Though she’s the youngest of three artists showing at Carl Solway Gallery, Elsa Hansen possesses the wisdom of an old soul. The Louisville resident combines the tradition of cross-stitch, the 8-bit imagery of video games and popular icons of both her millennial generation and yesteryear to provide quirky commentaries. Like the Solway Gallery, Hansen is talkin’ ’bout her generation while bridging generational gaps.
A half century ago, Carl Solway, now 81, established himself by building relationships with contemporaries like avant-garde artist John Cage.
“All the really great art dealers of the past are those who fought for artists of their own generation,” reads his quote at the current Cincinnati Art Museum exhibit Not in New York: Carl Solway and Cincinnati.
But his West End gallery, now directed by his son Michael, also looks forward. The present trio of exhibits comes from three generations: Hansen (born in 1986), the late Kirk Mangus (1952-2013) and Tom Marioni (born in 1937). Tracing their influences is a joyful journey through art history — an overall sense of playfulness and a dialogue among the artists transcends their ages and materials.
The act of drawing, even if not with pen on paper, also draws these three together. Though chiefly a ceramicist, Mangus layered his sculptures with autobiographical images, and his teeming ink drawings reflect his love of underground comics. Marioni, a Cincinnati-born conceptual artist, taps out dry frescoes on plaster using graphite attached to a bamboo stick. And Hansen makes pictures by sewing, reducing heavyweights to pixelated versions 2 to 3 inches tall.
Hansen’s exhibit is titled R. Kelly thru R. Crumb, positioning the R&B singer who was mired in an underage sex scandal alongside the counterculture cartoonist known for sexually explicit comics. Hansen turns to Greek mythology to address Kanye West’s egoism by pairing him with Sisyphus, the figure condemned to forever push a boulder uphill only to watch it roll back.
Some collages befuddle. (What connects Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra, Thomas Merton and Mary Poppins?) Not all of Hansen’s subjects are familiar. But you don’t have to hobnob in the art world to appreciate “Passing,” with figures from Art Basel Miami Beach farting away. A design magazine had commissioned the work, sans flatulence.
Once the gig was over, Hansen thumbed her nose at the commissioned piece.
Inspired by Marcel Duchamp, who famously submitted a urinal as sculpture, Marioni has also bucked convention. The San Francisco artist is known for performance pieces such as “The Act of Drinking Beer with Friends is the Highest Form of Art.”
But Marioni’s show is traditional with a twist. His minimalist drawings buzz with energy from the dots created by his percussive process. Solway calls the artist’s entire output “action works.” Ask to see video of the site-specific “Out of Body” wall drawings. Marioni evokes da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man” as he stands on a pedestal and extends his arm to draw a circle in a series of revolutions that sounds like a train’s wheels. Intuitively, he knows when to stop.
Mangus also drew, on clay and paper, with the goal of recording unspoiled, spontaneous artistic gestures and thoughts. “The (drawings) that I like the best have a reserved or unfinished quality,” he once said. “They reflect the fact that the making process is a series of stopped events.”
Mangus was both a Kent State University teacher and a student of world cultures. As a result, the exhibition is a colorful garden of delights for multiple generations. Intricate fine art vases sit near a schlumpy cat statue. Surreal drawings such as “Carrying Everybody With Us,” which appears to depict Mangus’ family and possessions traveling in a teapot, are reminiscent of Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. Though sexual, his rotund “Femme” sculptures also look as if they could have been innocently molded by a child.
If Hansen is the old soul among this trio of artists, then Mangus is the big kid who never grew up and now, sadly, is gone too soon.
Elsa Hansen’s R. KELLY THRU R. CRUMB, Kirk Mangus’ CERAMIC SCULPTURE AND DRAWING and Tom Marioni’s DRY FRESCO, DRAWING AND BRONZE are on view through July 9 at Carl Solway Gallery in the West End. More: solwaygallery.com.