Personal histories: A look at Bockley Gallery's Fall Show
Posted December 16th, 2020 by Kaleb Williams
This group exhibition, which closes December 19th, features Leslie Barlow, Jose Dominguez, Tom Jones, Jonathan Herrera Soto, and Jovan C. Speller
The Bockley Gallery is a hidden gem tucked away near Lake of the Isles, encompassed by brawny trees and creative home architecture. The surroundings have a charm that matches the gallery, which typically exhibits work by artists in the gallery’s roster. For this Fall Show, however, Bockley is giving us five artists brand new to the gallery: Leslie Barlow, Tom Jones, Jovan C. Speller, Jonathan Herrera Soto, and Jose Dominguez. This show features each artist’s disparate artistic practice, combining their style, media, and aesthetic points of view to serve as an introduction to these artists’ practices and intentions. The gallery space itself has an open feel to it and a fluid flow, allowing you to really engage and focus on each piece at a time. It is quiet and peaceful, a way to kind of decompress and let the mind wander and be with the art.
Leslie Barlow; Grandmother and Child; oil, pastel, acrylic, quilted fabric on panel; 48 x 48"; 2019
Leslie Barlow’s piece, titled Grandmother and Child, is part of her larger series: A Familiar Portrait of Labor and Love. Each piece of work represents a form of labor and love Barlow experienced, conveyed through photos and experiences. Grandmother and Child is a mix of oil, pastel, acrylic, and quilted fabric on a wooden panel. Looking at this work, I feel the candidness of the photo, and the stillness of the expressions Leslie captures from both subjects is surreal. The baby blank stare from Child is a mini-Mona Lisa, with the eyes following you as you walk by.
Before I noticed the swimsuits, I felt the heat and humidity from looking at it. The brush strokes give a very smooth and melting texture to the work – combined with the out of water look, the painting is reminiscent of a warm breeze coming by when you’re getting out of the water during a summer day. The panel background adds to the melted sensation with the large stretched-out wood pattern. The open background really draws you into the center of the painting, highlighting the stars of it all. Speaking of stars, on either side of Grandmother and Child are quilted diamonds of multi-colored fabric. The quilted fabric patterns are like the Swedish Barn Quilt trail in Chisago Lakes, and the fabric itself carries with it a very grandmotherly nostalgia, which rounds out the sentiment that is woven into this piece and some attribute to their grandmother – a sense of nurture.
Tom Jones, Elizah Leonard, digital photograph with beadwork, edition 2/5, 40 x 40", 2019
The next piece in the show is Tom Jones’s Elizah Leonard, part of his Strong Unrelenting Spirits project. Jones’s photographs examine identity and geographic place within the experience of American Indian communities. He is unapologetically Ho-Chunk and interested in the way that American Indian material culture is represented through popular culture. Strong Unrelenting Spirits is a series of portraits that are rooted in Ho-Chunk identity, fusing beaded designs that are traditionally used on clothing directly onto photographs.
In Elizah Leonard, a Ho-Chunk member is front and center – tall, proud, and confident. You can feel the solidarity in her by the posture and gaze alone. I noticed right away the sharpness of the photo; you can almost count the threads in the clothing. The beaded floral designs gently glide across the outline of the subject and give the look and feel of an aura surrounding them. The pitch-black background really makes the colors of the Ho-Chunk apparel burst out at you. Walking by the piece activates the beaded work to shimmer and in turn the subject, whom I assume to be Elizah, gets lifted off the photograph, almost holographic in nature. A lot about this is very thematic and cohesive – the floral “aura” pattern matching the floral pattern in the Ho-Chunk clothing, the colors on the vest matching the colors of the Ho-Chunk clothing and the diamond pattern on it, the beaded design on their stomach and the beaded orbs in the corner. It is all coordinated well.
