“Breaking Point” by Debra Lott, oil on canvas, 20x30in, 2018

Revelry Boutique Gallery: Strange Magic, new work by Kathleen Lolley.

Sheherazade: Meena Khalili: TYPO / TOPO.

Art Sanctuary: Moments of Clarity: works of Britany Baker and Frankie Steele.

Pyro Gallery,  #MeToo “From Silent to Resilient” Paintings by Debra Lott – guests, Meg White, Sculpture and Rachel Gibbs, Painting.

Craft(s) Gallery & Mercantile: Shared Vision-Gayle Cerlan and Jacque Parsley

McGrath Art Gallery, Bellarmine University: Frac/tured: An abstract introspection by Meredith Harber.

Paul Paletti Gallery: See Me Clearly: Women Photographers, Women Photographed.

Suspend Productions: Fabled Fragments Chapter Four: The Evil Queen

Thoughts on the September 7 First Friday

By  Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2018, by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

As the Me Too movement endeavors to move past its status as the hottest cultural trend of 2017 and mature into real, substantive, and long-lasting change, how many people, especially men, are patiently waiting for it to fade away so things can return to “normal”? Will the “Me Too” flag survive the all-too-brief attention span of the American populace to remain a rallying cry in the years to come?

If we believe the answer to that question is “yes”, it may sadly be because newer examples of high profile sexual impropriety keep being unearthed, even while some of the first waves of celebrity transgressors are now preparing a return to the public eye. Even Harvey Weinstein, arguably the worst of the lot, was declared “innocent” on a shirt worn recently on the red carpet at the Venice Film Festival.

So as the dust settles, the awareness may drop from the highest media saturation to a mid-level, strategically motivated campaign in which we are reminded more often and in a more localized fashion of the importance of issues concerning women, and the most persistent beat of the drum will almost certainly be cultural.

“LayeredTether” by Britany Baker, Charcoal on paper, 36x48in, 2018

September’s First Friday Gallery Hop was so thoroughly dominated by women, not by design, but was it just happenstance? There just ARE a lot of women artists working in Louisville, and most of these exhibits were scheduled months ago. There is no reason to assume that the various people in charge of these spaces (most of them women, BTW) made these choices with an agenda in mind other than exhibiting quality work. Yet seven galleries and one multi-discipline theatrical performance focused on women in meaningful ways.

Only one, Debra Lott’s show at PYRO Gallery, made any overt mention of the Me Too movement, but any preoccupation with subjects such as the struggle for gender equality or the rise in protest against sexual harassment and assault is handled with reserve. Lott’s paintings of young women have always had a pensive air, and it feels as if she raises her characteristic viewpoint to match the needs of a Me Too statement with ease and authority. Yet all of that is in the social atmosphere so pervasively that it cannot help inform the way the work impacts us at this moment.(The Soul Grind will host “I Am” A Survivor at Pyro on October 4.)

Paul Palletti, who has built what is arguably the most important private collection of photography in Kentucky, was trying to decide several months back about a theme around which to build an exhibit. As a curatorial concept, “women” might seem intellectually and aesthetically thin, lacking the focus of one more identifier: women photographers of a certain period, for example, but once he started to think of images he could cull from his collection, connective threads began to emerge, and he began to get excited about the possibilities, and a compelling grouping of images emerged that reflect the wide range of how women see and how they are seen.

Thoughts of women are in the air right now.

Gayle Cerlan and Jacque Parsley are old friends and colleagues, so the idea of showing together at Craft(s) Gallery and Mercantile felt natural. Both women are well-respected artists and part of many groups and associations over the years, including the ENID sculptors, so there is nothing at all unusual about pairing their work at one of the city’s most successful galleries. The work is full of whimsy and an aesthetic and level of craft developed over many years. At the risk of inviting coy jokes about age, there is maturity in these pieces that have been earned from a life making art.

Conversely, Meredith Harber’s paintings at Bellarmine’s McGrath Gallery are full of the innocence of youth, a sensibility not yet fully shaped and as yet uncorrupted. Intense, bright colors are allowed to interact through a process of discovery. Harber’s abstraction inevitably opens up spatial relationships between the colors that suggest depth and dimensionality. The paintings are like fresh fruit ripe for harvest.

