The Flats Gallery is easy to miss. Located on a nondescript corner in East Price Hill, the Mount St. Joseph-owned gallery is currently hosting “Elder High School Alumni: Art & Design.” The exhibit shows off some of Elder High School’s most successful graduates, including big names like cartoonist Jim Borgman.
A small parking pad in the back of the gallery is perhaps the only thing that outwardly differentiates it from the neighboring residential properties. A couple of steep steps lead up to a door, locked by default. But once inside, it is clear that The Flats is anything but a residence. The entire gallery is one rectangular room lined with paintings, multimedia pieces of art, and sculptures. It is bright thanks to plenty of windows in the front of the gallery. The quirkiest thing about The Flats is the center of this room: a small table sits directly in the middle, at which the gallery staff sit and work while visitors walk around the perimeter.
The first thing visitors encounter is a small binder containing biographical information on the artists, as well as background on Elder High School. In the words of Elder High’s Alma Mater lyrics, these graduates were prepared to “stand a body/Ready to proclaim thy name.”
Starting from the left and working clockwise, the first piece is an acrylic painting by Woodrow Hinton III entitled “Mr. Rhythmman.” Hinton is an illustrator and writer whose accomplishments have been recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists. His artwork, which has appeared in galleries across the country, often includes caricatures, editorial illustrations, and film concepts. “Mr. Rhythmman” features the realistic face of a man on a vibrant red background. The painting is possibly a nod to WNKU host Mr. Rhythm Man, whose career with the radio station began in 1996.
The next piece takes up a sizeable piece of the wall. “Modesty Panels” is by Christopher Hoeting, a University of Dayton graduate and current Xavier adjunct professor. The piece is giclee prints and acrylic paint on panels, of which there are eight. The squares, which alternate between turquoise and reddish brown, are arranged three across and three down, with the middle square missing. What is interesting about “Modesty Panels” is the texture. In some areas, the paint has been applied very thickly. This adds visual interest up close and from afar, as these areas catch the light and appear shiny from a distance.
Further down the wall is a mixed media piece by Tom Haney. It features a woman, just under a foot tall, pulling on a string of lanterns in what appears to be a backyard setting. “Out of the Darkness” is mechanical, so the woman methodically lowers and raises the lanterns without rest. According to his artist biography, Haney has always taken an interest in mechanical movement. The Cincinnati native states, “I believe there is a magical transformation that happens when mechanical movement is added to a static figure.” He has captured this magic with “Out of Darkness,” bringing his scene to life in a way akin to clay animation. The slightly jerky movements only make the enchanting scene more endearing.
The series of artworks that take up the majority of the left wall is by Joseph Winterhalter. The four pieces are very large, and feature words as well as designs. Winterhalter states in his artist biography that his paintings are designed to “appear to have been scraped or peeled repeatedly to expose previous layers of information that suggest a prior history.” Each features prose poetry and has a background that is very pale and faint. The words stand out much more than the designs. The last in the series is called “Another Trip Around Daydreams of a Gone World,” and includes the phrase “in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni,” and the translation “we turn in a circle in the night and are consumed by the fire.” The phrase is a famous Roman palindrome, meaning it reads the same backward and forward. Though many scholars have attributed this phrase to the mayfly, Winterhalter seems to be making a grander and much more comprehensive statement with his piece. The Latin phrase is also possibly a nod to Elder High itself, being a Catholic school.
The first piece on the opposite wall is a small painting of the Flats Gallery by Ricardo Williams, Sr. The acrylic painting is brightly colored and simple, depicting just the exterior of the building in vibrant colors reminiscent of folk art.
In the center of this wall are two large oil paintings by University of Cincinnati student Jordan Daugherty. Called “The New Black,” the first is bright yellow with pale yellow diagonal stripes. The two shades of yellow fade together in the middle of the linen, and are reversed on the opposite side. The sister piece is similar but done in hot and pale pink. The two paintings are hard to miss, given their size and loud colors. The difference between Daugherty’s paintings and the work of the older artists is clear. Biographies are not necessary when determining which pieces the younger artists have done.
The next piece is a trio of “Zits” comic strips by Jim Borgman. The Kenyon graduate and ex-Enquirer editorial cartoonist chose to display three versions of the same strip of the teen-angst comic strip “Zits,” which he co-created with Jerry Scott. The first comic is done on paper torn from a drawing pad and is in black and white. In this strip, main character Jeremy is shown emerging from a car parked in the woods, arms laden with plugs and gadgets. “What kind of a stupid place is this to take a vacation?” he asks his bewildered parents. In the next strip, he has modified the speech bubble to read, “What kind of a stupid place is this to take a picnic?” This small change makes a world of difference, implying that the perennial high school student cannot handle even an hour without his laptop. The last strip is in full color, bringing Jeremy’s horrified expression (and his parents’) to life.
Further down the wall are two photographs by Louis Stavale. The first is entitled “Bad Boy” and features a man in what appears to be an impoverished country wearing a cap with the titular phrase stitched across the top. This presumably donated item is in stark contrast to the man’s stretched earlobes and brightly patterned wrap. Stavale’s other photograph is called “Mother Teet” and shows a woman holding a sleeping child. The photograph does not show the woman’s face and focuses very closely on the small child. It is hard to tell whether the child is a boy or a girl, which lends itself well to the anonymity that many people in impoverished countries face when dealing with people from countries like the United States.
One of the larger pieces of art is a poster for Tom Berninger’s documentary Mistaken for Strangers. Berninger follows brother Matt Berninger’s band The National around as a member of the tour crew in the acclaimed documentary. The poster features Tom and Matt and is signed by both with the phrase “to Elizabeth and Clara, EeeAaahKeee!”
Overall, this exhibit was a combination of heavy, provocative pieces like Winterhalter’s series, and fun pieces like Borgman’s “Zits” comics. The eclectic mix of artists and styles is a testament to the wide range of talent that has come out of Elder High over the years. It is clear from this exhibit that Cincinnati is well represented in the art community locally, nationally, and internationally. While Elder High School is perhaps not a school Cincinnatians associate with fine art, it has clearly produced many talented artists over the years.
The exhibit also features pieces by Jacob Meyer, Jim Doerflein, Jim Bono, Chris Felix, Tim McMichael, Michael Hurst, Richard A. Gray, Jr., and Timothy J. Gold. Many of the artworks are available for purchase; contact the Flats Gallery at 513-244-4223 for more information. The exhibit will be on display until May 2.