Photo: LeiAnn Huddleston.
Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery, UNLV
(4505 S Maryland Parkway)
Through November 30, 2016
By D.K. Sole
I hesitate to call Mike Calway-Fagen’s one-person show "poetic" because the word is so often colloquially understood to mean sweetened mush, but the first time I saw it I had been reading William Kulik’s introduction to the "Selected Poems of Max Jacob" (Oberlin College Press, 1999), and I was thinking of the implicit joins or silences that poetry allows for. "Banana Strings" struck me as a way to continue that line of thought. One of my colleagues suggested that it was a show with many entrances, which it is, in that almost any piece can serve as the first piece, an introduction to the story of the rest. Is it a coincidence that the shadow inside "rigormortis tortoise", a black ceramic vase with a pie-slice cut out of the side, falls in the shape of a keyhole?
The artist on opening night (October 27) drew attention to the fact that the trefoil arrangement of singing pony costumes in "the nature of the venture" means you can stand between them, inside the work, but then where is the work, you might think -- where is the front of it, where does it start or stop -- especially when the audio coming out of the speakers bolted into the ponies' dark-fringed cartoon eyeholes travels all over the room, even into the narrow top balcony space where an ominous submarine rotates in a video loop against the wall?
My own mental entrance to "Banana Strings", the moment when I looked back at the gallery and saw the shadow-patterned gap in the vase forming an alignment with the music-filled space between the ponies, was a block of printed text in a collage titled "in full sight". It describes the behaviour of the male saiga antelope, who often dies during rutting season, "leaving most of the food supply to the females, who propagate the species." This notion of absence and fulfillment bubbling away in the same spot with a weird combination of biology and mechanical predictability (as if the saiga is not fully one thing or the other, or as if we are all both at once) looked like the key to some angle of perceptive intelligence that the show presents to its visitors without ever trying to disguise it as an answerable question.
D.K. Sole has worked at UNLV's Marjorie Barrick Museum since it changed its focus to fine art in 2012. An artist and former resident of Melbourne, Australia, she held her first one-woman Las Vegas show, 'Some Time Ago," in 2015 at Clark County's Winchester Gallery. She was co-manager for the highly praised downtown Las Vegas gallery, Satellite Contemporary.
Photo: LeiAnn Huddleston.
"Bob Dylan ganha o Prêmio Nobel de Literatura 2016" writes Eduardo Kobra at kobrastreetart. He and his crew completed this mural of Bob Dylan in Minneapolis in September, 2015.
When it was announced that Bob Dylan was awarded the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, poet Heather Lang shared some thoughts on her Facebook feed. PtD asked Lang to embellish her response as a guest post, and she graciously has. As a side note, Odd Zschiedrich, the administrative director of the Swedish Academy, has said the Nobel Prize committee has yet to hear from Dylan.
By Heather Lang
This isn’t about elitism, and it’s not about aesthetic preference, either. I'm all about breaking boundaries and thinking across genres. A poet proper didn’t need to win the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature. It didn't need to be someone who creates Literature (with that capital "L" about which people keep talking). It could have been a graphic novelist or a street artist who incorporates words, for example. Perhaps, however, it shouldn’t have been twelve-time Grammy Award winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted, Academy Award winning – and we could go on – popular musician Bob Dylan.
This year an award was shifted away from a less-recognized population of artists, many of whom are painfully under compensated for their important work, especially if we're going to revolve the conversation around the word "poetic." When it comes to art, we influence one another, and we are influenced by one another. Most artists agree that art is about eliciting an emotional response from someone else. It’s visceral. It’s cerebral. It’s complex, and there’s not much we can boil down about it.
But, this one thing is surely true: art is not a solitary act. Therefore, shouldn’t artists help other artists, be mindful of who gives and who takes/receives? The music world, at least at Bob Dylan's level, is highly commercialized. With that comes money and power. I'd be thrilled if the Grammy awards included poetry as a genre, but that isn't what happened here. This is quite the opposite.
I've been told, in sincerity, "Don't worry. Poetry will live on in song lyrics and greeting cards." Does the decision to give the award to Bob Dylan supports those types of sentiments? If so, that's dangerous on a number of levels. Today’s music, or Dylan’s music, is a beneficiary of poetry. What will happen when that reservoir runs out, when that foundation is no longer valued or taught? Poetry, and the study of poetry, offers an attention to detailed language truly unmatched in holiday cards, English Composition courses, album reviews, and other platforms.
In general, are we effectively teaching poetry in schools? No. As poet and educator Jamaal May pointed out when he visited UNLV last month, we need to begin by introducing today’s poetry and then move back in time. Otherwise, we’re expecting people to learn two languages at once: 1.) the language of poetry and 2.) the language of a distant past. I can't begin to tell you how much the study of contemporary poetry has helped my Business Writing, Speech, and other college-level non-major English students. We dissect denotation and connotation. We investigate the literal and the figurative. We analyze juxtapositions and parallels, ethos and pathos, and even the best way to begin to deliver bad news versus what’s good.
