August 21, 2019

Mellow Yellow: ATHICA's Juried Exhibition Celebrates a Complex Color

Art Notes

"Wieners" by Mary Porter in "Yellow" at ATHICA

The latest iteration of the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art’s annual juried exhibition hones in on a primary building block for the visual world around us. “Yellow” is an invitation to take a step back and fully imagine the wildly different ways the color can be experienced through all five senses. If you close your eyes, it’s not difficult to hear the quack of a duckling, taste the sweetness of a ripe banana, touch the soft belly fur of a golden retriever, smell the fresh zest of a lemon or see the warm glow of a sunrise. The exhibition is also an opportunity to investigate and contemplate the more nuanced ways yellow permeates our culture through art, nature, literature, science and language, communicating a myriad of messages, connotations and concepts.

This year’s contemporary works were selected by guest juror Kevin Sipp, who currently serves as the project coordinator of Gallery 72, a municipal art space operated by Atlanta’s Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. Since earning a degree in printmaking from the Atlanta College of Art in the early 1990s, he has been active in Georgia as a fine artist, independent scholar, curator, writer and educator. 

Ranging from painting and photography to sculpture and fiber art, the chosen pieces reflect diverse interpretations of the theme. Demonstrating how yellowing can be an indication of aging or the passage of time, Stacey-Marie Piotrowski’s photograph “Nicotine/My Parents’ House” depicts a light switch and botanical wallpaper that has been stained by the air. Revealing how color is often used in advertising to catch consumers’ eyes, Mary Porter’s painting “Wieners” includes the iconic yellow-band packaging that was created by the Oscar Mayer brand in the late 1920s. 

Several artists convey mental associations through abstracted works. Gwen Gunter, an artist from Grayson, contributes “Flying Too Close to the Sun” and “My Last Bright Idea,” a pair of acrylic paintings full of geometric forms and linework in yellow, white and black. In “Yellow Journalism,” Margi Weir, of Detroit, collages a handful of yellow imagery—the Cowardly Lion, caution and yield signs, and canaries—into patterns surrounded by a border of word associations like yellow fever, yellow jacket and yellow submarine.

Nature is an endless source of inspiration, and it comes as no surprise that many artists choose to pay homage to the simple beauty found in the world around them. Both members of the Athens Area Plein Air Artists group, Claire Clements captures flowers being bathed in bright sunlight on a “Sunny Day” through vibrant pastels, while Bob Clements depicts a napping cat and daydreaming girl overlooking one of his beloved canola fields in “Lazy Afternoon.” Liz Minaret Johnson’s photograph of a lily, “Explosion,” focuses on the flower’s bright yellow-green, star-shaped center and pollen-dusted stamen, which is surely capable of attracting pollinators like a bullseye. Speaking of pollinators, Kelly Boehmer’s unusual, 5-foot-tall fiber sculpture, “Beehive,” looks spacious enough for a dog-sized bee. 

Yellow is a perplexing color that can simultaneously serve as a stand-in for positive feelings of happiness, hope or warmth as well as negative indications of illness, deceit or caution. It seems only appropriate, then, that the works in the show run the gamut of emotions. There’s humor—or anxiety, depending on your family dinner experiences—in Daniel Arnold’s illustration of a screaming dad, carving knife in hand, called “I’m the Father, I cut the F*CKING turkey!” There’s mystery with a touch of voyeurism in Jack Deese’s photograph “Yellow Window,” which peers into a dark house. There’s even a bit of gratuitous sexuality in Andrew S. Norris’ “Toxic Masculinity” series of athletic men partially clothed in Marvel superhero costumes.

The exhibition, which opened last weekend with a reception that carried the theme all the way down to yellow hors d’oeuvres, was followed by a monochromatic after-party with DJ Mahogany at Go Bar. “Yellow, A Color, A Light,” an evening of experimental music coordinated by Kathryn Koopman, will be held at ATHICA Saturday Oct. 5 at 7 p.m, and the exhibition will conclude with an artists roundtable discussion on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 4 p.m. 

Later this season, the gallery plans to spotlight a popular local photographer in “Jason Thrasher: Rediscovering Varanasi” from Oct. 10–24, and will display “Losing Control: Guns, Government, and Group-Think” from Nov. 2–Dec. 8.