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

November 2015: Keith Lemley

4:49 pm, January 27, 2016 in Blog, Photography, Reviews by Ken Aschliman

Keith Lemley, Installation view of Penumbral

“My work is about seeing the unseen – the invisible presence which exists in our minds and surrounds all objects, experiences, and memories.” In an effort to draw what is unseen using three-dimensional space, Keith Lemley constructed geometric shapes using neon lights. Shades of green, lavender, blue, gold, red, and white form a striking piece reminiscent of a deconstructed Rubik’s Cube or a constellation map. Working with neons, the color and shape possibilities are endless. Neon lights use shaping techniques similar to glass-blowing, and while any shape or angle can be achieved, Lemley constructed his piece using only straight geometric lights.


For the sculpture Penumbral, Lemley expresses a drive to unite nature and architecture. He explores an underlying geometry that is ubiquitous yet invisible in nature. French and American mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, also known as the father of Fractal Geometry, suggested through his studies that the application of geometry transcends human-created structures; for example, mountains are not symmetric cones and light does not travel in a straight line.


Keith Lemley, Penumbral detail

The perception of reality sparked by Mandelbrot’s work synthesizes the worlds of nature and man. Familiar with Mandelbrot’s studies, Lemley says, “I was interested in scientific research connecting disparate parts of the universe through underlying geometry, and this influences my angular neon installations that unify spaces through light, color, and line. More captivating than the actual geometric theories is the process of experimentation and discovery shared by scientists and artists alike. I am intrigued by the next set of questions each installation poses and the challenge of uniting materials, light, and architecture within each body of work.”


Penumbrual is rooted in the word “penumbra,” which refers to a region of half shadow resulting from the partial obstruction of light by an opaque object. When applied to art, the term describes the area in which light and shade blend. In astronomy, penumbra refers to a partial shadow between regions of full shadow (the umbra) and full illumination, especially as cast by Earth, the Moon, or another body during an eclipse. These meanings circle back to the concept of Lemley’s exhibition. The sculpture casts shadows upon the walls of the gallery space while the multi-colored bars of light illuminate the room with a white glow. Beyond the literal representation of shadow and light, the piece imaginatively reveals connections between organic structures, the “unseen,” and the man-made world through geometric shapes. The result is a beautiful marriage of art and mathematics. Passers-by can experience the lightsaber-like glow of Lemley’s dramatic exhibit through the expansive gallery window, an invitation to come in and explore a contemporary, innovative perspective.


By Ashley Gonzalez

November 2015: Lexie Stoia

4:43 pm, in Blog, Photography, Reviews by Ken Aschliman

Lexie Stoia, Installation view of Corn Lodge

The architecture of Lexie Stoia’s Corn Lodge is inventive yet simple. A mass of hay is supported by a metal jungle gym, a common piece of equipment found on many a playground. A soft glow emanates from within the structure. The source of the light is inside the haystack, but is picked up by mason jars spaced throughout. The remainder of the room is unlit, the windows facing the street darkened by blinds. At first glance, the haystack looks as though it could be a hut, but there is no entrance. “As to why it’s a sort of architectural structure–human size spaces have a way of engaging all the senses. And most important, there had to be some element of the unknown with the object/structure. I wanted people to wonder why it lit up, what was going on inside the dome, what’s that droning sound, ‘why can’t I go inside?’” Stoia enhances the feeling of wonder by adding meditative songs, woven floor mats, and guiding pamphlets for visitors upon entering the space.


Lexie Stoia, Detail of Corn Lodge

In her statement, Stoia writes that the aim of the exhibit is to guide viewers through different seasons of the year with self-hypnosis scripts, based on the life cycle of corn. To support the ideas in her art practice, Stoia has created the narrative of a fictional community, The Way Out, as the backdrop for several pieces, including her exhibition Corn Meditations. She says, “It’s a place for me to put my ideas about the contemporary world and confuse them a bit with a loose narrative about a new age group. Like a lot of people, I am both drawn to but skeptical of the occult and so I use my art as a way to deepen my understanding.” She created the book titled Corn Meditations to accompany the exhibit itself. The book consists of passages and poems in an effort to connect the reader to the exhibit, but also to amplify the distortion of what is fact and fiction. One such piece, titled “Cultivating,” reads as follows:


“Cultivating our little corn plants requires as much physical work–removing competing weeds–as mental work–removing psychic weeds. Through altering our state of consciousness, we can release our brain’s own drugs, a mental fertilizer for the corn souls.


