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S. Patricia Patterson re-imagines the American Dream in Back to the Future

Forward Arts Foundation Emerging Artist Award winner's vision has a nightmarish twist

S. Patricia Patterson's latest body of work and first major solo show, Back to the Future, is the result of her 2012 Emerging Artist Award. The Forward Arts Foundation gifted Patterson with a $10,000 grant, which she used to continue the motifs of youth, memory, and nostalgia she often employs in her multimedia works. Patterson mixes watercolor, screen-printing, and bold geometric patterns in scenes that recreate an idealism found both in childhood and a certain kind of consumer-based American patriotism.

"Trigger Keeper" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy" make the best use of what Patterson describes in her artist's statement as a "confluence of hazily recollected childhood astonishment and mid-century collective ambition." Patterson tempers the preciousness of nostalgia with a series of off-putting cultural references.

In "Trigger Keeper," a pair of young boys, presumably brothers, wear matching flannel shirts and John Deere caps. Guns in hand, they stand in front of a T-Top Trans Am Firebird parked at a 45-degree angle, the familiar muscle car pose, echoed in the dark turquoise chevron stripes covering the ground. This self-consciously masculine branding seems too adult, as if they are emulating the uniform of a working-class man.

It might seem like an innocently romanticized portrait of male youth, but Patterson's soft watercolors and the mauve of the boys' shirts clash with the image's machismo. The guns hang flaccid in their small arms. Already incongruous, the scene becomes absurd when the connection is made between the chevron pattern and eerie cult TV show "Twin Peaks." (The Red Room at the Black Lodge featured similar flooring.) With "Trigger Keeper," Patterson is pointing out both the illusory qualities of memory and the bizarreness of indoctrinating children into gender politics at such a young age.

Patterson takes a similar approach to female conditioning in "Yankee Doodle Dandy." A wide-eyed girl in a red leotard, tap shoes, and an Uncle Sam-style top hat poses on a tabletop. She stands with her hands on hips and smile fixed, a precursor to the "Toddlers & Tiaras" version of over-the-top child pageantry. She has no audience to appreciate her efforts; the office chairs that surround the table are unoccupied. Despite the room's emptiness, the painting feels claustrophobic, as if the tabletop and ceiling are moving in to crush her. The pattern covering the walls mimics Hicks' hexagon, the same design on the hotel carpet in The Shining. The reference recalls the film's murdered twin girls that famously ask Danny to play with them.

When Patterson layers glimpses of childhood fun with the serious implications of adulthood, the works take on a complex, nightmarish quality. A few paintings are left wanting, however, feeling less like strange dreams than straightforward portraits. "A Good Man is Hard to Find," in which a family is pictured taking a break from a road trip, is sweet but lacks the intellectual depth of something like "Trigger Keeper." The same goes for "Santa's Little Helpers," a simple depiction of two kids on Santa's lap. Although some works can veer toward Hallmark card-style reminiscence, Patterson's tender visual rendering is captivating when imbued with darker themes.



More By This Writer

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Article

Tuesday December 18, 2012 08:20 am EST
The collaborative duo has no use for Southern cliche in this Barbara Archer exhibition | more...
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  string(3415) "    Cawley leaves a memorable mental note at Emily Amy Gallery   2012-12-11T16:00:00+00:00 Jennifer Cawley paints alternate realities   Grace Thornton 5672689 2012-12-11T16:00:00+00:00  Jennifer Cawley's encaustic and mixed-media paintings play with the natural tension that arises when child-like innocence collides with the dark and daunting realities of the adult word. She counts among her influences authors Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll, who similarly conveyed senses of wonder and imagination in their works.

Internal struggles manifest as off-kilter mental maps in You Can't Get There From Here, her current exhibit on view at Emily Amy Gallery. In her artist statement, Cawley explains how mental processes follow disjointed, nonlinear paths: "When the brain does not follow expected sequences to problem solve or synthesize information, the result is an alternate perception." This phenomenon can occur in situations as mundane as a visit to a crowded mall or as devastating as dealing with death.

After earning her BFA at the Atlanta College of Art, Cawley studied bookbinding in England. Her works feature youthful storybook elements such as hot-pink silhouettes of pigs, words like "fortune" and "gift" scrawled into the wax with a finger, and peppy primary colors. Paper cutouts, scribbles, amoeba-like splotches of paint, and dictionary pages patch together a subconscious landscape with little spatial logic. Opaque wax encases the collages and distorts the paintings, as if viewing them through a sheer white curtain. In some works, strokes of slick-looking paint sit thickly on top of the wax.

