The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet Are of Imagination All Compact at Wright Art Gallery
This fall, the Wright Art Gallery at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi hosted a three-person exhibition, The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet Are of Imagination All Compact, featuring Sheri Fleck Rieth, Tom Lee and Herb Rieth. The exhibition had the essence of a play with charmingly eccentric characters that all share a different perspective on a larger story. In each work, nonsense prevails until it is revealed that there is a fundamental truth of existence that each has a stake in.
The exhibited work by Sheri Fleck Rieth was selected from the last several years and contains strong personal and symbolic meanings layered throughout. According the artist’s statement, each print contains a story of the paths she has taken, even those she did not mean to take. Each is a reflection on this history “while taking [her] place riding shotgun down the avalanche.” The narratives revolve around stories growing up in Kansas, motherhood, teaching and teaching. Some of the details are more personal and not as significant to outside viewers as others, but still help weave the complex narrative together with a mystical twist.
Using household materials such as a house painter’s canvas, tar paper, an apron and a wooden architectural support column in line with the rest of the show, Tom Lee’s created two wall pieces and sculptural installation. Sexual innuendos and a giant cartoon rabbit become the focal point of the work, but there are two sides or perspectives in each piece, with the second rascal sneaking up behind the viewer with sardonic mirth. The cycle of life, death and a struggle for power in between are the easiest themes to interpret in Lee’s art.
Herb Rieth has a total of six mixed media wall hangings that vary in size, the largest being Marsyas vs. Apollo at twelve feet in width. Mostly comprised of fabric, Rieth also uses safety pins, metal studs most likely taken from an old leather jacket, and paint. Like Sheri Fleck Rieth’s work, there is a dialogue of reflection and lessons to be learned or sought. The follies of man, war and socio-political messages dominate Rieth’s work, which also relies on strong allusions to art history and Greek mythology. Elegy for the Republic is perhaps the most insightful into Rieth’s ouevre, suggesting close ideological ties with Robert Motherwell’s anti-war painting series of a similar title.
As entwined as the artists’ lives are, there are points of intersection and overlap that are to be expected. In various degrees, the personal feelings are present throughout the show from Sheri Fleck Rieth’s imagery to Herb Rieth’s emotive response from events and Tom Lee’s esoteric wit and humor. However, serious elements in the work are the foundation of the human condition, learning, conflict, death and other hardships. The interplay between what is real, what seems real and taking comfort in this reality is something very few artists are able to capture entirely but is apparent in this exhibition.
Use of soft, but pure colors suggest a livelihood that cannot be defeated, though they are tempered by realities of life. These struggles are softened by the shared color palettes and domestic materials that each of the artists incorporate much like the comfort of family. All three artist use actual stitching in at least one piece and the mark of their hands’ is present in all other ways. The physical and metaphorical home of the three artists has much to offer – whether it’s a madhouse or a residence to shelter from the madness outside of it. Perhaps these handmade elements imply home as a safe haven where everything will be okay – or something they will make use of regardless.
The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet Are of Imagination All Compact was on view at Wright Art Gallery, Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi September 20 – November 1, 2013.