“Kentucky Codex” by Kathleen Lolley

Somewhere in between is the magic realism of Kathleen Lolley at Revelry Galley, whose utter lack of dimensionality and overly formal compositions intentionally emulate ornamental tapestries from 500 years ago. In paintings, drawings, and shadow box constructions, Lolley blends formalism with her own, highly personal iconography. Her art is like no other.

At Art Sanctuary, Britany Baker is exhibiting graphic black & white drawings that continue to express her preoccupation with organic form and textures.  In contrast to her previous acrylic paintings, the imagery is rougher and more spontaneous. Although there are portraits, figure studies, and at least one of the magnificent birds that have become something of a trademark for Baker in recent years, she pushes through the representational framework to connect the viewer to abstract components and visceral technique that is a fresh, invigorating turn in her work.

Baker and Lolley are artists in mid-career, thoughtful and self-aware of their own growth because they can now chart their past. Baker invites the first aberration to the concentration on women by exhibiting with her husband, photographer Frankie Steele. Yet any consideration of this moment must fairly include men in some fashion, and temporality is given consideration in Steele’s video work, conjuring up a perspective on examining a moment in time. He tracks the movements of close friends in a slow motion that is just shy enough of perceived reality to notice, but not so much to achieve the manic stylization commonly associated with the technique. It is almost as if the images are playing out in real time, while we as viewers have popped a Xanax. (Art Sanctuary is hosting a closing reception for this exhibit on September 29)

More video unspools from Meena Khalili at Julie Leidner’s Scheherazade, a compact, unorthodox space for unique installation work. Khalili uses the building blocks of printed language; words, letters, and typography projected upon multi-planed, three-dimensional surfaces on three sides, to inject a reconsideration of text in our conscious mind. It is a well-balanced relationship of graphic design, sculptural form, and conceptual art that impacts the viewer as kinetic contextual mise-en-scène.

Back at Pyro Gallery, Debra Lott’s paintings are accompanied by the work of Rachel Gibbs, also a painter, and Meg White, a sculptor. Both offer figurative work that is a cousin to Lott, but Gibbs’ images are slicker in their textures, moving assuredly towards surrealism, while White casts small figure in white plasters and arranges them in tidy tableaus that tell stories. In one piece, a pixie-like female floats at the fingertips of a woman, suspended with lengths of gauzy fabric. Its ethereal charm easily engages the viewer.

Thoughts of women are in the air right now, and they have been for some time.

White’s suspended figure was echoed in aerialist Ashley Wallace’s daring work in Fabled Fragments Chapter Four: The Evil Queen, the September chapter of Allie Keel’s piece-by-piece reveal of his new work. In December the entire piece will be performed start to finish at Suspend, but it has been meeting the public in 20 or more minute portions at various locales before coming to the Suspend studio for the home stretch.

Allie Keel is the second male creator of the evening, but it is clear that their fantasy narrative attempts speaks to women at this moment in history. Having seen only chapters 3 and 4, it is difficult to say exactly how they will complete the connection, but so far I would say that they seem to be avoiding the crudity of direct metaphor in favor of a far more elusive relationship between action and theme.

Ashley Wallace (front) & Molly Murk in “Fabled Fragments Chapter Four: The Evil Queen”

Keel conceived of the project and wrote the script, Amberly Simpson choreographed the dances, and Wallace designed the aerials herself. She plays the young Sophia, a character voiced as an older woman in a recording by Katherine Martin and played by her onstage in previous chapters. Molly Murk returns as Alex, the student whose most important lessons come from the sage elder. We have seen Alex enter into the wood, and this episode constitutes a flashback exploring Sophia’s own first encounters with the dark forces.

Whatever the intention, women under threat from forces beyond their control is a clear statement of what contemporary women are calling out not only for themselves but for the previous generations who suffered without such high profile recourse. At this strange place and time in American history, the institutions that are designed for our security have failed us so deeply that our communal reaction is apathy for their function. If in one night Louisville can offer so many women artists to celebrate, they need not all call out messages of protest in their art to register an impact. They stand for something meaningful just by creating.

Thoughts of women are in the air right now. They should never leave us.

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, 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.