Like many of you, I have spent the last eight months secluded, and didn’t leave the house for the first three. I did what I know how to do, making images with the materials I had at hand, scraps of plywood and drywall, crayons, pencil and spray paint, a diminishing supply of acrylic paint. I quickly gave up on responding to an omnipresent and ever shifting news cycle, an impossible chase. With a singular exception, I found it nigh impossible to summon past grandiosity, instead focusing on smaller, more intimate pieces. Turning inward as a form of respite, working out of a delirious hope to distract, to keep busy, to give myself purpose in a world falling apart.
I feel like we are passing through a collective chrysalis, an upturned caged domesticity. As I paced a rut in my backyard, so too I found myself returning to the same dead ends in my studio. Erudite gestures of casual indifference, airy contentious groups, ruptured single figures, these crumpled anxious odalisques.
I am hesitant to call them studies, as a study insinuates that anything will come of them. Instead, to borrow a term from my friend Artur Pena, I like attempts. Attempts to occupy myself, attempts to find interest, to excite my eye, to fill the space new people and experiences would have inhabited. I can’t let go of the feeling that this is far less than you deserve, and for that I apologize, but it is my hope that you find me as I am, somewhere in the gesture.
Artist Statement Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is a two person collaborative exhibition two years in the making. Artists Lindsay Smith Gustave and Marsha Mack hybridize their disparate practices to ruminate on questions of nature versus human nature, each uniquely analyzing the formation and function of our domestic surroundings. Natural elements—animal, vegetable, and mineral—are thematic foundations of this exhibition, utilized to portray the interaction with and memories of our domestic environment when they are no longer ‘of nature.’ Works by Gustave and Mack depict these elements as signifiers of extravagance, perceived value, and false comfort in a changing world. Spanning seasonal and massive global change, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral has taken on new meaning in this year of pandemic and quarantine as exercises in isolation and criticism of creature comforts.
What began as a call and response slowly evolved into a cross pollination of ideas and forms, resulting in works that complement each other from opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum. Lindsay Smith Gustave’s practice, underscored by patience, stillness, and beauty, which began as methodical drawings, currently utilizes ethereal materials such as neutral toned chiffon fabrics, drawn taut and embroidered. Vintage glass seed beads are hand sewn into these sheer fabrics adding a dimensional element with the play of shadow. Imagery of hands, household goods, and discarded fruit peels speak to intimacy, the body, and domesticity. Drawings, beaded works, and video portray an ongoing relationship to domestic objects, a relationship heightened against the backdrop of pandemic.
Departing from Gustave’s subtler gestures, Marsha Mack’s sculptures and installations revel in material tension. Embracing mass-produced consumer products ranging from aseasonal grocery store florals to fine cut gemstones, overcompensation acts as intervention to socially conditioned shopping environs and the compulsory convenience of the retail landscape. The concept of value is called into question, comparing the simulated against the natural in the markets of domesticated animals, selectively bred flora, and choice earth minerals, highlighting the illusory nature of preciousness. Like the sparkle of a wink caught across the room, playfully disarming works flirt with the promise of collapse that is inextricably tethered to excess. Presented as pastel vignettes seated within expansive backdrops, Mack punctuates Gustave with intentionally maximalist, yet harmonious, opposition.
In an endless cycle of precious bloom and eventual decay, Gustave and Mack take turns adding nuance to an amorphous conversation regarding individual agency in the conscious and subconscious curation of the world around us, especially in a time when we have no choice but to live among our “things.” Whether it’s defining one’s identity with a handmade artisan planter, or masking vulnerability in the glare of lab grown diamonds, a curious conclusion is reached by the commingling of vastly differing artistic visions. These subject-objects are stricken from context, pared down to the essential, to draw attention to the voids between ourselves and those objects. Consumerist traditions of still life and portraiture are injected with a dose of alienation while examining connections with these objects, or lack thereof. Through periods of feast and famine, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral trains its focus on the physicality of objecthood in the contemporary experience in its most beautiful and decadent moments.