If you felt joy because Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I will celebrate your bliss with you. My tail feathers are ruffled by the committee's decision, but not by our conversations surrounding it. Differing opinions are undoubtedly vital to art and to, well, life. Moreover, I’m with you in reveling in Bob Dylan’s music and in his artistic career. I just hope that his award brings attention to poetry instead of moving us further away from it.
Heather Lang is a Vegas-based poet, editor, and adjunct professor.
Vincent Valdez, Details of The City I (2015-2016). All photos courtesy of the artist and David Shelton Gallery.
Paint This Desert invites Andrea Lepage, associate professor of art history at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, to share her thoughts on an artist she has championed, Vincent Valdez. Lepage, as a scholar, and Valdez, as an artist, explore contemporary art that supports the aesthetic that gave Latino murals in the west a legacy of social practice.
By Andrea Lepage
On August 26, 2016, San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained national attention for protesting police brutality against people of color. Kaepernick sat during the National Anthem, and in later games he took a knee. In a statement issued to the media, he reasoned that, “When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I'll stand.”
The following week, Vincent Valdez’s painting titled The City, which depicts a Ku Klux Klan gathering set within a junkyard on the edge of town, debuted at the David Shelton Gallery in Houston as part of the current exhibition “Vincent Valdez: The Beginning is Near (Part I).” Conceived independently of Kaepernick’s protest, The City employs the flag and also the American eagle to question the promise of freedom for all in the United States.
A U.S. flag patch adheres to a white sleeve and an American eagle is partially visible on a peaked hood. The most salient symbol appears in the form of a special-edition Budweiser beer can emblazoned with the word “America” and held by a Klansman whose other hand juts out of the painting in a salute that evokes a long history of white supremacism. While the text on the limited edition beer can defines the U.S. as “Indivisible since 1776,” Valdez’s painting speaks to a nation still very much divided.
As the viewer of The City stands face-to-face with an assembly of fourteen hooded Klansmen and Klanswomen, the thirty-foot-long, multi-panel composition presents an uncomfortable vision of the nation. Composed entirely of grey tones, this scene takes as its starting point vintage imagery of the Klan. However, details including a Chevrolet truck, an iPhone, a cellphone tower and a Pikachu toy held in the hands of a hooded baby make disturbingly clear that this scene takes place in our own time. The mundane tasks in which these individuals are engaged—gossiping, checking phones, drinking beer and looking off into the distance—result in an overall impression far-removed from the terror typically associated with Klan imagery.
The painting draws upon the recognizable imagery of the Klan as a strategy to underscore the persistence of racism in the United States. In an interview, Valdez described the piece as metaphorical. He explained, “The doctrine which drives the Klan [...] is all around us and is still being passed down from generation to generation.” The City suggests that we can locate racism in the most normal places: classrooms, boardrooms, convenience stores, on the streets or in the words of prominent politicians. As The City makes apparent, the hoods merely make white supremacism easier to spot.
Valdez’s early title for the piece, “For Guston and Gil Scott-Heron” ties The City to Philip Guston’s Klan imagery produced in the 1930s and 1960s, as well as to Gil Scott-Heron’s song “The Klan,” which features this phrase that Valdez identified as essential for his conceptualization of The City:
“Father, mother, sister, brother, stand by me
It’s not so easy to be free”
The City offers an opportunity to investigate forms of systemic racism that extend well beyond hate groups like the KKK. While Valdez’s hooded figures take center stage, the title of the piece reveals his greater interest in their backdrop: the city itself.
In an interview, Valdez noted that urban planning “has for over two centuries kept populations divided through borders and boundaries that are determined by economic class and skin color.” Valdez continued, “The design of many American cities today still reflects segregation [in the] plotting and location of train tracks, city dumps, lands claimed through eminent domain, city jails and police stations, storage and industry sectors, underfunded schools and housing and even in the placement of parks and trees.”
In a statement to the media, Kaepernick also united past and present violence against communities of color in the following terms, “As I’ve gained more knowledge about what’s gone on in the past, what’s going on in the country currently, [I’ve learned that] these aren’t new situations. This isn’t new ground.” Valdez’s The City entices us to gather information about a past that has provided the language and the framework for a present time still marked by racist and discriminatory ideologies.
To quote a line in the original text of the National Anthem, here’s hoping for a time in this nation “when freemen shall stand.”
Vincent Valdez, The City I (2015-2016).
Vincent Valdez: The Beginning is Near (Part I) is on view at the David Shelton Gallery, Houston, through October 8, 2016.
Above: Krystal Ramirez “I Want to See More Brown Bodies” from 2017 will be reassembled at UNLV’s Barrick Museum of Art in Spring 2018.