2017-08-03 / News

Closing reception Wednesday for textual exhibit


The Jamestown Arts Center’s current exhibit, “Word: Text in Contemporary Art,” showcases work that uses text to convey meaning. The show’s closing reception is Wednesday. 
PHOTO BY OLIVIALECUMBERRY WILCOX The Jamestown Arts Center’s current exhibit, “Word: Text in Contemporary Art,” showcases work that uses text to convey meaning. The show’s closing reception is Wednesday. PHOTO BY OLIVIALECUMBERRY WILCOX Wednesday night is the final chance to see “Word: Text in Contemporary Art,” the Jamestown Arts Center’s summer exhibit that features 19 artists who incorporate words into their creations.

The closing reception is from 6-8 p.m. at the arts center, 17 Valley St. Karen Conway, the show’s curator, will be in attendance alongside several of the artists.

“Word” showcases artists who use text as an aesthetic tool to convey their messages. Their work demonstrates that when text is used successfully, the inherent lines and shapes become part of the picture.

According to Conway, text has a long history in art, dating back to medieval times. The Dada movement, which featured artists in the early 20th century who rejected the logic of modern capitalism, was at the forefront. Since then, conceptual artists from the 1960s have increased its popularity. In the current world, even with social media saturating the field, artists continue to embrace text to heighten the message of their work.

“A lot of the work is subversive,” she said. “It’s not overt. The aesthetic is in the pointed message that becomes the art.”

The work ranges from embroidered puppets to lettered Plexiglas on a coat rack. Conway looked far and wide for artists who fit the bill, starting in Rhode Island and then extending outward to New England and New York.

There also is international work on display, including Moroccan photographer Lalla Essayd, who uses the Arab tradition of henna painting and calligraphy to write on skin, clothing and walls. Essayd, however, is more than a representative of Arab females in the United States.

“Art can only come from the heart of an individual artist,” she said. “I am much too aware of the range of traditions and laws among the different Arab nations to presume to speak for everyone.”

Rhode Island artist Alexandra Broches is showing a deeply poignant work: a 1943 photograph of her 3-year-old cousin superimposed with a 1941 letter by the girl’s father. The letter is about her Montessori school juxtaposed against the hardship of a Jewish family living in Nazi-occupied Holland. The text includes memories of his daughter talking to a half-broken doll in her bed. The family was later arrested and taken to an extermination camp.

Brooklyn artist Lesley Dill, whose elephant puppet hangs in the exhibit, considers language the pivot point of all her work. Throughout her expansive career, she has incorporated the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Tom Sleigh.

“We are animals of language,” she said. “All the words that were and all the words that will be are sleeping inside our bodies.”

Finally, 92-year-old May Stevens is on display. Because she was involved in the feminist movement of the 1970s and ’80s, many of her paintings reflect her concern for women’s historical, political and social conditions.

“Words are everywhere,” she said. “When I use them in my paintings, they describe some of the ideas and emotions that make up that painting. But as they become illegible, they give up their identity to become a thread, a tone, a sound, a passage that is a vital element in the configuration but not necessarily one that is individually distinguishable.”

Conway and the artists will answer questions and describe the exhibit during the free reception. After “Word” is removed, the arts center will prepare the gallery for “Visual Development,” a five-day residency exhibition with Theresa Girard.

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