Several paintings have the fresh-looking paint formed into rows of serpentine dashes. In "Amble," the lines loop around parasitic imagery that looks like worms writhing in the holes of a tree. A simple illustration of a man and woman eating at a nearly bare table heightens the painting's melancholy undertone. Red dashes curl atop an inky blue bloom of dyed wax and transform into a loose bouquet of flower petals in "Gift." The sinuous lines escort the eye through the works, effectively conjuring the show's title, You Can't Get There From Here.

Cawley's ideas about sensory processing often manifest literally. In "Comfort Level," a stairwell fills the silhouette of a head, out of which comes a speech bubble made from a dictionary page. But Cawley's work is more successful when it has a sketchier, more ambiguous feel. "Hotdog" and "Perhaps," for instance, have more in common with the bold abstractions of a Cy Twombly painting than a page from a children's book. In both cases, the bright hues that dominate most of her paintings are used sparingly to enliven the muted, earth-toned backgrounds. "Perhaps" is particularly whimsical, with a derby hat, a row of disembodied teeth, an encyclopedia cutout of dancing feet, and her signature dots and dashes of paint.

Maybe Cawley intended to have the viewer contemplate the brain's complexities by creating an atmosphere of sensory overload. Her eye-catching symbols and the colorful webs that connect them capture imagination, but might not hold one's attention. Allowing her paintings room to breathe lets her ideas move through the work like a fishing line. Not every one will catch, but there's a soothing rhythm in their capture and release.             13071616 7070810                          Jennifer Cawley paints alternate realities "
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Tuesday December 11, 2012 11:00 am EST
Cawley leaves a memorable mental note at Emily Amy Gallery | more...
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  string(2613) "There is a witchy tone to Tommy Nease's grainy photographs. The words death, demon, mystic, and flesh kept coming to mind during a visit to Phantasm, Nease's current show at Get This! Gallery. The exhibit contains three series — "Phantasm," "Pneuma," and "Explor//ations" — that all deal in otherworldly investigations. As his artist statement explains, "Nease ... uses his obsessions with imagery to unearth deep secrets within his subconscious. Nease's work lies in a no man's land between the spiritual polars of light and dark."

A primitive motif runs through some images, expressing a connection with an unearthly realm summoned by death alone. Like flashes of a dream, figures symbolic of death and dying are cast into black shadows surrounded by a haze of gray. In "Untitled — Phantasm series," (all of the show's images are untitled) a hooded black figure carrying a child in a white bodysuit emerges from a gray background. The white form glows against the shadows, articulating a stark contrast between light and dark.

Animal imagery also conveys notions of ritual sacrifice and pagan spirituality. One image shows a man's arm extended, a dismembered deer hoof balancing on his forearm. Other works visualize a peaceful spirituality associated with the afterlife, where a monument or person seems to be lifted into the sky: In one, a woman levitates above the tree line. In another, a rudimentary ladder leans against an empty bed, suggesting an ascent from a deathbed into heaven.

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In some cases, the symbolism is too obvious, such as one work depitcing a dome encircled with astrological signs. Nease's photographs are like scary camp stories everyone's heard, but retold by a good storyteller. And when his pictures capture only a moment of an otherworldly atmosphere, the supernatural feels thrillingly intimate. "
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A primitive motif runs through some images, expressing a connection with an unearthly realm summoned by death alone. Like flashes of a dream, figures symbolic of death and dying are cast into black shadows surrounded by a haze of gray. In "Untitled — Phantasm series," (all of the show's images are untitled) a hooded black figure carrying a child in a white bodysuit emerges from a gray background. The white form glows against the shadows, articulating a stark contrast between light and dark.

Animal imagery also conveys notions of ritual sacrifice and pagan spirituality. One image shows a man's arm extended, a dismembered deer hoof balancing on his forearm. Other works visualize a peaceful spirituality associated with the afterlife, where a monument or person seems to be lifted into the sky: In one, a woman levitates above the tree line. In another, a rudimentary ladder leans against an empty bed, suggesting an ascent from a deathbed into heaven.

