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Material Concerns
Erin McKenna and Taylor Hawkins' art at Grid Furnishings
By Clinton J. Buhler
May/June 2012 Issue

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1176, oil on canvas, 72” x 72” (2012) by Taylor Hawkins. A late-night bedroom that has references to Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon, and a Mickey Mouse's hand, this piece is making visible the psychological routine of an artist.

What is it that prompts a person to begin to create art? While this is admittedly a loaded question, and one that has so many answers as to become unanswerable, it is nonetheless an important consideration when grappling with the work of an unfamiliar artist. Indeed, artistic motivation can vary from a rather intellectual or philosophical statement, to a pure expression of emotion, or merely a desire to be humorous. To be sure, there’s nothing stopping an artist from combining all three of these into their creative approach.

Second Skin, by Erin McKenna
photo transfers of her body onto fabric.

Regardless of the varied sources of inspiration, they all seem to share one thing in common: whether directly or indirectly, it is the desire to express one’s point of view on the world. In pursuit of this goal, there is no more important determination for an artist than to find a proper medium for their creativity. The primacy of material concerns is certainly foregrounded in the work of two young artists on exhibition at Grid Furnishings – Erin McKenna and Taylor Hawkins.

McKenna and Hawkins are both graduating seniors at Columbus College of Art and Design, and two of the six winners in the annual Award for Excellence in the Visual Arts, sponsored by the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio (AICUO). The work of these two artists will be featured May 1 – June 30, with an opening reception being held during the Short North Gallery Hop on May 5 (other Short North galleries exhibiting winning works of art during the Hop are the Sharon Weiss Gallery, Sherrie Gallerie, Studios on High, and pm gallery).

Erin McKenna, whose work won the Grand Award at this year’s AICUO competition, uses her mixed media sculptures as a way of exploring the material quality of objects in the world around us. “I am exploring materials and their relationship to the body,” explains McKenna in her statement, “I am showing the body as the common denominator in how we think about things because it is something we are all familiar with.”

Rather than using the artistic materials to make a statement about the world around us, she invites the viewer to consider the possibility that perhaps the materials around us are what it’s all about.

But the materials do not show up in her art in the form we are most accustomed to. Instead, she approximates these materials to the very substance of the human form.

“I am making these inanimate things into something more personified by form and texture,” she continues. “The frailness and delicacy of fabrics are similar to the quality of our skin and hair. Tulle is thin and translucent, yet strong. Foam can be contained, but can arbitrarily seep out into small and large tumorous shapes, just as the body can do. Ultimately, by experimentation, I am personifying materials and trying my best to make them come alive.”

Taylor Hawkins, winner of the Workman Prize, also puts great emphasis on the medium of his artistic creation. “There is a freedom about painting,” he explains, “I am taking the reality of the paint itself and the actual experience I have seen or been through, and depicting a picture. It is a battle between painting and a battle within me.” Hawkins believes that the flexibility of expression possible in paint, better allows him to express his personal experience with the world. The reality of the present day, for him, is defined by the prevalence of mass media: “Mass media has given young artists like myself a chance to see art from all aspects of the world reflecting our different cultures. Therefore, making it a constant race, a race that I have indulged myself into while realizing that there are multiple ways to paint a picture.” The constant barrage of contrasting images we are subjected to make their way into Hawkins’ paintings as curious juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated forms. The work challenges the viewer to make a connection, to find in them some kind of synthesis, though such a unity may not actually be present.

“Medium Rare” Erin McKenna and Taylor Hawkins

Two of Six AICUO Award Winners
May 1 - June 30, 2012
Grid Furnishings,
944 N. High Street
Open M-Sun 12:30-6:00 p.m.

© 2012 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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