Color Breathing: The Work of Lyric Morris-Latchaw and Casey Dresell

Deborah Johnson, PhD

June 10 – August 12, 2023, Kennedy Gallery Opening June 10, 6-8pm

While entering the Kennedy Gallery to view the exhibit Color Breathing: The Work of Lyric Morris-Latchaw and Casey Dresell, a painting quietly captured and held my attention from across the room. I walked over to explore Lyric Morris-Latchaw’s painting “Wild Tending/The Garden”, a 48 X 48 oil and acrylic on panel. The artist’s dancing lines and brush-stroked shapes of muted, yet strong natural earthy colors drew me in. I then looked to my right and discovered a tall bundle of pink fuzzy-topped, dried grass in the corner. Yellow-green painted stones encircled its roots. “Beam II” is a grouping of dried plants placed beside a lively painting introduced in the exhibit. I sensed a natural flow from living to dying, the circle of life, taking place with an added touch of artificiality or otherworldliness. The exhibit comprised various sizes of rectangular and triangular shaped paintings on canvas, mixed media, and acrylic-painted fabric interlaced with real dead shrubbery and tree branches. A handful of colorfully painted branches and stones helped create a magical environment.

“Wild Tending/The Garden” by Lyric Morris-Latchaw photo by Kennedy Arts Center

I walked further into the gallery to discover a mixed-media fabric sculpture surrounded by paintings on the walls or set on the mantlepiece, rather large batches of spindly dead branches suspended from the ceiling, colored tree bark purposely placed as part of the compositions, and painted rocks situated here and there. And the longer that I remained in this space, the more I sensed a garden. Small 8 X 8 paintings of striking complimentary hues popped out from behind branches to shout, “Hey! I am alive over here!” One titled “Conservatory” of deep blues, oranges, and salmon by Morris-Latchaw is pictured below. It grabbed my attention, so I walked through the branches to better take it in. Her paint brush left nice strokes and generous amounts of paint to strengthen its composition. I observed her style within the differently toned petals and stalk and how she recreated natural light and shadow with tones.

“Conservatory” by Lyric Morris-Latchaw photo by Kennedy Arts Center

Alternatively, Casey Dressel’s mystical, pyramid-shaped canvases added a unique geometry to the garden. They lured me to them to contemplate their meaning.  A 15.5 X 15.5 acrylic on canvas titled “Focus” plays with the viewer as a small branch crowns the piece to disrupt one’s focus. I experienced this painting and found it a most engaging artwork. There were other thoughtful triangle-shaped paintings to explore including “Radiant Energy” and “Hopeful Vision.” 

“Focus” by Casey Dressell photo by Deb Kittner Johnson

Towards the rear of the exhibition is a garden planted along one side of the room. It includes dried oak leaves, reeds, thistles, old shrub brush, wheat, and milkweed. Four fluorescent light fixtures add life from two sides and natural light drops on it through windows. Artificially salmon-colored grasses are planted, but dead. These are planted, one would say mounted, to the black dirt-covered floor, the earth, with modeling clay. Off to the far side, almost overlooked, lies a quiet thin lavender twig. 

The Garden by Morris-Latchaw and Dressell photo by Deb Kittner Johnson

Another individual piece to mention is “Orienting Structures” by Casey Dressell. She composed it on a 36 X 34.5 natural canvas with oil painting covering two-thirds of the piece on the left, and embroidered shapes on the right. I understood the painting to be a pair of large, expanded arms holding a sun in the sky, hovering above rich earth being nourished by water beneath it. The circle of life is present. On the right, the embroidered linear shapes spoke to me as half-moons and mountains floating above an ever-supportive sun from the bottom edge of the scene. The colors of brown, tans, salmon, gray, and sunshine tie the media together. Dangly turquoise bark floats off the wall to the left. This piece spoke clearly to me about life’s cycle depicted through the elements of earth, air, water, and fire.  

“Orienting Structures” by Casey Dressell photo by Kennedy Arts Center

The Kennedy Gallery described the exhibit as an “…experiential, immersive environment that engages the senses through painted imagery, natural materials, and thoughtful color…a meditation on the present moment and the sense of well-being that comes from experiencing our mind free from distraction.” Artists Lyric Morris-Latchaw, an oil painter and muralist living and working in Cincinnati, Ohio and Casey Dressell, a practicing painter and installation artist living and working in Cincinnati Ohio and Louisville Kentucky created the show. Mallory Feltz, Director of Exhibitions & Public Art at Kennedy Heights Arts Center assisted with the installation. She also joined me at the end of my visit to point out discreetly placed pieces like the lavender twig. These were some of her favorites. After all, she had been experiencing the garden for many weeks and had time to gaze upon its environment. In addition, she told me how this exhibit was taking place during the summer light. A strong light that brightened its parts and brought them together.  

I experienced the artists’ intent. “Color Breathing” rendered the ever-revolving flow of life from origin to decay so that life might rise again. Many artworks within the exhibit deserve yet to be viewed, experienced, and discussed. Morris-Latchaw’s generous stretches of paint create flow and dimension. Her range of hues keeps one’s eyes deeply exploring the compositions. Custom ash float frames tie her works together. Dressel’s paintings, fabric sculptures, and pyramid-shaped canvases make one stop to meditate. “Drishti,” one of her paintings is used like a backdrop of an inspirational meditative altar holding turquoise painted dried leaves at its base. I spent time in these two artists’ garden, and that time gave me an appreciation of the creative thought, planning, and effort these two women gave for others to take a break and enjoy.