4 ‘Kindred Spirit’ Artists Come Together for a Quappi Projects Group Show Exploring Certainty vs. Circumstance

The press release for the latest Quappi Projects group show opens with this quote by Carlos Cruz-Diez: “I want people to realize that color is not a certainty, but a circumstance. Red is maybe red. It’s not the same if you hold an object under the sun as when you hold it in the shade.” With “Not a Certainty But a Circumstance,” one ex-pat living in New Orleans, Martin Benson, and three locally-based artists — Letitia Quesenberry, Gibbs Rounsavall and Skylar Smith — have taken their interests in sacred geometry, linearity, proportion and abstraction to begin a conversation about understanding and what certainty vs. circumstance is saying about how we see the world.

LEO sent a questionnaire to the four artists. In the same way that colors are not absolutes, neither are the ways these artists view this show or their work. What we found was a team of artists who have a unique symbiosis in thought about their work, though different they very much are, exploring the many ways to see, reflect and understand. 

LEO: Talk to me about the show (in your own words) and what it means to work with this group of artists. 

Martin Benson: To me this show is about a struggle to find ways to grow our consciousness, to wake up to a deeper, more nuanced view of reality. We all approach this very differently. We all seem to be exploring the limitlessness along with the limitations of our minds, whether through deep process-based work like Gibbs, through refined abstract form and light like Letitia, or through symmetry, yantras, and making work that pulls us toward contemplation like Skylar. Being from Louisville, but not based there anymore, it has been so amazing to connect to these three artist via social media over the past few years. To see such parallels in thinking, aesthetics and influences is so inspiring for me. I feel, even though we have never met in the physical realm, the four of us are kindred spirits on a similar quest for transcendence coupled with a need for groundedness. Kind of like Neo-Hermetics trying to merge heaven and earth in this techno-soup of the 21st century. 

Letitia Quesenberry: Sometime in the fall of 2020, Gibbs reached out to Skylar and I about meeting up. Mostly to discuss some of the commonalities appearing in our work, i.e. geometric abstraction, and the possibility of doing a group exhibit. We met in the parking lot behind Heine Bros. Coffee on Frankfort Avenue (near where the three of us live) and talked about our work and motivations. It has been both gratifying and very interesting to see all of the work together, in person. I love to notice the places where all our work touches and how it departs and becomes completely individual. It all feels very predestined in the straightforward way it came together.

What themes are you exploring in your work?

Quesenberry: Seeing is the fundamental aspect of my work, exposing anomalies in vision the basis of everything that I make. I’ve been always very interested in perception and time, about how memory affects the ways we see right now and in turn, our future life. It seems to me that the best way to function in the world involves avoiding quick and easy assumptions. This amounts to a near constant battle with the part of one’s brain that hurls assessments for the sake of security. I like to slow the process of seeing, to interrupt the automatic ways one might be approaching the world. For me, bewilderment and confusion are tools for realizing this task. I like to balance opacity and precision to tease out responsiveness in viewers eyes.

Skylar Smith works often with sacred geometry.

Gibbs Rounsavall: Lately, I’ve been thinking about the concepts of surprise and delight. I think these concepts are undervalued. There are incredible opportunities for shifts in perspective and insight when we reflexively have to reorient ourselves.

Skylar Smith: I have continued to work with themes I started exploring in 2020, but on a bigger scale for this show. I have come to see my art practice as a generative, healing, restorative process of discovery and connection. With these pieces I’m thinking about relationships between life forms on cellular and cosmic scales, and on creating images that promote introspective and expansive experiences.  

Benson: In my own work, I am exploring ways to express my own questions about these deeper levels of reality.  I am trying to make paintings that embody my own contemplative practices and the experiences I have within them.  For me they seem to be about reconciling the tension between spirituality and our hyper-materialist modern world.  My paintings are almost like visual “Koans” both for myself and the viewer. I make them, but don’t really have the answers. I guess I am hoping that they invoke a process for myself and others to seek out our own answers to the paradox of modern times.

How important is it for artists to participate in group shows and not to simply seek solo shows? (All of you have had solo and group shows.)

Quesenberry: Community is always the most important and group shows are great in fostering connections. 

However I think it’s also important to balance this by stretching far for important solo shows. The best thing any artist can do for another artist is to succeed, to keep pushing, to go further.  

Benson: Group shows are usually the most powerful when done thoughtfully.  Art is all about communication of some kind or another, and when works dialogue with each other it creates unexpected collaborations of feeling, thought, and emotion.  You never know what you will fully get,  but when the work resonates with each other, I feel it heightens the power of the art experience for everyone present. No one has a stranglehold on reality; the more perspectives the better. And just like when you’re in a deep and moving conversation with other people, there is a gravity that takes hold and takes you places you never planned, and all for the better! 

Rounsavall: This is so true! We should all want to be learning and growing everyday. Presenting your work alongside other artists is a really effective way for this to take place. I have another group show in November, and this current exhibit has made me even more excited for it.

Smith: Unexpected things can happen with group shows — I have the chance to see my work differently when it’s in relationship with other artworks. Group shows are also a great way to get to know other artists and build your artist network/support system. Artists have to stick together. We are stronger as a group!

How does Quappi facilitate something unique in local arts, and why is that important to local artists?

Smith: Quappi, under the direction of gallery owner and curator John Brooks, shows visually stimulating and thought provoking solo and group shows featuring contemporary art by regional and national artists that generate ideas and discussion; this is crucial to building a vital artist network and generating a strong art community. Also, the gallery space is incredible. It’s spacious and sleek with beautiful natural light, which makes it very conducive to showing artwork of all media. 

Benson: I mean, I only get to experience Quappi Projects show virtually these days, or when I happen to be back home in Louisville.  But it’s a treasure to have a space like this in Louisville. Growing up, I don’t recall anything like this happening, and what John is doing is so important. There are so many amazing and talented artists in Louisville and to have a space where artists can show, experiment, commune, and dialogue is everything.

Letitia Quesenberry with friends Skylar Smith and Gibbs Rounsavall came up with the concept of the group show.

Rounsavall: It’s no secret that the gallery scene in Louisville is dwindling. Fortunately for the local art scene, one of the last remaining spaces is a gallery like Quappi. John has a keen eye and has developed a fantastic space that exhibits engaging work. It gets said all the time but it bears repeating: artists need public spaces to exhibit their work and engage with the public. This helps the artist grow which in turn cultivates a healthy cultural ecosystem where ideas are shared and minds are expanded.

Quesenberry: Quappi is the best space for art in Louisville right now. John Brooks personal vision, sharp curation and open aesthetic make it an incredible place for artists and art admirers. He understands the transformative power of art and Louisville is extremely lucky.

Are there other events connected to the show?

Smith: We are hav[ing] a discussion with the artists in the show moderated by John Brooks at Quappi on May 26 at 6:30 p.m.

Rounsavall: I‘m honored to participate later this month in “Artful Connections” at the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art. In June and November I will be part of some group shows at Robertson Ares Gallery in Montreal and will be showing at the Papier Art Fair and the Art Toronto Art Fair in the fall. 

Benson: I will be flying up to be present for this and look forward to meeting these amazing people and getting tons of inspiration from being in their presence. Personally, I have a show at Octavia Gallery in New Orleans in July. 

The “Not a Certainty But a Circumstance” show will run until June 4 at Quappi Projects, 827 E. Market St.