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Many of the photographs are rendered fuzzy or unfocused, their snowy textures lending them an authenticity, as though lucky snapshots of rare, otherworldly occurrences. The show's largest work, a 12-foot-by-12-foot wheatpaste print, depicts a grainy black void with a blurry set of vampire-like teeth floating in the expanse. Other times, Nease sharpens part of an image to focus on an object. One image depicts a pair of socks against an oriental rug. Each sock has a clearly defined woolen texture. The image's realism is unhinged by the appearance of the empty socks standing on tiptoe, as is if there were feet arched inside of them. The commingling of the mundane and the supernatural here suggests that the earthly and spiritual realms are accessible and interconnected.

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Tuesday November 20, 2012 04:00 am EST
Ghostly photos blur the lines between this world and the next | more...
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  string(3148) "Unrefined clay sculpture and computer-generated imagery recall the relatively tech-deficient cultures of eras past. Movies such as 1987's A Claymation Christmas Celebration and even Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, released in 1999, now seem kitschy because of their animation's crude feel. For the photo illustrations in Suellen Parker's current show at Whitespace, Letting Go, the artist embraces such rudimentary techniques, photographing clay figures against intentionally amateurish computer-animated backgrounds. Parker's simple presentation reveals a calm joy in each of her characters.

Modern art is riddled with desperate, lonely, and imbalanced figures. It's difficult to authentically portray someone in a moment of joy without going sickeningly sweet or turning it into an overwrought display of emotion. But the cartoonish qualities of Parker's clay figures counter the realism that might have made these portraits cloying, had they been shot with real people. Parker's settings serve as symbols of the characters' states of mind, with figures perched atop rocky cliffs or lying nude on a beach. Others are in more personalized spaces, such as the grandmother sitting near her many knickknacks in "Moments of Pleasure." Clearly they're in their respective happy places, which gives the viewer an easy entrée into the characters' personal lives.

The characters also appear to be seeking an escape from social expectations such as beauty or popularity. Many of the figures are gender nonspecific, lumpy, and/or bald. Each is seen alone, reposing during a calm moment. As Parker explains, "My characters are attempting to find a sacred space, a place of vulnerability, a place where they allow themselves to be really seen. By quieting one's life, even momentarily, an opportunity is presented to learn truths about oneself."

Some of Parker's works seem like a snapshot of a stolen few minutes in which the figure drops its social roles. Take "Dressing's" androgynous person, who is outfitted in the classic male uniform of jeans and a white T-shirt. The dresser in the background, however, overflows with bright blue floral dresses and a pink polka dot shirt. A classical portrait of a woman, reminiscent of a Renoir painting, is reflected in the mirror. The woman in the painting gazes at the scene, faintly smiling, perhaps representing the alter ego of "Dressing's" subject.

Other characters unabashedly embrace their quirks. In "Twirling," a particularly clumsily sculpted little girl, hairless and awkward, lets her girly pink dress float gracefully around her knees as she spins atop a coffee table. Her complete ease is similar to that of the businessperson in "The Tie That Binds." Also ambiguously gendered, this person crosses one socked foot over a knee while kicking back in the office. A record player, a portrait of a Tibetan monk, and a delicate picture of ballet slippers are nestled into a series of cubbyholes.

Letting Go fondly points out the primitive aspects of elementary CGI and claymation. The sentimentality is unironic, which opens the door to an elegant study of small joys and self-fulfillment. "
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Modern art is riddled with desperate, lonely, and imbalanced figures. It's difficult to authentically portray someone in a moment of joy without going sickeningly sweet or turning it into an overwrought display of emotion. But the cartoonish qualities of Parker's clay figures counter the realism that might have made these portraits cloying, had they been shot with real people. Parker's settings serve as symbols of the characters' states of mind, with figures perched atop rocky cliffs or lying nude on a beach. Others are in more personalized spaces, such as the grandmother sitting near her many knickknacks in "Moments of Pleasure." Clearly they're in their respective happy places, which gives the viewer an easy entrée into the characters' personal lives.

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Some of Parker's works seem like a snapshot of a stolen few minutes in which the figure drops its social roles. Take "Dressing's" androgynous person, who is outfitted in the classic male uniform of jeans and a white T-shirt. The dresser in the background, however, overflows with bright blue floral dresses and a pink polka dot shirt. A classical portrait of a woman, reminiscent of a Renoir painting, is reflected in the mirror. The woman in the painting gazes at the scene, faintly smiling, perhaps representing the alter ego of "Dressing's" subject.

