Exquisitely compelling, the recent exhibition at the Gallery at the University of Texas at Arlington showcased an ensemble of Amy Blakemore’s memorable photographs and Sarah Williams eye-catching paintings. Put together these two artist works played off each other seamlessly, offering the theme of solitude and nostalgia.
Brookfield Plaza, 2013
Oil on board
Intentionally paired together by Benito Huerta, curator of the Gallery at the University of Texas at Arlington, the works presented at the exhibition by Blakemore and Williams were seen depicting the typically normal objects found in everyday life all the while the two artists clearly displayed two very distinct approaches in presenting the objects. Despite the difference in approaches, Blakemore’s and Williams’s fascination with the mundane presented a theme of solitude and nostalgia vividly throughout their pieces. At first glance in the exhibition, one questions and wonders about this linking theme that ties the photographs of Blakemore and the paintings of Williams together. After all, Blakemore’s photographs capture landscapes and still lives that seem to simply illustrate the banal things in life while Sarah Williams’s paintings appear to merely draw attention to structures during the silent after hours of the day. Yet, the two artists are irrefutably tied together at their core. The photographs of Blakemore incorporate influences from Hispanic culture that inevitably evoke feelings of nostalgia while the lack of human presence within her scenes builds up a sense of solitude. The same goes for Williams. While her paintings are not derived from the influence of the Hispanic culture they are heavily influenced by the place of her origin, her hometown. Thus she also achieves to create feelings of nostalgia much like Blakemore does. Additionally, human inhabitants are hinted within her paintings but are nonetheless devoid from it. Again, she also manages to convey solitude.
As stated before, the objects that were on view during the exhibition were compromised of photographs and paintings. Focusing in on Blakemore, it is crucial to understand the materials she used in order to understand the photographs she displayed during the exhibition. When rendering her photos, Blakemore employed, as noted by Sánchez, “low-tech…often unpredictable cameras.” In addition, Blakemore admitted during the exhibition that her small prints were the size they are because that is as “big as allowable before they fall apart.” Truthfully however, I believe that if Blakemore’s photographs were presented by themselves the theme of solitude and nostalgia would not have been as evidently present. The mundane-ness of Blakemore’s photographs would accordingly fall under the category of the mundane if it were not for the fact that her pieces were paired with Sarah Williams’s pieces. It is, I am certain, only than that her work truly evolves into being masterful work. For example, Flowers, where the use of lighting renders a blurry and distant image of a mundane setting speaks volumes only after viewing the whole exhibition which also incorporates William’s pieces. The flowers in Blakemore’s photograph, typically seen as symbols of merriment and joy are seen in a dark and lonely setting. The dimness of the lighting suggests solitude for no one is present to view the flowers the way they should be perceived, which is, in the light of day. Viewers of the piece also perceive that the setting is a residence, with what seems to be a window propped open. Since the location is implied to be a home we get a since of nostalgia… a longing to fill in the empty void of a place once cherished and now abandoned.
Chromogenic Print, ed. 10
12” x 12”
Now onto Sarah Williams who was the individual that composed the paintings depicted in the exhibition. Williams stated that her artwork was created from materials such as panel, (which she described gave a more smooth texture to her pieces), and a variety of paint, specifying that she mixed various colors of paint in order to capture different tones of black thus creating a visual trick within her work pieces. Williams also stated that she began using photographs after painting on site became uncomfortable. Amazingly, she stated that she would manage to work from grainy and dull photographs. Her work, I believe, thus becomes much more appreciable due to the hard labor she put forth in creating her pieces. All this brings me to the subject of the theme of the exhibition. Her painting, Brookfield Plaza serves as a strong support to the theme of solitude and nostalgia since it depicts a fond setting that strikes a chord to many of our own childlike hearts. It is a place typically seen to be enjoyed by many yet, the depiction of it displays no human presence, only “lonely places [with] the air thick with isolation and dread” (Williams). It is consequently solitary. Only the bright warm lights contrast the darkness that seems to represent our fading memory. The scene creates a sense of nostalgia while the viewer gets a feeling that their cherished things are fading. Williams art creates a narrative of her own sadness of the diminishing things found in the past, (her paintings, after all, depict the remnants of her home in Missouri of which are now fading).
The color of the exhibition galley was largely neutral. The walls were a whitish beige color and the floor a light shade of gray glazed concrete reflecting light. Overall, the neutral colors of the gallery setting encompassed the paintings in such a way that allowed the dark-ness of the paintings and photographs to become more pronounced. Sure the works were dwarfed by the immense white that surrounded them but, like boats in a vast sea, the pieces evoked and supported the sense of solitude. Yet, this feature of the galley worked to also draw in even the novice attendees of the exhibition to the art pieces. Like a single black mark on a sheet of white paper, our eyes became immediately drawn to the small, dark specs (the paintings and photographs) on the wall. This was especially helpful for Sarah Williams’s paintings who from afar are already intriguing. The small scale in which they were rendered in gave an extra factor that worked well with the exhibitions intention of tantalizing viewers to go up to the artwork and truly look at them.
In addition, the exhibition used an abundance of artificial light to compensate for the lack of natural light. Yet, this also worked in favor of the exhibition. It created “warmer tone[s] of lighting than that of daylight” that people seem to prefer.The light sources, (placed in parallel format across each from each other in each of the three room ceilings of the gallery), provided enough lighting to view the art pieces but did not hinder the dimness of the exhibition which served to maintain the gloomy, melancholic feelings of nostalgia that come along with the feelings of remembering. Like the “desolate nighttime corners” (Lima) of our memory which at times seem to be fading fast, the lighting created a distinct mood within the exhibition.
The placing of the pieces presented respectively, preserved the feelings of solitude. The paintings and photographs of the artists were not placed in a mix-match format but instead given their own respective walls. They were essentially separated from the “other worlds” that the artist created within their pieces (different meomories) and confined them to their own solitude.
Overall, the exhibition took note of the present generation, of which, is constantly moving forward and constantly changing in order to bring into light the importance of solitude and nostalgia. These are after all, where our memories lie and what we feel by remembering. They lie in solitude and make us feel nostalgic. Amy Blakemore and Sarah Williams thus achieve to remind us about our humanness and our cherished past.