MIRRORED BY NATURE: Intersections is Psychic and Geographic Space
by Diana McClure
In what comes across as a meditation on the relationship between individual agency and collective force, Mirrored by Nature, seems to be in conversation, tangentially, with today’s political climate. Four artists, Oasa Duverney, Tajh Rust, David Rios Ferreira, and Adrienne Elise Tarver, collectively speak to an intersection of psychic space and geographic location that engages physical sites such as Bedford-Stuyvesant, a grandmother’s baptism and lush green natural environments, as well as imagined, immaterial destinations - a liberated black consciousness or a healed and whole black diaspora.
The work of Rust seems to anchor the exhibition by offering a tense counterpoint to the aesthetically harmonious and inviting work of Ferreira, Tarver and DuVerney. His work suggests something unresolved, still in process or incomplete, a contrast to pieces that allow viewers to engage with them as complete objects. Curatorial juxtapositions occur in other ways as well: where Rust’s sculptural work is placed on the floor, Ferreira’s, Tarver’s and DuVerney’s sculpture and 2D work is hung on the wall or from the ceiling; where Rust’s pieces feature an earthy color palette, Ferreira, Tarver and DuVerney use vibrant color to spectacular effect; and, where Rust uses materials that could be found in the street, Ferreira, Tarver and DuVerney emphasize formal skills and materials in their work - drawing, painting, gouache, screen printing ink, hand cut paper, photography and more.
In Ceiling III (Wholly Unseen) (2016) and Ceiling V (Otherside of the Game) (2018), two works from an ongoing series exploring memory, Rust uses oil, acrylic and collage on glass in the former, and glass, acrylic, brick and mortar in the latter. The pieces sit on the floor at separate ends of the gallery. Ceiling V (Otherside of the Game), the more accessible of the two works, features a basketball made of mortar in front of a glass panel painted loosely with lines in shades of brown and white. The familiarity of the objects employed by Rust encourages viewers to devise a story for the work. However, the painted glass panel in Ceiling III (Wholly Unseen) is more mysterious. The rectangular piece of glass appears to be a faux window frame. Its rough edges and a vertical and horizontal line intersecting at the center are painted in white. Doodle drawing and scratches made on the white paint give the faux frame an aged feel, while scratched out areas of paint at the center seem to turn its interior lines into a Christian cross. With this work viewers might find themselves craving a bit of audio to help reveal its backstory - a reference to Rust’s grandmother’s baptism at a church near Seneca Village, a former African American settlement of land-owners now buried beneath New York’s Central Park.
Oasa DuVerney’s large and small scale works feature an intricate working of lines and curves drawn in graphite. The pieces, made to resemble the extended moment of a peaking ocean wave, offer the most visceral experience in the exhibition. The laborious nature of her process, which appears to have taken days, weeks or even months to complete, seems to be inherently rich with prolonged emotion, focus and quiet intensity. A tsunami comes to mind that suggests a detailed pouring in and eminent release of beauty, power, and force. The waves, drawn on hand cut paper, are a deep charcoal shade of black and are embellished by small cuts in the paper that give texture, volume, and dimensionality to the work. In this particular cultural moment, and in the context of a gentrifying neighborhood such as Bedford Stuyvesant, DuVerney’s work can be read as commentary on waves of black activism, collective force, and fluidity. In one of the pieces, DuVerney adds a huge swatch of red neon ink to the negative space of her sculptural wall work. The monumental piece, Drawing For Protest Black Power Wave (2017), is made whole by the placement of pieces of hand cut paper into an asymmetrical grid pattern. Rulers function as sticks or handles attached to the lowest hanging pieces of the grid, a metaphor for protest signs and perhaps, figurative rulers (leaders, kings, queens and the like) and rules, meant to be broken.
Tarver’s work, inspired by armor, camouflage, headdresses and jewelry, is similar to DuVerney’s in its use of negative space and its reverence and reckoning with nature (both literal and figurative). Adornment and the inner and outer self are both metaphorical and metaphysical discourses in the work. The organic patterning of rich, verdant foliage found in tropical landscapes is reiterated in what feels like endless ways. Tarver’s singular color palette in vibrant shades of green invokes the healing power of the color, often associated with the heart chakra in the esoteric arts. Two stunning hanging sculptures, Untitled (2017) and Armor 4 (2018), one large and one small respectively, made of green acrylic paints and caulking on wire mesh, are magnificently rendered. In the case of Untitled (2017), a piece that reaches from floor to ceiling, Tarver’s choice of coverage and nakedness embedded in her painting on the wire mesh allows the work to breathe. In places where it is not covered in painted plantscapes, a suggestion of a rooted airiness and agility of movement hangs in the air, reminiscent of the touch of a delicate breeze or a torrential rain.
The color green, nature and links to the metaphysical self can be found in the work of Ferreira as well. However, a sense of delight and curiosity flavor Ferreira’s puzzle-like forays into layered,delicate and colorful illustrations. Three of his four works on view are made with gouache and ink on mylar, acetate and paper, while the fourth is a larger scale diptych made with gouache, screen printing ink, and collage on paper. Characterized as “spirit bundles”, Ferreira’s work references sacred bundles of African and indigenous cultures that bring together a collection of objects imbued with practical and mystical meaning. The works, like Rust’s, engage ideas related to memory. However, in the case of Ferreira’s work a transnational, transmedia memory is remixed into a collection of signs and signifiers that speak to African American and Caribbean legacies, diaspora, commerce in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, animation and more.
References to the officially sanctioned art historical canon can be found in the work on view in Mirrored by Nature: DuVerney’s waves may bring to mind Raymond Pettibon’s Surf Paintings ( a series begun in 1985); or, Rust’s basketball made of mortar may be in conversation with David Hammons’ basketball related works or Jeff Koon’s piece, Basketball (1985), a bronze rendering of a Wilson basketball. However, as a whole the artists in Mirrored by Nature offer a textured experience of materials that includes nuance and allure, alongside an open-ended exploration of the fertility of nature, the sustenance of roots, and the inevitableness of change.