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A place to remember and to share articles, videos, and information about art and culture. My primary audience is students of the arts, with the purpose of expanding the discussion and encouraging research.

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Entries in Romy Owens (2)

Thursday
Aug142014

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.

Media available on line:

 

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

 

 

 

Tuesday
Dec312013

Stories Found in Old Photographs

I love finding old photographs in flea markets, the photo above is from the day I found a well-loved scrapbook kept from 1925-29, it was filled with photos, tickets stubs, ribbons, and even locks of hair. The vendor wanted more for it than I could afford, so I kept going back and looking through the pages, throughout the afternoon. He would come down a little, but never enough. As I was walking out that day, he ran up behind me and said "How about 30 bucks?" and I replied, "sold." Even then, I knew it was a steal, but nowadays the quality of this book would bring over $750 on eBay, I know, I price them all the time.

As an instructor and lover of all things photography, I wanted the scrapbook, but my artist wanted it even more. As I was leaving, the guy told me that he knew the book belonged with me, I'm so glad he knew. Because it evolved into a series of digital composites called "1929," and when people see those images, they always tell me stories about their ancestors, or give me old photographs that they do not want. Jim Jordan, a friend in Amarillo, even loaned me his great aunt's photo albums from the 1940's and inspired a new series. 

René West, Four Birds, from the series Marguerite, 2012

So when I read this article about Ransom Riggs being inspired by old photographs, it made me reflect on my own passion for these treasures. Mr Riggs is right, there are narratives within these images, and as I work with my own composites I begin to know the women who create theses scrapbooks, and I love recontextualizing their stories for a new audience. I look forward to reading one of his books, I think I will start with his first novel, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” (2011).

Two other lovers of old photographs come to my mind this morning. One would be John Maloof who discovered all of Vivian Maiers' negatives at a garage sale, upon finding this treasure Maloof became obsessed, and basically dedicated his life to archiving, cataloging, and promoting her street photography.

And these beautiful creations Lisa Kokin makes from sewing found photographs together. (image below)

Her work, sewing on images, reminds me of the upcoming exhibition at the Amarillo Museum of Art featuring works by Christopher Pekoc and Romy Owens. Both artists use photographs and sewing in their works. (more on their work soon)

That is probably enough rambling for one morning about photography, although in parting I just have to mention, Christain Boltanski. The king of using old photographs to create new narratives.

This seems like an appropriate topic for the day we spend looking back and reflecting on our past.