Troublesome Houses: An Art Exhibition Inspired by the Music of Will Oldham

Curated by Kevin Titzer

Reviewed by Kaylyn Taylor

Entire contents are copyright © 2013, Kaylyn Taylor. All rights reserved

The reciprocal relationship between music and visual art makes for interesting thinking. Consider Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition”, Kandinsky, Dylan’s “When I Paint my Masterpiece”, any album/cd cover. What is represented when a visual artist creates an image that has been inspired by a song, or the body of work by a specific musician? LVAA’s latest exhibit  “Troublesome Houses: Art inspired by Will Oldham” offers an answer to this in the third of a continuing music themed art series curated by Evansville, IN native Kevin Titzer. (Other exhibits considered the music of the Pixies and They Might be Giants).

This is a large collection of work. There are twenty-nine pieces of art about Will Oldham and his music. Evidently, his appearance is an essential aspect of his music. Of the pieces presented, eight of them are portraits. If you do not know what Mr. Oldham looks like before seeing this show, you will have a pretty good idea by the end if your experience. The simultaneously young and old visage is characterized by a balding head and an epic beard, which, seems to hold his strength, like Solomon. The found object portrait  “Will “Old” Tramp”, by the Zonenkinder Collective captures the old sage essence of Oldham. Peering out, from a face framed by a woolen beard and created out of a piece of unfinished wood, are a pair of young, bright, asking eyes. Also, there are thirteen figurative pieces which do not specifically represent Oldham’s face, three skull references, five bird references, a prevailing dark color palette, much wood and rustic allusions, and a great deal of deep, deep meaning. .

In this exhibit, the connectivity of the art piece to the song represented is consistently complex, thoughtful and enigmatic. Music is a personal experience, as is both creating and viewing visual art. Who really knows what the song “I See a Darkness” or “You Will Miss Me When I Burn” means specifically to a listener?  Each piece is an attempt to translate into a visual language the impressions a Palace (Bros.)/ Bonnie Prince Billy/Will Oldham song had on that artist at some point in time. It is a peek into the conjunction of the psyche of the artist as she or he meets the psyche of Will Oldham via music. Given this, I wonder what Brendan Danielsson’s pencil drawing “Death to Every Everyone” or Kathleen Lolley’s “Love Skull” (acrylic on wood) are all about.

Actually, this entire exhibit is filled with wonder. How did Anne Peabody manage to get such a delicate image into a cast iron skillet?  Why do Ransom and Mitchell have such a rough frame on such a refined print? Chris Scarborough, is that a Do-Do bird? If so, why is it boxed in? For every piece, there are multiple questions that beg for answers. There is a wide range of styles and techniques in this exhibit ranging from collage, sculpture, carving, silk screening, to video, drawing, painting, and an installation-piece. The commonality of the natural elements and colors, and dark subject matter suggest that this music is not trite. It also suggests that Will Oldham is thoughtful, and has been around for a few lifetimes.

I personally found Bryan Patrice Todd’s laser cut acrylic “I See a Darkness” to be a graphic marvel. This direct, clear, wall sculpture is simply the words  “I See A Darkness” inscribed in a cloud/speech bubble . What conveys the emotion, age and the mystery is the font, which has a 1800’s feel. The possibility that the black cloud is also a speech bubble implies Oldham’s presence. Finally, creating the laser cut is an exact process thus echoing the exact nature of Oldham’s speech patterns and articulation in his songs.

I also am drawn to Kevin Titzer’s “No Bad News”.  His carved wooden and metal wall sculpture is a portrait piece. It has a rustic, folk art feel. The torso is emerging from slats of wood. Oldham’s beard is inscribed with words, as are is his hinged left arm and hand, as if the words animate the figure and bring into this dimension something ancient in the wood.

Finally, Meredith Dittmar’s mandala “You Remind Me of Something” (polymer clay) has a mystic quality. Two shadowy torsos and heads horizontally bisect the circle, while brightly colored biomorphic landscapes and cityscapes balance below and above the figures, suggesting the fluid interrelationship of the male/female principles, as addressed in the song, and the four elements. Her attention to detail in her sculpting is impressive, and invites the viewer into the composition.

It is difficult to narrow down commentary, as all the pieces in this show are so intensely interesting. The interrelationship between music, visual art and inspiration, coupled that with the work of a musician as prolific and enigmatic as Will Oldham equals a compelling and absorbing art exhibit. Come prepared to spend some time thinking and wondering!

Troublesome Houses: An Art Exhibition Inspired by the Music of Will Oldham

November 1 – December 14, 2013

PUBLIC, the Louisville Visual Art Association gallery
Open Wednesday-Saturday 11:30am-4:30pm
131 W. Main Street (2nd & Main)
Louisville, KY 40202