Georgia-based Printmaker Chadwick Tolley creates works that examine his own experiences. The artist has assembled a collection of prints and collages each of which require individual study. I Hope You Find What You Are Looking For, his latest solo exhibition on view at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Hyattsville, Maryland through October 27 brings together a cohesive group of work dating from 2014 to the present year. The series uses visual symbols to express political and social angst, creating art that is raw, unfiltered and ambiguous enough for individual interpretation.
The works displayed on the second-floor gallery are situated in the corridor and in the main center area. The art is a mixture of screen prints and mixed media, including collage, mounted on both wood block and in glass frames. Upon closer inspection, one can see the layers of images, patterns, forms and colors that lose their visual identity and merge together to invent something completely different. Whereas each work appears thought-out, Tolley does not over-plan his subject-matter leaving room for spontaneity during each step of the process.
The Wild West era features prominently in Tolley’s more recent works and uses recognizable characters and the US Government as subject-matter. For example, Novus Ordo Seclorum (2005) incorporates clippings of the Great Seal of the United States from the one dollar bill. Tolley has reconstructed the pyramid from the Seal with multiple levels of pastel-colored triangular shapes giving it a whimsical feel; however, the dominant object obscures a vintage photo of four Native American men. The title translates from Latin as “New Order of the Ages.” Here the artist suggests dominance as well as a forced cultural assimilation of native peoples by the US Government.
Similarly, Billie Got A Gun, Tonto Got A Stick (2017), shows the imposing figure of Buffalo Bill Cody, a western-themed performer from the late 1800s, next to a smaller cartoon Indian. Again, the layering of softer colors and use of actual photos mixed with drawings creates a comical parody of Buffalo Bill. Here the artist examines racism and racial disparity. The white man’s supremacy is highlighted not only by the proportions of the characters but in the type of weapons each character carries. The Tonto character resembles the logo of the Cleveland Indian baseball team and Tonto’s stick looks like a baseball bat. This print alludes to the reappropriation of Native American images as a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping. It also touches upon the treatment of race in sports and entertainment. The artist’s juxtaposition of the two figures in this way offers multiple layers of interpretation using history as a backdrop.
Most of the prints in the collection are teeming with animals, explosions, Greek crosses and geometric shapes. They move the viewer’s eye over each collage revealing many visual surprises. There is harmony, rhythm and power, both delicate and forceful. The forms mix historical photos with modern illustrations of cars, tanks and robots, communicating an element of amusement and irony.
In contrast, the screenprint Sweet Nothing (2017), stood out as more subtle but very powerful. The profiles of both a man and a woman seemingly embrace but their faces are superimposed, overlapping yet sharing an eye. By concentrating on either silhouette, one can see a distinct person. Tolley’s selection of graphics and color convey a calm and thoughtful mood as a caption bubble from each mouth to the other’s ear denotes the whispering of sweet nothings.
Tolley uses humor to point out the contradictions, absurdity and hypocrisy of American culture. The relationship between the different identifiable objects in his works derives from his keen sense of composition, displaying motion and depth. The stories he creates are unintentional, but the final result affects the senses and other times elicit emotional response; yet Tolley always allows room for viewer interpretation. Compassion and empathy could solve our problems but until we come to that understanding, Tolley is going to do his best to maintain a sense of humor in the face of difficult circumstances.
I Hope You Find What You Are Looking For is on view through Saturday, October 28, 2017 at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Hyattsville, Maryland. For more information, visit the website www.pyramidatlanticartcenter.org