review of   The Human Face: A Revelation at Artisan Enterprise Center

Jane Durrell

Covington’s Artisan Enterprise Center currently is chock-a-block with art, with ideas, with good reasons to spend time looking at the two linked exhibitions on view there as The Human Face: A Revelation. You may spend more time than you expected – there’s a lot to see.
The shows’ genesis came about when free-lance photographer and writer Gerad Pottebaum contacted Saad Ghosn to propose, over coffee, a show of photographs he has taken during many years of travels here and abroad. Pottebaum is endlessly interested in the faces of the people with whom he comes in contact.

The two concurrent exhibitions at the AEC are the result of that meeting. Curator Ghosn assembled one show of Pottebaum’s photographs and for the other brought together the work of many artists, mostly Cincinnati-based, reflecting the immense variety and expression found in the human face. The result is a “Family of Man” duo of shows, one of photographs and the other primarily paintings, echoing in feeling the famous 1950’s Museum of Modern Art show assembled by Edward Steichen.

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Mark Hanavan, Surface, charcoal and acrylic on Canford cardstock,

Faces fill the frame in Pottebaum’s photographs, often looking directly out, in full color admirably employed. He photographs the people he sees with empathy and care, producing a body of works linked by the common humanity of their subjects. In a grand disregard for geography – although sometimes a linkage of theme – these works run down the two walls of the gallery’s long back corridor. Window Rock, Arizona, may be next to Bangladesh, moving on to Mexico, to Mississippi, to Beijing, to Kettering, Ohio and even to Fountain Square. A little harder to pin down location-wise is the woman sleeping in her seat “On the Train from Maastrecht, the Netherlands, to Rothenberg, Germany.”

Each portrait is accompanied by a quotation from widely, one might say wildly, varied sources. Carl Jung is paired with the sleeping woman: “The Dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul. . .” There are also quotations from the Koran, Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton, Hubert H. Humphrey and others including Pottebaum himself, who writes of a photograph of a young Chinese child “Consciousness emerges from a mythical reality.”

Another outcome of that initial meeting is the catalogue Pottebaum has published for his exhibition, reproducing each of the photographs in his show. It includes his exhibition label comments on “The Power Of Photography,” “Our Unfolding Story” and “The Human Face.” Income from the catalogue ($29.95, available at AEC) supports the work of the Human Foundations Institute, Inc., a non-profit agency fostering public education and understanding of social justice issues, founded and headed by Pottebaum.

Gary Gaffney, Anatomy of the Face, mixed media, 18″ x 14″

Ghosn, who can never be accused of thinking small, has assembled a show to complete Pottebaum’s thoughts and illustrate his own with works other than photography. Twenty-nine artists working in various fields and styles are almost all represented by more than one piece. The central area and various alcoves of the AEC space are totally full. Responses are as varied as the artists themselves but the crowded result of so many works can overwhelm.

Ghosn contacted artists who work in some fashion with the human face, he says. “Luckily, the majority wanted to take part. Many, perhaps sixty percent, did new work for the show.” Drawings, paintings, prints,sculptures and mixed-media works make up this extravagantly varied exhibition. Each artist’s work is accompanied by a statement of intent and a brief biography.

One of the most striking pieces, Farron L. Allen’s sculpture “Ground Faces”, fills twelve feet by six feet of the main gallery’s floor, but is never higher than six inches. The work is composed of aluminum, steel and spray foam plus found metal objects cast and welded together and “thus given new life,” Allen says in his statement. The new life is up to you to conjecture; mysterious heads are picked out by gold lines and seem afloat in what might be considered the inexplicable tides of life.

The exhibition is thoughtfully hung, with interesting interactions between works. Jan Brown Checco’s two strongly colored paper mache digital print masks are next to Tom Towhey’s large mixed media painting, a purple streaked head called “Dubious Misgivings.” Nearby is Tina Tammaro’s elusive “Tricksters, Thieves and Clowns,” grayish water colors on paper contrasting to the unbridled hues employed by Checco and Towhey.

Rob Anderson, Study of Dan, oil on board, 15″x 15″, 2012

Emil Robinson and Rob Anderson, each of whom has been seen recently in other shows focusing on the new interest in the figure, are present here, Robinson with an intimate trio of small portraits on paper on panel: “Ty,” “Me” and “Dan.” Dan, perhaps the same Dan? turns up in Anderson’s arresting “Study of Dan,” a profile of a man in green ball cap, pencil behind his ear, seemingly caught in mid-sentence. Anderson’s statement says that his three works – the other two are of himself and of his wife – present three different approaches. They move from precision to suggestion. Rick Finn’s three portraits, on the same wall, include the subtly colored “The Natty Mr. Tanner,” a large Mochu Hanga reduction woodcut that rewards attention.

Rick Finn, The Natty Mr. Tanner, moku hanga reduction woodcut, 27″ x 26″

Other works that stick in my mind include James Oberschlake’s “Hangman” trio, his thick oil paint with mixed media becoming thoroughly three-dimensional by “Hangman 3.” The hangman himself is a presence not clearly seen. Gary Gaffney is represented here by a handsome mixed media page called “Anatomy of the Face” while Mark Hanavan uses charcoal and acrylic for “Surface,” an intensely detailed study of a man’s head. These three very different approaches suggest the range of style and method in the show.

James Obershlake, Hangman 1, oil on masonite, 16″ x 20″, 2013

Ghosn’s own contributions are two elegant and individual woodcut prints, white on black, “Faces of Races” and “You Are What You Look.” Readers of his monthly Aeqai column, “Art for a Better World,” are aware that Ghosn sees art as a means toward an improved society and also to a fuller understanding of the flawed world we currently inhabit. His exhibitions put art at the service of these thoughts.

Pottebaum surely shares these ideas. He wants his portraits of people, taken in places all over the world, to “awaken in us not only the presence of another person but also the presence of myself. They invite us to wonder ‘Who are you?’ as well as ‘Who am I?’ And more: ‘Who are we?’” (italics the author’s). He also writes “Long after meeting these people, I still feel enlarged by their presence. I hope you will find that the otherness of their presence enlarges your life, too.”

Ghosn has put together joint exhibitions that are extensions of this desire. The Human Face: A Revelation is on view at Artisan Enterprise Center, 27 West 7th Street, Covington, through August 23. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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One Response

  1. I saw this show briefly as I was picking up my work for Faces and Figures. It seemed like a really juicy, rich show, full of contrasting ideas and approaches to the topic with Ghosn always thoughtful in his choices.

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