The art of Kevin Blythe Sampson



Newark USA: 'Right There', in the Robeson Gallery

Newark USA

A fotojournal about LIVING in Newark USA, New Jersey's largest and most cultured city, by the author of the foto-essay website RESURGENCE CITY: Newark USA.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

'Right There', in the Robeson Gallery

Long post, some 3,100 words, with 23 fotos.

I attended the opening of the "Right Here, Right Now" exhibition in the Main Gallery of the Robeson Campus Center of Rutgers-Newark last Thursday evening. It was, a half hour before closing time, sparsely attended because it was held just before the Memorial Day Weekend, and everything shut down early, even the Starbucks.

Much to my pleasant surprise, the first person I ran into was Lynn Presley of the Newark women's art collective Catfish Friday. I hadn't seen her in a long time (tho, oddly, I had thought of her that day, in connection with fotos at the former Gallery 21), and learned in our short conversation that she has been without a car since early December, when she had a very serious accident on the Garden State Parkway in the Old Bridge area. "I'm lucky to be here", she said, and reported that her neck still hurts from time to time. Thank goodness it wasn't worse. This reminds me of the story of the Newark inventor of reel-to-reel film, Hannibal Goodwin, who was killed when he stepped off the curb into the path of a horse-drawn streetcar. It's not even necessarily carelessness that can get you killed.

A few days ago, I made a left turn at the end of my block, after having looked both ways, and someone racing down from the corner almost hit me. He blasted me with his horn after he had just avoided colliding with my car, but he might have made the right-on-red turn without actually stopping (as the law properly requires), then picked up a lot of speed downhill before I pulled fully into the traffic lane. The speed limit on ordinary local roads in Newark is 30mph, and he should not have been anywhere near that speed after one block, but he almost rammed me. Lynn says she was hit from one side, and spun around, to crash into the median barrier afterward. (Was she even hit a second time, from the other side, before she hit the barrier?) She is indeed lucky to be alive. My mother had a serious accident in her Fiat (which brand was available here in the 60s, but disappeared until recently), also on the Parkway, in which she was forced off the road, and the car rolled, but she was only minimally injured because she was wearing her seatbelt. Everyone in my family has, since my mother's potentially fatal accident, been adamant about buckling up, well before government made it mandatory. Alas, Lynn's high deductible, for an old car, meant she got nothing to speak of to replace her totaled vehicle. But at least she's alive, so can tend to securing transportation in good time — "good time" being alive time!

After Lynn left, Caren King of the Robeson Galleries told me that most people had left early, and small wonder. Who doesn't want to get an early start on a holiday weekend? But you'd think that some people would rejoice in the chance to take more time at an art show, without crowds getting in the way, and without the need to get home and get to sleep to get up and get back to work the next day.
In any case, here is the title on the wall as you enter the Main Gallery.

Opposite is this sign , or plak, that explains the concept of the exhibition.

Behind the front desk appears this artistic view of the Western Hemisfere as seen from space. This is one view I will leave to cameras and other people's experiences. Altho orbital space travel may soon be available to (extremely rich) private persons on private space carriers, I am not so (rich nor) adventurous as to want to book passage on any such flite. I am 68 years old, do not expect to live more than another 27 years or so, and do not care to risk truncating my life in a space accident. Cameras can do yeoman's work in giving us a sense of what it would be like to be somewhere remote, exotic — and dangerous. I'll settle for that. I do, after all, expect visitors to this blog to accept my fotos as a reasonable substitute for being at the various art exhibits I fotograf, tho my hope, always, is that people within easy reach of the things I show will want to see them for themselves, in person.

