“meeting the Gorgon”, 60″ x 80″, oil, 2015
Middle Aged: Paintings by Angie Reed Garner
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2015 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In paintings that merge the confessional with social commentary, Angie Reed Garner explores the midway point of life.
Most of the images in the exhibit position women as the primary subjects, reflecting the introspective nature of the exhibit. In one large piece, “meeting the Gorgon”, a woman sits before an oversize vanity. Jewelry, hairbrush, and other beauty accouterments are prominently displayed, but the fleshy, nude woman’s countenance is not what stares back at her from the mirror. In an unflinching confrontation with aging, she sees herself as the mythological creature associated with horror and repulsion.
On the wall directly across from her we find “mancaver”, another large piece that features a nude male body with a minotaur’s head and tail, lounging in his private space with flat screen TV, satellite dish, stacks of books, and plates of donuts while throwing empty bottles of alcohol at the wall. Outside we see a civilization bereft of life, perhaps dystopian in its character, suggesting the figure is insulated from the deteriorating world, only vaguely aware of the burning automobile on his TV, a tidy metaphor for the way we insist on comprehending the complexities of the world through easily digestible media thumbnails. Is his flaccid penis a random choice or is impotence part of the message?
These two paintings could not draw a sharper contrast in gender identity past 40: the insecurity of the woman confronting how society insists on viewing her versus the complacency of the man at ease in his docile domesticity.
The paintings are filled with tiny houses standing isolated within a larger society that is typically depicted in cold unfeeling terms, and the female figures are consistently seen outside and apart from these “homes”. It is a knowing separation of women from their stereotypical and sexist attachment to the house/home as the primary meaning of their existence. In “proCATstinating” a woman plays with her cat (another recurring element) alongside one of these tiny houses, which are about the size of a storage shed. Many of them exist under a sun often painted as an unforgiving eye glaring down on these often-bleak tableaus. In “Chiron lectures on war and sustainability” the singularly intellectual centaur gestures towards a window through which we see fighter jets flying directly into a hungry, expanding sun.
There is an interesting incorporation of words, mathematical formula, and symbols into some of the compositions that helps establish thematic context as well as contributing to the visual density of the painted surface. “John Brown’s Heart” contains the most overt example of this, with the lyrics to the iconic folk song woven into the background, which is effective, but less typical is the use of an, “educational handout” collaged into the layered surface to represent the famous abolitionist’s heart. The piece may appear to be less connected to the overall theme of the exhibit, although in shows this personal we should perhaps not expect to fully grasp all of the relationships between individual elements, but is a forceful work that easily stands on its own.
Garner’s figures are full body representations of humanity, whether the muscular woman with a weightlifters build we find in “fitspo” for the slightly lumpy flesh of a female form sporting a vulture’s head in “bench fail”. Cumulatively they speak to so many ideas, but chiefly the manner in which the unrelenting objectification of female beauty might corrupt notions of self at any age, and most crucially at the time when wisdom takes the place of youth. The inclusion of the vulture as female identity also invites us to ponder mortality as an overreaction; that western culture too often sees middle age as the end of meaningful life.
Yet the bracing honesty and sardonic perspective manifested in virtually every piece from this middle aged artist puts the lie to that notion. If the wisdom of age allows such caustic commentary as this, presented with easy wit and a lack of pretention, we can only be grateful.
Middle Aged: Paintings by Angie Reed Garner
First Friday Gallery Hops 1-9, and by appointment
642 E. Market St.
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.