Even if you're a regular at galleries and museums, it's an unusual thing to see artwork that strikes so powerfully on first viewing that it pushes you beyond the intellectual and the verbal and just elicits a "Whoa." An experience like this is currently available at CCAD's Beeler Gallery.

Even if you're a regular at galleries and museums, it's an unusual thing to see artwork that strikes so powerfully on first viewing that it pushes you beyond the intellectual and the verbal and just elicits a "Whoa." An experience like this is currently available at CCAD's Beeler Gallery.

The opening solo in a quartet of exhibitions connected by the use of found objects, "Aaron Fowler: Tough Love" introduces Columbus to the intensely visceral talents of a fresh and fast-rising star in the contemporary art world.

A 29-year-old native of St. Louis, Missouri, who completed his MFA at Yale two years ago, Fowler started showing professionally in New York while he was still a student. This time last year, he was named one of New York City's five most important new artists by TimeOut. The artist launched his first solo exhibition in L.A. just three months ago.

Now living and working in Harlem in a basement studio provided by landlords who saw and loved his work, Fowler's a prolific maker with an obsessive approach to his practice and a hoarse shout of a style that incorporates a variety of unorthodox items, many collected by the artist on the street.

"He's constantly making work, and he finds materials wherever he goes," explained Ian Ruffino, CCAD's assistant director of exhibitions. "His friends give him a hard time about going out with him because he's always stopping to pick things up."

Ruffino added that the ceilings in Fowler's studio are so low, often the artist can't put together the pieces of his large-scale, mixed-media assemblages until they leave the studio and take up more expansive space in a gallery.

"I couldn't imagine putting something out there without being able to see it all together first," Ruffino said. "He's just driven."

The forces driving Fowler are personal experience, familial connection, the shared African-American experience, and how it's reflected in modern culture and recorded history.

Fowler first turned to art as a grade schooler after the death of a young cousin, later saying of the experience, "After drawing him I felt a whole lot better about the situation, as if I had gone to therapy. I didn't tell [my art teacher] what happened prior to turning the drawing in, but he felt it. At that moment I realized the power of art and how it can communicate to others and what it can do for me."

With time, Fowler's honed his ability to convey emotion through visuals, and to use it as a tool to cut through BS.

One of the first works seen in Beeler Gallery is "Untitled (One Hundred)." The barrage of imagery Fowler amasses not only links Native American genocide with slavery and its legacy, but manages to do it with a savvy sense of humor.

Built from found wood, it prominently features a large reproduction of historical art illustrating a shared meal between pilgrims and Native Americans. Modern perspective is added by the visage of a young black woman at top right looking directly at the viewer with a broad, knowing wink, and stenciled emojis to certify that Fowler's keepin' it one hundred.

In "Family," the artist muses on the close ties and conflicts that can define African-American families by presenting himself as a denim-clad pilgrim leading his family away from the wooden and metal remains of a found piano to the "promised land." They move on a field of thick paint daubs against a textured backdrop of whitewashed oatmeal and Frosted Flakes.

Each work reveals new elements and ideas with each glance, from the decorative patterns of Swisher Sweet packages in "Black Flag" to the shark-like, bomb-shaped belt buckle in "Jelly's Little Girl" that's attached to the titular figure and recreated multiple times in paint. The treatment transforms a comical fashion item into a menacing swarm of piranha.

But unquestionably, the real showstopper here is "He Was." Filling most of an exhibition room, the huge installation pays tribute to Ferguson, Missouri police shooting victim Michael Brown and his mother, Lezley McSpadden.

Their portraits are separate elements linked by heavy rope, as if McSpadden is wearing a heart-shaped memorial to her lost son like a necklace. It holds Fowler's interpretation of the young man's oft-seen graduation picture, covered like a DIY shrine with handprints and hatch marks. His mother's hair is formed by extensions strung taut through a maze of screws. Her eyes are mirrors reflecting back on the room and the viewer. She appears before a background of scrawled text from her eulogy to her son, its words permeating her visage.

The combination could be didactic, but Fowler's work is less a screed and more a strategic, heartfelt reflection on what was lost when the bullets hit home. The artist clearly feels a hometown connection, but you have to wonder how he would approach other stories of young black men under fire. And you have to wish there weren't so damn many of them.