A Head Is Not A Head

HEAD: Curated by D. Dominick Lombardi
Hamden Gallery, University of Massachusetts Amherst
October 18 - November 12, 2015

HEAD, a group show being held at the University of Massachusetts’ Hampden Gallery, is being curated by D. Dominick Lombardi from October 18 to November 12. The exhibition, which features the diverse work of 20 artists, as well as the collaborative work of the twelve artist Outside-the-Line Collective, embarks on a mesmerizing visual tour of the head as an evolving object in contemporary art. A far cry from the arbitrary identity marker of early portraiture, HEAD demonstrates the head as an indistinguishable entity capable of broad symbolic meaning.

One of my favorite pieces is the life-size stoneware sculpture, “Wolf Woman” (2013) by Northampton based artist, Cynthia Consentino. In this stunning work, a life-size, bone white mannequin body is cast the grimacing head of a wolf, which plucks petals ominously from an enormous yellow flower. Beside it, “Wolf Girl III” (2009), an earlier work of Consentino’s, features a small girl’s body, delicate and simple, with, yet again, the head of a contradictory, menacing wolf. Consentino’s work is a blend of twisted folklore and feminist notions, or as Lombardi says, “as if bits and pieces of any number of illustrated books were shuffled, mixed up and reset anew, coming to rest in front of our eyes.” Like Consentino, Sol Hill’s “Token Feminine #L9999425,” seems to be a metaphor for the marginalization of woman. In the work, a feminine black shadow is cast over a sepia toned, low-light, static background. The figure’s head has been eliminated by heavy light, giving the perception that the figure is a mere object, free from identity or soul.

Consentino is joined by Susan Hall in ceramics and, likewise, in the depiction of animal heads. Hall has offered two pieces to HEAD. “Goat head (bulb eyes)” is a small, primitive piece, that has a smoked charcoal finish. With protruding glass bulb eyes and raw textural qualities, the head could pose as nefarious totem.

One of the few realistic depictions of the head, Roman Turovsky’s “Five Windows,” is a series of black and white, right-side portraits that the Ukranian-born artist has created over the last 25 years. A 25-minute video installation of the portraits is dubbed with Turovsky’s own somber lute compositions, and accompanied by several like prints in the gallery’s small incubator room. Each portrait, offering a different subject but in a congruent form, gives the viewer the opportunity to observe the different contours and features of the individuals, as they blend within a single narrative. Italian artist, Rossana Taormina also works with a series of black and white photographs, though in her case, the images are repurposed from antique Italian post cards. The timeworn faces are laced with white synthetic thread that is pulled tight in captivating geometric patterns that engulf the composition of the photos, in a smart and modern redefinition.

Rieko Fujinami is one of three Japanese artists in the show. Her solo contribution is “Isolation XIV­I,” a mesmerizing creation, in which blurred black and blue faces emerge, bodiless, from a large sheath of clear film. The choice of medium creates a highly effective and haunting result. Yoshikazu Yanagi’s “Child of Space,” is wholly different, emanating an almost synthetic glow from the choices of pale blues and greys and pearly, pastel highlights. By inverting the portrait of the alien like baby onto itself, Yanagi has created something of a beautified inkblot that has been plucked from the depths of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Tomiyuki Sakuta’s etchings feature a series of small black and white heads that serve as metaphorical cartoons. A separate larger etching of Sakuta’s is a head, made of intertwined red roses in the style of a Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s portrait, is clever and features noteworthy detailing.

The Outside-of-the-line Collective’s dual portraits, “Mandy” and “Thea,” radiate with color and organized inconsistencies. They are a profound reminder that the head can easily transcend identity. As in each one of the twelve panels that make up the two portraits, the artist, through choices of medium and perception, has distorted the subject and brought life to a relatively simple image.

Alongside, the Outside-of-the-line Collective’s portraits stand two of Eileen Claveloux’s photographic transfer portraits, that beautifully render the deadpan faces of woman of Armenian descent. Weathered and faded from the transfer process, and then gridded in a way that eliminates the fluidity of the image, Claveloux’s portraits have taken on a painterly quality, which protrude dark shadows, and empty, blurred gaps which emanate a message of disconnect that is carried on, ancestrally, from the Armenian genocide.

One room over, New York artist, China Marks, astounds with her sewn drawing, Drive, He Said (2003). In a pattern that closely resembles a Hawaiian shirt, strewn with vibrantly colored images of vintage convertibles, gas pumps, palm trees, and mountainous skylines, lies a monstrous pastiche head. A red convertible erupting from the mouth, this textile piece is maddening and fun.

Equally colorful, curator, D. Dominique Lombardi, has entered himself into the mix with a piece of thought-provoking political satire, in the painting “Sacco and Vanzetti.” Surely influenced by Pawel, Lombardi places pungent objects and smart wording amongst the heads of the two infamously persecuted anarchists. Conjuring lyrics of Woody Guthrie, but offering a fresh look at a timeless story, the painting is ripe with intoxicating blues, greens, and a coral-esque background ignite with a circulating grid of orange. The work boosts the idea that the head can personify an idea, not just an individual.

Lombardi's show is a complete buffet for the eyes, offering to stimulate the pallet of many an art enthusiast. The diversity of the pieces come together nicely to strengthen the idea that the head is as limitless a symbol, as it is to us a tool.

The show is free and open to the public. - Jillian Burkett

Photos by Kaelan Burkett.

Ms. Burkett is a journalist and art enthusiast from Simsbury, Connecticut.

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