Sunday, September 9, 2018

22nd Annual No Dead Artists at Jonathan Ferrara

When Jonathan Ferrara was a partner at a now defunct gallery in 1995, an annual exhibition was launched called No Dead Artists. Created to spotlight the work of local emerging artists, the show survived the transition to Ferrara's own gallery and is now international in scope. It remains as quirky as ever; its ability to surprise has always been its most consistent attribute. The surprise this year is the unusual prevalence of figurative imagery that often evokes the identity politics that dominates our current political discourse. Fortunately, these artists approach it with more empathy and humor than most of our politicians, lending a fresh perspective to this deeply contentious topic.

Joseph Barron's Draining the Swamp painting (detail, left) updates vintage baroque imagery with quirky modern details including an elephant blasting a lady in a miniskirt with water from its trunk as familiar political figures cavort amid cupids and lambs in a scene that conveys the circus-like tenor of the times. Kat Flynn courts controversy with box sculptures like Affordable Housing featuring mammy dolls in cubicles, or in Trailer Park where rustic white folk appear amid signs promoting coal, lard and Jesus. Here culture war animus yields to a more nuanced perspective that contrasts cliched stereotypes with broader underlying concerns. Kerra Taylor similarly spotlights familiar looking Middle Americans in dinner scenes where a tornado looms outside a window, or in a boat on an expanse of floodwater where gasping fish and an engulfed plantation house, top, remind us of the common challenges we all face as we coexist on an ever more volatile planet. Other edgy yet ambiguous works include a photo-collage by Mash Buhtaydusss depicting a vintage child in a derelict basement where Humpty Dumpty, porn stars and child action figures cavort amid grimy 1950s office furnishings in a kind of nihilistic time capsule, and Nigerian painter Rewa Umunna's casual portraits of sleek black women rendered in vivid patterning that recalls both geological contour maps and iconic African fabrics, a visual mash-up true to a time when virtual realities and traditional values increasingly, often bafflingly, intermingle. ~Bookhardt / 22nd Annual No Dead Artists: International Emerging Artists Exhibition, Through Sept. 28, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, 400A Julia St., 522-5471