An exhibition at SCOPE Miami, December 2015
Long-Sharp Gallery, Indianapolis
Text, an exhibition loosely based on the conceptual art movement born in the '50s, focuses more directly on the recurrent pop sensibility in contemporary art. The inclusion of text—numbers, letters or symbols—has been one of the defining developments of twentieth century contemporary art. Written language as a tool of self-expression symbolized a new way of thinking about artistic practice; now it has become omnipresent in everything from street art, to neon, to "traditional" painting, to the written word as the artwork itself. For some artists, it's about personal history, literature, socio-political commentary, or as a way to confront the viewer, forcing an immediate response. For others, it's a random inclusion in a particular body of work or a design element. Its ubiquitous use brings it into the ever-expanding language of art making.
For each of the featured artists—Robert Indiana, Chris Bracey, David Spiller, Gino Miles, Jason Myers, David Kramer, Wayne Warren, Edward Holland, and Ron Burkhardt—text may be the cornerstone of their work or one of the many tools they use in their personal artistic practice.
The exhibition begins with the work of iconic artist Robert Indiana, a self-proclaimed "painter of signs" and an acknowledged innovator in the use of text. A uniquely American artist, Indiana created icons that even today are among the most memorable, notably his signature image LOVE. His American Dream suite incorporates the words Hug, Eat, Err, and Die, intended to symbolize key aspects of the promise and reality of American life. This group of words exemplifies Indiana's bold and graphic style, inspired by everyday road signs and billboards.
British-born Chris Bracey's work uses neon text, found, created and re-worked, to illuminate and reconsider fragments of poetry, song lyrics, and societal truisms, forcing spectators to think about the inherent multiplicity of meanings. By isolating and juxtaposing personally meaningful phrases from our collective pop sensibility, he both simplifies and strengthens our universal connection.
David Kramer takes a personal, quasi-autobiographical approach to his work, combining self-exploration with a healthy dose of self-deprecation and neurotic musing. His worldview is urban and truthful, a tilted look at the reality of coping with—and laughing with—the everyday. Kramer incorporates his own diaritic writings that are juxtaposed against expressively drawn images, often borrowed from idealized magazine ads and other cultural ephemera.
In his recent series, Gino Miles builds bronze or steel sculptures from words, translated into a lyrical version of Morse code. The distilling of common phrases and acronyms into the spare language of dots and dashes completely transforms them, offering elegant twists on how we see and use language, in literal versus poetic senses.
The works of multi-media artist Jason Myers combine imagery using a combination of technology, mark making, and various materials. The content in his works typically derive from a combination of many sources in history and personal memories, both questioning and commenting on society and the information to which we are exposed.
David Spiller is a self-described conceptual artist inspired more by Kurt Schwitters than Andy Warhol. His patchwork canvases contain clean lines, definitive colors, and block letters interrupted by small expressive drawings and penciled script. There is a formal urgency to the work: as he stated in a recent interview “...you have to say what needs to be said.” As a result, his pieces often contain song lyrics, automatic writing, or journal-like notes.
Ron Burkhardt, Edward Holland and Wayne Warren each incorporate words in their works to suit particular expressions. Painters Holland and Burkhardt bury language in their work in very different ways. Burkhardt uses a codified alphabet to create stylized geometric abstractions that function as both medium and message. Holland’s mixed media works include specific phrases, often as collaged elements on paper and canvas. By utilizing thin layers of paint, pencil, and attached elements, the partially obscured words take on weighted significance. British sculptor Wayne Warren works with expressions of consumerism, wittily combining everyday objects with text questioning our ready acceptance of materialism.
Text spotlights the importance of both a historical and a very contemporary trajectory of art genres that combine a sense of wit, social awareness, and artistic prowess to convey relevant cultural messages.