“I Am an Artist” continues through March 15 at Hammond Harkins Galleries.
As a gallerist in central Ohio for more than four decades, Marlana Hammond Keynes has witnessed firsthand the courage, confidence and plain old gumption artists need to present their works for public consumption.
“It’s a big statement to make — ‘I’m an artist’ — when you come into a gallery,” said Keynes, who runs Hammond Harkins Galleries in the Short North.
For a new exhibit, Keynes decided to dive deeper into that statement. “I Am an Artist” — on view at Hammond Harkins through March 15 — gathers paintings, sculptures or fabric works by 13 artists. Accompanying the pieces are statements in which the artists reflect on their identity.
“I wanted to ask the artists, when they say, ‘I’m an artist,’ what do they mean by that?” Keynes said. “What is in their background and has prepared them to say ‘I’m an artist’ — with confidence and with a sense of self-reliance and self-awareness.”
The statements of two now-deceased artists — Aminah Robinson, who died in 2015; and Dennison Griffith, who died in 2016 — were taken from past writings. But the rest were made explicitly for the exhibition, which lays bare the manifold motivations that go into a career in the visual arts.
There is a particular pleasure in finding links between the artists’ statements and their works.
Laura Alexander says in her statement that she is “driven by the wonder of the artmaking process” — a wonderment reflected in the artist’s intricate work “Cascade,” in which patterns emerge from layers of hand-cut paper and acrylic. In contemplating the inspiration that went into the beautifully textured work, the viewer is left impressed and slightly overwhelmed.
Stephanie Luening’s desire to “experiment with all kinds of materials and think about the world around me” is certainly visible in “transformatio”: The splotches of color — in shades of red, yellow and brown — seen in the mixed-media-on-cotton piece resulted from the artist freezing ink-based colors and then allowing them to melt and drip onto the canvas.
Erin Wozniak used part of her statement to note that she has loved art since childhood. Fittingly, a childlike sense of delight emanates from her charcoal-and-graphite-on-paper work “What Can’t Be Kept.” The picture shows a child blowing bubble gum on a sidewalk lined with a chain-link fence.
In his statement, Paul Hamilton writes of transforming his inner life into external works of art. “Our perception of this physical world is filtered through our five senses and through that we trigger emotional response,” says Hamilton, whose statement lends his piece — the oil-on-canvas “Silent with Wonder” — a faintly mysterious quality. Is the painting merely a depiction of a white farmhouse around which four crows flock, or are there hidden dimensions beneath the seemingly bucolic scene?
Elizabeth Gerdeman’s “Sunrise/Sunset” also invites contemplation. A nearly floor-to-ceiling-length work, it features two strips of wallpaper have been painted in a series of hues. Each section of wallpaper shifts in tone, suggesting the changes in light that occur throughout a given day. The cosmic dimensions of the picture are affirmed in Gerdeman’s statement, quoting poet Maya Angelou: “We need to remember that we are created creative.”
Perhaps the final word comes from Andrea Myers, whose distinctive vision is represented with “Under the Hill, Over the Moon.” It uses strips of colorful machine-sewn fabric to represent a craggy hill and a moon blurry with clouds. Myers declines to define herself simply as an artist, also categorizing herself as a mother, daughter, wife, teacher and feminist, among other things.
“I am an artist, and the art that comes from me could not come from anyone else at any other point in time,” she writes.
“I Am an Artist” may give amateur artists pause before making that very statement.
“So many young people come in and say, ‘I’m an artist,’” Keynes said. “They don’t realize the sacrifice, the uncertainty, the years of work, the years of rejection, the years of acceptance.”
This beautifully assembled exhibit makes all of that abundantly clear.