Artists tend to have strong opinions. And thus collaboration for them is about as easy as daylight for Dracula.
Nonetheless, some do collaborative work on a temporary basis, like Warhol and Basquiat. Others begin a work and give it away (Ray Johnson, for instance, often mailed a drawing or collage to various colleagues, asking them to add to it and then send it on to other artists for further work).
In The Four Artists of the Apocalypse at Sky People Gallery, the exhibitors of the title have seemingly avoided interpersonal conflict in their quest to present annihilation. The project — featuring separately shown work by the artists and some truly in-it-together pieces — was initiated by Bethann Shannon, who calls the exhibit’s collaborative portion a “canvas dance.”
The works come off a little disjointed sometimes, but a clear intent to give every collaborator a chance for expression is strongly in the foreground. Which is remarkable — because the ensemble works required a hard stanching of ego: Peter Symons says the four of them (Leah Brown and Stewart Prather complete the quartet) all worked on the collaborative paintings at the same time.
“There was no tension,” Symons claims. “We did not let anything we did as individuals become too precious. If you painted an area that you liked a lot, and someone else painted over it, you had to maintain a detachment.”
Shannon’s individual work is an installation paying homage to Frida Kahlo, including an altar-like table, a bed and a number of portraits of the artist, who remains an icon for many women painters despite her mass consumption by hungry actresses Madonna, Salma, et. al. The table holds small red pillows showing Frida’s face, an image repeated in the form of a red cross on the bed quilt. Other crosses are constructed of multiple Fridas, and it’s here, in an old photo, that Diego appears.
Prather shows a great interest in pattern and in vibrant primary colors. From him we again get crosses — showing bright dot patterns, this time — and some small paintings of insect interaction. Serious fun.
The serenity of Peter Symons’ small, muted “Migration 1-9″ series offers stark contrast to the explosiveness of his fellow collaborators’ individual works. A single bird hovers over a quiet horizon, becoming more and more lost in a mist as the series progresses. Another of Symons’ works is a Plexiglas box filled with small plastic straws covering four digital photos of lighted testicles. The images in the piece, called “Reproduction,” move like auras, in dream-step with the viewer.
Brown’s “The Hunted” is a life-sized statue of a naked woman sprouting the taxidermied head of a deer. Not insensibly, she holds a naked, pony-headed Barbie in her hand. A commercially produced mural of a glorious autumn forest provides a backdrop; standing in a clearing is a deer with a bare-breasted woman’s torso and head. But Brown’s stand-out work is “North American Botanical Survey.” Big, tear-drop shapes hang in front of the gallery wall, casting shadows and creating a mysterious ambiance. Closer inspection reveals water-filled condoms, each supporting a different flower hung from big hooks with string. Beautiful to look at — and hysterical to contemplate.
“The Four Artists of the Apocalypse,” besides being the painting that gives the show its name, literally crawls with derivation and allegory — namely random, all-seeing eyes and the bloody profusions of fire-and-brimstone outsider artists. More successful of the collaborative works is “Government Cheese.” It shows more organization, and features a painting of Brown’s spider woman (also seen in Sky People’s front window) playing the cello among the spirals and expressionistic brushstrokes of the group. None of it’s necessary, but a good time was seemingly had by all.
[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based writer and painter. Her work can be seen in the inaugural exhibit of the new Fine Arts Museum at Western Carolina University.]
The Four Artists of the Apocalypse shows at Sky People Gallery (47 Lexington Ave.) through Tuesday, Nov. 1. 232-0076.