A Series of Works?
The exhibition Sacred Spaces has been appreciated by many wonderful visitors over the last couple weeks. Numerous people responded positively to Nancy Newman Rice’s use of geometry, color and light, the connection with T.S. Eliot’s poetry, the video and the book. One visitor to our gallery during Sacred Spaces noticed that most of our exhibitions show series of works created by each artist and wondered about that. He politely asked, “What is a series, and what are they for?” The word series is almost self-explanatory: a number of works that relate to each other in some way, visually or conceptually. That much was assumed by the visitor as soon as he asked the question, but “What are they for?” is a more complex question with several answers that might help viewers to appreciate the art they see more fully.
Before getting into some of the more complex answers below, I should mention that the motivation of the viewer’s questions was really his desire for more variety, a common approach in many galleries, especially when they are showing many artist’s works at once. Variety is wonderful, but in exchange for gaining variety, one only gets a sampling of any artist’s work. When showing an individual’s work created over a period of time, we get a wider perspective of a whole body of work and deeper understanding about one person’s philosophy, artistic development and approach to art. A collector or student of art would appreciate exploring such meaningful insights.
At Art Space Vincennes we include various ways to make the art accessible to all interested folks. There are plenty of aids available beyond the titles for each piece. The labels fully describe the works, by series, if applicable, title, year created, size, and medium. If more than one person is showing, we also include the name of the artist. Some titles are enigmatic, like riddles, to tease the viewer into seeking an answer to be found by exploring the art work, or reading. This show, therefore, provides T.S. Eliot’s poem on the wall in the event a viewer missed study of the poem in school. The artist provides a statement about each series. In the video, Eliot recites his poem as details of Rice’s paintings appear to further clarify the artist’s intent. A book is available for purchase or for inspection at the exhibition. A notebook provides information about the artist. In other words, we have taken great pains to provide information about the art you are viewing.
Even those who chose not to use these aids, clearly loved the geometry and color of the show. The current exhibition, Sacred Spaces, Paintings by Nancy Newman Rice, features nineteen works in three series, Reflections, Sacred Spaces, and Ash Wednesday. The artist says they are basically all about the same thing. However, when we look at each series we can discern differences. In Reflections (see the two examples above), we see paintings of windows with light and shadow coming through window blinds. Different seasons, different times of the day and different weather conditions affect what kind of light or shadow enters the private interior space from the world outside. Furthermore we see layers of these images, as if they were double exposures. One might conclude then that various times are represented. The series title, Reflections, might be a pun between visual phenomena and the act of recollection. Rice’s second series, Sacred Spaces (examples not shown here), switches subject matter. We see primarily scaffolding, which appears to either occupy spaces within architecture or to exist as the architecture itself. The scaffolds have the lifelessness and hollowness of dried bones. They frame emptiness or voids. The ambiguous semblance of architecture dissolves into vague reminders of walls. These supports, the spaces and the light are most clearly defined, the essential subject matter. In some cases we see leaves of trees and ferns, hints of life, peeping from behind and through the framework of the staging, not unlike the shadows and reflections in the window blinds of the first series. These visual similarities might hold the key to their meaning and the shared relationship the artist claims exists.
The third series, Ash Wednesday (see example below), might offer even more clues to this visual puzzle. The series was inspired by T. S. Eliot’s poem also called Ash Wednesday. The titles in this painting series contain words and phrases close to or the same as the words of the poem. Ash Wednesday, of course, is a prayer as much as it is a poem, referring to the beginning of the Easter season of Lent, a time of penance and prayer. The poem is about the poet’s struggle to turn from this world to the one promised after death. The poem includes references to Dante’s levels of the Inferno, the poet climbing stairs toward redemption.
Here Rice more clearly portrays church architecture filled with scaffolding, a sight she saw in New York, to make direct parallels with the poem. There are many such references. Many are found in the titles of the pieces. Infirm Glory is a direct reference to Eliot’s term in the poem describing his own poetic glory, which is infirm by its temporal existence on earth. This can also refer to the artist’s temporal life, or her creative talent on earth, neither of which can match God’s. Yet both Rice and Eliot create, having enough faith in their art making to continue it, that they might inspire others through their work. In so doing, they demonstrate faith that God might hear them.
Looking back at Trang Lé’s show, Quiet Thoughts (October 2013), three distinct ideas inspired three separate stages of development, Morning, Nature’s Memory and 111978. Morning marked Lé’s discovery of meditation in the morning to calm her post traumatic stress, incurred by 9/11 triggering memories of her childhood in war torn Vietnam escaped and her family’s escape by boat after the communist takeover. Nature’s Memory marked her study of nature as a way of trying to grasp another war, in Iraq. 111978 was an unforgettable memorial to those service men and citizens who died in Iraq, each lost soul represented by a small spiral on a series of nine panels that fit together to make a single painting occupying three walls of a large room. Starting out as a series, the work became a single entity. (Art Space only showed one panel of the group for lack of space. Lé documented the other panels with a photograph and a video in the show.) Creating the work and confronting the war with such uncommon intensity was a healing and culminating experience for the artist that carried the hope that it might also be healing for others. Visitors were visibly moved by the work, just to graphically comprehend the sheer number of deaths in Iraq that the war had caused. For Lé, the three series were a process of deeply exploring self, nature for solutions, and finally confronting war’s brutality. The first two series gave her emotional strength and a process for the last series, in which she documented all the fallen in the Iraq war in a log their names, and with a spiral/circle on the nine canvas panels.
Winter Reflections (February 2014) showed a partial retrospective of my work and the work of Amy DeLap that represented various stages of development, each stage demonstrating a visual theme. The exhibition ranged from exploring very abstract ideas to representational ideas, various directions interrupted by the nine months on and three months off (sort of) of our educational duties. Each series for us partially represented our efforts to remain connected to our art in addition to our regular job of teaching and raising a family. The demonstrated the discipline and process of building visual vocabularies, while exploring and developing art ideas quickly. They are records of our artistic development at particular stages of our careers.
Art Space Vincennes LLC is free to the public T_F 12-5 pm; Sat 10am – 2pm.
We are also open on First Friday Gallery Walks, 5 -8 pm each first Friday of the month. Eat a meal, drop in at the gallery and mingle with friends and check out the art!