Jovan C. Speller, Some of us didn’t make it, cut and layered archival photographs, 24 x 24", 2020
Continuing our verbal tour of the Bockley Gallery Fall Show leads us to two collages by Jovan C. Speller. Both are cut and layered photographs from a series of hers called Relics of Home, utilizing photography, text, installation, and sound to examine origin stories. “This work is a journey of research and reconciliation,” writes the artist. “I look into the past, upon the histories of Black people in this country – I look into the gaping ambiguity of what is the beginning of Black identity. I attempt to conjure the ‘who’ that we were before we were stolen, transported, sold, and exploited. At least, that’s where I began. Swallowed by the missing and forgotten ancestors and traditions. Where I have arrived is a different place entirely.”
My first experience with the photo collages is that they both exist in a very dream-like state, especially with the black and white collaged in – it gives the work a reality break that feels surreal in contrast to the normalcy of the photo’s background and content. In person, the un-stenciled collaged layers are apparent and have a raw tone with the physical construction of the works. Both works, which were made specifically for this show, have a quiet country stillness to the photos, which is aided by the silent ambiance in the gallery.
Jonathan Herrera Soto, Sin Titulo / Untitled, 1 of 20 unique collagraph prints on hand-made flax paper, 30 x 40", 2020
Next is the collagraph print Because I love you, because I will wait for you, every morning/Porque te Amo, Porque te Esperaré, Todas las Mañanas, from Jonathan Herrera Soto’s series ironically titled Untitled/Sin Titulo. The clothing used in the series are either owned by the artist, given to him, or found abandoned outside, from locations poles apart in the United States. The Untitled/Sin Título series provides an opportunity to remember and mourn the body, when there is no physical body left behind. The ambiguity of the clothing allows the viewer to create a world from their own experiences.
The general aesthetic of this piece is somber and caliginous; it reminded me of clothing you would see from a Titanic exhibit. The idea of Herrera Soto using real clothing he finds abandoned across the United States is ominous to say the least – the desolate articles have their own stories and experiences embedded into the fibers and stitches. When combined with the process Herrera Soto uses to create the work, the clothing becomes re-animated, but in a ghost-like fashion and feel. Another fun aspect to this piece is that I’m not sure if this is from the 1900s, 1940s, or 1980s; it adds even more to the mystery. The title of the work is printed on the clothing in Old English font, adding more character and legend to this piece.
Jose Dominguez, Farther Than My Father, acrylic and cut paper on masonite, 48 x 51 x 4", 2018
In a striking and clever change of pace, the exhibition transitions finally to Jose Dominguez’s Farther Than My Father, from a larger series titled The Art of Avoiding PPL. The series includes multiple large-scale, mixed-media works along with smaller-scale drawings. Dominguez uses figuration, text, bright colors, and bold lines to capture the energy and tensions that underpin our relationships with our friends, family, and those that make up our communities. The artist confesses a love-hate relationship with people.
This piece is weirdly positive and positively weird with an eccentric feel and look to it. The colors are bright and vibrant, lunging towards you and drawing you in with its literal hands. The faces on the trees and moon-like objects placed around with the various expressions appear to look back at you with. A lot of things in this piece seem “normal,” but with the colors and patterns drawing you in more, all the fantastical details are soon realized: the hands in the middle that have a few too many fingers, the head emerging from the bush between the hands, the various lemon heads placed throughout, the ice cream sandwich face in the corner – it’s an incredibly bizarre game of “I Spy.” Here Dominguez fuses the look of street art with the whimsical nature of Sesame Street, guiding your eyes along the board game squares and stairs up to the trees and the Sasquatch figure at the top. You can really feel Dominguez’s zany and cartoonish lens of how he views the world – as a CandyLand fever dream.
The Fall Show at Bockley serves as an introduction to each of these artists. While their differences in style, media, and aesthetic points of view seems to be apparent, there is one huge thread tying these together: personal history. Each one of these pieces emphasizes their own familial and cultural background – whether that be outright like Tom Jones’ work celebrating Ho-Chunk culture or more subtly, as in Herrera Soto’s work emphasizing those lost immigrating. Bockley’s Fall Show runs through December 19th; to get a visual taste of these works in person please contact the gallery. With COVID (and Jack Frost) nipping at our noses and the urge to refrain from large gatherings, a stroll by through the gallery can be a great way to soothe the winter restlessness.
Banner image: Yeah, but where you from? (detail), cut and layered archival photographs, 24 x 24", 2020