Weedy thoughts

In the shade

Of the corn

Lose Energy.”


Lexie Stoia, Corn Meditations books

Interestingly, Stoia also wrote that she is interested in art that activates and deactivates the senses, “There is a universality in the body and in the senses that I like to play with. Horror movies, utopian movements, The Twilight Zone, and tiny architecture get mixed in. But at the root of it, making art is a way to prevent boredom and stagnation.” Inarguably, notes of the horror genre are present in harvest images. Stoia’s work hearkens to Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, a short story adapted into a play, which ends in blood sacrifice for the good of the harvest. The chilling climactic scene involves the townsfolk closing in on the “winner” and chanting “Harvest time, harvest time!” as they prepare to stone her to ensure a plenty of corn.


Despite the varying takes on corn harvest as it is represented on stage and in stories, Stoia’s work attempts to encompass many ideas and feelings with her sculpture and in her book. Words brought to life in the installation include “playful, idealistic but sinister.” Through Corn Meditations, Stoia explores each by appealing to senses as well as sensory memory and association. The experience is all at once peaceful, eerie, still, but teeming with energy.


By Ashley Gonzalez

October 2015: Leonard Suryajaya

2:50 pm, November 15, 2015 in Blog, Photography, Reviews by Ken Aschliman

Leonard Suryajaya, Installation view of Bathe Me When I Die

Ambivalence. This word comes to mind when viewing Leonard Suryajaya’s exhibition Bathe Me When I Die. Surayjaya’s work is a clashing of cultures, cleanliness and comfort. Navigating the complicated relationships among his photographs and videos is made easier by learning about the equally complicated relationship the artist has with himself. Growing up with Buddhist parents, attending a Christian school, spending much of his youth with a Muslim “other mother,” Suryajaya’s video and photography share an ongoing grappling with his sense of self and belonging.


Leonard Suryajaya, Still from Chocolate Beard, 2014, video

In his online bio, Suryajaya pulls in another piece of the puzzle that is identity. He writes that as he came to understand his homosexuality, his feelings of alienation deepened further. The pieces on display at ROY accomplish something unexpected. For viewers entering the exhibit, the first thing they see is an unsettling video, titled Chocolate Beard. In this piece, a seemingly unaffected, expressionless bearded man lies nude on what looks like an operating table in the center of a set-up for a photo shoot. The artist enters, wearing a trucker hat reading “BOY.” What happens next is not exactly an interaction between the two men as much as it is one man manipulating the other. The artist does this by smearing and licking the chocolate that has been coated on the beard of the subject. Another video, titled Rupa, features the same two men in similar roles. The unaffected bearded subject sits nearly motionless in the center of a kiddie pool. The artist returns and proceeds to alternate shaving, worshipping, and bathing his partner in a mixture of milk and confetti, as though he were decorating a birthday cake. Suryajaya clarifies that the milk bath is actually used to cleanse in traditional Indonesian therapy. He says, “The gesture of bathing the figure is also used in some Buddhist [ceremonies] where the devout comes to bathe the figure as a gesture of self inner cleansing. The confetti is a celebration. It is considering how festive, performative, and staged rituals can be.”


Leonard Suryajaya, (With Sister, Aunts, Uncles and Cousin) Mom as Bodhisattva, 2015, archival pigment print

As provocative and literally messy as the video pieces are, the accompanying photographs are equally provocative but contrasting in their clean, posed content. One photograph features the artist’s mother, sister, aunts, an uncle, and a cousin as a Hindu goddess. In her many arms she holds various modern objects, such as a television remote and Ibuprofen. The objects are symmetrical on each side of her body. The goddess in the portrait is a being who has reached enlightenment. This piece is especially personal for Suryajaya. He says, “In a place where she [his mother] will always be lower than my dad and men, I try to say otherwise.”


