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JOANNE GREENBAUM (foreground), PAUL DEMURO, KEITH ALLYN SPENCER, PAUL DEMURO, MICHAEL BERRYHILL (left to right)
Bull and Ram is a migrating curatorial project run by artists Yevgeniya Baras and Eve Lateiner.
“Mythografia” opening Saturday February 25th 7-9pm
— 270 Lafayette st. Suite 612, New York, NY
KEITH ALLYN SPENCER
Joseph Campbell defined myths as having four basic functions: (1) the Mystical Function—experiencing the awe of the universe; (2) the Cosmological Function—explaining the shape of the universe; (3) the Sociological Function—supporting and validating a certain social order; and (4) the Pedagogical Function—how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.
When visiting the studios of the five artists included in this exhibition, JOANNE GREENBAUM, MICHAEL BERRYHILL, KEITH ALLYN SPENCER, PAUL DEMURO, JACKIE GENDEL, we began looking at each of them as a collector of myths, the narratives that combine to form their artistic world. Some of the works appear more as environments within which a myth takes place. In others, the work is the actor, a character within that myth. There is a story being told, recorded, and channeled through these artists, all of whom are participating in the tradition of storytelling that is mythografia. Myth here is a guiding principle of the artistic process.
To encounter Joanne Greenbaum’s ceramic pieces is to meet unique characters co-living together and creating an exhilarating conversation. It is interesting to look at these sculptures in relation to Joanne’s paintings as the ceramic pieces become the characters from her paintings materialized in 3D. The surface quality varies from a slight touch to appearing pinched, from mattness to brilliant smoothness. They are punctured, bent, twisted, leaning, beings. Grouping them becomes a task of considering their personalities. The narrative is continuously rewritten depending on which sculptures are positioned together; they bring out certain traits in each other, provoke each other, co depend, overpower, and embody.
Some of Michael Berryhill’s drawings are blueprints for later paintings or sculptures, but more importantly they act as a place for him to freely record ideas without censoring the self, to tell the story of his thoughts and the various places he travels in his mind. The intimate nature of these drawings allows viewers to feel like they are peaking behind the curtain, given access to the space where the creator tests the seeds for different narratives. There is a spiritual vibrancy to his work and a mystery that makes us want to learn more about what the forms represent and who might be lurking outside the frame. The gardens, mythical creatures, heads, draped garments and flowers are painted with such care and consideration for material. Michael gently layers the canvas with pigment building up history. Upon close observation each canvas is an archeological dig but the digging is gentle. The paintings feel imbued with wisdom. They have been around for a while. They are aged and found paintings but converse with the rigor of today.
Keith Allyn Spencer’s paintings function in a similar way to Greenbaum’s ceramics, offering the viewer an array of characters with different personalities. However, Spencer’s materials hold their own personal connections that tell us about his environment and the people in his life. Spencer sometimes uses his son’s clothing as a canvas on which to paint, and old paint on the studio floor sometimes makes its way onto the surface. These items give the viewer a direct connection to the myth of the artist in his studio and in his private life. While not technically necessary to the work, these tools give the work a distinct presence. Keith’s pieces sum into a story; the paintings rely on each other, melting into a communal presence, humming together. They are soiled, worn, humorous on one hand and strictly formal on the other. They dance between these two modes of being.
The paintings of Paul DeMuro have a celebratory energy in the richness of the paint and the scale of the canvas. The patterns are reminiscent of tapestry, which has a mythology of its own. One wonders about the derivation of these patterns and the seductive quality of the artist’s hand. The patterns are interrupted with an array of personal symbols and codes tightly woven from thickly applied paint. Paul’s paintings are operas, dark, dramatic, voluptuous paintings of sculptural nature but firmly remaining paintings. Hands, Hearts, Stripes compose these sign-like overly present painting creatures.
Jackie Gendel’s paintings converse explicitly and imaginatively with the long history of painting. By referencing images from old master works, Gendel translates the original narrative into a new version all her own. At times she processes the same story numerously, each canvas exposing to us a slightly different angle of the same scene. She may zoom in on characters or show them swallowed by their abundant environment. Being in room full of Jackie’s works is like hearing one narrative at different volumes, in different languages, and told backwards and forewords simultaneously. The viewer is swallowed by the story and seduced by the stuff of paint.