Symbolism and color theory mark Joshua Spiceland’s latest collection

THERE IS NO OTHER: "I hope that people appreciate my mashup of these various styles that I've been juggling into a cohesive body of work," says Joshua Spiceland. "I feel like, as a whole, the pieces really have a certain punctuation and a rhyme to them." Photo by Jack Pitfield

In There Is No Other, his latest collection, local artist Joshua Spiceland plays with fire — figuratively speaking. Flames, lighting bolts, shooting stars and oil drums are among the symbols featured in the series of paintings, which will be on display at Push Gallery beginning Friday, Aug. 18.

“I feel that all art is symbolic, and good art can convey both feelings and ideas,” says Spiceland. “What new meaning can these objects that we see every day take on when they are presented in the symbolic realm of the picture?”

Abstract backgrounds connect the series. Some look like quilts. Others suggest mountain and cloud formations. Within a number of the paintings, silhouetted figures run, dance and lunge across the canvas. Many are aflame, while a few are morphing into otherworldly creatures. In one instance, two figures merge into a single being.

Often in the collection, the objects antagonize the human subject. In Killing Time,” a pair of headless men hoist sledgehammers in the air, prepared to strike down a clock. Just as the objects offer symbolic interpretation, so do the people, both in their actions and depictions.

“The figures themselves are mostly presented in silhouette, where there is no skin tone,” Spiceland explains. “When presented against a lit background, we are all quite similar.” That idea is part of the collection’s exploration of the shared human experience. The work, notes Spiceland, aims to depict the common needs, struggles and joys experienced across countries and continents.

This point is further emphasized by the exhibit’s title. There Is No Other seeks to challenge the very concept of dissimilarity, which is often achieved by emphasizing differences of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. These arbitrary distinctions, notes the artist, undermine the fact that “we’re all in this together, in a very real and metaphysical way.”

“I feel like he has his own code that he’s speaking through,” says Push Gallery owner Rob Sebrell. In Sebrell’s opinion, this is one of the many joys of Spiceland’s work. Each painting requires an audience’s undivided attention. For those willing to take in the collection as a whole, there’s the promise of a greater understanding, Sebrell says.

Spiceland echoes Sebrell’s point, describing his work as “modern hieroglyphics.” Along with the objects and figures, Spiceland employs color theory to convey certain moods and messages to his audience. “[Color theory] deals with the ability to push and pull the illusion that exists within the surface plane of the picture through three main aspects,” he says. Spiceland defines these elements as value (light vs. darkness), temperature (heat vs. cold) and intensity (saturation vs. dullness). “By manipulating those three aspects you can … create a very visceral sense,” he explains.

It’s instinct that Spiceland seems most eager to summon through There Is No Other. “[Art] encourages a heightened sense of beauty, and it fosters, in the audience, a certain eye for cherishing life,” Spiceland says. “If an artist can show me something new that I’ve never seen before, then that brightens my day and that heightens my own eye’s ability to dig into the amazing nature of existence.”

The symbolic nature of art, Spiceland continues, allows viewers to reach this enhanced experience. “It transcends words. That’s the most amazing thing about [art],” he says. “It is international. It is beyond English or Japanese of any other isolated notion of limited language through instinctual appreciation of shape and composition. You can appreciate something that is difficult to say with words.”

WHAT: There Is No Other
WHERE: Push Gallery, 25 Patton Ave.
WHEN: Opening reception Friday, Aug. 18, 7-9 p.m. The exhibit will remain on view through Sunday, Oct. 8.


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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