At Lake George’s Courthouse Gallery, the Political is Personal
Laura Von Rosk, the director of the Lake George Arts Project’s Courthouse Gallery, confesses that she was nervous about pairing the two artists whose work is now on view at the gallery through June 10.
On the surface, their work is radically different, and Von Rosk feared the artists would clash rather than complement one another.
Alison Denyer’s large, monochromatic and meticulous works verge on prettiness; a quality that leaves Denyer herself ambivalent; she’s uncertain whether to flee from it or embrace it.
Jim Boden, on the other hand, cannot avoid ugliness; his theme is torture and its affect on the body and identity.
At the opening of the exhibition on May 7, however, Von Rosk was relieved, and with good reason. The superficial differences between the two artists’ work belie an underlying unity, which makes “Jim Boden and Alison Denyer” one of the gallery’s most successful shows in recent memory.
That unity emerges from the fact that both artists think politically. In Denyer’s work, politics shape the landscape; in Boden’s, the body.
“Boden and Denyer directly and indirectly examine poignant humanitarian and environmental issues in their work. Boden’s painterly hand, and Denyer’s intricate graphite marks lure us in; revealing more than meets the eye, with a great deal of complexity beneath the surface,” said Von Rosk.
Denyer is an English-born artist who now lives and works in Salt Lake City, where she teaches at the University of Utah.
Moving to an arid climate after growing up in a wet one, she came to think of water in ways new to her, and became absorbed by the debates about how a limited resource is apportioned. She became aware that an element of nature that she had taken for granted in the past can be degraded and ultimately extinguished.
“Environmentally, the altering of rivers through human intervention… contribute to flooding… As river levels fall, water consumption increases, resulting in battles over water rights and ethical practices,” Denyer said at the opening.
Denyer’s work, graphite and pastels on paper, are highly detailed images derived from watersheds and coast lines.
“My intention is for these drawings to function on several different levels through media and scale manipulation,” said Denyer. “The viewer is drawn into each work through its almost blank appearance… on closer inspection, these works reveal miniscule details created through an intricate web, resembling the complex patterns of the earth’s surface as seen from above.”
While Denyer’s graphite on black paper work may initially strike the viewer as “blank,” Boden’s paintings of torture victims are almost too immediate and accessible.
“The distorted figures, the claustrophobic space, and color of bruised flesh, are a bold, unflinching examination of victims caught in a nightmare,” says Von Rosk.
“These paintings are my personal response to the fact that the U.S. allowed and condoned the use of torture in its interrogations of military prisoners,” explained Boden.
“On one level, Jim Boden’s interrogation paintings reinforce what most of us know about torture from the written accounts, photographs and videos,” said Larry Merriman, who directs the Cecila Coker Bell College Art Gallery at Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina, where Boden is a professor of art. “On another level, Boden’s disturbing images are more visceral and personal than documentary evidence. In other words, Boden’s paintings close a disconnect that exists between our awareness of torture and the actual experience of torture.”
The exhibition is funded in part by the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. The Courthouse Gallery hours during exhibitions are Tuesday through Friday 12 to 5 p.m., Saturday 12 to 4 p.m. , and all other times by appointment. The Courthouse Gallery is located at the side entrance of the Old County Courthouse on the corner of Canada and Lower Amherst Streets, Lake George, N.Y.