June 2016: Ryan W. Kelly

4:38 pm, July 6, 2016 in Blog, Photography, Reviews by Ken Aschliman

Ryan W. Kelly, Installation view


Ryan W. Kelly’s ceramic objects playfully toy with the traditional form of American decorative arts in combination with a lively cartoon aesthetic. The installation transports viewers to a Victorian-era living room, taken over with Day-Glo adornment, hand-painted rugs and tapestries, and odd ceramic fixtures. Elsewhere in the exhibition there is an abundance of hybridized animal figures with human heads, oftentimes the head of the artist himself. Aesthetically, the ceramic objects have strong stylistic lines that give the objects the quality of a two-dimensional illustration. Kelly dubs his style, “immediate, the unrefined and the crude,” for the sake of exclaiming the peculiarities of the handmade object.


The installation appears to be a stage backdrop and is reflective of Kelly’s experience working with puppet theaters, dance and burlesque groups, and with low-budget film projects (most notably the Green Porno series by Isabella Rosselini). In the past, Kelly has created similarly fantastical sets for his various art performances, including Mazeppa, The Sleep of Reason, and Let Me Be Your Scapegoat.


Ryan W. Kelly, Turkey Lamp


The objects in the installation vary between stages of functionality and artifice. The playful quality of the flowers and plants made of foam and paper is mimicked in the painted canvas rug and wall paper, and again in the vivid neon colors of the furniture. This space is for entertaining, but what zany cast of characters would gather here? The key to whom this space belongs may be found in the portrait of the artist dressed in a suit and top hat, riding a neon pink horse. The traditional pose evokes heroism, while the pink horse subverts that feeling with its goofiness. Perhaps the installation is intended to exist within the realm of the artist’s psyche.


Many of the ceramic objects are typical subjects of decorative art but aesthetically appear to be their strange fever dream. They appear like a wild manifestation of the subconscious. The ceramic Flat Spaniels appear to be spacey guardians of the room, the functional Turkey Lamp is larger than life and highly visceral, the sculpture Eat My Fish Lady seems to be a repulsive withered fishmonger, and the Cigarette Bunny seems to be sleep deprived and craving nicotine with its bulging red eyes. The lowbrow humor of the sculptures contrasts sharply with the refined ornament of Victorian decorative arts. Kelly draws from an illustrative bank of stylized images of pizza, sharks, cats, eye balls, turkeys, snakes, dogs, and bats. The images function as a decorative code referencing the quirks and values of contemporary creatives.


Ryan W. Kelly, Goat Man, Selfie Centaur and Snake Grandpa


The series of ceramic sculptures on the west wall (Goat Man, Selfie Centaur, and Snake Grandpa) all reference decorative art centered around Hellenic mythology. Each sculpture has an uncanny combination of an animal’s body with a human’s head as one form of hybridization in the work. Additionally, decorative elements of the ceramic sculptures are not represented as their expected 3-dimensional forms but rather as flattened shapes, like drawings of what they represent. Heavy line work is used to add detail to the forms so that they are visually situated between what you might see on television and what you might find in your grandmother’s home.


Ryan W. Kelly, Smokey Bear, Speak Softly and Skunk Pits


Departing from his 3-dimensional work Kelly also includes acrylic paintings, titled Cock Fight (Diptych), Smokey Bear, Speak Softly, and Skunk Pits. The diptych of two chickens again replaces the head of the animal with that of the artist. A cock fight stands in for a symbol of dominance and “masculine” blood sport; however, when Kelly has his face stand in for the chicken, the result is an uncanny awkwardness and the erosion of masculine stereotypes. In the other paintings Kelly includes himself among imagery that evokes the rugged backwoods and a Rooseveltian attitude towards masculinity. Kelly reacts in a candid and humorous way to the animals in the paintings. For instance, in Speak Softly he grimaces back at the bear, and in Skunk Pits he smirks.


