Art Spiel Photo Story
Twenty Twenty Twenty One is a group exhibit and corresponding artist book created by 18 artists. During the darkest days of the past year, the fellowship this group of artists built became a beacon of hope. The artists initially congregated in early April of 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, via weekly Zoom meetings launched by artist Mike Sorgatz, that continued through the year and up to the present. Inspired by their camaraderie, in late summer of 2020 they began casually discussing making a book to share artwork loosely relating to themes of community and connection. This book expanded into a corresponding exhibit, with Janice McDonnell generously taking the initiative in early December of 2020 to curate the exhibition at Sweet Lorraine Gallery.
The body of artwork included in this exhibit is diverse, reflecting the different interests of the individual artists. The artwork spans a wide range of subjects, content, media, and approaches. The participating artists are Julia Whitney Barnes, Jon Bunge, Marsha Clark-Lind, Katherine Forst, Spring Hofeldt, Katherine Keltner, Brian Kenny, Katerina Lanfranco, Janice McDonnell, Elizabeth Meggs, Spencer Merolla, Elise Putnam, Mike Sorgatz, Syma, Traci Talasco, Linda Tharp, Vincent Tsao, and Ward Yoshimoto.
Syma, an artist who goes by that single name, challenges viewers to interact with an invitation to participate with her human-sized installation piece Let’s Live the Life We Dared to Dream, made from stacked Amazon Delivery boxes and mixed media. In the book, thanks to a scannable QR code, the sound of Syma’s grandmother’s voice is presented, with a sculpture adorned with family photos of Syma as a young child with her grandmother. The combination of sound and visuals haunts with immediacy while spanning generations in one moment.
Then We Shall Be Alone, Together, Brian Kenny’s sculpture, encases significant objects such as branches and postage stamps in an autobiographical manner, addressing memories and loss, while making a nod to medieval reliquaries. Spencer Merolla’s Forget-Me-Not flowers made from a deconstructed surgical mask act as a poignant expression of gratitude and mourning. Kenny, Merolla, and Syma all deal with loss, death, and memories, via carefully considered symbolic materials. Marsha Clark-Lind’s grouping of ceramic bowls in a spiral, pictured in the book, reflects connecting the outside world with our inner selves, with each bowl implying comfort and nourishment.
L: Spencer Merolla, photo courtesy the artist; R: Marsha Clark-Lind, photo courtesy Ward Yoshimoto
Jon Bunge celebrates nature with sculptures, in both the gallery and book, made from various kinds of branches that honor the energy and spiritual harmony of natural forms. His work also explores the relationship between the sculptures and the shadows they cast. Traci Talasco utilizes explicitly telling materials in 99% Pure and Other White Lies, with bars of Ivory soap forming cinder blocks making a statement about the harmful nature of white privilege and systemic structures. Talasco leads us to a broader hopeful message with the metaphor of eroding soap washing away hateful ideologies.
Katerina Lanfranco’s painting Three Sons and a Moon, of plant-oriented and lunar subject matter, thrives with the spiritual energy of growth. Nature becomes funny organic characters in Janice McDonnell’s witty still life painting JoJo and Friends, with a small felt owl named JoJo befriending butternut squash.
Julia Whitney Barnes’ Cyanotype Painting (Hibiscus, Daisies, Cosmos, Ferns, Monarch), lushly and lovingly preserves ephemeral seasons, in a decorative tribute to the brief life of flowers. Katherine Keltner’s search for light in Into the Light 4 becomes a journey embracing the ethereal and healing nature of drawing.
Playful or meaningful symbolism makes its way into many of the works. Two honey bear containers, one full of honey and one empty, might transcend the everyday plastic honey containers and spark a broader consideration of fullness versus emptiness, in Spring Hofeldt’s still life painting At Odds. Ward Yoshimoto’s conceptual combinations of found objects breed new meaning, in the exhibit with a framed metal vent striking a potent ontological expression in his piece VENT, and in the book with his revision of fishing bait as symbols of our zeitgeist: Race, Jail, and Click BAIT.
Katherine Forst presents a cheekily melancholy illustrated activity book, Inside: An Activity Book, about being stuck inside, with clouds, copious desserts, a heart on a platter, and a dying plant. The individual illustrated pieces are mounted on magnets, and viewers in the gallery are encouraged to rearrange those pieces. Elise Putnam’s monstrous sculpture, Are We? We Are, Monsters, lurks along the gallery floor, simultaneously revolting and uproarious.
Human figures emerge in the gestural landscape of color of Mike Sorgatz’ expressionistic gouache paintings, Voices 1 and 2, their identities a mysterious, universal, and timeless image of humanity. Elemental forms attend playful gatherings together and signify themes of connections and community in Elizabeth Meggs’ diptych of color compositions, Make Haste Slowly and Voice of the People. Her work in the book, titled Make Haste Slowly, refers to Renaissance printer and scholar Aldus Manutius’ slogan for Aldine Press, which was one of the first presses to make great works affordable and accessible for everyday people, aligning with his humanist beliefs.
Linda Tharp’s intuitive sumi ink painted forms on Mylar in Undine, were inspired by the lichen, moss, decayed trees, icy streams, old stone walls and graves, and rocky landscape during walks in the Maine woods, where she had travelled to stay during the scariest days of the pandemic in New York City.
The group of artists had a regularly scheduled Wednesday evening meeting on January 6, 2021, the day of the United States Capitol attack, having a chance to express emotions and thoughts with each other on a historic day. That event made it into artwork in the show. A raucous crowd of determined flag-waving runners find themselves falling into a chasm of blank nothingness, in Vincent Tsao’s ink drawing titled 1/6, demonstrating a tale of sound and fury signifying nothing.
This collection of widely diverse artworks from a group of artists thrust together in harrowing circumstances reflects a triumph of the human spirit and the tenacity of artists. Formal, conceptual, philosophical, ontological, subject-matter, and infinitely more connections abound between the many works in the show and book, though they were created separately and individually. The exhibit and book are a testament and tribute to resilience, fueled by creativity, humanity, and the warm kindness of community.
Twenty Twenty Twenty One, an exhibition and corresponding book of the same title, will be on display from June 5–30, 2021, at Sweet Lorraine Gallery at TI Art Studios, 183 Lorraine Street, in Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York. Please email tiartstudios@gmail to schedule your visit, or for more information.
Elizabeth Meggs is a Brooklyn-based artist, illustrator, writer, and designer, whose most recent work includes paintings and photography. In the past decade, she has had five solo shows of new work, and exhibited in 75+ group shows.