We humans are an inquisitive bunch, always trying to figure out how to better live our lives and wondering who has the owner’s manual. Look no further — it seems the artists in the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft exhibition “Life InSight” have copies and are letting us have a peek.
The 87 contemporary artists in the show have interpreted the times we live in, covering birth to death and all the messy stuff that happens in between. Little is held back; they have something to say and are saying it, directly or humorously, in the traditional craft media of clay, glass, fiber, metal and wood.
The organizer of this show, Gail M. Brown, is an independent guest curator with a talent for putting together provocative and thoughtful craft art based on a chosen theme. “There are still mysteries and many questions left to mull,” she writes in the exhibition catalogue. “Artists are compelling visual scribes — the experiences addressed are familiar to us all and evoke natural responses.”
Ten Kentuckians are in the show, including Louisvillian Jacque Parsley. Penny Sisto from Floyds Knobs is also featured. The three collages by Parsley — “War is Hell,” “Beauty” and “You Be You” ‘— are small in size but large in proclamation. “You Be You” is created from stamps, old photos, marbled paper and gold leaf. “It’s about how you need to be yourself,” she said at the opening. “Everybody does.” The richness of the layered gold leaf and marbled paper seem to strengthen, not distract from, her humanist message.
Sisto is a master storyteller whose work is visual instead of verbal. “Women in childbirth call on the strength of the animal spirits,” she explains in her artist statement, about the hand-dyed fabric and beaded, quilted hanging “Birth.” “The Bird-Woman enfolds them in her soft wings. The Fish-People help the child to swim into our world.” Birth images sometimes make viewers squeamish; these mythological figures are so lushly rendered that the event unfolds before our eyes with a beauty that is far from startling.
“Daughter” by Ron Isaacs is a trompe l’oeil wall piece. Constructed of acrylic on Finnish birch, it consists of what looks like a vintage christening dress resting on branches of leaves that mimic the dress’ shape. Cut in the center is a window, showing a branch just beginning to bud. It’s a clever metaphor for the cycle of life.
A section of Elizabeth Spotswood Alexander’s “Relative Strangers & the Talking Wall” graces the catalogue’s cover. That place of honor illustrates one of the most detailed works in the show. Her table — made from walnut, cocktail napkins, tissue paper, pigment and tacks — has been assembled, carved, painted, burned, beaten and hammered. The ethereal women painted on the bottom glance off to the side, surrounded by soft flowers and the glow of “stars.” The hours of work she put into this is apparent, resulting in a finished product that is amazing in its craftsmanship.
Do not miss the huge Arturo Alonzo Sandoval installation on the third floor. “Offrenda for the Americas, Vietnam and AIDS Casualties” consists of hundreds of separate pieces, including his smaller artworks placed within this larger context. There are two mixed media art quilts, “To Honor Those Who Came Before” and “Post-Nuclear Flag No. 2”; two silk paintings, “Confidential” and “Terrorist Portraits”; and two capes, “Radiation Healing Cape” and “AIDS Healing Cape.” Then he really goes to town, adding Mexican “Dia de los Muertos” sculls, tin figures, plastic skeletons, a yearbook, magazines, gold and silver plastic coins and candles.
He is covering so much territory here that the initial effect is overwhelming. Slowly you begin to analyze the individual items, then rejoin them back into the larger scheme. It becomes the altar where we all must pray, and the signature work that sums up an InSightful Life.