Kevin Muente’s show “Forgotten Land” is currently up at Marta Hewett Gallery, located in Cincinnati’s Pendleton neighborhood. He uses figures within these landscapes to create a narrative through single or multiple images. Often the images echo classical or referenced figures from orthodox art.
Moving in a different direction from his traditional landscapes, Muente stages photos of friends and family posed with costumes or props in carefully selected locations. Often working from hundreds of photos, his composed images use subtle detail and suggested backstory to place the viewer in a moment of observation.
Known for his realist landscapes, “Forgotten Land” shows the artist’s difficulty at times melding the figurative work with his perfect landscapes. Some figures are anatomically awkward while others seem to have their body more naturally placed.
Calling to mind Gustave Courbet’s “The Stonebreakers”, “Ruins at Rhyolite” brings together Soviet Realist figuration and French Realism while placing the artist himself within a desert landscape. Modern footwear may be the only anachronistic clue to the tongue in cheek tone of this work.
An issue with foreshortening of the artist’s feet is an indication of Muente’s growth in style. Although perhaps less strictly narrative than other pieces in “Forgotten Land”, “Ruins at Rhyolite” draws on history and reference to be possibly the most lighthearted in the show.
“Women of Winter” is entirely different. Here three women are posed in a artificially lit, woodsy clearing at night. Small lights in denuded trees serve as a backdrop and add to the supernatural or at least metaphysical tone. Time and Season are obvious themes in what is a work that makes a sharp turn away from the irony of “Ruins at Rhyolite”. It should be noted here that all adult males in “Forgotten Land” face away from the viewer and all females face toward the viewer – “Women of Winter” being no exception.
These women, each wearing only white, are clearly using deliberate gestures to represent Past , Present and Future. Clenched fists, hands clasping heart, and neutral arms may represent Anger, Love and Acceptance. These would then correspond to the prevalent emotions at different stages of life. As archetypal Oracles/Muses/Sirens these women silently gesture wisdom in the cold forest. Their bare feet on the fallen leaves reinforce their mythical and timeless nature.
As the work which may be most subtly ironic within “Forgotten Land “, “Abandon” places a woman and her child in front of a dilapidated house. The mother sternly looks to the horizon while the child clutches a stuffed bear, stealing a final glance over her shoulder. Resembling countless photos nationally and internationally depicting families fleeing natural disaster, war, or authoritarian regimes; the viewers sense of social justice is piqued.
However in “Abandon”, the house has been abandoned for years and itself represents the victim. The woman and child are, upon closer inspection, well dressed and coiffed. They are fleeing nothing, but are rather the callous middle-class America. America has abandoned its rural areas and small towns in favor of interstates and big-box stores. The mother cannot be bothered to see, while the child has but a passing interest in this forgotten America.
The perhaps cynical irony Muente uses may be the most devastating in “Forgotton Land”. The casual viewer will form some amount of sympathy for the modern refugees while being oblivious to “Abandon” indicting this viewer for ignoring their own neglect of rural America. Again, a skewing of the alignment of the mother’s nose and jaw shows a flaw in the figurative technique. Muente’s selection of an actual house in northern Kentucky near two interstates gives a clue to Muente’s intent being grounded in reality.
“Forgotten Land” is a gifted landscape artist’s transition to narrative artist. His ability to capture detail and the patience to use hundreds of photos to set each scene combine to produce works which reward careful viewing. Perhaps it is the discipline of filmmaking rather than photography that informs Muente’s process. Casting, scouting and scripting are all used to create each narration. The works of “Forgotten Land” are the furthest thing from snapshots in time.
Forgotten Land runs through June 9
Marta Hewett Gallery
1310 Pendleton Street