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  string(3473) "    Artist's subjects find their happy places in Parker's Whitespace exhibit Letting Go   2012-11-13T20:33:00+00:00 Suellen Parker's claymation figures break the mold   Grace Thornton 5672689 2012-11-13T20:33:00+00:00  Unrefined clay sculpture and computer-generated imagery recall the relatively tech-deficient cultures of eras past. Movies such as 1987's A Claymation Christmas Celebration and even Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, released in 1999, now seem kitschy because of their animation's crude feel. For the photo illustrations in Suellen Parker's current show at Whitespace, Letting Go, the artist embraces such rudimentary techniques, photographing clay figures against intentionally amateurish computer-animated backgrounds. Parker's simple presentation reveals a calm joy in each of her characters.

Modern art is riddled with desperate, lonely, and imbalanced figures. It's difficult to authentically portray someone in a moment of joy without going sickeningly sweet or turning it into an overwrought display of emotion. But the cartoonish qualities of Parker's clay figures counter the realism that might have made these portraits cloying, had they been shot with real people. Parker's settings serve as symbols of the characters' states of mind, with figures perched atop rocky cliffs or lying nude on a beach. Others are in more personalized spaces, such as the grandmother sitting near her many knickknacks in "Moments of Pleasure." Clearly they're in their respective happy places, which gives the viewer an easy entrée into the characters' personal lives.

The characters also appear to be seeking an escape from social expectations such as beauty or popularity. Many of the figures are gender nonspecific, lumpy, and/or bald. Each is seen alone, reposing during a calm moment. As Parker explains, "My characters are attempting to find a sacred space, a place of vulnerability, a place where they allow themselves to be really seen. By quieting one's life, even momentarily, an opportunity is presented to learn truths about oneself."

Some of Parker's works seem like a snapshot of a stolen few minutes in which the figure drops its social roles. Take "Dressing's" androgynous person, who is outfitted in the classic male uniform of jeans and a white T-shirt. The dresser in the background, however, overflows with bright blue floral dresses and a pink polka dot shirt. A classical portrait of a woman, reminiscent of a Renoir painting, is reflected in the mirror. The woman in the painting gazes at the scene, faintly smiling, perhaps representing the alter ego of "Dressing's" subject.

Other characters unabashedly embrace their quirks. In "Twirling," a particularly clumsily sculpted little girl, hairless and awkward, lets her girly pink dress float gracefully around her knees as she spins atop a coffee table. Her complete ease is similar to that of the businessperson in "The Tie That Binds." Also ambiguously gendered, this person crosses one socked foot over a knee while kicking back in the office. A record player, a portrait of a Tibetan monk, and a delicate picture of ballet slippers are nestled into a series of cubbyholes.

Letting Go fondly points out the primitive aspects of elementary CGI and claymation. The sentimentality is unironic, which opens the door to an elegant study of small joys and self-fulfillment.              13071242 6874465                          Suellen Parker's claymation figures break the mold "
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Tuesday November 13, 2012 03:33 pm EST
Artist's subjects find their happy places in Parker's Whitespace exhibit Letting Go | more...
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  string(3551) "Laurel Nakadate: Photographs, Video & Performances, now on view at the Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, highlights the well-established artist's recent work. In the last three years alone, Nakadate has shown a 10-year retrospective of her work at MoMA PS1, earned an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival for her feature-length film Stay the Same Never Change, and another film, The Wolf Knife, was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.

Nakadate's art focuses on voyeuristic tendencies, particularly those aimed toward young women. While stating that women are frequently objectified is not novel or shocking, it is undeniably relevant, particularly in this heated election season. The overwhelming scope of women's issues often transfers into artwork quite clumsily, the themes too broad and blatant, the tone generally admonishing. Nakadate's movies and photographs, however, are portraits of vulnerability that thoughtfully consider the scrutiny and sexualization women experience in their lives.

A broad collection of photos and videos comprise the ACAC exhibit. Some works are excerpts from past series, such as 365: A Catalogue of Tears, in which Nakadate photographed herself crying once a day for a year. Though these images are the show's least intellectually stimulating, the concept's simplicity effectively translates the cerebral artist's fascination with intimacy and the nature of performance.