Lindsay Smith Gustave Bio Lindsay Smith Gustave lives and works in Denver, CO. Gustave received a BFA with Honors in printmaking in 2007, and a Master’s in Art History in 2014, both from the University of Denver. A multidisciplinary artist, she seeks to express the remnants of mundane existence through domestic and natural artifact, thus establishing a link between a landscape’s reality and that imagined by its observer. Reproductions of specific moments or vague memories infuse them with meaning by challenging the division between memory and immediate experience. Gustave has worked at the Denver Art Museum, Clyfford Still Museum, and David B. Smith Gallery, and was a board member of Denver Art Museum’s CultureHaus. She has exhibited work at Alto Gallery, Georgia Art Space, and Union Hall. Gustave has been featured as a Colorado Creative in Denver’s Westword.
Marsha Mack Bio Marsha Mack (San Rafael, CA) holds an MFA in Ceramics and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Women’s and Gender Studies from Syracuse University, and a BFA in Ceramics from San Francisco State University. Mack’s texturally rich, process-intensive sculptures and installations honor playfulness and introspection as equals. Her ongoing interest in cultural consumption and the formation of identity serves as wellspring for visual and associative cues, giving rise to questions of personal vs universal symbol, mixed race identity, and the emotional potential of confection.
Mack has presented projects and exhibitions with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (Denver, CO), Black Cube Nomadic Museum (Englewood, CO), Lane Meyer Projects (Denver, CO), PØST (Los Angeles, CA), The Yard (Colorado Springs, CO), and the Galleries of Contemporary Art (Colorado Springs, CO). Marsha is currently the Associate Director of David B. Smith Gallery (Denver, CO), a ceramic instructor at Foothills Park and Recreation District (Littleton, CO), and is an artist in residence at RedLine Contemporary Art Center (Denver, CO).
Limited 10 Visitors for 45 minute appointments on opening night.
PLEASE NOTE – We require a face mask for entry into the gallery.
Gallery Hours: Wed-Sunday 10am-6pm
Human Currency is a collection of works that confronts institutional racism in the representation of the cowrie seashell. Each piece addresses a contemporary issue that signifies deep rooted historical practices of slavery, racism, fertility, womanhood, birth, and wealth. The cowrie shell is the symbol of life; Jasmine Abena Colgan uses the shell to share her belief that through womanhood, we will develop the change in the world that is needed today. A simplistic form portrays a beautiful depiction as a metaphor, which is vocalized through the African perspective in artistic material.
“The exploration of my culture has influenced my identity to be expressed from life conflicts, as a multi-cultured woman with American nationality, appearance of Black American, but heritage of Irish and Ghanaian. There has always been the constant battle of deciphering where I fit in as a mixed individual. This body of work is shared not only from the lens, but the intellect of a African-American, Fante-Ghanaian, Irish-American, and Black & White woman.
My artwork has developed through the use of natural and found materials; they reference pigmentation, slavery, labor, tribal and bi-nationality. I mold metaphorical structures that represent the similarities between history and culture brought into contemporary conversation. I have developed my understanding of what it means to be a woman of colors. By painting a mask of makeup, I am embracing my skin condition and expressing the persona of a halfrican.”
– Jasmine Abena Colgan
10% of proceeds from your purchase will be donated to a non-governmental organization in Ghana through Tough Skin. A virtual card will be sent, and your name will be added and shared with the international community.
Jasmine Abena Colgan is an Ameri-Ghanaian artist, educator, scholar, entrepreneur and social activist who was born in Colorado. Colgan will complete her masters in Fine Arts from the University of Colorado Boulder in Spring of 2020. Jazz is a master printer with 19th century, historical photographic printing processes including; platinum & palladium, silver and gold.
In 2019, Colgan was a NEST fellow and collaborated with a Ph.D. Candidate in chemistry to successfully develop the Ghanatype; a gold printing method using raw material from Obuasi (Obuasi mine initiated the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade). Her artwork is inspired from the contemporary diaspora of mixed culture in the social world; a woman who is black and white, Irish and Ghanaian, African-American, but declares herself a part of the vitilgan race and a woman of colors.
In 2017, Jazz was awarded the “Face of Vitiligo” at a world conference, highlighting her successful social empowerment while conducting field research for her non-profit organization, Tough Skin. She has been featured in publications such as PEOPLE magazine, was associated with TEDXMileHigh for Wonder: Women in Art Experience. Colgan has developed international relationships with several diverse communities and recently established Tough Skin into an enterprise that sources Shea Butter from Ghana to handcraft protective, organic skincare products.
