The ETSU Department of Art & Design and the Slocumb Galleries in partnership with the Urban Redevelopment Alliance (URA) present “Colors Of Aspirations: Flag in Contemporary Art” from June 4 to 30, 2014 at Tipton Gallery. The public is invited to view the exhibit during the opening reception on June 6, First Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. and during the Blue Plum Festival Weekend of June 7 & 8 from 1 to 5 p.m.
The participating artists are: Kathy Block, Craig Cheply, Lawrence Danecke, Carrie Dyer, Amber Farley, Rick Harris, Keith Herrin, Jean Hess, Patti Lawrence, Theresa Markiw, Cynthia Marsh, Benedict Oddi, Skip Rohde, Katie Sheffield, Dawn Marie Tipton and Paul Tosh.
The exhibition features works by contemporary artists who employ the symbolic image of the flag to address social issues and its manipulation as visual dialogue. The American flag has been a potent symbol of patriotism as well as powerful icon for social agency. Artists, most prominently Jasper Johns have employed the stars and stripes in various configurations and materials to pursue artistic ambivalence and encourage discussions in the nature of art. The artists in the exhibition continue on this trajectory, some more political inclined, such as printmaker Cynthia Marsh’s work, Missouri-based graphic artist Paul Tosh’s narratives on diversity posters and Arizona-based artist Craig Cheply’s “100% Natural Series” as commentary to issues of race and gender as well as excesses of oil corporations. Similarly, Kingsport-based artist Patti Lawrence’s “Made In China” mixed media work made of painted toys and paraphernalia in blue, red and white, puts forward the issues of globalization and capitalism. While Skip Rohde, who was assigned in Afghanistan during his tenure at the state department employed the flag as visual element to his modern ‘pieta’ of a mother holding her son, a fallen soldier on his ‘Meditation on War’ series.
Also featured in the exhibition are photographs by Katie Sheffield and Amber Farley who document civil war reenactments and community groups as they examine how the flag is employed as representation of the groups’ missions, similar to the photographs of former Marine Rick Harris who views the flag as "symbol of strength and unity". Some of these works are more straightforward, paying homage to the flag or capturing it as a subject as formal exercise like Lawrence Danecke’s watercolor. Other works are selected to explore deeper aspirations, employing the flag as an accessible image to convey complex desires and commentaries such as work by Ukrainian-descent artist Theresa Markiw who embodies her indignations of the current war in that region through the colors representing the embattled nation. Parallel to this work is Kathy Block’s work on her ‘Arab Springs’ series.
Knoxville-based artist Jean Hess’ earlier work “Native Earth” is a reexamination of the American Indian heritage within the framework of contemporary American society, lamenting the “irony of our culture and political realm”. While Carrie Dyer’s ‘The Great Sadness’ is a graphic narrative of loss and mourning, with visual elements pertaining to ecology. Benedict Oddi’s drawing entitled ‘The Wake of Thought’ examines the possibility of utopia and dystopia, employing the patterns of the flag as a formal narrative that “emphasize a disconnection to a tactile reality”.
While other artists are exploring the symbolic and emphatic nature of the flag, other artists like Keith Herrin and Dawn Marie Tipton are investigating the image within the context of material transformation, the former using decal while the latter is using tobacco as media.
Though current global trends attempt to blur the significance of nation states, the flag remains a powerful symbol of geographic and cultural identity as it shall continue to have the potential to represent humanity's aspirations as well as providing opportunity for artists to explore its creative possibilities.
The “Colors of Aspirations: Flags in Contemporary Art” will be on view during the Blue Plum Festival weekend on June 7 and 8 from 1 to 5 p.m.. The Tipton Gallery is located at 126 Spring St., Downtown Johnson City. To schedule an appointment for visit, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 423.483.3179.