Human Condition(s): Review by Max Maddox

Human Condition(s): The 8th Annual Reach Studio Exhibition, Curated by Sarah Rockett
Redline Contemporary Art Center, until July 08.

Max Maddox has exhibited his art work in galleries that include Hillyer Art Space (Washington D.C), Locallective (Chicago), the Slought Foundation (Philadelphia), the Print Center of Philadelphia, The Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum (Philadelphia), and Abecedarian Gallery (Denver). He enjoys a bachelor’s in philosophy from Grinnell College and a master’s in studio art from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, where he was nominated for the Joan Mitchell Award and won the Fellowship Trust Award. Max co-wrote and in 2013 published the memoir Walks on the Margins, a 2014 EVVY award recipient, as well as winner of the Golden Quill Award and a finalist for the Iowa Review Award. Max lives in Denver.

A pink highlighter suggests the life of the intellect; a bag of oversized bandages underpins the danger of living without a home. Cheap eye shadow sits with a smartphone, a tampon with a pack of Black Marlboros. Jay Juno’s Homeless Shelter confronts us with how we would fill our pockets if we had to go on the run, whether we can really sleep on that cot.

Figure 1: Jay Juno,  Homeless Shelter , 2018, detail.

Figure 1: Jay Juno, Homeless Shelter, 2018, detail.

A wall painting framed in curtains suggests the break of dawn or the last moments of dusk. The schedule is ruthless; even if pregnant or crippled, we learn, everyone will rouse at 5 a.m. and be packed and showered by daybreak, grab their half-box of candy and zip up their empty pill cases in this crash course on living like a refugee.

The artists in the 8th annual Reach exhibition recommend duct taping your canvases before pouring on the enamel. In a pantomime of divine contest, passages of cubism and faintly brushed pink hearts take turns with discarded cartoons from eighties commercials, with blue foot prints and magazine scraps on rainbow swirls among busted goddesses festooned with giant butterflies. 

Misanthropic heroines with assault rifles slap skins with scatterbrains splashing canvases in what can only be called a holistic political process. Improvised art show, or plain forensic mayhem, these artists seem wed to cracking their own murder cases with a bottle of Elmer’s and discarded PDF’s from the governor’s recycle bin. Without pretense, they serve emancipation drizzled on warped plywood and hard-lipped negation printed expertly on couch cushions. 

The subjects are family and folklore, inviting fresh chronicles within the surrounding iterations of class history in the room.

Figure 2: Carolyn Pooler,  Recollection Pillows and Journals , 2018.

Figure 2: Carolyn Pooler, Recollection Pillows and Journals, 2018.

The Reach Studio program continues to push the envelop on what can be made where and how. Scarcely has Denver witnessed a more diverse clique of artists crossing three generations working shoulder-to-shoulder. Reach invites the interloper into a shared space woven by a pioneering social project. If they weren’t so damn positive about sticking it to the man it would be tempting to call it class warfare. But this group holds a light to those who need art most. 

It’s all a little heavy but dry your tears on the inverted star spangled banner and start by enjoying the art brut trucks.

Figure 2: Barbara Alphin-Johnson, The  Red Truck , 2018.

Figure 2: Barbara Alphin-Johnson, The Red Truck, 2018.

A loving pink landscape suggests art workshops and instructional toolkits done with a fierce tragedy of color that simply astounds. Taffy bricks come in yellow, orange, and pink, shadows come in lavender and concrete is served like paper towels in this gingerbread world of labor, borders, and traffickers. Johnson hints at illness in her spaces of solitary confinement; the wheels that activate the adventures through this destitute crimson desert even harken macabre prison windows. Still I can’t help but imagine a wild team of Iwerks oddities packing it in with the pincushionman to save Little Lulu on a summer trip born in animation heaven. 

Finding fragments of coral snakes in the tapestry of Gonzo’s mandala, I’m thinking now of a bubble that has been released through the Garden of Eden, a portal has just opened on to a deformed Bonnard. Something interminable winds itself through space and time, the dark nirvana of cave graffiti or a manic kid gone ape-shit on a giant paper plate, proto-marks along the absolute. 

Even the kernel of a revisionist history presents itself, the story of the anti-hero up-ended.

Figure 3: L.T. Darlina,  Banality of the Wall Part II  (left) and Gonzo,  The Self-Taught Outsider Artist  (center)

Figure 3: L.T. Darlina, Banality of the Wall Part II (left) and Gonzo, The Self-Taught Outsider Artist (center)

We shouldn’t be surprised at the denial of regulated spaces here, sidelong with the often complicated relationships with home among these artists. Along the easements on 24th, squat a dozen displaced people with two tents and an umbrella pitched among scattered bike wheels and tarp covered wagons in this 96-degree afternoon. 

On the two sides of a wall this red line is still contested. Yet the purveyors of this permeable counteractive space mingle the anarchy of transience with the savoir faire of cultural discourse, here housed side-by-side. The gallery is full of alternate imaginings of community, space, embodiment, and responsibility, while it is also consistently stained with failure. This brand of failure is packaged by class division and here is meaningfully tangled up with “non-conformity, anticapitalistic practices, nonreproducutive life styles, negativity, and critique” (Halberstam, 2011). 

Figure 4: Raverro Stinnett,  Malcom X , 2018.

Figure 4: Raverro Stinnett, Malcom X, 2018.

Representing the struggle against universal white power, ‘X’ stands for rootlessness and naiveté while it jointly designates one and all obscenities. Truly it renders the vulgarity of poverty. Within cultural dialectics, says Judith Halberstam, dereliction can be “a way of refusing to acquiesce to dominant logics of power and discipline.” (et al.). The Reach artists damn themselves to failure by refusing perfect legibility, rejecting pragmatism, and expressing a radical distaste for “the rewards” that are handed down by and for elites. Therein they opportune liberation through a double-castration, opening spaces for profane yet extraordinary acts.

Indeed, this group threatens the book of hegemonic longevity with second endings. To quote Walter Benjamin, “They will have retroactive force and will constantly call in question every victory… as flowers turn toward the sun, by dint of a secret heliotropism the past strives toward that sun which is rising in the sky of history.” (Benjamin, 1955). 

A monkey in a red neck tie reminds me how much I don’t like rabbits or miss car CD players. I’m not sure whether I’m being brainwashed at boot camp or just got caught dipping into the donation basket at church; I’ve simply lost myself. Should I even still bother voting, loosen up the old paint markers on a 16th street piano and throw my flannels off or what? 

Figure 5: Charles Turnstall,  Choices , 2018.

Figure 5: Charles Turnstall, Choices, 2018.

Whatever you decide, overcoming hardship is the rule of law at Reach studio so come and make art brut but leave your privilege at home.

Works Cited:

Benjamin, Walter, “Thesis on the Philosophy of History” from Illuminations, p. 255, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt, 1955.

Halberstam, Judith, The Queer Art of Failure, pp 3-25, Duke University Press, Durham, 2011.