This next group of artworks in the show, near the entrance to the Gallery, is by Omisanya Karade. I would give you guidance as to how to pronounce that name except that I haven't a clue. This, again, is why I am a spelling reformer. Alphabetic writing is intended to convey clearly how to say everything written in it. But in English, there can be as much as 20% of all text, esp. names, that NOBODY knows how to say. That is insane, and inexcusable. In my Fanetik spelling system, I can write every single word in English, and essentially every other language as speakers of English would hear it, such that anyone who knows my phonetic notation is absolutely clear about how it is to be said. So, if the artist's name (and is it Mr., or Ms.? names about which that question needs to be asked should ALWAYS have "Mr." or "Ms./Mrs." in front) is pronounced òe.mi.són.ya ka.ráed, or òm.i.són.ya ka.ráa.dee or ka.ród.a — or whatever — every single person who sees the name written should know how it's pronounced. That is what alphabetic writing is supposed to do, and being able to read every single word clearly is really NOT an unreasonable standard. It just SEEMS unreasonable, given how insane English spelling now is.

The largest single portion of the Robeson exhibition is given over to one of Newark's greatest artists, Kevin Blythe Sampson. His installation in this show is similar in a number of regards to an installation he did for the group show of the Newark Arts Council during Open Doors 2011, complete with plastic rats.

Unfortunately, the lead figure in this piece, unlike his piece then, which starred what Keith Olbermann famously called the "half-governor" of Alaska, Sarah Palin, was one "Miss Manifest Destiny". I did not fotograf that, because I am hostile to opposition to Manifest Destiny, which laid the basis for the United States' becoming a superpower. The U.S. has done many bad things, but as against most other great powers, the U.S. has been a veritable saint in abstaining from 'manifest' abuse of power. Part of the problem with assigning blame for bad things in our history or prehistory is that the United States is castigated for things like killing Amerindians with smallpox-tainted blankets, which actually happened NOT during the existence of the United States but (once, only) during the British COLONIAL era, before there was such a thing as the United States. In the same way, some Americans are all too willing to blame the United States for the Salem witch trials, which were 84 years before the United States even declared independence from Britain, much less achieved independence after years of war.

Good people are all too often gluttons for unearned guilts, so you mustn't be too surprised that some Americans blame the United States for things that predated the establishment of the United States, often by hundreds of years.
This is not to say that the U.S. is actually a saint among nations (note the distinction here, between "great powers" and "nations"). It is not, as the behavior of this country since the first Gulf War, thru a decade of mass-murderous "sanctions" against Iraq, thru and beyond a second war against that defenseless country, which unleashed murderous intercommunal violence that Saddam Hussein had held in check, illustrates. The highest casualty rate you might have heard claimed against us is probably the right one: 1.25 million Iraqis killed in intercommunal violence that Saddam would have prevented, had we not removed him, plus at least 500,000 Iraqi children and old people who died during the decade of sanctions, plus literally uncounted deaths in the original Gulf War. We have behaved monstrously as regards Iraq, and not even in our own behalf, but only in defense of Israel, which demanded we destroy the only credible threat it then faced. Now, we are being told by the Israeli government and Israel lobby that we must destroy Iran as thoroly as we destroyed Iraq, because we have an obligation to save Israel from its own stupidity, creating a Jewish state in an Arab land. Most Americans are too intimidated by probable accusations of "anti-Semitism" to tell Israelis to take a flying leap. (To put it mildly.)
But Manifest Destiny did no harm. It WAS manifest that the energy of the young United States would push to expand the national realm to the Pacific. And so it did.
What happened then, however, is the shame. Not that we brought a huge swath of North America into the Union, first as territories, then as states. But that we did NOT bring in Canada, nor Mexico, nor Puerto Rico, nor the U.S. Virgin Islands, but that we would become, for most practical purposes, a colonial overlord that dominates those areas but does not give anyone within them a vote as to what happens to them: 114 million Mexicans; 35 million Canadians; 3.75 million Puerto Ricans and 106,000 Virgin Islanders — some 153 million people whose lives are, beyond question, dominated by what the United States does or does not do, but who have absolutely no say about what the U.S. does and does not do!
In any case, Kevin Sampson is one of my very favorite Newark artists. I was surprised to see his many drawings on the wall behind his 3D assemblage, since I was not accustomed to such semiformal 2D art.

There are a bunch of these 2D panels, perhaps 2 feet wide by 1 foot high, each with a message stated with reasonable clarity, unlike so much message art, which does not come right out and say what it means.