Denver-based photographer, Narkita Gold has been honing her skills in digital photography since 2009. She’s passionate about arts and culture and finds inspiration in the human experience, city life, and architecture. She’s currently profiling the city’s movers, shakers, and every day folks about the Black experience in the Mile High City in her portrait and interview series, Black in Denver. Learn more at www.blackindenver.com.
Artist Statement about Collaboration with Leon:
The Black experience in Denver is unique, complex, and often overlooked. I’ve always believed representation matters, and seeing ourselves on the walls of museums and galleries is impactful, especially to our little ones. I am excited to bring my series to Leon Gallery to continue to celebrate diversity in blackness, shed light on our connectedness, and raise awareness about the power of being oneself.
Originally, these portraits graced our front window, during the pandemic shutdown of the gallery, with plans to create a semi-permanent display on our flags, to bring the many truths of Denver’s Black community through Narkita’s project. We encourage you to learn more and hear the stories of our community members showcased here by visiting @blackindenver on Instagram. You can also follow Narkita @narkitagold⠀
“Blackness is a Spectrum. We are all connected. We are here”. – Narkita Gold
A small gift of beauty & art for the world in our windows along 17th and Park Avenue.
Ongoing through mid July
Jared David Paul Anderson: April 22nd – May 4th
*Live Performances with Darkness & Stars
Camille Rose Shortridge: May 6th -May18th
Michael Dowling: May 20th – May 28th
Venmo: @ifoundleon (Michael is generously donating all proceeds back to Leon)
*Artwork will be available for purchase on a donation basis through each artists’s Venmo. 100% of donations go towards the artists.
Although we cannot invite people to gather at Leon, or even go out of your way to come by, starting April 22, if you are in the neighborhood, perhaps on the way to or from picking up essentials or taking your daily walk, we will have something beautiful to offer if you glance our way.
Jared David Paul Anderson
If You Lay in a Bath as it Drains You Will Feel the Weight of the World
It is easy feeling the weight of the world these days. Nothing is black or white, it is all gray. That is the hardest part for me, the unknowing of it all. I do know these microscopic beings are much bigger than all of us and so I have surrendered. In quarantine I have found solace in full throttle art making. No answers here, just pause from a global pandemic painted in black and white, no gray.
Half of this exhibition is donation based art. I do not expect many people to be buying art at a time when jobs are lost and landlords still want to be paid rent. A simple act of appreciation to anybody practicing humanity.
JDP will be collaborating with Stephen Daniel Karpik (@sdk.forsale) for a live performance as Darkness & Stars during random moments of his installation, which you can tune in and view live on IG. In the spirit of surprise beauty, we may drop a hint when this is happening via Instagram, or you may just have to happen upon on your walk around the block.
Camille Rose Shortridge
It’s a Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood
I see many similarities between Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood and my own. I live in Uptown, just two blocks away from Leon. From my windows overlooking the cross streets of 16th and Park Ave., everyday I see my neighbors outside enjoying walks or riding bikes with family and friends. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. And yet, there is juxtaposition in that there is an underlying current trauma at the core that needs to be addressed. We’re not sure how to address it, we’re all trying to understand it.
For my installation as part of “Please Stand By”, I will be setting up my entire art studio inside the front window at Leon, where you can find me working daily. I want to give my neighbors a behind the scenes look inside the artists’ studio. A personal space that few ever get to enter into, and a space where as an artist I create work that is influenced by the realities of everyday. In sharing my space and practice with my neighborhood, I hope to offer a new experience that can perhaps bring us together in healing as we all learn how to adapt to these changing yet opportunistic times.
A series of eight collaborations set in our time of isolation. Each one will be a unique experiment in communicating and creating together with the physical barreir of a window between the artist and the viewer. Inputs will be exchanged from the viewers/collaborators, which will serve as the jumping off point for Michael’s new work and as moments of diversions for the current direction he may be painting in.
PLEASE NOTE – WE DO NOT encourage people to go out of their way, travel outside of their own neighborhoods, or violate the Stay-At-Home orders put in place by Governor Polis or Mayor Hancock. However, if you live in the neighborhood and are out getting exercise or en route to the grocery store, feel free to walk by and have a look. You can stand on the sidewalk outside the gallery and watch. But please remember to adhere to physical distancing guidelines.
Was, Is, Will Be is Leon’s 3rd Annual Performance Art Series, broadcasting remotely throughout the month of May, 2020, and during the stay-at-home/safer-at-home orders of Governor Polis and Mayor Hancock.
