Local artist Didi Dunphy has launched into her new role as curator of the Gallery@Hotel Indigo’s gleaming art space with considerable aplomb. Her previous exhibitions, "DRAWN: From Athens" and "The Flower Show," clearly illuminated Dunphy’s willingness to draw exclusively and expertly from the talent immediately surrounding her. "DRAWN: From Athens," a lively, kaleidoscopic group show examining the medium itself, paired old mainstays like Art Rosenbaum and Jim Barsness with younger artists like Jaime Bull and Jessica Wohl. (An expanded version of this show is currently on display at the Hudgens Center for the Arts just outside of Atlanta.) "The Flower Show" took an equally diverse approach towards its notoriously played subject matter with truly exciting results. Ranging from the boldly graphic to the obsessively manipulated, the austere, the baroque and everything in between, the exhibition made plain that Dunphy was in her element at Indigo. However, Dunphy’s current curatorial effort, "The Board Room," is her most ambitious to date by far.
With a roster of 56 Athens-based artists, "The Board Room" could easily fall apart through lack of cohesion; fortunately, it’s the form of the work itself that ties the whole thing together. Several months ago, Dunphy distributed blank wooden skate decks to participating artists, asking each to transfer whatever his/her practice is (painting, tattoos, ceramics, furniture, photography, etc.) onto a handmade skateboard. The results are surprising: despite the unity of form, the variety of vision here is vast. Many of the artists’ decks will be immediately recognizable to anyone who’s only marginally familiar with the Athens art scene, although, in a show this large, it goes without saying that there will be many surprises.
I found myself marveling at the transition so many of the artists were able to make between their normative modes of working and the unfamiliar territory of skateboard art—marveling, that is, at the success of the leap. The lyrical abstract paintings of Erin McIntosh shift perfectly, matching soft geometry and saturated color with the rounded edges of the deck itself. McIntosh’s mark-making and forms take on a distinctly urban feel when placed upon this ground—an association that I’ve never before made, despite having scrutinized her work numerous times for this very column. Jennifer Hartley’s trademark blend of quirky figuration and local narrative comes together to create a deck honoring the late Fred Birchmore, centenarian athlete-extraordinaire and legendary around-the-world cyclist. True to form, Hartley’s work neatly evokes her subject’s likeness, but more compellingly portrays her subject’s presence: an optimistic, youthful-looking Birchmore poses like a boxer and invites his audience to put up their dukes. Furniture designer and builder Jay Nackashi mosaics together the cast-offs and excesses from what I imagine to be a busy woodshop in order to create an abstract skate deck composed of rectilinear shapes—maybe not too terribly functional, but damn if it doesn’t look great.
Several artists deviate from the functional aspect of their forms entirely, using the deck itself as a launching point towards inventive sculptural creations. Donald Cope brings his impressive metalworking skills to the project, crafting a minimalist chair around the deck, which itself becomes the seat. Local whiz kid Ted Kuhn, whose recent performance pieces and installations show a rigorous mind in the early stages of unfolding, balances a pair of metronomes on either side of his piece, directly referencing the balance and timing necessary in skating. Across the room, an image of blood, photographed at a microscopic level, spreads over Kathryn Refi’s deck; it’s hard not to immediately associate the piece with injury. Towards the back, Graham Bradford and Chris Parry, two Athens-based tattoo artists, bring their considerable talents to the show. Bradford's work showcases his elegant wood-stain painting technique, while Parry's conjures the Grim Reaper.
This is all great stuff; so great in fact, it may be easy to sidestep the fact that "The Board Room" is actually a fundraiser for our own SPOA. Sept. 9 marks the closing of the exhibition, when every piece will be auctioned off to raise money for the park. I’m consistently impressed with the level of commitment Athens artists show towards these types of causes—so impressed, I might have to take home a couple myself. You’ve got until the auction date to see them all together and pick your favorite.
"The Board Room" is on view in the gallery at Hotel Indigo, which is available for viewing 24 hours a day. Visit www.indigoathens.com/theboardroom.html for additional details.