February is the month designated for lovers or for those who love the idea of it.
Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but for those still feeling its euphoric bliss, the latest show at the Art Association of Harrisburg (AAH) may extend that feeling until St. Patrick’s Day rolls around. Anyone who knows me has come to realize that I wear my (H)Art on my sleeve and have for four decades, as that is my wife’s maiden name.
Art couples are a happening that comes with the territory. Think of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Locally, Harrisburg boasts a number of artistic unions like Vivian Sterste and Jeb Boyd of Vivi on Verbeke and Caleb Smith and Tara Chickey of the Millworks. And don’t forget the Walkes from Gallery@2nd.
The latest pairing of Charlie “Bootleg” Feathers and Reina “R76” Wooden has already created an artistic avalanche of energetic endeavors. They ended 2019 with a sneak preview party at Charlie’s home studio to kick off the decade of the new “Roaring 20s.” Those fortunate enough to be there were wowed by what two highly creative consorts combined to create in catapulting crystalline clarity into focus.
The current AAH show opened on Friday with Feathers’ “Jumper” (pictured) greeting guests in the foyer with an exuberant smile on his face. Jumper, being an eight-foot-tall papier mache’ zebra, set the stage for the night ahead. The audience at the 3rd in the Burg opening not only got to see firsthand the outpouring of creativity from Feathers/Wooden, but also to experience “Hear Me?” a show by deaf artists across the state of Pennsylvania. Both shows command attention on the merits of talent alone.
The senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell are all essential to living life and are something we often take for granted.
Deaf artists from every corner of the state are featured in “Hear Me?” co-curated by Arielle Mabsoute, a deaf artist, and Linda Price, arts activist and an artist in her own right. One of the thought-provoking and timely works is titled, “Deaf President Now,” featuring a quartet of young candidates up to the challenge. In all, 40-plus works round out the show, sending a clear message that all should hear—that a disability does not hamper or inhibit talent, but can actually enhance it as creativity comes from within. That is what truly makes an artist gifted, the heart committed to making art.
Rachel O’Connor, curator, designed the layout for the dual show and smartly balanced the downstairs “Hear Me?” in its intentional tone in allowing the deaf artists’ works to stand collectively apart, creating a dynamic social dialogue without uttering a sound. Mabsoute and Price smartly juxtaposed pure, unfiltered art from Pennsylvania’s School for the Deaf students next to adult interpretations. The mix is magical. The jolts of joy make for quite an experience for viewers young and old.
One of the adults at the show’s vanguard is artist Sheri Youens-Un, who works in wood—two dimensional with layered pieces fitting together like a puzzle and hand-stained to suit the atmosphere of the creation. “Deaf President Now” is offered in earth tones, a subtle reminder that climate change and the loss of the world’s natural resources should be on every candidate’s mind.
Left to their own devices in the upstairs galleries, the always-fascinating Charlie and Reina plotted out a plan that demonstrated they were at “Sixes and Sevens” in the best sort of way. To quote one of my favorite Burg writers, Sara Bozich, everyone in attendance at AAH got their “hair did”—curled, straightened and curled again. Individually, Charlie and Reina were already artists working well outside the box, but, together, they created a celebration fit for Mardi Gras (Feb. 25). The only thing missing was the line of dancers outside Front Street. The “krewe” that queued were out in full regalia, trumpeting this Carnival king and queen.
“The Blue Chair Installations” had a room all to themselves. Feathers’ on-going commentary depicts various branches of mental health awareness, bringing them to the foreground where they rightfully belong. They play a pivotal role for an artist attuned to the internal struggles that mankind faces over the course of a lifetime. A book lies flat on a table in the room, but the pages come alive in a tribute past and present, with an impactful message in drawings and words.
In similar fashion, Wooden’s abstract expressionistic painting addresses the Me Too movement with a ferocity, unrelenting in the notion that womankind must be treated as equal and with the respect that every human being deserves. Another room is devoted to “Women Warriors,” which speaks volumes, prescient and powerful in its scope. Borrowing Teddy Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” the collection is complete in photographs and battle gear. Battle axes, torpedo night sticks and an oversized baseball bat “club” that would make Fred Flintstone envious are all hung with aplomb.
Both shows exemplify the fundamental notion in finding source material for inspiration. It can be found through struggle, loss and self-reflection. Both groups of creatives inherently grasp the essence of what the world could be. If we truly have evolved as a species, then we need to embrace our differences and find a common language through art, be it spoken or signed.
Pictured above: “Me Too Mannequin,” Wooden/Feathers
“Bootleg Meets R76” and “Hear Me?” run through March 26 at the Art Association of Harrisburg, 21 N. Front St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.artassocofhbg.com.