Suryajaya is successful in his exhibition’s ability to stir within viewers the ambivalence he feels himself. He says, “In making work and in thinking about my relationship with the viewer, I strive to create visual experiences for the viewer to respond to. I find that the most effective use of art (especially in dealing with hard themes of oppression, violence and injustice) is when I can invite the viewer to reconsider their placement in these questionings. Therefore it is my ambition to extend the experience of [disorientation] to the viewer.” The videos arouse discomfort and inspire a curiosity for clear answers, both of which are reflected in the artist’s experiences growing up in a culture that clashed with his identity. The photographs juxtapose varying religions and races as well as food imagery and tools. “Food is a signifier of abundance and transverse; however, it is also very specific and carries loaded meanings in its visual placement,” Suryajaya says. He uses the example of beef in one of the photos, as it is not consumed in some religions. As a whole, Bathe Me When I Die works as a collage, piecing together the divergent elements of Suryajaya’s history. The exhibit is reminiscent of designs featured in high fashion magazines; the ensembles we may not see ourselves wearing to dinner, but nevertheless admire the savviness and creativity of the designer. A similar sentiment can be felt for Bathe Me When I Die. Not all viewers will be open to the ideas and questions Suryajaya is exploring and the art he has created to present them; however, the boldness and ingenuity of his work is undeniable.


By Ashley Gonzalez

October 2015: Jessika Edgar

2:50 pm, in Blog, Photography, Reviews by Ken Aschliman

Jessika Edgar, Installation view of Hypothetical Self-Contained Separate Reality

Jessika Edgar’s exhibition Hypothetical Self-Contained Separate Reality is made up of colorful curiosities. Her sculptures are arranged about the room at varying heights and means of support. Each piece is appealing to the eye, stimulating in shape, and compelling texturally. These are pieces that make viewers want to reach out and interact with the art. In her statement, Edgar credits her inspiration to George Bataille’s concept of “l’informe.” This concept challenges the visual artist to create a form that in theory doesn’t have one. Some forms of “formlessness” have included tangle, fluff, foam, and fat. Through her sculpture, Edgar experiments with formless objects, or objects that “evade classification and meaning,” which makes her pieces difficult to categorize or label.


Jessika Edgar, Lumpy, 2015, ceramic, sprayed rubber, expandable foam, aluminum leaf, stool and spray paint

One sculpture, titled Lumpy, does just that. A pearl, marshmallow-like mass crawling out from a silver encasing, the sculpture manages to somehow look appetizing as much as it does an alien life form. Specifically, the lack of construction implied by the idea of formlessness has been turned on its head here. Edgar explores the impact of socially constructed identity and value, while referencing contemporary popular culture and mass media influences. In her statement, she specifies that her sculptures and installations “illustrate media imagery, especially related to gender, beauty, and material desire.” Combining pleasing forms with darker implications, Edgar evokes “cognitive dissonance.” She wants to draw attention to this idea by “creating a psychological space that is simultaneously critical and indulgent.” 


Jessika Edgar, Legs that go on for days, 2015, ceramic and vinyl

Aesthetically, Edgar’s sculptures are beautiful and well crafted. Her thoughts regarding cognitive dissonance and social constructs; however, lurk in the same space that at first felt whimsical. Her piece Legs that go on for days is an image ostensibly tied to gender and beauty. The “legs,” which rest upside down and criss-crossed, cast a shadow on the wall. The sculpture itself is highly textured and colored in hues of green, but none of that is reflected in the ominous shadow. Only looking at the shadow, the soft legs are uncrossed, becoming looming, sharp, and scissor-like. This piece is suggestive of Edgar’s ideas on popular culture and mass media distorting our sense of reality, just as the shadow of Legs disfigures the truth of the sculpture. She says, “I am someone who consumes a lot of media. I will binge watch TV shows and movies while I work in the studio, so much so that it has become a necessary part of my studio practice. Also, I love glossy shiny advertisements in magazines. I like the images, the colors, and the sexiness. While I often draw directly from colors and the sheen of magazines advertisements, I am also interested in the way that the female body is cropped and dissected in these images.”


It is also worth noting that this sculpture is placed at the south wall of the room, along with another sculpture titled Used and Abused. This pink mass of rolls stacked upon rolls spills over the delicate stool it sits on. This piece suggests conflicting messages concerning body image and beauty. In contrast, the sculpture in the forefront of the exhibit, Curly Q, sits neatly on a box resembling a gift box, coated in dazzling wrapping paper. The form of Curly shifts in both color and shape. Much like a vase, the bottom is wide and bulbous but goes on to form a smooth neck just before, as the name suggests, there is a curl at the top, altering the direction of the piece. The presentation of Curly as a gift and the mutation of form reflects Edgar’s aim to highlight material desire and how our ideas about what we value aesthetically, whether it be in how we look or the things we buy, can be easily changed. The arrangement of the sculptures feels significant because the tug of war between the criticism and indulgence heightens in intensity as the viewer moves through the room.


By Ashley Gonzalez

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