In the 20th century, the manufacturing of new materials contributed to a throw-away culture that revolved around immediacy and instant gratification. Humanity proliferated itself through a continuous stream of production; a trend of waste, both industrial and cultural, began and boomed among a wide variety of communities. At this time, artists began to expand upon what it meant to paint, sculpt, film, etc. The invention of new products and materials changed the possibilities of making, and opened the door for new concepts within the realm of art that deal not just with the tradition of documenting sight, but also which commented on this new reality of materiality. This period of globalization and social and technological change affected the way we understand our human environments, shifting and changing it to form a never-ending mass and cycle of consumption that defines our culture within the 21st century.
Using a variety of art practices including painting, sculpture, installation and sound, Dakota Havard, Sarah Rifkin, Noah Towne, and Alex DeWahl comment on and involve themselves in this history through a process in which they reconstruct elements of industrial waste, low culture, and disregarded human environments into objects relating to the nature of spirituality, the sublime, and materiality.
Dakota Havard’s “Mary Don’t Take Me On No Bad Trip” emphasizes a notion of evolution through layered processes. This painting discusses the idea of light, not in an attempt to replicate the visage of it, but in order to create and allude to a spiritual presence manifesting itself as the oncoming of light. He confronts viewers with the profound simplicity of the divine experience through these arrangements of quotidian items, such as cardboard or childhood art materials.
Sarah Rifkin’s “Floor Suspension I” considers the wall to be the primary substrate for assemblage. Her work demonstrates a juxtaposition between order and chaos through a process of creating balance between both heavy and light found objects. Objects are randomly selected from the street, where they exist in a state in which their original function has been either fulfilled or lost, but not yet replaced. She attempts to give new life to the objects by presenting them not as something as immediate as a Readymade, but as something unified enough to denote a new purpose.
Noah Towne’s work, “Bull & 37th” is a triptych work of oil on canvas, the shape of which is built to directly match a specific fragment of sidewalk located at the intersection of Bull Street and 37th Street in Savannah, Georgia. The texture on the surface of the painting comes from a process of grattage, which is, in this case, the act of placing the canvas over the selected piece of sidewalk and rubbing oil paint into it until the texture of the sidewalk comes through the surface of the canvas. The actual piece of sidewalk is broken into three parts, so the triptych was built to mirror the natural state of the sidewalk. This piece as well as the series of paintings examines the potential of something as arbitrary as a piece of sidewalk, a typically neglected, unnoticed piece piece of the industrial world, to exist as a work of art itself, elevating a fragment of the ground and prompting consideration for its significance in the present world.
Through an unusual use of materials, the work presented in Trying Really Hard offers a new interpretation on the classic realm of painting. Some work, like Towne’s, clearly references this academic history in order to expand on the idea of what academic painting can be. Other pieces in this show, like Havard’s and Rifkin’s, employ painting as something malleable, a medium within which there are infinite layers of meaning and understanding. The artists focused on featuring a variety of practices within the realm of painting and were interested in finding and providing a space for the interpretation and rumination on what artmaking has been for centuries, and, going forward, what it has the potential to be.