Provincetown Magazine May 10, 2017
By Rebecca M. Alvin
It’s undeniable. There is a sense of outrage and fear, coupled with disbelief that has spread since the election of President Donald Trump, spurring ordinary citizens to become highly political in their everyday lives. It’s no wonder that artists would want to express these sentiments in their work, as often it is in times of struggle and strife that great strides are made in the arts. French Surrealism after World War I, Italian Neorealism after World War II, and now perhaps something fresh and beautiful will grow out of this time of conflict and intolerance.
Artist Jo Hay and her wife/gallery owner Carolyn Kramer have decided to make their first show of the season at Jo Hay Open Studio Gallery one that reflects the political climate around them. Opening this weekend, Resistance features the work of four very different artists who explore that theme in very different ways.
Hay’s work takes a decidedly optimistic tone in featuring individuals who are continuing to stand for truth, tolerance, and justice through their work in various fields, such as Sam Brinton, a nuclear engineer who is at the forefront of the fight to ban so-called “conversion therapy” programs. These large-scale portraits are usually done from life, but in the case of Rachel Maddow, featured in this show, the artist worked from a photograph to bring her subject to life.
“I’m very optimistic, and I looked for what I saw as the light —someone that I knew was clearly looking for the truth, because it’s such a dire situation,” says Hay when asked about her choice of Maddow as subject. In her artist statement, she elaborates, “I made this painting wishing to express my deep gratitude to Rachel Maddow for her tireless effort to uncover the truth with regard to the Trump administration and its ties to Russia, and to simultaneously advance the dialogue around her exceptional efforts.”
Hay’s work will be shown alongside works by Tess Barbato, KJ Shows, and O’Neil Scott, a new addition to the gallery’s roster. Scott, an artist from Philadelphia, is surprisingly self-taught, but his work is both technically accomplished and conceptually provocative. Working with the themes of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as a general anxiety around intolerance and violence, Scott’s work includes a piece called Citizen, (which graces our cover this week), and a series called Don’t Shoot, It’s Only Water, featuring individuals with squirt guns pointed in various directions, including the one shown here with a black man holding the water gun up, evoking it’s inspiration, Trayvon Martin. Others use the theme to explore suicide and violence in other contexts. Scott, who will have a solo show at the Gallery later this year, had never been to Provincetown before Kramer asked him to be in the show after she saw Citizen on Instagram.
Scott sees his work a little differently. “I think it’s less political and more about these marginalized communities,” he says. “The political atmosphere is just in your face. It’s everywhere you look, and I think that’s what happens, it’s definitely showing up in my work.”
For KJ Shows, best known for her series Portrait of an Artist, in which she paints portraits of different artists’ shoes, using their actual shoes as a model, this is a chance to paint individuals who are significant to the burgeoning Resistance movement, including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
“Bernie’s the one I did first,” Shows says by phone from Maine, “I was painting his face and being kind of like gentle and caring in painting his portrait, and then I got kind of mad, too, about all the stuff that’s going on, and it went from this really caring, respecting portrait that I was painting into this protest poster. I started cutting out letters and [formed them into] something he said and just spray-painted over it. I kind of did this drastic change.”
Shows says she’s been making lots of political art lately, including Donald Trump voodoo dolls, which she sells online, and, we’re told, provide great satisfaction for those frustrated by the Administration’s policies.
Since its opening in 2014, the gallery has shown Barbato’s work, which is focused on Capitalism. Barbato has long used her art to speak about injustice and the power dynamic inherent in her images of American money. She shares one piece in this exhibition, A Corrosion of Democracy. In an e-mail interview, she explains, “This painting is a reaction to the actions and rhetoric of Mr. Trump. He has been trying to slowly break down the fundamentals of our democracy. From attacks on women, to delegitimizing the press, and undermining the once guaranteed right to freedom of religion and speech, he has made it clear that he is unfamiliar with our constitution. I wanted to use the gradual corrosion of the copper pennies as an analogy for how an unprotected democracy is subject to erosion. Our democracy will not die with a bang but with small acts of destabilization.”
There are many ways to cope with the political drama (or satire, depending on your perspective) unfolding before us. The artists in Resistance demonstrate the power of art to provoke thought, inspire, and speak out, and they do so without compromising their talents in service of a message, creating works that are beautiful, provocative, and that will remain meaningful through time.