The title for the two-person show of featured artists at the co-op Gallery-708 in Hyde Park is a mouthful: “Otherworldly Journeys: Stories Both Real and Imagined/Myths of a New World–Alan Brown and Jason Erler.” According to Michael Hensley, gallery partner, “Otherworldly Journeys” is the “unifying theme for the exhibit.”
In Brown’s refreshingly straightforward statement about his digital prints, the photographer and illustrator says, “I create vivid surrealistic landscapes populated with ordinary objects that take on a fantastical presence by their isolation in these scenes. With a nod (A nod? Hit me with a baseball bat!) to Dali and Magritte, I prod the viewer in a direction and let the journey continue on its own path.”
Brown is unapologetic that he is inspired by Dali and Magritte and doesn’t seem bothered that he could be called derivative. And I find his works engaging enough that I don’t care if they are derivative. I like Brown’s game where he presents a tableau of disparate objects and leaves it to us to compose the tale, nudged by the title.
And his titles are far from cryptic. In Awaiting, three objects with no consistency in size are lined up in a left to right diagonal from the center bottom of the piece: a straight-backed chair at the bottom center, a shock of grass, and, at the apex, a barren tree creeping along. A red sphere begins a diagonal from the anthropomorphic tree to the lower right corner. The objects are all carefully arranged on a smooth expanse of land, perhaps a beach. That cerulean sky with frothy clouds is something I’m sure I’ve seen in other surrealistic works; derivative, sure, but it’s fine by me. Now about these unrelated objects, all awaiting something but what? A person? A being? An event? An action? Brown poses a question, and we must come up with some answer.
In the center of House Arrest, an egg is balanced (stands upright?) on the bottom of a padlocked birdcage. When it hatches, the bird will have been born already locked in his cage; hopefully the cage won’t be too small. In the distance, a magenta sphere is placed on a magenta beach. The elements are all rounded–a sphere, an ovoid, and the dome of the archetypal birdcage–and suggest the feminine. The backdrop is again a cerulean sky with clouds. As always Brown quite skillfully composed his scene, giving us the challenge to make it make sense.
Erler starts his artist’s statement with a succinct description of his paintings as “atmospheric, hard-edged.” So far, so good. He adds that his works “were heavily influenced by mysticism and world mythology.” I’ll give him that. He goes on to say that his aim “is to present the esoteric, complex metaphors of myth in the simplest visual forms.” That’s a lot for his attractive abstractions in candy colors to convey.
My knowledge of mythology is limited. I might recognize a name but that doesn’t mean I know what the entity stands for. I did guess that Hekate might be a god or goddess. Turns out she is the ancient Greek goddess who is associated with crossroads and entrances. With that knowledge, HEKATE’S GATE is practically an illustration of the mythic creature. He has represented her metaphorically with a flight of steps seen through an archway. The right-side of the painting is shaped like a stair’s rounded risers, but I haven’t figured out what the pyramidal structures on the left, one with an avocado green searchlight, mean.
Feeling that I had somewhat successfully decoded Hekate, I wondered what Februum might mean.
It is a Roman festival of purification, which takes place in February. I’m at a loss as to exactly how this piece with its wormlike and rubbery extensions “planted” in concentric circles (shades of Eva Hesse) and orange feathers sprouting from either side of the piece represents the cleansing ritual. What it certainly represents is a very different artistic direction for Erler, one that might have been inspired by an art class assignment to use mixed mediums.
Going back to his typical work, Erler explains that ULTRA DEUM ULTRA is loosely translated from the Latin as “Beyond the Gods.” Knowing that didn’t bring me any nearer to understanding what the painting communicated. The Creamsicle-and-French vanilla element at the bottom of the painting struck me as a baby bottle nipple or a paint tube or a marker. Erler’s answer is “Simply put, this is a picture of an open door, beyond which lies a reality where there are Gods we do not have knowledge of. I do not view this reality as fiction.” Oh, maybe the “nipple” is mouse-sized door seen at the end of a long hall. Beware of paintings that take more words than a title to understand.
Erler has lofty goals but I think he’s placing more of a burden on his appealing pieces than they can carry. We don’t need to know about mysticism and mythology when we can just enjoy the confections he dishes up.
With a summer with temperatures in the 90s, we yearn to escape. I recommend seeing “Otherworldly Journeys: Stories Both Real and Imagined/Myths of a New World–Alan Brown and Jason Erler” at Gallery-708 on Hyde Park Square to get some travel ideas. And then stop at Graeter’s for an ice cream, which might be out of this world.
–Karen S. Chambers
Otherworldly Journeys: Stories Both Real and Imagined/Myths of a New World–Alan Brown and Jason Erler,” Gallery-708, 2463 Erie Ave., Cincinnati, 513-551-8171. Tues.-Thurs., 12 pm-6 pm; Fri.-Sat., 12 pm-7 pm; Sun., 9:30 am-4 pm. through September 26, 2021.
1 Merriam-Webster defines NFT as “a unique digital identifier that cannot be copied, substituted, or subdivided, that is recorded in a blockchain, and that is used to certify authenticity (as of a specific digital asset and specific rights relating to it). What Mr. Estavi bought wasn’t the tweet itself, but a non-fungible token, or NFT, giving him a certificate of authentic to display the tweet, and whatever bragging rights come along with it.” Jaren Kerr.