Figuring out the Figure: AEC’s Contoured Essence. 

By Shawn Daniell

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “The human body is the best picture of the human soul.” I couldn’t agree more. Each human body has a story to tell. Some of those stories, like the body that supports them, can be hard, soft, scarred, fleshy, or wrinkled. By exploring the figure, we can delve into a variety of human emotions, artistic styles, mediums, and themes.

Contoured Essence, the newest exhibit at the Artisans Enterprise Center (AEC) in Covington, Kentucky, explores a multitude of interpretations of the human body via a variety of mediums and styles. Contoured Essence, curated by Page Wideman, rolls off the tongue beautifully and is the perfect title for this show because each of the participating artists has created surfaces, forms, shapes, and lines that represent their interpretation of the figure. The exhibit features artwork by Michelle Blades, Stephen Geddes, Carrie Pate, Justin Poole, Michelle Red Elk, David Wischer, and Steve Ziegelmeyer. The exhibit also includes artwork by emerging artist from the Northern Kentucky University including Timothy Andress, Matthew Dorman, Leslie Hurst, Salena McKenzie, Andrea Melnyk, Jennifer Reed, Bryan Wasylycia, and Emily Wiethorn.

When I visited the Contoured Essence on a quiet Friday afternoon, I wasn’t sure what I would find on display. I had some ideas and some preconceived notions. I imagined the walls covered with drawings, paintings, and photographs of the body, some nude and others clothed. I was pleased to see that the exhibition went beyond my expectations. Stephen Geddes, a sculptor who works in wood and metal, created Cylinder Heads I through III. As soon as you enter the gallery you face Geddes’ creations, a melding of man and gun. The innards of the gun, with bullets serving as eyes, stare out eerily and in creepy silence at the viewer. My favorite of this series of three sculptures is Cylinder II – Western Romance in which the artist incorporated carved wood and silver leaf. I really enjoyed the contrast of the smooth, stained wood shoulders and the ornate, silver gun for the face. These surrealistic potent mechanical-human hybrids embrace provocative, witty, and satiric commentaries.

Justin Poole’s sculptural pieces are gorgeous, organic creations with references to classic imagery and mythology that give the impression of fluid, continual movement as limbs, hair, and appendages stretch like vines in a circular motion. Poole, a sculptor originally from New York and now making his home in Cincinnati, contributed five pieces to the show, each examples of textured, graceful figures arching, reaching, and performing acrobatic feats that create a lot of beautiful energy.

Michelle Red Elk, a member of the Comanche Nation, creates mixed-media drawings in which dreams, animals, and the natural world are used as artistic inspiration for her artwork. My favorite piece, titled Medicine, incorporates watercolors and graphite pencil in showing a quiet stream in which a figure flows within the water’s ripples. A red snake enters the water towards the figure, its intentions unknown. There is a mystical beauty about Red Elk’s imagery that I am drawn to; simple, yet full of meaning.

Carrie Pate, an artist who works in paint, clay, pencil, and dirt, crafts mixed-media narratives where half-human and half-animal beings exist in magical worlds on canvas. I love how Pate playfully mixes different media (whether it be collaged paper, clay, or paint) in order to give each piece a lyrical quality. Michelle Blades creates whimsical artworks consisting of human-animal creatures existing within miniature 3D spaces. I really loved that some of the artists displaying artwork in this exhibit played with human-animal hybrids and weren’t afraid to make that connection between humanity and the animal world. By exploring this connection between humans and animals, I feel that these artists add a noteworthy dimension to the investigation of the figure. 

Overall, I really enjoyed viewing Contoured Essence because it wasn’t what I was expecting. There were many forms and representations of the figure that I feel are open to many interpretations. Wideman made very good choices when she selected the artists for this show, making a show that has much to say to a wide range of viewers, and for me that is a successful use of theme, artists, and materials. Contoured Essence, featuring paintings, drawings, photographs, screen prints, mixed-media, and sculpture, is on display through April 19. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-5 pm. For more information you can visit the Covington Arts Facebook Page.  HYPERLINK “”


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