NEXT WEEK, OXFORD AMERICAN WILL UNVEIL ITS INAUGURAL ART EXHIBITION in Little Rock, AR, in the downtown multipurpose space the magazine acquired two years ago. Organized and curated by Susan Johnson-Mumford, the show consists of six artists in multiple disciplines presenting work around the theme of Crossing Borders.
Johnson-Mumford is a frequent crosser of borders herself. She left Arkansas for the UK for a six month trip and finds herself having lived there for over a decade working as an art dealer and project consultant.
"I am very pleased to be contributing to the cultural scene in Arkansas. When I was 22 years old, just prior to moving to England, I had a goal, 'to help put Arkansas on the cultural map of the USA.' Those were my words, verbatim. Since that time Crystal Bridges has opened and Little Rock as a state capitol has flourished."
in 2011, after Johnson-Mumford read that Oxford American moved some of their offices into the former home of restaurant/music venue Juanita's and planned to use the rest of the space as multipurpose arts center, she contacted publisher Warwick Sabin. The idea of an international art exhibition planned around cultural themes began to take hold, and on August 1st, Crossing Borders will open to the public.
The theme refers specifically to the idea of an artist's personal evolution due to their travels, but is more metaphorically incorporated in many of the works presented.
Johnson-Mumford said, "[British Photographer] Chris King started a series in late 2011 that presents his interpretation of what represents 'The South.' Fascinated by seeing things that I had never noticed as a native (such as a liquor stores near the lines of dry counties only existing because of long-lasting prohibition laws), I started to explore interpretations of the region, in addition to the impacts that an artist’s travels have on creative output. The theme solidified quickly, now with six artists presenting notions on the concept."
The other artists are Ryder Richards, who is presenting drawings executed with gunpowder and gold leaf, Kimo Minton, an abstract artist who utilizes woodcuts and paint, Rob Tarbell, who is known for using smoke as a medium, and contemporary painters Mia Fernandes and Marcus McAllister.
Most of the works are new and arriving in the United States for the first time. Several were created with the theme of the show in mind.
Virginia native Rob Tarbell's work, a combination of ink and smoke, reached its latest iteration after a residency in France. Having moved often to pursue residency opportunities and teaching positions, he personally adopts the idea of travel being an artistic catalyst
"The act of traveling, driving for hours or train ride, frees up the flow of ideas. Also being in a new environment, being at a heightened state of awareness to everything is exciting. From being in a new museum or a café where the clinking of a spoon on a cup sounds different or even hearing unfamiliar birds or languages, it all connects to something new or some dormant thought.
When he fell ill in France and couldn't work for long hours with smoke (which he produces by burning different materials and "draws" with) , he took to creating markings with ink as a way to create and channel his feelings after long-distance Skype sessions with his wife back in the states.
"All of this ink work was so different than anything I had ever done, I didn’t care what it was going to be or do, so it was very freeing. I kept these inks and once I returned home, I got them out. Over time and wellness, I saw them with fresh eyes. They became source material for larger pieces on translucent polyester stretched over sculptural forms or the base for smoke on top, which are all a part of the Crossing Borders show."
Ryder Richards, who lives and works out of Dallas, TX, said, "This was a chance to make something that spoke directly to the theme of the exhibit, at least for me."
His multimedia drawings of hands holding guns originated with his evaluation of himself as a Texan once he began to travel extensively outside of his own state. The state's reputation preceded him everywhere, especially it's association with cowboys and their perceived instrument of choice: the pistol.
When asked if he thought that travel was necessary for an artist's progress, he replied, "I think twenty years ago, travel was direly necessary. If you want to talk about it in an economic/business model, it’s probably not as necessary today as it used to be. But I think for intellectual, conceptual, and even emotional growth, I find it to be extremely necessary. I think seeing different things and reacting to them is sometimes the only way you can break down your prejudices and ideas and embrace contradictions that will make your artwork stronger."
Though the exhibit is international in scope, the work all comes from personal places. The show is a good reminder that though our expectations of the outer world are shaped by our cultural backgrounds, the individual determines how he or she will communicate his response. We take places with us with us wherever we go, leaving markers along the way for whoever might follow.
More artist info:
1300 Main Street, Little Rock, Arkansas.