Artists were provided an honorarium to create a work of pre-recorded video or prepare a performance for live streaming.
As the various works are premiered on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, they will be added to this gallery.
Featured Artists and Broadcast Dates:
Phil Cordelli and Sueyeun Jeliette Lee – TEDDYSNORKEL – May 7th
Brenton Weyi – A Verse for Humanity – Creative Words of Connection and Introspection – May 8th
Joshua Ware – DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! – May 14th
Michael John McKee – Exercising – May 15th
Sarah Touslee and Tyson Bennet – Wait Here – May 21st
Tobias Fike and Matthew Harris – Confined – May 28th
Fike & Harris – 78,267 ft Apart
Tobias Fike and Matthew Harris bring us the fifth performance in Leon’s 3rd Annual Performance Art Series, reuniting again, after their wildly successful “Pop” performance from our first series in 2018.
Their video, “78,267 ft Apart” will be broadcast via Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram.
To make donations or send tips to the artists you can use Venmo: @Tobias-Fike
Statement: Fike and Harris connect through Zoom, and it isn’t always pretty.
Collaborating since 2010, Tobias Fike and Matthew Harris have dragged each other across the desert, wrestled each other’s shadows, and tried to catch glass objects while blindfolded. Their work addresses the everyday difficulties of human relationships, often using humor and irony to highlight the real struggles involved in negotiating difficult situations. They have exhibited widely, including at the Fonlad Digital Arts Festival (Coimbra, Portugal), the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art (Boulder, CO), and the David B. Smith Gallery (Denver,CO). In 2013, they performed live for the opening of Denver’s Biennial of the Americas First Draft exhibition where they tested the collision of beach balls at high speeds.
Their performance video, “Food Fight” is in the Kadist Art Foundations, Video Americas collection and was recently shown in Shanghai, China as part of that collection.
TEDDYSNORKEL – Phil Cordelli and Sueyeun Juliette Lee
Artist Statement – We will manifest and consume messages from other forms of life here on earth to prepare our bodies as channels to the future.
Artist Bios – Phil Cordelli is a poet and farmer just outside the city of Denver.
Sueyeun Juliette Lee grew up three miles from the CIA. Find her at silentbroadcast.com
To make donations to the artists you can send $ via Venmo: @sjuliettelee
A Verse for Humanity: Creative Words of Connection and Introspection – Brenton Weyi
In this video, Brenton shares some poetry, stories, a song from his musical, and ends with improvised verse informed by the audience. Central to all his performances is a sense of building community and human bridges, which is especially vital during this most disjointed time.
To make donations to the artist you can send $ via Venmo: @Brenton-Weyi
DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!!
Joshua Ware is an artist and writer living in Denver, Colorado.
To make donations to the artists you can send $ via Paypal:
DETH LIGHGHT IX: The Illumination of Nothingness
1. During the autumn of 1965, Aram Saroyan composed lighght. An audience, he said, should “see rather than read” the poem—for it is “sculptural” as much as textual.
2. When we say light, we pass through gh silently.
2. When we say lighght, we, too, pass through ghgh silently; but we are aware of silence because silence becomes seen.
3. Silence is the sound of nothing; but ghgh is variation producing pause. DETH LIGHGHT, too, is a kind of pause.
4. If “habit is the great deadener,” then DETH LIGHGHT is the great leveler.
5. Americans do American things: families, houses, careers, and cars; vacations and 401Ks.
6. When we die, our names will be forgotten. No 401K will save us.
7. The dead do not worry about American things.
8. We become nothing in our unnamedness, regardless of our station.
9. Sappho is nothing now but fragments; her contemporaries lost forever.
10. If we are to be forgotten, then dance inside the DETH LIGHGHT. But gracefully so.
11. DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! is a dance of insignificance before we disappear.
12. DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! sways with the apocalypse.
13. DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! says “I am this body who dances horribly in heavy boots.”
14. DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! explores public spaces rendered empty by disease.
15. DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! explores intimacy in a time of social distancing and PPE.
16. DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! partakes in our own decay.
17. DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! is a dilettante’s film—and unashamedly so.
18. DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! is a love song for everyone.
19. DETH LIGHGHT IX: DNCE DNCE!!! is a prayer to no one.
20. DETH LIGHGHT is the illumination of nothingness.
Exercising – by Michael John McKee
Here is the fourth broadcast in Leon’s 3rd Annual Performance Art Series, Was, Is, Will Be.