"Amercia"? Twice? I guess it has to be deliberate. But what is it supposed to mean? "America" screwed up?

Not all these panels say in words what the artist intends, but they aren't indecipherable either.

Kevin seems to like cars, or at least likes using cars as symbols for something or other, perhaps a "drive" to do this or that.

I do not pretend to understand the significance of all parts of Kevin's work, but present pictures for others to evaluate. This foto shows the central portion of his assemblage.

Kevin Sampson is not the only artist in this show, of course. Daniel Brophy is represented by one large painting, which I thought on first sight to be quite similar to another painting of about the same size that I first saw in an NJIT show and then in his studio (shown here again now). I guess I am so used to various artists' styles that I generalize onto new works what I have seen in old. Not good.

But the painting in the current Robeson show is actually hugely different and more crowded with buildings and, esp., people. I like Daniel's urban sensibility, and all the detail he crowds into at least some of his paintings — everything from residences to billboards (which are a tad anachronistic) to smokestacks (also, for Newark, anachronistic). I spoke with Daniel at the Solo(s) Project House reception Friday (the day after I saw his work at Robeson), and he said that two major differences between his current work at Robeson and his earlier work at NJIT are that the later painting is in acrylics rather than oil (or it is the other way around? hm) and that there are people in the recent painting. I mentioned that most of my early fotos of Newark had no people in them either, but I have in recent years included more people.
(Daniel has trimmed way back his Grizzly Adams winter beard and hair, so now his most striking feature is his glorious blue eyes. My mother used to sing a song, "Beautiful, Beautiful Brown Eyes". I generally didn't buy into that, but preferred blue eyes. There was one guy, however, a lawyer in the ABC television bowling league I participated in, in my youth, for whom "Beautiful, Beautiful Brown Eyes" surely did apply. (You can hear a version of that song by Rosemary Clooney, George's aunt, here. You can hear a different version, by the Brothers Four, here. It is both amazing and wonderful what is available on the Internet now. These two down-tempo renditions will likely be perceived as unbearably slow in this frenetic age. By the way, I have brown eyes. Not, perhaps, beautiful tho. Of the 8 people in my immediate family, two parents and six kids, two had blue eyes. It's a genetically recessive trait.)

I said to Daniel that I thought acrylic and oil paint were essentially indistinguishable, but he said they are very similar but NOT the same. Here is his more recent painting. It seems fuzzy, but I don't know if that is because my camera didn't focus right or because the artwork is, after all, a painting, not an actual scene or crisp fotograf.
The four works here are by Diane June.

These two works are by Nell Painter, whom I met thru Terri Seuss (Suess?) in March at the Newark Public Library show of living Newark artists. Nell was not at Robeson when I arrived. I have not made the time nor exerted the effort to read the words in these artworks past the (interfering) colors. I arrived quite late, and figured I could read the text in the fotos I took, so did not endeavor to take in the meaning then and there. (Or "Right (T)Here, Right Now").

This group by one of Newark's best-regarded artists, German Pitre (pronounced Jé Pée.tree), was very hard to fotograf, given that all seven works are very dark and lacking in contrast between the lyter and darker areas.

Here is a closer view of one of them.

The Rumble Room was in use for this one artwork, 40 painted rectangles of wood forming a single abstract artwork by Alison Weld. I asked her what it meant, and she said something in "art-ese" to the effect that she believes that abstract art speaks its own language to the viewer, who takes from it what s/he brings to it. I had met Alison at her prior show at Robeson, in 2008. She did not initially remember me, but on discussing with Anonda Bell, Director of the Robeson Galleries, our interaction (I asked her to pose by her work in the Rumble Room), she sort of remembered that we had met and I had taken a foto of her on that occasion.

Let us now return to the largest and, to my mind, most important portion of the present show, Kevin Blythe Sampson's installation. Here is his statement of purpose, in English whose clarity contrasts sharply with the art-ese nonsense we are all too often subjected to in the art world.

Let me now conclude my coverage of this spare but interesting show at the Robeson Galleries with a picture of the central portion of Kevin's assemblage of indignation.

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