Advancements in technology have given us a myriad of options to easily connect to others with only a few quick clicks of a mouse. Now that distance is no longer a hindrance, it’s easier and faster than ever before to stay in touch with people in one’s personal network. But true human connection is best done face to face, when we can look into the eyes of another person and catch all the subtleties easily hidden behind apps and filters.
Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) is offering visitors a chance to put away their devices and connect through portraiture in the group exhibition “Face First.” Two dozen artists working in mediums including paintings, printmaking and sculpture are on display. Among the transfixing works are digital photographs by Jessica Rycheal. Several are a part of her “Altar Call” series, where Rycheal is stripped down and bearing herself to the audience. They are vulnerable and intimate. Assistant Curator Amy Sawyer is honored to exhibit Rycheal’s work.
“She’s really pulling people into this journey with her, working through her life healing process. Generational trauma is what she’s called it,” Sawyer said. “The altar series is just literally bringing herself to the camera as sort of an alternative, to start that healing process.”
Aisha Harrison’s gender-neutral representations include “The Deposit,” a clay sculpture of two figures sitting on a couch. The two are in conversation — one is listening while the other is spewing words. It’s depicted as salt pouring out of their mouth. Harrison said the work represents what it feels like when you say the wrong thing to someone you love. In “Lens,” a figure is surrounded by a pile of squared white masks made of salt. The figure is holding a mask in front of their face and another in their other hand.
“You can change what you do and how you act, and what you support and how you support. But your lens is always going to be the same,” Harrison said. “You can add to what your lens is, but the initial lens is always going to be there.”
She went on to say the contrast of the Brown bodies and the white salt is about her relationship with Whiteness. The Olympia artist grew up in White-dominated spaces, and the series reflects working through what that means for her interactions. Harrison says she is mixed and Black.
She described her newer works as centering her heart and less about her mind. “take You apart to make something new” is a clay figure of a head with hair rising up, a spinal column, pelvis and roots.
“I just feel this connection up,” Harrison said. “I want to be grounding myself up as well as down, almost through the earth into the stars again.”
Bryant Goetz is also fueling portraiture with introspection. He has three large paintings in “Face First.” He described his work as balancing aggressive scrapes of paint with delicate clarity. In “Ember,” an eye and nose stand out amongst a flurry of strokes.
“I always end up going back to faces,” Goetz said. “I’ve done a complete abstract piece and had it sitting in the studio for a couple of months even. I see a face in it, and then I render into it the face that I can’t stop seeing when I look at it.”
Adair Freeman Rutledge’s chosen medium is photography, but she’s turned her lens away from herself and onto two very different groups of youth culture.
The “Nashville Cardinals” series chronicles a peewee football team and their families.
The new Seattle resident was living in Nashville, Tennessee, when she documented the group.
On her way home from the studio, she would drive by a municipal field and see “these little people running around in big uniforms smashing into each other.” This piqued her curiosity, so she stopped by one evening and asked if she could take photographs.
She continued to return for three and a half years and gained a better understanding of why 5 year olds were engaging in football. In “The Hit,” the receiver’s feet are completely off the ground as he’s being tackled by another player. It’s the mini version of what plays out every Sunday during NFL games in the fall.
“Their uniforms are really wider than they are tall, so it really highlights the almost bizarreness of it — this sport that we as a culture have come to love and accept,” said Rutledge.
While spending time with the tight-knit group, she learned there’s nuance beyond the inherent dangers of the highly physical sport. “The boys are learning goal setting. They have role models and their coaches. And everybody’s doing something arguably positive on the weekend.”
Rutledge beautifully presents what is. The viewers’ feelings about the sport will likely affect the lens in which they view her work.
The “Azalea Trail Maids” series documents a nearly century-old tradition in Rutledge’s hometown of Mobile, Alabama. A group of 50 teenage girls don antebellum dresses and show up at civic events. Rutledge said their main job is to smile and wave, but they can also answer questions about the history of Mobile.
“Jamie’s iPhone” shows the juxtaposition between antiquity and modernity. When the girls aren’t serving as southern ambassadors, they’re excelling in school. In one of the photos, Juyuanna is shown in her junior ROTC uniform as her orange dress sits in the trunk of her car. Becoming a Trail Maid is merit-based, but the colorful, voluminous costumes say otherwise.
In spending time with them, Rutledge said it was interesting to hear their point of view, especially from the Black girls. When she asked what they thought of wearing the same attire as a slave master’s wife, they said, “You know what, we are reclaiming this dress. It’s ours now. We get to wear it.”
For Rutledge, their point of view was powerful.
Artistic portraiture is back in vogue and BIMA curators are exploring why that’s the case. They’ve presented an array of works from artists who focus on the face. The works are intriguing and present an opportunity for the audience to leave their respective bubbles and connect.
“I think it’s an approachable show. In other words, you don’t have to be an art snob to appreciate it,” Rutledge said. “But it’s also deep and powerful at the same time. It’s the kind of show that you could go back several times and still find something new and interesting.”
WHAT: “Face First”
WHEN: Runs until Feb. 23, 2020
WHERE: BIMA, 550 Winslow Way E., Bainbridge Island
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
Designing Stoneware: Artist Christopher Shaw contemplates in clay
Iconic Images: Artist Hiawatha D. celebrates Black women in NAAM exhibit
Symmetry & Rhythm: Juan Alonso-Rodriguez' life has been a creative journey
Read the full Nov. 13 - 19 issue.
© 2019 Real Change. All rights reserved.| Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice since 1994. Learn more about Real Change and donate now to support independent, award-winning journalism.