May 9, 2012

Art Notes


The Cap Man's bottle-cap covered 1960s-era trailer

One man’s trash is another’s conceptual art assemblage, or so the saying goes. Curated by Lizzie Zucker Saltz with assistance from Katie Faulkner, ATHICA’s 45th exhibition is this spring’s wildly creative "Upcycle," on view through June 24. Focusing on the theme of creating new artwork from found or reclaimed materials, more than 20 artists from all over the globe present their multimedia works made of junk-pile detritus. As the curators write, “Our artists have dreamt these materials right out of the waste stream and into our stream of consciousness.”

Featured artist Reid McCallister’s assemblage artworks are layered and complex sculptures made of old wooden boards, scraps of metal and other found objects, which seem inspired by a combination of influences from Thornton Dial, Georges Braque and Robert Rauschenberg. Several pieces are just about the size of a large canvas; when hung on the wall these sculptures make a comment on the fusion of sculptural construction and “painting” with the many textures and colors of the raw materials.

Assemblage art by Reid McCallister

Transforming pink, blue and yellow insulation foam into something completely different, Jourdan Joly’s “Mountain Goat Mountain” is a life-size goat perched on a rock. The pastel ice-cream colors look sweet, but these poisonous materials are decidedly not. Similarly, Joni Younkins-Herzog used mattress foam to create flower-like poufs which cover 19 feet of the gallery wall for “Pollen.” Calling attention to the toxic nature of the place where we lay our heads, the chemical-filled synthetics that form this piece are cleverly perverse mirrors of the organic fecundity they represent.

Creating a cozy and mobile domestic space using upcycled materials, Athens’ Cap Man covered a small 1960s-era trailer with rusty bottle caps. Inside “Lil Gem,” the bunks are upholstered in fun fur, and a small kitchen setup provides the basic necessities for camping in style. Visitors are invited to participate by bringing their own bottle caps to add to the exterior decoration. While his collection might not be up to Cap Man’s levels yet, Jamison Edgar gathered hundreds of Styrofoam cups to assemble “Chain 607.” The double-helix structure winds around the wooden supports in the gallery, as impressive a structure as it is an oppressive collection of trash you know will end up in a landfill or worse for the next few millennia.

An "Upcycle" work by F. Geoffrey Johnson

Also referencing chemical structures, London artist Jill Townsley recreates “Spoons” here in Athens, with your help. The sculpture, when completed, will be a triangular pyramid made of 9,273 plastic spoons and 3,091 rubber bands tying them together. Visitors are encouraged to upcycle their own plastic spoons into the construction of the tetrahedron or use those onsite collected from Athens Academy art students. Another artist hailing from London, Inguna Gremzde, presents 64 plastic water-bottle caps from her "Landscape for Emergency" series. Inside each round cap is a tiny and exquisitely painted landscape. Glimpses of the English countryside are trapped in the plastic rings, making something beautiful and treasured inside a “canvas” that is usually discarded, polluting the landscape these paintings idealize.

Doug Makemson's reclaimed steel sculpture

The exhibition continues outside with a huge horse composed with rusty pieces of old plows and pick axes by Doug Makemson and the “Upcycle” billboard-style sign made from thousands of cans and plywood by Jay Nackashi. Inside and out, the curators have made this exhibition one that highlights local recycling, upcycling and conservation efforts. The seriously researched and detailed texts that accompany each piece are full of interesting (and scary) facts about how our consumption affects the environment and endangers our shared future on this planet. Balancing this educational imperative with fun and creative art is an admirable achievement. Our eyes are opened not only to wonderful contemporary art and our role in the ecosystem of both art creation/consumption but also to the ecosystem of the larger natural and synthetic world we inhabit. With still more great artworks, plus tons of fun, affiliated events, ATHICA’s latest exhibition is another must-see. Check out the website at for more details.

Also on View: Another big exhibition on right now is the annual Southworks juried show at OCAF in Watkinsville. Over 100 works by artists from all over the country are on display through May 11... In Athens, check out Jeremy Hughes’ vibrant and dramatic portraits at The Grit. These ladies (and, soon, a few gentlemen) are dressed in costume and strike poses inspired by John Singer Sargent’s portraits. Hughes’ project has taken on greater dimensions as he adds to his cast of characters, most of whom are local artists and musicians. For this exhibition, however, it’s ladies only, and the paintings look amazing when seen all together.