At Blue Gallery, the chaotic paintings of William Rainey and the mixed media-metal works of Lori Raye Erickson offer two very different meditations on life and faith.
Rainey’s exhibit, “Danger: Don’t Try This at Home!” features more than 20 canvases smeared, scratched, stenciled and splattered with bright, noxious colors. Like a wall covered in competing graffiti tags, overlapping marks compete on the surface. Crowns, bones, the iconic three-circle Mickey Mouse symbol and Rainey’s stenciled or scrawled name meld into vague, more abstract designs.
“Ciao Ciao Mickey Mouse” is emblematic of the work in the exhibition. Drips, smears, scratches and symbols cover the 5-by-8-foot red canvas; in some areas, its rough weave shows through, while in other spots thick paint has piled into ridges like cake frosting. A large lopsided yellow Mickey Mouse symbol shares the center of the canvas with an equally lopsided blue cross.
Rainey started the exhibition’s pieces before he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He finished them years later, after a series of treatments that led to a clean bill of health.
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This experience seems especially present in “Whacked Upside the Head,” a hazy yellow canvas filled with swirling stars, spirals and eyeballs. The beginnings of the ABCs are stenciled repeatedly on the canvas, like a stuttering record player. The painting creates an uncertain atmosphere, quite like being in a drug-induced haze.
Lori Raye Erickson’s exhibition, “Lead by Circumstance,” comprises mixed media works primarily created from painted and worked lead sheets. Patched together by rivets, the works resemble metal quilts. Most feature imagery loosely relating to death, religion or loneliness.
“Follow Your Heart,” created in collaboration with Joe Gregory, consists of three thick panels with a painting of a heart set in the center. The heart is reminiscent of the imagery of the Catholic devotion of the Sacred Heart, a symbol representing Jesus Christ’s love and compassion for all people.
In a statement at the exhibition, Erickson writes that she imagined the piece after the passing of her mother and that the metal patchwork “serves as an encasement for the heart.” She adds that while the lead patchwork sheets may “seem playful,” they are “made of a poisonous chemical.” In this sense the metaphor of the Sacred Heart is all the more appropriate, as Jesus was surrounded by an evil and sinful world, but loved humanity nonetheless.
Created in collaboration with Doug Schwietert, “We Are Led by Circumstance Because We Resist Being Led by Example” incorporates an old picture frame and found wood trim. A picture of Jesus Christ sits in the middle while metal balls and glass marbles are housed behind metal bars below the portrait.
Leading by example was a central principle of Christ’s teaching. While this principle is found throughout many religions and philosophies, what is specifically Christian about this work’s title is the idea that we resist learning by example in favor of making mistakes (sinning) and learning through our own “circumstance.”
Are artists led by the example of others or by personal circumstances?
In Rainey’s canvases it’s hard not to see graffiti-like markings and the crown symbol as throwbacks to the 1980s neo-Expressionist painter Jean-Michel Basquiat. Erickson’s work shares many similarities with classical Christian altarpieces and the Dada dioramas of Joseph Cornell.
In part, both Erickson and Rainey are led by their predecessors, learning from their successes and mistakes but also repeating their attempts in order to see how it feels. Art is made from this curiosity, of needing to verify things for oneself.
“William Rainey: Danger: Don’t Try This at Home!” and “Lori Raye Erickson: Lead By Circumstance” continue at the Blue Gallery, 118 Southwest Blvd., through Monday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment. For more information, call 816-527-0823 or go to BlueGalleryOnline.com.