In “Exercising,” Michael explores the intersection of endurance, minimalism, and indeterminacy through the human body, percussion, and technology, paralleling a daily life during stay-at-home orders.
Bio – Michael John McKee is a musician and sound artist. Under the moniker Helicopter Copter, Michael produces sound-forward mixed media, including projects like experimental music video collaborations, sound design and incidental music for theatre, tongue-in-cheek compositions, wind chime sound installations, and alt music performances.
To make donations or send tips to the artist use Venmo – @micjohmck
Objects are spread across a table: books, bills, an almost empty cup of coffee, a note to self–“the sun moves across the sky.”
Initials are scrawled on an interior wall, in round blue letters, high up near the ceiling–RTHRS.
Ordinary objects and events, things we have held in our hands a thousand times, paths we walk every day, have incredible potential–the potential to knock our perception off kilter, to make us see things anew, the potential to tell us a story, an epic in the scratches on a coffee table.
My work is about the made world, probing the world of objects, their cultural significance, what they can tell us about a person, that transformational moment when they transcend bland reality and become new and strange, and that shimmering edge in between those two states of mind.
In Monolith, I mined my life for spaces that triggered a cascade of memories; corners where I ate breakfast every day, awkward doorways and corridors, worn parquet floors. I made small scale sculptures out of these spaces, sometimes realistically, sometimes in incongruous materials, like a corner of a room made out of speckled clay. I combined these objects with projections of shadows I had gathered; light coming in through blinds, hanging plants, a silhouette self-portrait. I borrowed and stole objects and images, like a bird looking for shiny things with which to build a nest. I took pictures of these arrangements.
My work has often involved layers of translation, usually from medium to medium, sculpture to photo to woodblock print. My thought process for this project took a similar path; starting with spaces that had strong personal resonances, I set those aside and let formal concerns lead the way, which lead back into meaning, but in a more open, stranger way.
Kevin Frances is an artist who lives and works in New York City. He received his MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2013, and his BA from the University of California, Davis in 2010. In 2012 he was a participant at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. His work has been shown at the International Print Center New York, the Knockdown Center in New York, Cheymore Gallery in New York, Vox Populi in Philadelphia, the Kala Gallery in Berkeley, and Galleri CC in Malmö, Sweden. He received a Massachusetts Cultural Council grant in 2016, and the St. Botolph Club Emerging Artist Award in 2017.
Leon is proud to announce the largest solo show to date in Denver of the works of bunny M. Predominantly existing only in the streets, artist bunny M, will be taking a rare moment in her career to exhibit beasts of burden, a collection of new paintings at Leon Gallery. beasts of burden is the culmination of a three year period of study from the prolific fine artist.
OPENING RECEPTION: Saturday, October 26th 7pm – 11pm
EXHIBITION: October 26th , 2019 – December 21st, 2019
*All exhibitions are FREE and open to the public.
bunny M is a fine artist, painter, and vandal born in the streets of New York City in 2008. An enduring figure in the underground urban art world, M’s intricately hand-painted works have been discoverable for a decade in NYC, Denver, San Francisco, New Orleans, Paris, and London to name a few. The scope of creation includes murals, wheatpastes, along with studio work on paper, wood, and reclaimed materials. Elemental, archetypal, and numinous, these paintings emerge from the subconscious realm of duality. M considers them to be animistic entities, desirous of interaction with you. They are drawn to our plane to surprise, enchant, and ultimately, uplift.
On page 531 of the 2001 edition of Janson’s Western Art History textbook you can find the following quote: “So far, we have not discussed a named woman artist, although this does not mean that there were none.”
While doing research for an altarpiece I completed last summer, I rekindled my love and interest in Late Renaissance and Baroque art. This meant opening up my old college textbooks and personal library of art historical content. With over fifteen art history courses between my undergrad at Pratt Institute and graduate program at CUNY Queens College, I can’t recall a single professor mentioning Artemisia Gentileschi. Why? My senior thesis was a series of large illustrative portraits of heroic women in my community. Why did no one think to recommend a female perspective to compliment my own obviously female perspective?
