Dig at The Fitton Center

By Shawn Daniell

A “wise man” once said, “Ogres are like onions.” Although this quote is from the Disney animated feature Shrek, I think it makes a valid point. Shrek’s basically saying, “Hey, onions have layers. I have layers. Dig it?” In the newest exhibit, dig, on display at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton, Ohio, three artists dig deep to explore themselves via sculptural and ceramic pieces, drawings, mixed-media, and mixed-media prints.

For me, the Shrek analogy not only works as a means of explaining layers, but it also helps to demonstrate another major theme that is explored within dig ; the notion of multiple roles or masks that we wear throughout our lives. In Shrek, the characters wear several masks and you have to be careful not to read them incorrectly. In my own personal life when I first meet someone I am usually very quiet and shy and some people have mistaken that quietness for snobbery. But once you get to know me, peel away one of my layers, you see that that was just one of aspect of my personality. When we initially meet the ogre audiences may see him as a terrifying beast, but as they peel away his layers, we see that there is much more to him. This concept of layers is an important aspect of Buddhism, in which the ultimate goal is to unwrap all those layers in search of a person’s true nature. Likewise we can see the layers when viewing this exhibit.

by self and others: games for survival by Eric Ehrnschwender , invites you to explore the many faces and emotions that we wear or experience. You are greeted with a room full of handcrafted faces that line every wall. Ehrnschwender, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, starts his process with a solid piece of clay. Instead of building the clay up, he takes portions away with a butter knife. He thus performs acts of self-exploration, chipping away at the falsities, masks, and subterfuges that we use to hide behind. By this method of digging, he is presenting to the viewer a secret self. The faces include human faces, animals, and hybrids. In one piece, the game of necessary violence, we see a fox mask with a portion of the human wearer beneath peeking through. I was intrigued by the idea of the connection between humans and animals. I was also drawn to the mythological and primitive energy of this piece. The idea of man versus beast, or that man is a beast, is something I find fascinating. As violent creatures, how much do we share in common with wild animals? As sentient beings, how much control can we exert over our own violent tendencies? The text that goes along with the piece almost serves as a warning to the viewer, “you are the last fox on the planet. everyone else is a chicken. now what?”

Another piece, titled the game of threefold neglect, presents us with a blob-like face without distinctive features. The face is made up of globs of sagging flesh with hints of features that look as if they have melted away some time ago. Out of the top of the head is a lone tree branch protruding outward, but even it is hollow and empty of life. This face reminded me of horror stories that I had heard as a child or something that might be seen in an episode of the Twilight Zone. The text reads, “think nothing. do nothing. feel nothing.” Many of Eric Ehrnschwender pieces are untitled, allowing the audience to bring their own experiences in viewing each work. Caricatures of animals stand in as symbols for ideas such as greed, violence, gluttony, and more. My final impression of the work on display was gross carnivalesque meets the whimsy and magical quality of Jim Henson-like creations.

In another room, the interactive exhibit of Craig Matis’s mixed media artwork is structured as a “book installation.”  Autism: A Mexican Adventure is made up of pieces that represent pages of a book with corresponding story text. The images weave together a surreal story about a father that takes his autistic son on a voyage through Mexico as a means of coping with the recent death of their wife and mother. Along with the works, viewers may also participate in an audio tour in which each “panel” is accompanied by a song. Matis, an artist and musician from Cleveland, Ohio, incorporates three-dimensional drawings with colorful, folded pieces of paper, creating a beautiful, dreamy narrative. Images include abstract figures, Mexican death masques, decorative blocks and shapes of color, and religious iconography. My favorite piece, #4, has an abstracted, sickly figure sitting alone in a wheelchair (the body appears to be literally breaking apart) that gives off a beautiful, melancholy vibe. What struck me the most about Matis’s artwork was the pop-up book quality created by the combination of folded paper and illustrations; the pieces literally wanted to escape the confines of the frames. I was also inspired by the personal aspects of this project for Matis, as he incorporated his experiences as the father of a special-needs child into the creation of a highly emotional narrative.

Joseph M. Van Kerkhove, a printmaker and ceramic artist from Toledo, experiments with several methods of printmaking, such as intaglio, collagraph, and monotype. Van Kerkhove explores different ways of combining objects, color, and surface. His artwork tends to include many spontaneous steps and layer building, usually without a specific concept in mind, opening the artwork up to multiple reading, which is an element of postmodernism. For Van Kerkhove, viewer participation is an important part of the process because each person brings a wealth of experiences, image vocabulary, and different ways of interpreting what they see. I was drawn to # 5 Untitled, a vertical print, with what looks like a candle sconce in the top half and an armless baby down in the lower portion. A drip mark runs from the sconce all the way down to the baby doll, giving me the impression on first sight of a noose or dripping blood. Because the colors are subdued, the focal point is the interesting juxtaposition of unrelated objects, calling to mind creepy doll movies from my childhood. I think that if the colors had been brighter, it would have detracted from the overall vibe I picked up from the images. Although I would have liked to have seen a bigger variety, both in actual sizes of pieces and objects explored, I feel that Van Kerkhove has offered a fine sample of work for viewers to contemplate.

This Fitton Center exhibit gathered together many wonderful and thought-provoking pieces. I look forward to seeing what they display in the future. dig is on display through September 6. Admission to the exhibit is free. For more information about the Fitton Center and the exhibit, visit their website at HYPERLINK “http://www.fittoncenter.org/”http://www.fittoncenter.org.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *