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Side by Side Exhibition

The "Side by Side" exhibition at the Amarillo Museum of Art closes this Sunday, walking through yesterday; I reflected back on the project. The title, "Side by Side," can be read literally; it is two photographic artists, Christopher Pekoc in the south gallery and Romy Owens in the north gallery. The exhibition is a comparison and contrast of a similar technique - sewing on photographs. The stitches are also side by side, weaving in and out of the paper, and making individual images become one (forever side by side). Both artists have created their own meta-language to tell their story, but this is where the similarities end, and differences begin.

Romy Owens work is subtle and elegant, hand sewn photographs with a stitch that is perfect as a machine. Creating color fields that modulate like a Rothko painting, the images are abstract landscapes sewn together from photographs taken while visiting Amarillo. Owens' installation even mimics Palo Duro Canyon; in the center of the gallery is a large-scale piece that cuts the room in half, much like the canyon divides our landscape. Another aspect of this piece is getting the opportunity to see the front and back of one of her images. This is a rare and wonderful treat because every time she ties a knot, she records the date, time, and what she is doing on the back of the prints. At first, these were just notations to help her keep track of the hours spent on an image, but for the viewer it is like reading someone's diary, and the images become a story of her life.

In contrast to Owens' quiet radiating images, the other side of the museum is the filled with the work of Christopher Pekoc. His large-scale figurative images are visually stunning and at the same time dark and disturbing. His photographs are printed in black and white on transparency, which allows him to place other materials behind the images. He starts by deliberately distressing the materials with hammers and torches and punches, and then uses the stitch of a sewing machine to sew it all together. In the essay, "The Beauty of Damage," art historian, Henry Adams described his studio as "... Dr Frankenstein's laboratory, where corpses are sewn together into strange half-human creatures. This is Pekoc's alchemical laboratory, where bits and pieces of scattered things are fused together into works of art." The sewn photographs are of birds and snakes, hearts and hands, faces and bodies, the palette is filled with gold and red and black, and Pekoc looks for a gesture or emotion in the photograph that resonates. The resulting images are powerful and provocative, and written in a symbolic and highly personal language.

The museum received an NEA grant for the project, which included an outreach to the Visual Arts students at Amarillo College. Students researched artists that sew on photographs, and learned a variety of techniques. One afternoon the students led a Skype interview with both of the artists, they asked some great questions, and the responses were inspiring. In the weeks afterwards, I was fascinated by the students' thoughts and comments about these interviews, they learned a lot about creating art from this experience. AC students also created images that included stitching on photographs, and submitted them to a competition that was judged by Christopher Pekoc and Romy Owens. This work is also on display on the third floor of the museum. While the students were stressed out creating their projects and meeting their deadline, the night of the opening reception they were all smiles - all night. Rightly so, it was a big night for them. Owens and Pekoc both came to the reception and spoke about their work, announced the awards, and afterwards  talked with the students, and of course everyone got pictures.

This was such an amazing project and I am grateful to the museum for giving me the opportunity to help with the planning and research, proud of the AC students for accepting the challenge, and thankful to both artists for sharing their artwork and mentoring the next generation.

This is a must see show, and the last day is this Sunday, Aug. 17. Admission is free.

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Photo Credit: Romy Owens, "Everything is funny, as long as it's happening to somebody else" (detail)




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