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Art review: 'Obsessions' at Space gallery in Cultural District

| Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, 9:19 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Mary Ivy Martin's Untitled, foreground (hair rosemary plant) and her 'Face Faucet' at the Obsessions show at Space Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
'Digestive System' by Nathan Margoni at the Obsessions show at Space Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
'No matter where you go, there you are' by Jason Lockyer at the Obsessions show at Space Thursday, Dec, 11, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Artist Becky Slemmons of Highland Park works on her piece 'Obsessive love. one mark for each of the 9331 days we have been together...and counting at the Obsession show at Space Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Detail of Jeremiah Johnson's 'The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil' at the 'Obsession's show at Space.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Artist Beck Slemmons of Highland Park , works on her piece 'Obsessive love. one mark for each of the 9331 days we have been together ...and counting at the Obsessions show at Space Thursday, Dec, 11, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
'The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil' by Jeremiah Johnson at the Obsessions show at Space Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014.

Six artists from around the country explore the nature of compulsion in “Obsessions,” an exhibit at Space gallery in the Cultural District, Downtown.

“These artists all explore obsessive ideas, but each takes a different approach to it,” says artist Tom Sarver, who organized the exhibit.

For example, since the Nov. 28 opening reception, Becky Slemmons of Highland Park has been coming into the gallery periodically to add a mauve-colored mark to the back gallery wall with her performance piece, “Obsessive Love. One Mark for Each of the 9,331 Days We Have Been Together ... and Counting.” Referencing her relationship with her husband, the title says it all.

Over a dozen mixed-media paintings by Jeremiah Johnson of Williamsport, Lycoming County, exemplify the kind of obsessive “stream-of-conscious painting” he creates. His “The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” features everything from goth kids to urban ruins.

“I started with thoughts and ideas I was interested in at the moment I began working on it, including Mississippi Delta blues musicians, high-school goth kids posed as preps, marital issues, city ruins, etc. The tree itself is what ties it all together and puts it in perspective,” Johnson says of the piece in which such underground themes rise from the roots of the tree to become of “the knowledgeable.”

Johnson paints in a slightly psychedelic, maximalist style, rarely leaving any inch of space untouched. “Most of my work, like this one, is inspired by my sense of place, local culture and everything that directly affects my understanding of life,” he says.

Quite the opposite are the abstract paintings of Laurie Trok of East Liberty, whose large, hanging banners are filled with ink-brush drawings. She calls her piece “A Cruel Country Where I Am No Longer Afraid” a decisive act of “visual journaling.”

On long rolls of Yupo paper, Trok made quick gestural and expressive ink drawings and then spent hours sitting and cutting them, removing the negative space.

“I wanted it to be similar to the process of reading a journal,” Trok says. “I started the scrolls in July and finished them the week before the show opened.”

A real showstopper is the massive sculptural installation “Digestive System” by Nathan Margoni of Benton Harbor, Mich. The piece is just that, a large-scale version of the human digestive system from mouth to, well, the other end.

“I am interested in digestion as a transformation process,” Margoni says. “Food enters the body and changes form in every organ. It gets broken down again and again as nutrients are used by the body and the waste moves through. People go through a similar series of phases in life, always changing and spreading their energy to others. Objects also go through phases of use, reuse and decomposition.”

Thus, Margoni's giant grotesque sculpture is a universal digestive system that consumes all of these things.

Jason Lockyer, originally from Philadelphia but living and working in Los Angeles, says a large source of his inspiration comes from long hikes and bird walks with his father, a scientific illustrator, in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

For example, in his animated video “No Matter Where You Go, There You Are” a bug flies through a landscape, all of Lockyer's hand-drawn devising.

It's a simple, but elegant, piece, for which he says the motivation was just as simple: “I wanted to magnify and explore the often-overlooked worlds that surround us every day. Too often, we pass through these worlds without seeing the amazing and fantastic aspects of our natural world.”

In essence, Lockyer created a digital environment where an ordinary insect's journey could become an extraordinary celebration of life. “By using digitally collaged drawings, photos and sound, I wanted to place the viewer in this micro world,” he says. “I wanted people to rejoice in the mundane, champion the ordinary and revel in the simple miracle of life.”

Likewise, Mary Martin of Brooklyn, N.Y., attempts to relate to the natural world with her video “Face Faucet.” In it, Martin waters a rosemary plant with the sweat from her face after exercising. “This is a way of trying to nurture the plant using an embarrassing physical attribute,” she says.

The concept is as ingenious as it is personal to the artist. And even more personal are two untitled sculptures placed on a pedestal in front of the video. Looking like ordinary rosemary plants, they are anything but.

“I glued my own hair to two dead rosemary plants, creating a new hybrid species,” says the artist, who truly was inspired to become one with her art. Nothing can be more obsessive than that.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media.

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