Now in the infancy of the 21st century, representational art, in all of its inherent tradition and increasingly open pliability, is a form where technical skill and content are free to both meet and part ways.
The current four-person show at Downtown Jax’s Southlight Gallery is a concise collection of local artists exploring these aforementioned approaches. With 20 pieces in all, Semblance features new work by Kevin Arthur, Maiya Elaine, Justin Drosten, and J. Adam McGalliard, rendered in media including watercolor, pastel, and oils.
The eight pieces by Arthur are portraits of locals from the creative community, Autrelle Holland, Pablo Rivera, and Nick Wagner, as well as apparent intimates of the artists included. Undoubtedly one of the greatest contemporary portraiture artists residing in North Florida, Arthur is adept at capturing the physical and emotional qualities of his models, then merging them with tasteful color choices and notable textural embellishments. His portrait of renowned Riverside tattoo artist Wagner is a clear example of Arthur’s abilities and ideas. Wagner stares stoically straight ahead, in an expression of grim seriousness or contemplative thought. A hook of shadow frames the right side of his face, offsetting the implied motion of light that seems to dapple the left side of his face.
In lesser hands, this sense of “moving light” on otherwise static figures could seem gimmicky, at best, and at worst, disastrous. But Arthur deals in subtleties. Similar portraits of artist Pablo Rivera and DJ and martial arts instructor Autrelle Holland benefit from Arthur’s gift in converging his abilities at creating a deceptively casual outcome. Painting on-point portraits is a certain skill; drawing out myriad emotions and personality from faces on the 2D plain is a different expertise altogether. Arthur is a master at both.
Utilizing mirror surfaces and oils, Maiya Elaine contributes two pieces to Semblance. The center painting, Watch it All Burn, features a dark-haired, young woman standing within a cove of stark trees. Branches feature blooming flowers with eyeballs inhabiting their pistils. The color qualities of both the woman and trees are all shifting purples and browns. The combined effect of the looming branches, dark tonality, combined with her vague expression, offer an ambiguous atmosphere; whether she is cradled of entrapped, coming toward the viewer of beckoning one in.
Bookending Watch is the diptych, Not All That Is Light Equates to Good and Not All That Is Dark Equates to Evil. Seemingly mystical in nature, the two pieces feature variations on the image of a young woman, together conveying a unified theme. In one painting she holds a goblet aloft; in the other what appears to be a skull; a large serpent drapes the girl in both paintings. The pieces evoke the Garden of Eden myth, orthodox or gnostic, a possible rumination on the birth, or even much-needed death, of Original Sin.
The four artists featured in Semblance work in distinct styles. Yet, through curatorial grouping, some shared themes emerge; particularity with Elaine and Drosten, whose fable-like narratives are more emphatic than their actual efforts at creating purely representational or realistic imagery.
Drosten toggles signifier imagery: a bottle of Colt .45, a sword, flowers, and a feather captured in a bottle. Not unlike Elaine, he forgoes any attempt at creating sharp renderings; and like Elaine, he opts for cryptic narratives. The pair of Relativity paintings is a study, or celebration of, the initiatory process of the occult. Wearing purple-and-white robes, kneeling figures face away from the view, gazing at temple-like ruins, as they pass a black snake from hand to hand. The snake is eating its own tail, the alchemical symbol of the Ouroboros, an emblem of infinity.
The five pieces by McGalliard use traditional portraiture as a template wherein he imbues the faces with fragments of text and projected-light effects. The pair of Use Your Words pieces use oil and paper to create close-up studies of a young woman. In the first piece, she appears defiant, standing before a lime-green wall, as words created from red typewriter font bend along her face. Within the second piece, now seeming defiant or dejected, framed within a more sinister ambience, now emblazoned with the cutout letterings of a ransom note. Wallflower III finds her now staring directly the viewer, as she seems to be absorbed into a purple, floral print. His other pieces share this same mix of realistic portrait and a type of contained and projected light, enmeshing classicism and portraiture with the age of prismic multimedia and PowerPoint-weighted consciousness.
While Semblance is a small group show, it offers a variety of approaches as well as range of levels of skill. It’s apparent that Arthur and McGalliard (the latter recently featured in Void Mag’s Arts and Music Issue) are the more adept at representational and portraiture abilities. Yet while Elaine and Drosten’s arguable shortcomings are in doing the same, the fable-like, even inscrutability, of their content adds its own pleasures to the exhibit.
In recent years, Southlight Gallery has changed locations more than once; yet the wholly independent gallery collective has long-since survived and thrived through the rise and fall of pop-up-gallery mania, and the certain cooling of a once-crackling First Wednesday Art Walk. The main gallery space on the first floor, and second floor gallery that houses <Semblance,> inject a unique energy of visual art into the otherwise clinically sterile vibe of the Wells Fargo building Southlight currently calls home; which is surely an art in its own right.
Semblance is on display through February on the second floor of the Wells Fargo Center, One Independent Drive, Suite 113, Downtown, southlightgallery.com.