In the last few years, I have started to revisit my own experience and the willful ignorance that both my professors and I had about female contributions throughout art history. The mainstream historical narrative had allowed only certain men to define what art was, and its undervaluation of the female experience still greatly permeates our art education and contemporary markets. I became particularly interested in Artemisia’s disappearance. Researching someone so forgotten by history creates a daunting challenge to put the pieces back together. The mystery leaves the door open for multiple and sometimes contradictory narratives and has enormous potential for troublesome exploitation. Groups lay claim, offering speculative truths. Fragments and perceptions lead to questions that may never be answered. Through more research I discovered countless other notable female artists who I had never heard of. I found myself following three distinct paths of artistic curiosity, one leading to my own perception of Gentileschi’s work and intention, one leading me to discover the many other women I had never been educated about, and one leading to the self as an artist.
In the end, I had unknowingly unveiled my own fears of being forgotten like so many other female artists before me. This show became a personal conflict, with an existential ebb and flow. There were many female artists that could have been, or rather should have been mentioned before page 531–it’s just that no one was advocating for them. I hope my exhibition provides another way to record their names, and document their contributions to art history, and maybe through this undertaking, mine own name as well.
Artist Bio: Kaitlyn Tucek lives and works in Denver, CO. From Long Island, NY, Tucek graduated from Pratt Institute in 2006 and was awarded her Master’s from CUNY Queens College in 2013. Mother to two under 5, Tucek is a multi-disciplinary
artist who is often labeled a feminist. Tucek has been featured in Hyperallergic, Westword, Modern in Denver, and was recently named one of Denver’s top 5 artists to watch and collect by 5280 Magazine. In addition to her art, Tucek occasionally moonlights in art and museum education, illustration and curatorial work.
Self Portrait with Theorbo
is a video performance of a new music composition for large Renaissance-era lute. Infused into the piece are quotations from Barbara Strozzi, one of Artemesia Genrileschi’s composer friends. Strozzi, like Artemesia and so man women, queer composers, and composers of color, had been largely left out of classical music history. This work offers a moment to show that hew work (and others too often-forgotten) still inspires.
Nathan Hall is a former Fulbright Fellow to Iceland, and holds his Doctorate in Musical Arts (DMA) from the CU Boulder. He holds a BA from Vassar College and MM from Carnegie Mellon. His teachers include Nancy Galbraith, Richard Wilson, Reza Vali, Carter Pann, and John Drumheller. His works have been performed and exhibited around the world by the String Orchestra of Brooklyn, Tenth Intervention, GALA Choruses, Playground Ensemble, Decho Ensemble, The Gay/Lesbian Chorus of San Francisco, New Wave Singers, International Orange Chorale San Francisco, Ars Nova Singers, Duo Harpverk, a convention of roller coaster enthusiasts, artist Ragnar Kjartansson, and porn star Dirk Caber. Nathan has been awarded numerous grants including a New Music USA grant and the Denver Music Advancement Fund. His residencies include Denver Art Museum’s first Creative in Residence, Acadia National Park, Boulder Public Library Maker in Residence, and the Ogilvy Travel Fellowship to Ireland. He is President-Elect of the Board of Playground Ensemble and lives in Denver.
Theorbo: Nicolò Spera Video: John Roberts, Dustmite Films
A special thank you to those who helped the artists realize their designs
Matt Tripodi Sophie Lynn Morris Bonnie Gregory Christine Kane Kate Wilkonson Nicolò Spero
My current work revolves around contemporary modalities and the ways we see and portray ourselves. Through a narcissistic standpoint, we are constantly weaving a tale of who we are; fashionable, current and up to date. As on social media, my paintings attempt to highlight and beautify the “mundane” and at the same time exacerbate the clash between fleeing narcissism and the weight of culture. The “ornament” then functions as a means of symbolic and formal decoration.
My focus is on the subject of the contemporary construction of “self-image”. Focusing on a culture that does not delve into content but rather a place where the image reigns supreme. Imagery and the reflection of the other, and how we are seen seem to be the raison d’etre. Narcissism, the consumption of “cool” culture and the glorification of the mediocre.
