State of the arts

Chelsea Ragain, Unarmed Black Male Killed by the Cops

A new exhibition in Firestorm Café & Books approaches the news with a different pace. Asheville artists Chelsea Ragan and Adam Void’s dual exhibition features works that use printmaking methods to replicate traditional news-media aesthetics, that is to say the “paper,” not the screen. New Prints/Newsprints*Black Male/Blackmail: D.I.Y. Political Printmaking, opens Friday, June 7 from 5 to 8 p.m.

Void’s contributions make regular use of text-heavy, poster-style graphics to retell the stories from the news, both past and current. “Once I hear about a story that seems important and ‘newsworthy,’ I then begin to dig deeper, analyzing multiple sources to find the core facts that best illustrate the story,” the artist tells Xpress

The works appeal to and portray underground, political subcultures and the crimes often associated with them. His text comes across as a dissection of keywords — the vital essence from news sources. Some works address the accusations in a way that leaves little room for interpretation. Others evoke the sometimes flimsy terminology used to justify the arrests of allegedly suspicious individuals.

The work originates outside of Fox or MSNBC, focusing instead on stories left untouched by the corporate media. Think instead of digital and subterranean blogs and webcasts, picking up on underreported events and ideas.

“[The works] were inspired by the ever-shortening news cycles of mainstream media,” Void says, adding, “and the belief that art can help an idea last much longer and get communicated to many more people than through traditional news sources.”

Ragan has a similarly self-declared interest in overlooked and taboo news. Her work gives heavy attention to race relations in the U.S., often with a focus on the South. In Black Male/Blackmail, a collection of 23 prints all titled “Unarmed Black Male Killed by the Cops," she uses printing techniques to simulate front-page news. They’re subtitled with individual names. (Only 22 will be on display, as one is still hanging in a Brooklyn exhibition.)

She’s screenprinted and stenciled column boarders, headlines and the paper’s fictional name, “The News,” onto un-stretched canvases. Each piece details the grisly murders, both in word and portrait, of black male individuals gunned down by an array of national police agencies. Unarmed, of course.

The headlines appear in traditional all-caps black text. They spell out the same fate, 23 times over, and in an increasingly understated manner: “Unarmed Black Male Killed By The Cops.” Each headline is accompanied by individual, hand-drawn portraits. They’re unique to the victim, the crime and the story of their demise.

Ragan researched, culled and collected the imagery and data from several years’ worth of national news. “The 23 portrait profiles recap deaths between 1999 and 2012,” Ragan told Xpress, “with over half of them occurring in 2011-2012.”

Further details, such as the dates and locations, have been printed to the right and left of the header. And then there are the names. O. Barlow, age 28, February 28, 2003, in Las Vegas. V. Steen, age 17, October 3, 2009, in Pensacola, Fla. With each name, time stamp and city, the victim’s create an image a national pandemic.

The number of prints in this body of work is significant as well. “Twenty-three was the approximate average age of their death,” she says.

Ragan and Void drive home similar points. Corporate news moves so fast, and perhaps we’re overexposed to the extent we become desensitized. And so they’re trying to slow it down. To give these stories more of a name and a face. “The medium of printmaking on paper brings the news back to paper form, back to a concreteness and away from its current digital home,” Void says.

New Prints/Newsprints*Black Male/Blackmail, opens from 5 to 8 p.m. this Friday, June 7 at Firestorm Café & Books. The artists will speak at 7 p.m. For more information, visit


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About Kyle Sherard
Book lover, arts reporter, passerby…..

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