Taking up the gallery's large, central room, the 365 series creates a foundation for the more esoteric works that border the room like peepshow booths in the back of a sex shop. In the three-minute film "Say you Love Me," a middle-aged man sits on a bed, looking out of sliding glass doors toward a glimmering body of water. A few seconds in, Nakadate walks into view on the balcony, looks at the man through the glass, and lifts her dress up as the words to Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" kick in. She poses and sways as the man orchestrates her movements, raising and lowering his hand like a puppeteer to indicate that she do the same with her dress.

Adjacent to "Say You Love Me," the film "Good Morning Sunshine" shows the artist rousing teenage girls from their beds. From behind her handheld camera, Nakadate sweetly persuades each of them to strip. Nakadate makes her requests for a sock or shirt to be removed sound like trivial, unassuming favors. As she coos, "You know you're the prettiest girl, right?" over and over, followed by, "Just let me look at you," the girls' resistance crumbles until they're left in their bras and underwear. It's devastating to see how well the lame lines work: First, because all women have heard some variation of this "C'mon, it's not that big a deal" shtick from men, and second, because watching the film quickly becomes an act of voyeurism, making the viewer feel that the girls are disrobing for his or her benefit.

Feminist art of the '90s, such as Kiki Smith's sculptures of practically faceless ladies with their internal organs exposed, tended to simplify individuals into a representation of all womankind. Nakadate represents a generational shift in female artists who prefer to explore pathos over politics. Her subjects, both male and female, are humanized to a point that would seem pathetic, if not for the extreme isolation of the worlds Nakadate creates. Within these small scenes, she effectively constructs an aversion to the watchful gaze cast on women. And instead of being punished for it, we are asked to watch and to empathize. "
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Nakadate's art focuses on voyeuristic tendencies, particularly those aimed toward young women. While stating that women are frequently objectified is not novel or shocking, it is undeniably relevant, particularly in this heated election season. The overwhelming scope of women's issues often transfers into artwork quite clumsily, the themes too broad and blatant, the tone generally admonishing. Nakadate's movies and photographs, however, are portraits of vulnerability that thoughtfully consider the scrutiny and sexualization women experience in their lives.

A broad collection of photos and videos comprise the ACAC exhibit. Some works are excerpts from past series, such as ''365: A Catalogue of Tears'', in which Nakadate photographed herself crying once a day for a year. Though these images are the show's least intellectually stimulating, the concept's simplicity effectively translates the cerebral artist's fascination with intimacy and the nature of performance.

Taking up the gallery's large, central room, the ''365'' series creates a foundation for the more esoteric works that border the room like peepshow booths in the back of a sex shop. In the three-minute film "Say you Love Me," a middle-aged man sits on a bed, looking out of sliding glass doors toward a glimmering body of water. A few seconds in, Nakadate walks into view on the balcony, looks at the man through the glass, and lifts her dress up as the words to Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" kick in. She poses and sways as the man orchestrates her movements, raising and lowering his hand like a puppeteer to indicate that she do the same with her dress.

Adjacent to "Say You Love Me," the film "Good Morning Sunshine" shows the artist rousing teenage girls from their beds. From behind her handheld camera, Nakadate sweetly persuades each of them to strip. Nakadate makes her requests for a sock or shirt to be removed sound like trivial, unassuming favors. As she coos, "You know you're the prettiest girl, right?" over and over, followed by, "Just let me look at you," the girls' resistance crumbles until they're left in their bras and underwear. It's devastating to see how well the lame lines work: First, because all women have heard some variation of this "C'mon, it's not that big a deal" shtick from men, and second, because watching the film quickly becomes an act of voyeurism, making the viewer feel that the girls are disrobing for his or her benefit.

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Adjacent to "Say You Love Me," the film "Good Morning Sunshine" shows the artist rousing teenage girls from their beds. From behind her handheld camera, Nakadate sweetly persuades each of them to strip. Nakadate makes her requests for a sock or shirt to be removed sound like trivial, unassuming favors. As she coos, "You know you're the prettiest girl, right?" over and over, followed by, "Just let me look at you," the girls' resistance crumbles until they're left in their bras and underwear. It's devastating to see how well the lame lines work: First, because all women have heard some variation of this "C'mon, it's not that big a deal" shtick from men, and second, because watching the film quickly becomes an act of voyeurism, making the viewer feel that the girls are disrobing for his or her benefit.

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Article

Thursday November 1, 2012 04:00 am EDT
The well-established artist explores the sexualization of femininity with photos and video | more...
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