What Comes Later: “…teasing out the poetry and significance of the human experience…”
Review: What Comes Later at the Kohl Gallery
It’s a common misconception that the purpose of art is to create something beautiful to enjoy hanging on the wall. This is a very limiting view of the creative process that explores our existence as human beings, and with the help of the two newest members of its art faculty, Washington College is intent on dispelling it.
“What Comes Later,” an exhibit introducing the work of recently hired art professors Heather Harvey and Benjamin Bellas, explores the creative process of art, but it’s definitely not about beautiful pictures. On view through September 16 at the College’s Kohl Gallery, this show presents work that springs from two curious minds playfully teasing out the poetry and significance of the human experience.
Expect the unexpected
Odd shapes in dreamy pastel colors grow seamlessly right out of some of the gallery’s walls. Blithely disrupting the politely pristine white space, Harvey attacks the conventions of gallery art head-on with these restive protrusions. Defying the logic of architecture, they anxiously push their way into existence, taking shape but not quite formed. They’re like ideas you can’t quite get into focus or perhaps thoughts you’d rather not think.
A peculiar range of meanings arises. While these uneasy forms can be seen as physical manifestations of the kind of internal, intuitive forces that knot your stomach or thrill your nerves, they are also a kind of protest against the forces of the art market. Fused with the sacrosanct walls of the gallery itself, they can’t be moved, so they can’t be sold. Born within the structure of the art experience, they can’t be separated out as commodities.
Referencing art history
As teachers of art, both artists are quite comfortable referencing art history. Bellas recreates a Monet haystack; Harvey mimics color field painting. But there’s more to it than homage or imitation.
Bellas actually hand-cut and stacked the hay himself as a performance piece focused on physical involvement, then continued the process by photographing the haystack, taking care to compose, size and frame it to match the Monet paintings he found in the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection. Harvey painted one of the gallery’s walls with layers of color then gleefully drilled holes straight through the sheetrock, effectively undermining the illusion of a two-dimensional painting as 3-D space. The literal void behind the wall substitutes for the symbolic void of emptiness or infinity so often eulogized in treatises on abstract art. But still more cosmic, the holes chart the daily positions of the sun relative to nearby Baltimore.
These artists teach drawing but both are happy to extend its definition beyond pencil and charcoal. Harvey draws with her drill, as the work’s lengthy title makes clear—“Burnt Red Cosmic Sunshine 133-11-544 (Hole Drawing—Solar Elevation and Azimuth Recordings, Baltimore).” Bellas draws with other things, a carpenter’s rule, for instance. In another of his works combining performance and photography, a series of photos find him standing before a mountainous Vermont skyline tracing its contours with the angles of a folding wooden ruler held up in the air.
Bellas’s titles are even longer than Harvey’s. They don’t fit on the wall. More like poems or formulas detailing his thoughts and process, they’re available in a 25-page booklet, but reading it is optional. You can get a deeper understanding of what the artist was considering when he created his various photos, sculptures and videos, and it’s a fascinating read. However, you can and should feel free to experience the work from your own point of view.
An interdisciplinary approach
A perusal of the much less unwieldy exhibition catalog will confirm how both artists work with an interdisciplinary approach that embraces literature, science, history, psychology, and personal experience. This is the real point of the exhibit and the focus of the College’s new direction for its studio art department. Studying art isn’t simply about achieving skill in a particular technique. It’s about developing a process of analytical thinking and intuitive awareness that can be applied to any discipline from drawing to marketing to cancer research, making it an important field of study for art and non-art majors alike.