Flesh + Bone III, now on view at IA&A at Hillyer, presents a cross-section of approaches to capturing the human figure. From a pool of 300 entries, Juror Scott Hutchison has selected 20 works that in his words, “had the greatest visual and psychological weight, while embodying the spirit of life.” While the open call was national in scope (with selected pieces coming from as far away as Georgia and Oregon), half of the artists chosen work within the greater DC metro area. The selection therefore offers viewers a sense of how our region’s artists are participating in contemporary dialogues regarding the intersection of abstraction and realism in modern, figurative work.
While painting dominates, the exhibition varies widely across mediums with several sculptural pieces and even a video work on display. Both abstract and representational approaches to capturing the human figure are apparent, with many playfully engaging the tension inherent between these two modes of painting. In slight contrast, works with a more straightforward pictorial approach spark the imagination with compositions that capture the human figure in contexts outside our daily existence.
Hutchison largely succeeds in his intent to highlight works contain, “a bit of invention and spectacle, mixed with truth.” That idea of brash spectacle is on full display in Distant Landcape 5 by Yeon Ji Yoo which welds together a nondescript seated torso with a apparently exploding shantytown representing the figure’s head. The monochrome color palette cannot tame the riot of imaginary impulses that spring forth, which in turn emphasizes the complex formation of the human ego. A similar ethos is evident in the Over the Spillway by Orion Wertz. In contrast to Yoo, Wertz presents a trio of figures amidst a fully realized landscape. Yet placing the trio hovering above a whirlwind of implied yet slightly indistinct watery lifeforms underscores the fragile interchanges between manmade and natural ecosystems. On the Horizon by Gavin Glakas positions a realistic figure within a landscape of greenery which grows more abstract as it moves away from the figure, again creating a variety of narrative possibilities.
Other works pull attention inward, locating these narrative considerations directly within the very cells of the skin itself. This aesthetic focus is most easily identified in Reba Kittredge Tyson’s Daniella – Lower East Side NYC, May 2015. Tyson chops the torso, presenting only a fragment of a female body centered below the navel where an abstract patchwork of purples, yellows and grays creates an ominous bruise. No further details are given, forcing the viewer to consider the physical damage perpetrated on the skin of this body. Sean De presents a similar physical disruption in Minotaur where a perfectly rendered young man is seen with a bony protrusion jutting from the right side of the head. Unlike Tyson’s work, De’s visage betrays no hint of physical pain, yet given the boy’s empty stare (highlighted by the shadow across his face) psychic wounds may lay just below the surface. The painterly hand displayed within Ehren Clodfelter’s abstract work Untitled is itself the source of tension, suggesting skin in flux with its contrasting swirls of creams and forest greens. Michaela Japec’s Daydreams utilizes brushstrokes that become more abstract toward the center of the picture plane, highlighting the emotional pain that lies at the heart of the figure’s self-mutilation and underscoring the painter’s ability to position emotional angst within a graceful color palette.
Flesh and Bone III is on view through July 28, 2019 at IA&A at Hillyer. The gallery is located at 9 Hillyer Court, NW. For more information, visit their website here.