Hydra, the current exhibit at RNG Gallery in Council Bluffs, is an all-portrait presentation of recent work by Jeff King and Eric Baughman. With both artists creating in the same genre, it makes for a unified presentation despite certain stylistic variations.
Jeff King describes his art as mostly Expressionistic, where Baughman’s work veers toward a more Pop Art approach. The original art movement of Expressionism King references was began in Germany, 1905 to the 1930’s, as artists responded against the evil they saw rising. This style continues as one of the many “isms” in art, usually with emotional brushwork and less precision.
King seems to have taken on the role of “canary in the coal mine,” responding visually to the state of his contemporaries’ responses to life. The show’s title, Hydra, seems an excellent choice for this work.
In the myth of the same name, each time Hercules cut off a head of the Hydra, two more appeared. Hydra has long been seen as a persistent evil with many sources and causes. King sees his friends and co-workers continuing to ignore what is happening to their lives, unwilling to face the abuse of those making the decisions for them, and for our country. In addition, he says, they don’t vote, won’t keep up with world events, and just blindly stay on the treadmill of job and daily living, never really seeing the “Big Picture.”
All of King’s work depicts today’s working class. He asks subjects to look at him straight on so he can try to “connect with their soul” in the paintings. His process is to start the painting with the person modeling and then go back into the work several times with periods of study between, layering and intuitively marking and adjusting the image, until he feels a sense of finish with it. The work remains gestural with bleeding lips or jarring stares from the canvas. The frequent drips and slashes might also echo Expressionist Willem DeKooning, King’s favorite artist.
Several pieces retain an unfinished quality, giving viewers an opportunity to complete it themselves or simply follow the loose paint-handling, and try to puzzle out Jeff’s intent.
Most of the portraits are done in oils. The stand-out piece, shown above, is King’s “Self-Portrait.” It seems the most demanding of our gaze, filling the frame with an uncompromising stare. The carefully-wrought light and dark planes on the flesh add a powerful dimensional feeling, making it worthy of study. Pink and turquoise touches both enliven and unify the composition. He made the comment that “everything isn’t what you may think,” which may be applicable to much of his work.
Another one of Jeff’s works that might attract the viewer’s eye is a charcoal drawing of an old man, poignant to view, as we all change as we inevitably age. Drawn with numerous lines contouring the face as well as dents in the head and no visible neck, it seems a floating head. By having hollows for the eyes, the image becomes a death mask—tragedy, of course.
King invited his friend Eric Baughman to join him for this exhibit. There is a professionalism in Baughman’s art that helps us settle comfortably for the ride while looking at his finely-tuned work. As a screen printer for the last 12 years, and a longtime graphic artist by education, Baughman seems to have inevitably slipped into the arena of using stencils to present Pop-like images on his canvases.
All of Eric’s offerings are precision-cut and well-articulated, allowing the viewer to simply enjoy them, appreciating their aesthetic quality. There are two five-foot square pieces. First, “Sister Nature,” the artist’s take on Wonder Woman, coincides with a resurgent media-wide interest in that 1940’s icon and should prove popular to many.
The second large work, “Princess of Peel,” greets us at the door, causing us to smile at her slickness as well as the artist’s prowess. There is a smaller stenciled work, “Siamese Cowboys, Paris” in pale blue with black, and a black on white piece with probably more content than the others titled “Love”, a crying woman with a knife.
Asked why he continues making art, Baughman said simply that it makes his life more meaningful. “Without art, we could not even have a culture,” he said. A long-time tinkerer, he started with sculpture 25 years ago. He earned his associates degree in graphic communications at Metro, finishing his bachelor’s degree at UNO in the graphic arts.
Baughman began working with stencils on canvas two years ago. He describes himself as “not a comic book kid originally.” His favorite artist for years has been Roy Lichtenstein , with Lady Aiko an influence of late.
Hydra continues at RNG Gallery/Dixie Quicks is at 157 West Broadway in Council Bluffs through Dec. 7. Call: 712-256-4140 for details.