Let yourself be taken by the new show opening at Hollingsworth Gallery this evening the way JJ Graham, the gallery owner and curator of the show, lets himself be taken by his own works when he paints.
“After years and years of painting, to me abstract painting was the most challenging thing I could get into,” Graham says. “First of all it’s emotional, so there’s a sense of purging, of getting out these emotions, of quieting yourself, attack and release. But it’s also complex, because when do you say it’s done? You have to pretty much learn to trust your instinct and paint by intuition.”
So as you visit Hollingsworth, look by intuition, trust your instincts, but also let yourself go, the way Graham does when he paints. He’s led by his own brush, letting it take him where it will, which can be an emotionally hazardous—and rewarding—place, as with the two new pieces he was still, 24 hours before opening night, working on: “Ethos” and “The Gates of January,” pieces that his friend and fellow-painter Richard Schriner says reflect two recurring themes in Graham: the search, and the attempt to find order out of chaos. “Ethos” reflects that search, down to two stick figures impersonating Sisyphus, while “The Gates of January” is a more abstract, in places incomprehensible contrasts of cool blues and the more unsettling clashes of a tropical dusk. The piece may be hinting at the vague local attempts at an urban landscape.
Now mix all those notions together and you may get some understanding of what this annual members show at Hollingsworth is about. By members, Graham means members of his Southeast Contemporary Artists Coalition, or SECCA. If you’re familiar with Hollingsworth shows, you’ll recognize the styles of many works on the walls the way you would old friends at a party, though the work is all new. You’ll see a piece by Peter Cerreta, pieces by Linda Solomon, Chris Sullivan, Tom Gargiulo, Diana Gilson and Kate Miller, all of whom have exhibited at Hollingsworth before, along with Graham and the indispensable Schreiner, who paints the way Darth Veder would have had he traded in his light saber for a brush.
Schriner’s latest: “Non-being,” a man in a yellow jacket and metal-colored tie awhirl in the winds of existentialism: his face is veiled by the whirls except for the eyes that stare you down, if you can find them. The painting is in the nook devoted to the so-called disturbing works of the show, which include “Underbelly,” an installation by Justine Wintersmith that features, literally, the disemboweled top half of a well-busted woman with wilted roses for a head and something like a spider’s web for guts. Her arms are cut off, though one of them has the courtesy of being nearby, tethered to the unraveling web by the same material. Make of it what you will, though its theme of wilted beauty puts you in mind of the subtleties of the 1974 version of “Texas Chainsaw Masssacre.”
Above it are two works by Jen Kaczmarek, whose “Les Enfants” series was recently part of a photography show at Hollingsworth. The jarring is a familiar element with Kaczmarek, whether her subjects are young girls or women no longer, or fearing that they’re no longer, young. The two photographs here (“Bound,” from her “Ties That Bind Us” series, and “Untitled”) are certain to get studied stares, at least from those not worried about being seen staring at an entirely, frontally naked woman, her corpulence as arresting as her state: she is lying in a small forest clearing, surrounded by comfortably green brush, her eyes and feet are bound in black cloth, but not her hands, leaving open the possibility that this is an inside job: the binding is hers, the image an imagined fear rather than the reality projected by the unquestionably real photograph. In other words, she might be telling you: it’s not what you think. There is a bit more of a masked element in Kaczmarek’s “Untitled,” but not when it comes to the three phallic columns lording it over the odd couple in the picture.
Letting yourself go to the show can start at the door, with Graham’s guidance in the way he hung the show.
“There’s little subtle things going on,” Graham says of the stories he built with the pieces’ sequence, “like Eric’s eagle in the corner watching the room.” You’ll notice the eagle to your left as soon as you enter the gallery. “Here’s Peter’s woman”—he’s referring to Cerreta’s “A Brief Distraction,” of a woman reading a book and looking over her shoulder, in this case at the painting Graham hung next to her. “She’s reading this book, but I think she wants to join in with what’s going on over here in Linda’s piece.” That’s Linda Solomon’s “His Dream,” scene of an orgiastic man surrounded by languid women. “I don’t even know the title of this piece offhand, but it reminds me of Solomon and his many wives. I find these little stories that as I’m hanging things I try to tie things together. This woman totally wants some of the action, and she wants to be over here with stud muffin. Any time you hang a show with this many artists and this many different kinds of approaches you’ve got to find little things,” or threads, to connect it all.
At times the works just pop out of the walls, like Dominick Tesoriere’s “Big Bang” and “Uluru Dreamtime,” two enormous, mesmerizing canvases that echo the psychedelic late 60s, by a painter, now in his 80s, who’s had a long history of living in New York, who bailed Allen Ginsburg out of jail and had him crash on his couch. There’s even the impressionistic painting of a swinging golfer in the show (by Mary Connor), an unusual nod to the hyper-local culture of Palm Coast at Hollingsworth—where Graham takes pleasure dissing palm trees, beach and pier scenes and anything too emblematic of the town’s ground-level pleasures.
“My intention,” Graham says, “has always been to try to create an atmosphere sop that it kind of a culture could come out of this that’s kind of indigenous to this coast.” Whether he’s succeeding is up to you to decide, though Friday evening you could hear Schriner sing Buffalo Springfield’s old 70s anthem, with some justice: “There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear.” There’s no man with a gun so much as a brush, and he’s telling you to beware: it could be more fun than you can handle.
Meanwhile, the Flagler County Art League is opening its “Open Show” which, as its title suggests, welcomes all mediums and submissions. The show drew 46 new pieces from 26 artists. Nineteen of the 46 pieces—a Ted Williamish batting average of .413—got awards of one type or another, including nine first-place awards: one for each medium. Keeping track of the various categories and the difference between, say, first place and first place of show awards can get a bit tricky. (They’re all listed below). The heroic act of judging and keeping it all straight was done by Barbara Sarvis, a writer and illustrator of children’s books and past executive director of the Cultural Center at Ponte Verda Beach, where she still lives.
There was a delightful stretch Friday afternoon when, halfway through her judging, Sarvis outlined her thinking about various winning and not so winning pieces to Bob Carlsen, the art league’s director of shows and a photographer in his own right, but a compulsively opinionated and occasionally brusque one. The two of them went at it the way Pat Buchanan and Michael Kinsley used to do with politics on CNN’s Crossfire, which goes to show that there really is (and never should be) anything like one way to look at art: “balance” in a photograph seen through one pair of eyes can look out of kilter through another pair, though both agreed here and there that, so far as the photographs in the show were concerned, for example, quite a few looked like common snapshots of common themes rather than anything grabbing—of others’ eyes or of a gallery’s walls. So it goes with wide open shows.
Best of Show went to Paul Beaulieu’s “Nathalie,” an oil profile of a wonderfully pensive African woman in African garb with an expression (and a bevy of pearl earrings) almost jokingly grabbed out of Vermeer: you don’t know what she’s looking at, even less what she’s thinking, though (as with Vermeer) it’s just what gives the portrait its quiet attraction, though the overbroad golden frame imprisons it somewhat.