current memphis

real memphis: offline

no language barrier here—the visual rules! like the international traffic symbol, the visible object means instant communication. even as the world hyper-privileges the words and sound bytes of contemporary culture, visual artists continue along solitary paths.

confounding all predictions to the contrary, the glut of cyber-exhibits and virtuality coming over the worldwide web seems to have created a surprising need to experience what is real. and what this group of nine memphis artists has assembled for two shows in amsterdam, is most decidedly that.

real = tangible:
paintings and drawings in oil, acrylic, and gouache on canvas and paper by hamlett dobbins, larry edwards, don estes, meikle gardner, pinkney herbert, dianne hoffman, and jed jackson; drawings done directly on the wall by terri jones, and objects that threaten to disrupt the formal confines of sculpture by greely myatt

real = referencing the recognizable:
images of memphis’s unique culture by don estes, jed jackson, and greely myatt, and of the mind-set that it produces by hamlett dobbins, larry edwards and meikle gardner

real = emotionally true:
abstractions that communicate a state of mind or a sense of place by don estes and pinkney herbert

real = intellectually logical:
conceptual works by dianne hoffman, terri jones, and greely myatt that force viewers to follow the artist’s thinking and working process

in a world hijacked by speedy messaging, we seem to have lost sight of the visual sign language that started it all. today, when we turn to our ready lexicon and begin to describe works of art, we find ourselves talking telecom–a paradoxical tangle.

like fiber optic cable, the abstractions of dianne hoffman and meikle gardner are made up of strands– multiple voices floating in the air–but assembled in different configurations. but “saum” (hem) refers also to an older web, the origins of the terminology, in which hoffman’s suspended threads hang passive and motionless, like a loom warp left slack, a would-be structure awaiting further direction, soon to be engaged by the energy of weft threads crossing through. in contrast, the active energy of gardner’s moving lines causes them to meander unceasingly, approaching and retreating from the picture plane in “aquatic” like a nematode emerging from deep ocean into the light to seek contact with other life forces.

with almost no receding space, the foregrounded compositions of artists pinkney herbert and hamlett dobbins are as present as figures at a cybercast teleconference. these two, in different ways, are using “body language,” somehow revealing a strong individual presence in each work. the small paintings in dobbins’s “important” series stand upright in full sight, one by one, like children pressing against plate-glass windows for a better view. they are composed like stacks of child’s building blocks, or vague images of shirts and pants and shoes, the colors stolid and earthy. perhaps they are here to remind us of critical issues that society is ignoring in the same way that parents fail to hear their children’s real cries for help amidst the din of everyday whines and whimpers. herbert’s “bridge” seems almost to emulate the reach over the ocean signified by this exhibition. does the red sea signify the divide caused by america’s foreign policy? his blue zigzags of charged energy surge across to be calmed by the gently arched curve coming from a much older and wiser place that, too, has known its share of “the blues.”

long distance has been calling don estes to holland for years before he knew it. so well he understands the unavoidable pull of flat geography and peaceful places. in “strata” he captures the silence and stasis of the endless riverbanks and cotton fields of the mississippi delta. he turns the parched mexican landscape on end in “acapulco,” where city streets stand deserted at mid-day under the slow hot sun and lush gardens of privilege and pleasure are hidden behind white lime-washed walls.

voice-mail, a functional invention that combines two practical applications, is now available from almost anywhere. how well this describes the portable, practical genius of artists terri jones and greely myatt. both can “make do” with found objects or found walls, creating works in space that did not exist minutes before. hand and mind work in tandem to find parallels in form and content. jones’s delicate and almost ethereal “2squares” in powdered graphite also shows the smear of the hand while drawing, and will ultimately fall toward gravity’s pull like metal filings to a magnet. in “a child in the world,” myatt’s sandwich bag twist-ties make a ghostly outline of a child’s school chair –a universally poignant reminder of innocence in peril.

artificial voice answering, looping music tracks, and busy signals find their visual equivalents in the para-advertising imagery of jed jackson and wacky figural wandering of larry edwards. jackson’s multi-panel images of wigs and billboards, and heroic portraits of non-heroic characters, point up instances of cultural cannibalism, with an ear always cocked towards the false-rings of local color. with images such as “deadly aquarium” and “sentinels, dead and alive,” edwards insists on turning up the volume and pointing out the endless struggles between us “lower animals” wherever he finds them, which is often very close to home.

susan w. knowles
independent curator
nashville, tn

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