Ramiro Smith Estrada, 1984, lives and works in Buenos Aires. He pursued Engraving as a career at Universidad del Museo Social Argentino in 2007. He was selected to be displayed at the National Exhibition of Fine Arts in the field of Engraving in 2010 and 2013, and to the Williams Award in 2012. In 2014 he was selected to attend the Contemporary Artistic Practices clinic (PAC, for its initials in Spanish) conducted by Gachi Prieto Gallery and delivered by renowned artists and professors Eduardo Stupia, Rodrigo Alonso, Rafael Cippoletti and Andres Wassiman. The same year he took part of a four-Argentinian-artist showing exhibition at VICE Gallery in the context of Art Basel Miami Beach. In 2015 he participated in an art residency program at LaVallee in Brussels, Belgium.
In 2017 he presented ̈CHETO ̈ his fifth solo exhibition at Mundo Nuevo Art Gallery (Buenos Aires), curated by Santiago Bengolea (Fundación PROA’s Contemporary Space coordinator). In 2018 he was invited to join two art residency programs in Denver, becoming a Redline artist in residence in June and a Taxi Studio artist in residence in October.
Exhibition Statement by Joshua Ware
The portraits included in Ramiro Smith Estrada’s exhibit Expertly Paired dazzle with their vibrant palette and intricately patterned designs. They are, indeed, visually sumptuous encounters that offer viewers aesthetic pleasure through their color and arrangement. But simply to look at his paintings for the purpose of optic gratification belies the cultural critique they wield.
In his iconic meditation on Parmigianino’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” John Ashbery toyed with the cliché “the eyes are the window to the soul” when he wrote: “The soul establishes itself, / But how far can it swim out through the eyes”? He answered his own question, shortly thereafter, with a hard truth: “The secret is too plain. The pity of it smarts, / Makes hot tears spurt: that the soul is not a soul, / Has no secret, is small, and fits / Its hollow perfectly.” Indeed, Parmigianino’s eyes are not the windows to his soul because the soul—“small” and “hollow”—no longer exists.
When Ashbery proclaimed the dissolution of the soul, he embodied his postmodern moment with an all-too poignant understanding of his era. Later in his poem, he expanded upon this idea when he declared: “But your eyes proclaim / That everything is surface. The surface is what’s there / And nothing can exist except what’s there.” By championing the surface at the expense of depth, Ashbery became a poster child for postmodernity. He challenged painters to rethink both their purpose and practice, while asking audiences to reevaluate their presuppositions about viewership and the self.
Similarly, Estrada’s portraits focus on, as he claims, the “contemporary construction of ‘self-image’.” Just as Ashbery leveled a critique against antiquated notions of the self that fit his depthless moment perfectly, so too does Estrada reconsider the self in an era dominated by social media and, to his mind, “narcissism, the consumption of ‘cool’ culture, and the glorification of the mediocre.”
To do so, Estrada strips his figures of most physical features, replacing them with floral-patterns that circumspectly traffic in tired tropes of beauty. If postmodernity collapsed a subject’s depth into surface, then the era of social media has provided us with the ability to erase our biologically-given surfaces in favor of an ornamental veneer. As such, Estrada’s portraits extend the Ashberian logic of the self to its conceptual limit. Call it, if you will, unselfing through hyper-surfacing.
Indeed, a quick survey of Instagram facial filters reveals no less than 70 options for distorting, enhancing, or obliterate one’s own image. Social media allows our online avatars to become our public personas. And the various filters, bitmojis, and photo-editing applications allow us to transform the renderings our digital avatars into whatever image we choose. These renderings, consequently, change with both our vicissitudes and an application’s available features. Moreover, they tend to disappear within twenty-four hours of posting or immediately after viewing. To wit, our self-images have become aesthetic contrivances that linger for a moment, then dissipate into the digital ether.
In addition to exploring mutable and ephemeral representations of the self, Estrada litters the foregrounds of his paintings with material objects; furthermore, he sets his figures against backgrounds of partially obfuscated text. While one could assume that the objects and text within the portraits relate in some way to the person therein, the original connections between them are mostly impenetrable to the viewer. Rather, objects and words become bric-a-brac divested of their initial signification. They transform into decorative elements that create a threadbare connection to the material world. Just as the self transforms into mere ornament, so too does our external reality.
If the portraits in Expertly Paired titillate, they do so as a rhetorical provocation that engages us in broader and more critical conversations about the tenor of our times. While Estrada’s paintings may not offer a corrective to the totalizing aestheticization of era, they do call attention to the ubiquity of the ornamental in ourselves and our contemporary moment.