Monday, November 14, 2022

"Justified + Ancient: 16 Contemporary Artists Transcend Time and Space," Part 2

 Works from "Valiant Series" by Mara Torres Gonzalez (2022)
and Sarcophagi from Ptolemaic Period, Egypt circa 4th c. BC 
If you're getting the feeling that I'm taken with the "Justified + Ancient" exhibit now on at MARA Gallery, you're right. What can I say? I wear my (art) heart on my sleeve. 

"Justified + Ancient" was organized by Halo Arts Projects, a non-profit whose mission is to provide financial resources and programming support to visual artists across Southwest Florida. Halo Arts Project secured the loan of the ancient objects in the exhibit, with Mara Torres Gonzalez (of MARA Gallery) and Jackie Cutrone curating the show. In case you're curious about the "justified" part of the title, as I was, it comes from the idea that when you justify something it is validated. Mystery solved. 

Gonzalez was challenged to create work inspired by two glorious Egyptian sarcophagi. I love the way the texture of Gonzalez' mixed media works speaks to the detail of the sarcophagi. I could try and wax eloquent about the pairing, but Marty Fugate has already done that in a great article about the show in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Click here to read his piece. And here's a fun fact: Sarcophagus means "flesh eater" in Greek. Moving right along...

"Within and Without" by Pam Olin (2022)
with Ancient Mid East Janus circa 3rd - 2nd millenium BC

Pam Olin works in a variety of mediums, but steel has been her passion for more than 30 years. On her website she says, "Steel is a language. A song. A breath." With such strong feelings about the medium, it's no surprise she put on her welding gear when she was selected to participate in "Justified + Ancient." 

Olin's object is a Janus-like figure from the Ancient Mid East circa 3rd-2nd millemium BC. Janus is typically depicted as a double-faced head and is associated with doorways and transitions and duality. (And, yes, the term "two faced" derives from Janus. Having multiple faces makes it all the easier to say one thing to one person and something entirely different to another.) Occasionally, as here, Janus is depicted with four faces. Perhaps that enables his words to come full circle. 

Olin's work gives multiple nods to the different interpretations of Janus. The cut-outs in her work are references to doorways. And it's those doors that enable the transitions as she cut -- literally -- to the core of the matter. The interior of her work has lights and a mirror to encourage self-reflection. And while touching artwork is generally verboten, Olin urged viewers to physically turn the work, with the rotations representing life's journey. (Turning the globe required a bit of work. So does life.) The exterior has what I presume are Olin's mantras: Be happy. Stay curious. Reach out. Go forward. 

Mayan Bowls circa 3rd c. BC to 12th c. AD and Howls' "Mayan Modern" (2022)
 I'll leave you with one of Grace Howl's works in the exhibit -- "Maya Modern." Howl is uber creative, community minded and collaboratively spirited. (The Exquisite Corpse exhibit at her gallery in 2018 still ranks among my favorite shows of all time.) So I was not suprised to learn she was one of the participating artists. 

Like the other artists, Howl was very thoughtful in her process. She shared a document with me in which she outlined her responses to the artifacts. She considered the reasons the artisans created them, which ranged from being useful in everyday life to paying homage to ancestors to recording life and the sky and constellations. Howl's final work incorporates traditional Mayan colors that represent east, west, north and south along with the sun, the moon, the stars and water. The symbols in "Mayan Modern" are Howl's interpretations not only of the Mayan bowls with which she was paired but the images and glyphs found in pyramids and codices. I particularly like the bird balancing on a chair that Howl created as the focal point. Life is a balancing act. 

"Justified + Ancient" closes this Thursday, November 17th, so now's the time to see it. MARA Gallery is located at 1421 5th St. in Sarasota and is open on Tuesday - Thursday from 10-3. I hope you get there as these posts do not do justice to either the ancient objects or the contemporary artwork. And there are many more pairings to see. If a visit to the gallery isn't an option, you can see the exhibit by clicking here. For more on the Halo Arts Project, click here. Kudos to all involved in putting together this incredible collaboration. 

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