First experiences and impressions with artworks can transform into completely different ones after reflection and a second glance. This can happen swiftly, while viewing the work, or it can take time, or even a second or third visit.
Many works change conceptually or philosophically, like the ambidextrous attitude in the Mona Lisa’s expression. Some artworks morph visually, like Salvador Dali’s famous installation/illusion of Mae West in the Museu Dali, or C. Allen Gilbert’s trickery in All is Vanity.
The ambiguity of mortality and illusion of vanity is what drives the current exhibit at the Michael Phipps Gallery in the W. Dale Clark Main Library, All Is Vanity, which features the work of Angie Seykora and Dan Crane.
Individually, these two artists are well known for finding inspiration in the overused and clichéd in consumerism, pop culture and materialism. This dual endeavor, curated by Alex Priest, is a culmination of the seed of an idea in which the two artists found a mutual proclivity.
Collaborations in the local art scene are rare. Artists can be possessive of ideas, secretive, or they sometimes lack the confidence to work with others, but this exhibit presented the artists an opportunity they willingly accepted.
“Collaborating only seemed like the logical thing to do as our approaches to making are so different,” Seykora said,” but our interests are quite similar. It seemed like an appropriate time to finally make the collaborative pieces and this seemed like the right venue.”
“In an age when information is as free-flowing as ever it seems silly and selfish to try guarding process secrets,” Crane added. “And even though our individual work is quite different, our mutual appreciation for in-studio-frankness allowed us to collaborate pretty seamlessly.”
Minimalist in nature, the exhibit, which runs through April 29th, features two solo pieces by each artist and two collaborative pieces, all inspired by Gilbert’s own 1892 illustrative vanitas.
The three large assemblages and one large drawing fill the space comfortably with the artists’ well-known, sometimes humorous, pop-culture kind of art.
Finding inspiration and substance in diverse materials and everyday objects is not new, and although Duchamp has cornered the historic market with his “Readymades,” Seykora takes the recycling process in a different direction, using repurposed objects and materials to create abstract assemblages and modern mosaics.
Seykora’s solo effort, “Soft Serve” (2017), is a 3 ft. high by 12 ft. long grid of circular, six inch “mirrors,” each framed in a yellow plastic ring. Lined with cut discs of silvery paper, the reflections are muted and blurred.
Initially, one might wish these to be real glass mirrors, but upon reflection (apologies) the artist’s choice is much more meaningful and poetic. The undefined reflections suggest the murky ghostliness or impermanence to our narcissism, maybe forgiving our arrogance.
The discs, framed in a happy yellow PVC, seem purposefully numerous, editorializing on excess and gluttony. The mirrors are joined to each other with a silvery bow, a sequined string tied to conceit’s finger, a reminder how dubious but inevitable our shared fate.
Crane’s “Black Skull” (2014), 5 ft. by 4 ft., is a rendering of a skull on white paper. The angled top of the paper appears hastily torn, giving the piece a bit of handmade honesty. The drawing itself is a large, bold and mostly black skull, dotted with brilliantly colorful, candied neon squiggles and puddles.
The eyes are rendered as distorted, impish cartoon faces. Neon worms crawl over the top and down the front, and distorted teeth dance around a shocking rose madder mouth.
The skull, both clownish and macabre, seems to want to morph into something else, as so easily did the show’s oft-pilfered namesake, All is Vanity. An homage not only to the Gilbert piece, but to every Day of the Dead curio, to Hamlet and Yorick, to tacky key fobs, cliché Halloween decorations, and late night, drunken tattoos.
Almost overlooked is a most interesting element of this work. The two mediums used to make this drawing are listed on the title card, one being “ballpoint pen.” Curious viewers will inevitably go back and examine the piece, finding that the entire black interior was filled in with a black ballpoint pen.
This insane craftsmanship emulates velvety black fur, a happy accident(?) since this piece precedes the others by three years. And gives one a convenient segue into the collaborative works.
Assemblage and installation artists have a universe of materials at their disposal. Avoiding busy-ness and vague messages, the Seykora and Crane dual works stay grounded by limiting the palette to a few materials: felts and satins, tweeds and herringbones, some fabrics with “industrial” patterns, all black or gray, black translucent vinyl and lots of synthetic black fur.
The two, very similar, 6 ft. by 5 ft. pieces are hung with deliberately unpretentious black spring clips. Lil Fuzzy (2017) is the more accessible of the two; an arrangement of loose shapes that mimic the color features of Cranes solo piece.
The synthetic black and grey fabrics form facial features of a shiny black vinyl skull, carved out of a rectangular surround of black synthetic fur. The ‘face” is most evident from only a couple of angles, coming into view when the light catches the vinyl just right, a nod to the illusionary element of the show.
The other work, Big Krooked (2017), sort of an inverse mate to the first, is a fabric and fur skull on a large vinyl rectangle. This is a grimly humorous piece, but more difficult to discern as the facial features of the skull are distorted into a non-face, and the defining aspect of the reflections is absent.
The Michael Phipps Gallery is nestled into the first floor of the downtown branch of the Omaha Public Library. It is free and open to the public. All Is Vanity continues till April 23. For details and gallery hours, go to omahalibrary.org/tag/michael-phipps-gallery.