In Sight: Vision Quest at School 33 Art Center

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There’s a peculiar and very specific type of vision shared by all five artists in School 33’s Invitational Exhibition. The show’s title, a vague cliché at best, does successfully align it with Visionary Art, which creates an underlying subtext and aesthetic for all the works included. According to the American Visionary Art Museum, Visionary Art is “art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself.”

All of the artists in this show have benefited from a formal art education, and are not officially ‘visionaries,’ however, each has incorporated a degree of lowbrow and pop cultural influence into the work. Combined with a talismanic or quirky spiritualism and a hefty dose of self-depreciating humor, Vision Quest offers the best and worst of our selves and our culture on a silver platter. It’s a surprisingly engaging show, full of wonky observations and fanciful imaginings delivered in candy-colored hues and familiar plastic surfaces.

Ceramic Antlers by Christine Buckton Tillman

Christine Tillman’s ‘Antlers,’ a low pile of ceramic replicas in teal, hot pink, and buff, is a humorous take on the trophies we choose. Aesthetically appealing and divorced from the reality of a dead animal, you can understand why they’re a popular choice in redneck home décor. On the other hand, their obvious artificiality communicates the absurdity in such a choice.

James Johnson’s installation deals with similar issues, but is a tougher sell. In ‘Forgotostay,’ his mixed media installation, there’s too much going on. A taxidermist’s bear head wears burning candles and gazes down at a circular pinwheel made of sticks. Gauzy films of bits of clothing and shreds of ribbons complete the circle. A religious, or shamanistic ritual is hinted out but not clearly defined. Issues of artificiality versus nature abound, but in no particular order. A wall collage with dream catcher strings competes with the round floor piece. Mysteries unfold, but some editing needs to occur for a transcendent experience.

Forgotostay, a mixed media installation by James Johnson

The more traditional, two-dimensional works develop these themes as well. Spirituality, nature, dreams, and doodles connect Patrick O’Malley, Seth Adelsberger, and Sarah Gamble. In O’Malley’s paintings and drawings meandering, interconnected lines create webs of Paul Klee-inspired landscapes or ‘mindscapes.’ From a distance, their oval and circular compositions seem light and decorative, while a closer look reveals baroque, obsessive detail.

Detail from O’s World, a painting by Patrick O’Malley

Christine Tillman’s ceramic logs, foreground, with Seth Adelsberger’s Buff Titan, a wall painting

Seth Adelsberger’s body of work is satisfying because it encompasses two ends of the spectrum. Unselfconscious sketchbook doodles possess a raw spontaneity that the painstaking, intricate cut paper collage work does not. A giant wall painting, Titan Buff, a symmetrical mélange of lines, faces, eyeballs, and pattern combines the two. Since his last show at School 33, Adelsberger has become adept at combining a loose, graffiti aesthetic with a psychedelic orderliness. The competition between these opposing forces creates an energy of it’s own in an endless game of op-art, which the human eye enjoys immensely.

Seth Adelsberger’s Assorted Notebook Drawings and Collages

Untitled Painting on Paper by Sarah Gamble

Sarah Gamble, a Philadelphia-based painter, is one part five-year-old-child, one part mystic, and another part scientist. Throughout her series of paintings on canvas, as well as a wall of untitled works on paper, her use of color is deceptively sophisticated. With a light and unselfconscious hand, she pits dirty, artificial blacks and industrial grays against rainbow-hued lattices and structures. The result is one hair short of gleefully hideous, and their brilliant success depends on this margin. In all of her works, the subject matter is secondary to the interaction of her materials, with painterly concerns prevailing over depiction. Raw emotion comes through the colors and marks with a life of its own.

Sarah Gamble’s wall of paintings

Vision Quest, curated by Jason Hughes, is an ambitious and satisfying exhibition. It explores the complex mysteries of the subconscious in a simple, physical language. All five artists seem comfortable expressing ideas that are larger than themselves and generating questions, rather than answers. This honesty and longing without resolution, combined with a highly developed aesthetic process, is difficult to find in the contemporary art world. When dealing with universal spiritual issues of life, death, meaning, and love, most artists tend to resort to dramatic metaphors and hoopla. In Vision Quest, the meaning is found in the blind process of art making and what is left unsaid. In short, it’s about blind faith in the quest for vision.


In the upstairs, member’s gallery Meaghan Harrison’s mixed media installation, Trust, share a similar aesthetic.

Meaghan Harrison’s Performance Piece – Free Manicures!

According to School 33, “Death, ceremony, human relations, economics and waste are the main themes that drive the current body of work by Meaghan Harrison, which comes together in the form of sculptures (totemic memorials), collages and the performance piece Trust. As defined, trust is a prediction of reliance, an unwritten code of ethics that is based on what one party knows about the other. The work exhibited aims to communicate our blind faith in everyday confrontations from the state of our economy and beliefs, to our relationships and mortality.

Collected liquor bottles, lottery tickets, sewn crepe, dumpster-dived furniture and the odd dollar store item come together to create Harrison ’s totemic memorials. Authentically aged, the totems come together though accumulation and are ceremoniously arranged. Not unlike paying homage to a deity or spirit that asks you to step into their sphere of exchange. In the Trust performance the artist invites one viewer at a time to enter a military parachute turned tent to receive a free manicure in exchange for conversation. This intimate experience within a gallery creates an environment for viewer and artist to engage in conversation.”

One part of Meaghan Harrison’s installation ‘Trust’ in the upstairs member’s gallery

Vision Quest and Meaghan Harrison: Trust
School 33 Art Center
August 21 – October 4, 2008

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