Kelly’s work highlights the internal struggle contemporary artists often face when it comes to embracing or rejecting tradition, especially in a climate where new artistic movements quickly rise and fall. Old styles are reconciled with the contemporary in unexpected ways. Kelly’s hybrid objects suggest that the past is essential to modern art-making. Techniques, inspiration, and allusions from the past fuel contemporary creatives even if on a subliminal level. 


By Harlee Mollenkopf

June 2016: Heather Kaplan

4:27 pm, in Blog, Photography, Reviews by Ken Aschliman

Heather Kaplan, Detail

Heather Kaplan’s playful ceramic works are a ticket for departure into a dreamlike fantasy world. Fantastic abstract forms interact tenuously with molds of tchotchkes, food, and figurative fragments on stage-like shelves that circle the walls of the gallery. On pedestals in the center of the gallery it appears as if Kaplan’s ceramic objects have swarmed together into the eccentric accumulations of her Katamari series. Like a dream, the inexplicable interactions between her work fracture any sense of linear narrative.


Heather Kaplan, Installation view

Kaplan places her sculptures in arrangements that hint at a story, but are ultimately ambiguous. She suggests in her artist statement that her sculptures “beg to be arranged, rearranged, and played with.” Kaplan creates fields of organic forms that appear to be borrowed from both microscopic and macroscopic worlds. Some of the forms allude to pollen or bacteria, while others seem like clouds or mountains. Molds of objects like broccoli, porcelain animal figurines, plastic teeth, and sand castles interact on a plane where size is ambiguous. When these objects are molded in clay they become more precious, like small monuments to their referents, the contents of the average Middle American home. Kaplan achieves an intriguing variety in color and texture of the pieces by layering glazes and re-firing the clay. The attractive and variable surfaces beg for the objects to be handled and played with. Our fascination does not stagnate because meaning does not settle onto specific objects but occurs through their interaction. Kaplan’s objects are parts of speech for a language of play in which the dullness of grammar has been thrown out the window. 


Heather Kaplan, Katamari series

Departing from the airy quality of her wall pieces, Kaplan’s Katamari series has a commanding heft and immediacy. Kaplan named the series after the 2004 video game Katamari Damacy in which the player must rebuild stars by rolling a magic ball called a katamari. The katamari accumulates whatever is smaller than it onto its surface until it has enough mass to become a star. As the katamari grows it collects objects ranging in size from thimbles to street signs to skyscrapers. Kaplan’s katamari sculptures appear to have rolled through the strange realm of her ceramic works and now contain the  immense gravitational force to draw in more objects from the wall shelves. 


Order can be found in the random ceramic arrangements by searching for pattern, repetition, and figuration. Even though there is no direct narrative to be had, these arrangements still evoke our curiosity. Why do we linger on these inexplicable interactions? Kaplan, who has years of experience in art education, offers that she seeks to, “question aesthetics of interaction and play,” as well as the “[relationship] that adults have with children and childhood.” With her work the expectation of art to say something is shed. Doing something without purpose often feels like a waste of time, and that is perhaps the greatest disconnect between adulthood and childhood. Kaplan bridges that gap; she liberates the viewers to play, to have fun, to do without purpose.


By Harlee Mollenkopf

2017 Call for Entries

4:16 pm, in Blog, Call For Entries by Ken Aschliman


ROY G BIV Gallery is now accepting entries for its 2017 exhibition season. Jurors Tyler Cann, Dennis Harrington and Hope Ginsburg will select the exhibiting artists. Each selected artist will be given a solo exhibition in one of ROY’s galleries for one month. Group show proposals will also be accepted. ROY G BIV Gallery is a nonprofit art gallery known for presenting innovative contemporary art by emerging artists from around the world.


The deadline for submissions is Saturday, July 30. Enter here.

997 N. High St. | Columbus, OH 43201 | Fri., Sat. and Sun. from 1–6 PM and by appointment | 614.297.7694 | info@roygbivgallery.org
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