Two very different artistic styles collide to bring two exhibits to Living Arts of Tulsa, 308 S. Kenosha, and Liggett Studio, 314 S. Kenosha.
Joel Armstrong and Neil Ward, two assistant professors at John Brown University who teach illustration and digital media arts, respectively, have collaborated on two exhibits appearing in Tulsa this month: "Failing Hearts" at Living Arts and "On the Line" at Liggett Studio.
Both exhibits consist of wire drawings by Armstrong and casts made by Ward. The two are adaptations of earlier exhibits by Armstrong, who, when he met Ward at JBU, thought that their work combined would be a good collaborative effort.
"This is Neil's second year at JBU," Armstrong explained. "When he first came, I was really impressed by what he was doing. He's 27, and I'm 53, so there's quite an age difference there. I've got more experience putting up shows; but I thought his word would be a good complement to mine."
Both "Failing Hearts" and "On the Line" have been previously shown in galleries across the U.S., but under different names. Armstrong changed the exhibits' titles with the addition of Ward's work, which he called a "response to what I'd already done."
"Failing Hearts," formerly titled "It's time to Address her Drawers," came about after the death of his mother. After she died, Armstrong and his siblings found letters she had written sealed in an unaddressed envelope that documented her tumultuous and, it turns out, abusive relationship with her husband. The letters acted as a sort of journal for her. As he dealt with her death, Armstrong used them as inspiration for an installation.
Taking a dresser that belonged to his parents, Armstrong filled its drawers with words formed out of wire-- words from one of his mother's letters. There is also a fallen-over recliner and audio of a woman's voice reading, emotionally, the letter that corresponds with the words resting in the dresser drawers. Also in the background is the sound of a beating heart.
Exhibit goers may pull the words from the drawers and affix them to the walls, where lines, like those on notebook paper, have been drawn. They may align them in the order in which they appear in the letter, or, Armstrong said, they may form their own sentences, thoughts and ideas from them.
"There's some redemption in them taking the words out. In the letter, they're meant to be harsh, but (the audience members) can take them and write something funny or something personal to them. They can recreate the letter or write their own," said Armstrong.
Ward's contribution to the exhibit consists of about 100 hearts, cast from calves' hearts, sitting atop shelves that hang on another wall. Each heart is different, painted a different color, with different attributes and made from different materials.
The two elements of the exhibit (emotional and physical) combine to give visitors a total understanding of the working heart-- the complications and complexities, the relationship between its beating and feeling.
On the Fence
The other exhibit on which the two artists collaborate is "On the Line," which, again, consists of Armstrong's wire drawings and Ward's casts.
The scene is a backyard: your backyard, your grandmother's backyard, a neighbor's backyard. It's fall, and dead leaves crackle and crunch beneath your feet. In the middle of the space hang drawings of clothes, formed from rusted wire, from a rusted clothesline. You can hear sounds of children playing, a dog barking, the wind blowing.
Surrounding the exhibit is a picket fence, upon which eyes, cast from calves' eyes (which are most like humans', Armstrong tells me) sit watching the scene inside the fence.
The original inspiration for the exhibit was a days' worth of laundry at Armstrong's home.
"I'm a very manic person," the artist said, "and I have to keep busy all the time. I was working full-time as an art director and I was going to graduate school full-time. And I realized I was missing out on watching my kids grow up. The clothes I thought my kids were wearing, they weren't wearing anymore.
"They were the clothes I remembered them wearing, but they had grown out of them and moved on to other things."
So Armstrong drew the clothes out of wire, and hung them on a rusted clothesline, invoked by his childhood memories.
Ward's eyeballs watching the scene add a voyeuristic quality to the work, reflecting the human desire to see inside other people's lives and also mirroring the exhibition element of putting on an art show. Exhibit goers may want to consider themselves those little pairs of eyes sitting atop a picket fence.
Both exhibits open Thurs., Jan. 8 with receptions beginning at 5:30pm. The artists will give a talk on their work at 6:30pm, and the exhibits will be on display through Jan. 29. Both the exhibit and the reception are free and open to the public. More at livingarts.org
The Lost (and Found) Highway
Darshan Phillips, one half of the artistic collaborative Live4This, and photographers Matt Sawyer and Lance Miller show a collection of photographs taken on a road trip along Hwy 412 this month at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Gallery, 110 E. 2nd St.
The trio spent a weekend driving through Oklahoma, into the state's panhandle and then to northeastern New Mexico. Along the way, they stopped and took photos as frequently as their hearts desired.
"I wanted to take a road trip where I didn't feel like I had to get somewhere. We wanted to take a road trip where the idea is, if you want to pull over, pull over," said Phillips.
So the three set out in August, driving and taking photos. According to their artists' statement, "It was precisely these landscapes and towns, usually bypassed by travelers en route to more popular destinations, that we set out to photograph. We sought landscapes without monuments, tourist attractions and scenic outlooks.
"We sought a landscape that challenged us to make something of its blank canvas..."
Phillips said the vastness of the locales they shot was the project's biggest challenge.
"The landscapes were by no means glorious," Phillips said. "There was nothing as far as my eye could see. The intent was to try to make that look beautiful in a photo."
You can decide for yourself whether or not the artists accomplished their task when the exhibit opens with a reception Fri., Jan. 9 at 5pm in the gallery near Chapman Music Hall. The exhibit hangs through the month of January. Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri., 10:30am to 5:30pm and during Chapman performances. The exhibit and reception are free and open to the public. More at tulsapac.com.
Loose Leaf Co., a new studio and gallery space at 328 E. 1st St., occupied by that ever-popular collaborative Live4This and six other local artists and photographers (including UTW's own Jeremy Charles and Gavin Elliott), opens its first exhibition Fri., Jan. 16.
On display will be the work of local tattoo and graffiti artist David Hek.
Aaron Whisner, who, with Darshan Phillips (mentioned above), makes up the artists of Live4This (two other artists also work with the pair on design and Web projects), said that it's been his dream for a while to open an art gallery, and it'll be his responsibility to manage and operate it.
And though the artists working there have been doing so for about four months, he's still got some work to do before the space is ready for a public viewing.
Whisner said he hopes to feature new work every month or so, and has exhibits lined up through March. The artists working in the gallery will have "first dibs" on dates during which they may use the gallery space.
More details on the Jan. 16 opening will be released soon, so check back later.
Also This Week
Orasi Productions opens its musical "Shades of Gray" at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. 4th St., Jan. 9-11. The production is described as a "comedic, cabaret-style musical that explores social norms and the boundaries of what we consider tact."
Showtimes are 8pm each night, and the show continues Jan. 16-18. Tickets are $10 for general admission and $15 for cabaret floor seating. Refreshments are included with the $15 ticket. More at nightingaletheater.com.
Other than that, don't have much to tell you about this one. Look for a review in next week's edition.
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