selection of nine artists from Oxford American magazine’s 2012 visual arts issue.  The Southern literary magazine chose 100 noteworthy artists who’ve either grown up in the South or spent significant time living or working here.  Originally published in the February 2012 issue, the list was put together by curators, critics, and artists who nominated who they believed to be the best new talents coming out of the region.

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The nine artists each reveal a different perspective of the South in the ways they’ve created their pieces. While the exhibit expresses the experience differently through photography, paintings, drawings, or wet plate tintypes, the works find cohesion in that they each represent convincing stories about this area of the country.

The photography renders stories of childhood memories, the lives of the working class, and landscapes that represent where some of the artists’ experiences might have taken place. For example, Nikita Gale delivers her own memories by pairing a piece of clothing from her childhood with the original photo of a family member wearing it. By photographing the garment and photo together, she helps the viewer understand why she’s deemed it her Convergence series.

Monica Zeringue, Arc, 2009, graphite and embroidered thread on primed linen, 22 x 30. Image courtesy Emily Amy Gallery.

Though some of the art more blatantly expresses personal experiences, works like Monica Zeringue’s graphite drawings aren’t as obvious when trying to decipher a connection to the region. In her artist statement, Zeringue explains that all of her pieces are self-portraits, “often reduced to a pre-pubescent form” in which she explores identity by revisiting a more innocent period in her life. Regardless of whether or not the viewer can quickly gather this information from looking at the drawings, they are discreet and challenging.

In order to learn more about this wide variety of art, I emailed several questions to Emily Kirksey West (whose surname recently changed), owner and director of Emily Amy Gallery. She discussed The Oxford American, a little about the artists she selected from its list, and her intentions behind putting Shared Southern Stories together.

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BURNAWAY: Are you a follower of The Oxford American, and what it does for artists and writers from the South? What compelled you to feature works from this well-known literary magazine?

Emily West: My father was one of the founding subscribers to The Oxford American and writes short stories as a hobby. He has been receiving the magazine since its inception, and I have always loved their content. When they came out with the visual arts issue this year, I was so pleased to see so many fantastic artists featured, many even that I was familiar with. I thought it was important for us to showcase all of the wonderful talent in the Southeast and what better way to do so than with an exhibition of new work.

BA: How were you able to narrow down the featured works?

EW: I really wanted there to be a strong emphasis on photography for this show in light of Atlanta Celebrates Photography, but as a gallerist that mainly shows paintings and drawings, I thought it important to remain true to my roots as well. It was a ton of fun for me to select artists and particular works of photography that resonated with me the way that I often do with painting and drawing. For example, Jessica Ingram’s photographs are all taken in and around the Mississippi Delta, where my family is from, so it was a nice tie to my own Southern heritage.

Jessica Ingram, Tallahatchie Flats, Greenwood Mississippi, 2012, archival inkjet print, ed. 1 of 8, 20 x 24 inches. Image courtesy Emily Amy Gallery.

BA: The artists in the exhibition are described as “painters and photographers from the list who have lived and worked in the South at some point in their lifetime.” As I viewed the work, this made me think more critically about the kinds of connections the artists really have to the area.  How do you think the nine artists you chose reflect Southern experiences differently in terms of growing up in that environment versus spending a shorter period of time there?

EW: I think anyone who is born and raised in the South has a much greater understanding and appreciation of the culture than someone who has only spent some time here. That being said, both the artists that were raised here and those that weren’t have to look at it critically and nostalgically. All of the artists are able to showcase some of the good, the bad, and the ugly truths about our home. But, in art, even the bad can often be portrayed beautifully.

BA: There are a variety of mediums and methods used in this exhibition including inkjet photographs, graphite on paper, acrylic on canvas, wet plate tintypes, as well as reproductions of found historical objects. Did you intentionally choose to have this kind of variety?

EW: Yes. I think having this much variety in terms of mediums was able to better express just how many talented artists there are in the Southeast.

BA:  Do you think the varying techniques correspond somehow to the differences in each artist’s experiences and time spent in the South?

EW: I think each of the artists is trying to capture something that is special and resonates with them in some way. The mode of expression that they use might just be the method that is easiest for them to capture that experience. For example, Joshua Dudley Greer takes these beautiful large format photographs with a very traditional process (black cloak, push button, and all), and he is able to connect with each of his subjects that way and learn more about what the South really is in terms of who makes up this population. These intimate sittings allow him to truly see how diverse the South is, despite common misconceptions.

BA: It is interesting to view how nine experiences in the South can be depicted so differently. How is this type of group show different from past exhibitions at Emily Amy Gallery?

EW: I love having photography at the gallery because we do not normally show photographs. I also love a large group show because it allows so much visual information in the space at once. The point of the show was to bombard people with the wonderful talent that is here in Atlanta and regionally. I think the show achieves that and pays homage to the place we all call home.

The Shared Southern Stories exhibit can be seen at Emily Amy Gallery through Saturday, November 24, 2012.

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