by Karen Chambers
For the last three years, gallery one One’s juried summer exhibition has focused on color. This year it’s another basic design element – “shape: Circle.”
The circle represents “perfection, completeness, and freedom from distinction or separation.”1 It’s the cosmos, creation, and time.
The circle is perhaps the most universal of shapes, appearing in almost every culture and era. There are Neolithic rock engravings called “sun wheels,” which predate the wheel.2 Carl Jung saw the circle as “an archetypal image of the totality of the psyche, symbol of the ego,” as did Plato. 3
In Introduction au Monde des Symboles, authors Gerard de Champeaux and Dom Sterckx identify the circle as the second of the four fundamental symbols, the others being the center, cross, and square. 4
The circle also appears as a formal element in Georges Seurat’s pointillism, the Orphism of Sonia Delaunay, Robert Delaunay’s sun disks, the targets by Jasper Johns and by Kenneth Noland, and Elke Solomon’s obsession with polka dots. There are many more, but you get the idea.
To introduce “shape: Circle,” there is a litany of types of circles and words used to describe them: round, dot, curved, hoop, coil, circuit, disk, ring, bowl, lip, crown, wheel, wreath, halo, powerful, infinite, strong, sphere, sun, moon, globe, eye, cycle, compass.
“shape: Circle” features the circle in all mediums and in functional and non-functional works. There are 24 artists/designers in the exhibition, which is set up like a shop. That permits, even encourages, my penchant for mentally “buying” favorite works. I refrain from actually acquiring artworks that appeal to me because that precludes my writing about the artist in the future. The ethical rationale is something about influencing the market by promoting the artist – as if my words had that power.
The exhibition runs the gamut from what I’ll designate as serious to whimsical.
On the serious side are Frank Satogata’s ink drawings. Daniel Brown, curator, collector, and editor of aeqai.com, has dubbed Satogata’s style as Calligraphic Expressionism: “a personalized calligraphy through broad spontaneous gestural marks.”
Satogata’s Enso I (Zen Circle) is particularly appealing. An enso is a Zen Buddhist symbol that represents absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is a circle drawn in one or two free brushstrokes. It also describes a specific school of Japanese ink painting.
It’s easy to imagine Satogata, who was born in Hawaii, confronting the blank sheet of paper, brush laden with sumi ink, and in one swift sweep creating an enso. It’s a bold statement rife with symbolism, formal strength, and honor to a traditional technique. 494
Hanging next to it is J. (Joan) Effertz’s Crosshairs. The crosshairs of a rifle sight are painted on the reverse of the glass that protects and, because of the mat, hovers over a black intaglio print of a labyrinth. I’ll let Effertz’ s words explain the piece:
Here I have juxtaposed two images with opposite meanings. The crosshairs of the gun focused on the labyrinth. The French Chartres Cathedral provided inspiration for this intaglio. Labyrinths such as these were cut into the cathedral floors to provide the opportunity for religious pilgrimage. The pilgrim would walk the path of the labyrinth seeking spiritual clarity and catharsis. . . .”
Kelli Gleiner’s Mr. Robot and Ms. Robot occupy both ends of the serious-whimsical spectrum. I don’t know whether to put them in a nursery, hide them in a closet, or place them on a pedestal. The small doll-like figures (respectively 8” and 6” high and wide) are needle-felted wool with coiled steel wire arms ending in mitten-like hands. Their fat bodies sit atop Gumby-like legs and are decorated with circles. Their spherical heads have expressionless slashes for mouths, but a piece of meandering wire reads as teeth for the mister. Their target-like eyes stare unseeing. They require a human to animate/activate them, but maybe not.
On the functional side are HaloMiner’s poufs and pillows of patched together remnants of upholstery grade designer textiles. It’s circle in both two and three dimensions, and very inviting.
Lest we forget how pervasive the sphere is in the natural world (cosmically and botanically), there are Peg Faimon’s digital photographs of tomatoes and artichokes. In the first, ripe tomatoes, still on the vine, are arranged in ranks. The vines become horizontal linear elements underscoring the tomatoes. The fruits are attached to the vine by offshoots that add linear diagonals. Its title is Rue Mouffetard Market, and transported me to Paris, shopping like a French housewife, for that day’s meal. 779
Natalie PeGan takes a more fanciful approach to food with her two oil-on-canvas tondos: 2 Strip and 1 Strip. Slices of bacon are freely and deliciously painted like dashes placed just above center on green grounds. Not the thing to hang in the kitchen of a cholesterol-watcher.
Renée Lentz’s ceramic Striped Face could have been named The Man in the Moon. She’s added a Roman nose and fleshy lips to the beach-ball-like head. Radiating from the top, like longitudinal lines converging at the North Pole, are alternating stripes of black and white, representing the phases of the moon. 883
Balancing the delight of Lentz’s Striped Face is a disturbing photograph by Ainsley Kellar. Dominating the composition is a huge clock, presumably installed in the wall of a clock tower. It’s roughly four times the size of one of the group of people standing in front of it, so I’d guess maybe 24’ in diameter.
There’s no subtlety here – circle – time – clock, or clock – circle – time, or time – clock – circle, and we go round in circles. And it’s called In Sweet Time.
Even though the face is opaque to us, it must a transparent, or at least translucent, for this group, perhaps of tourists, is looking outward. There’s even a woman photographing what’s beyond with a camera phone.
Although it’s a color photograph, my original impression was that it was black-and-white. This was clearly aided by the fact that the central figure, standing well back of the clock, as well as the group are silhouetted.
The area behind the clock is divided roughly into thirds by two large, square piers. Adding to my impression of the space’s spiritual/worshipful atmosphere, they could demarcate chapels off a central nave. Several people occupy these areas, lost in shadow with just a few highlights. The contrast is Caravaggio-esque.
On the right is a man with his hand to his mouth in a contemplative pose, looking at the clock. His companion, burdened with a large tote bag, looks at him. But it’s what’s on the left that is truly mysterious and disturbing.
A figure, possibly a woman, sits on a bench or cushion or maybe bean-bag chair. With her back to the clock, she rests her chin on her hand as she gazes into the darkness, the void. Lounging beside her are figures wearing boots or over-the-knee stockings and midriff-baring tops. I read them as some sort of costume. Might they be entertainers resting between performances?
The title – In Sweet Time — calls to mind the phrase “in its own good sweet time,” which implies something happening in the future by some thing. In Sweet Time might refer to the experiences of these characters in the moment Kellar’s photograph has frozen in time. Or it could be the name of my imagined performance piece.
So we seem to have come full circle – pardon the pun – from serious to whimsical and back. It’s a journey worth taking.
“shape: Circle,” gallery one One, Brazee Street Studios, 426 Brazee Street, Cincinnati, 513-321-0206, www.brazeestreetstudios.com. Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9 a. m.-5 p. m.; Tuesday 9 a. m.-7 p. m.; Thursday 12 p. m.-8 p. m.; Saturday, 10 a. m.-3 p. m.
1 Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, Dictionary of Symbols (London, Penguin Group, 1982), 195.
2 Carl Jung, ed.; M.-L von Franz; Joseph L. Henderson; Jolande Jacobi; and Aniela Jaffé, Man and His Symbols (London, Aldus Books Limited, 1964), 269.
3 Chevalier and Gheerbrant, 200.
4 Gerard de Champeaux and Dom Sterckx Introduction au Monde des Symboles (Zodiaque, Paris, 1966), in Chevalier and Gheerbrant, 195.