The Advanced Painting Workshop hosted a reception for their fall show “Houston, We Have a Painting” Dec 5. Friends, professors and fellow students filled the intimate gallery space on the seventh floor of the George L. Mosse Humanities Building, generating a welcoming environment for the attendees and artists alike.
The dazzling show was curated by and features the work of Alyssa Ackerman, Mia Boulukos, Lena Carlson, Alice Hennessy, Shelby Kahr, Heide Knoppke-Wetzel, Rachel Miller, Nicole Rosenbaum, Emma Santoianni, Raja Timihiri, Zixuan (Shirley) Yang and Tiannan (Sylvia) Zhang.
When entering the gallery, the first thing visible is a collaborative piece made by Carlson, Kahr and Santoianni. Displayed on top of a white painted dartboard cabinet are six miniature replicas of the paintings the artists exhibited in the show. Underneath this scaled down curation are small plastic animal figurines.
“Our collaborative piece at the beginning of the show was purely spontaneous but also reflective of our pieces in a voyeuristic form that explores how the miniaturization of a work changes its perception through scale and irony,” Kahr said.
By simulating a smaller scale version of what the audience will see at the show, the three artists activated an interesting viewership experience that forces the awareness of their role as a spectator.
Further, the addition of plastic figurines to the work revealed a desire to simulate and make small that comes along with the process of creating.
“We wanted to combine humor with intentionality in a subversive way that comments on the structures that make up the expectation of the exhibit,” Kahr said.
The collaborative work is both untitled and without an author — which forces the viewer to actively search the gallery to figure out who the artists of the smaller paintings are. This interesting synergistic project generates a playful game for the attendees.
The work also points to conventions of museum and gallery spaces, authorship and originality, along with voyeurism and surveillance.
“[I am] inspired by rural Midwest identity and the visceral effect of color on the viewer,” Kahr said. “My work, and many others’ work in the show uses the vehicle of portraiture to explore the construction of identity — whether that be through people in our early childhood or our current existence today in processing the world.”
One of Kahr’s most incandescent paintings in the show, a work titled “:(,” illustrates an unrealized portrait of a distressed girl playing with her phone. Situated on top of an idealized flower patterned background, the subject is wearing a trendy Nike t-shirt, track pants and white Converse shoes. Her body hair is especially overt, mirroring the pattern of the painting’s background.
Kahr’s brilliant use of orange and greens allows the figure to glow and emerge from the canvas.
“[The work is] trying to manipulate the figure in a way that mirrors internal emotions and also draw attention to the way our emotions, communication, and relationships are processed through screens,” Kahr said. “I wanted to create a disjunctive flatness and perspective where you can’t tell if the figure is jogging or lying down, if the leaves are falling or resting, just as texting disorients our sense of self and authenticity in such an online age. I was breaking up with someone via text while lying down on Bascom Hill, and that was also the main inspiration.”
This painting, as well as Kahr’s oeuvre at large, uses monstrous-like figures to confront ideas of the internet and contemporary culture overall. This act of crafting monsters parallels a long tradition of producing images and texts about monsters in both visual and literary culture. Typically, this points to ideas of self vs. other, artificiality versus performance and repressed desire. The monster is that which we construct as “other,” but is truly a production of ourselves, according to Kahr.
Kahr’s diverse collection of art can be found on her website shelbykahr.com.
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Boulukos, a fellow student in the Advanced Painting Workshop, developed a series of paintings based off nude selfies various friends sent her. She explained once she began posting the progress of her work to her Instagram account, @artbybobo, more women began to reach out and send her photographs of themselves for her to paint.
“Anyone is welcome to participate in this ongoing project,” Boulukos said. “It has made me really interested in the various different poses people were sending.”
After the photographs were sent, Boulukos would ask the participants to explain why they chose to send her an image of themselves. Displayed next to Boulukos’ series is a piece of paper with the anonymous responses to these questions.
One subject stated they felt comfortable knowing something they felt vulnerable about was going into the hands of another woman who can empathize. Sending nudes is considered by some to be an act of trust. Some people who worked with Boulukos felt empowered as an actual piece of art instead of a picture in a phone.
Now they get to see themselves in paint, feeling “beautiful and sexy.”
“The cool thing about the show is that this is the first Advanced Painting Workshop that features solely female artists and I think you can easily identify a lineage of work responsive to the female experience,” Kahr explained. “Whether through titty empowerment or other physical empowerment that engage nostalgia or current internet culture.”
Considering the long history of men dominating the institution of the museum and the field of art at large, it is still a revolutionary concept to enter a gallery space that is filled with paintings solely made by women — that in it of itself made the show compelling.