The House In My Head (Review)

Weston Gallery offers thought-provoking group show

Critic's Pick

The house in your head — the one nobody can foreclose on — is probably an element of the internal life of each of us. But what happens when six artists zero in on explicitly externalizing their visions of such a place? The results are The House in My Head, which fills downtown’s Weston Art Gallery through Aug. 29.

The show brings together four Cincinnati artists plus one from Oxford, Ohio and another from Lexington, Ky. in an exhibition where each one’s work feeds the others. Visual relationships between pieces are an important strength of the show. Suburbia, that easy mark, gets its share of bashing, but possessions in general are pretty widely questioned.

The level of workmanship is high and the content interesting. Because the work is often amusing, House is a good summertime show, but it’s thought-provoking as well. You’ll leave the gallery thinking about the house in your head as well as theirs.

In the Weston’s street-level space, Tracy Featherstone’s wry “Is This Climactic?” appears to explode. The Oxford artist’s assemblage of two-by-fours and two-by-twos, along with worn chairs and tables, is held together by careful balancing and heavy-duty bolts. It stands on a couple of perky rag rugs. The suggestion is that our possessions may get the better of us.

Jennifer Purdom’s “Trojan House II” hangs nearby, an ink-and-latex take on a similar idea. Legs, toes curled, protrude from a smothering swath of building materials. Downstairs, her work explores the sense of suburban isolation in Exodus Series I-VII — frantic legs superimposed on pale photographs of uninterrupted houses. And in three elegantly executed works from her Domestic Mori series, she makes concern over possessions a fraud.

Keith Benjamin, who takes recycling to unexpected levels, uses a pingpong table for something other than the game in “Morning Dew,” a piece in complicit resonance with Purdom’s and Featherstone’s neighboring work in the street-level space.

Downstairs, three of his neat little walnut and cardboard sculptures jut from the wall, suggesting nature is more handsome than our puny additions to it, and a big, actual refrigerator shell is fully encased by cardboard webbing in “Retro.” Benjamin gets kudos for the shortest artist’s statement in the show and maybe on record: “I use food and beverage packaging from my household recycling bin to create structures and experiences that address the optimism required in daily life.”

Lori Larusso from Lexington paints bold, bright, flat scenes on shaped panels, having jettisoned any idea of frame. These works give an immediate appearance of mid-20th-century advertisements, shiny and compulsively modern but carry a darker undertow.

In “Neat Mess,” an otherwise clean kitchen is spoiled by burnt toast in the toaster and spilled coffee on the table. “Smashed After Noon,” featuring a suggestive double-entendre, has a big car that’s suffered a head-on crash parked by an inviting outdoor table with umbrella. Pretend-rustic is interrupted by real in “Game,” and in “Boil” the lobster is escaping from the pot.

Larusso’s shaped panels allow her to concern herself only with what’s compositionally important. In one work a rocking chair is suggested by a cutout section in the panel’s upper-left corner. She uses actual shadows on the wall to play against painted shadows for these ostensibly two-dimensional works. Larusso gives a group title, The Situation Hesitates, to her eight pieces in The House in My Head.

Mark Patsfall’s contributions to this exhibition are the most diverse. Three big, handsome intaglio relief prints are dominated by brick reds, a three-dimensional house model has a surprising narrative in its video projections and his send-up of McMansions, suitably titled “McMansion,” is a laugh-inducer.

Patsfall, founder and director of Clay Street Press in Over-the-Rhine, is a superb printmaker. A brick-shaped grid overlays the surface in two works. “This Old House (Not to Scale)” shows multiple floors of a cross-sectioned dwelling, its jumbled furnishings increasing by the floor. And in “Modernist House (for Jackson),” the low roof and simple lines of such a house are backed by silhouetted branches — above it, at the sides, below it and through its windows. The idea of a house is untethered.

Patsfall’s “The House Outside My Head (Home Alone)” is a three-dimensional model with mesmerizing video projections playing out at its windows. Against the video’s house-magazine-like interiors, a blue-gray man chases a woman from room to room. He’s an interloper, but eventually she has shed her yellow dress to run in bra and panties. Make of this what you will, and move on to “McMansion” in the far gallery. It’s composed of copper foil tape and toy toilets, laid out against the wall as a schematic diagram, plus an audio flush sound.

Featherstone’s ingenious wearable structures are seen in the lower galleries. These elaborate concepts imply construction gone awry — great effort to nonexistent ends.

Elaine Lynch’s work in this exhibition is the hardest for me to warm to. Actually, I like her artist’s statement more than her art, which can’t shake its doodle appearance for me.

“The ‘house in my head’ is like a corn silo,” Lynch says. “Simple and tall, an ivory tower … a piercing component that penetrates the landscape.” She also calls corn silos “the great Midwestern punctuating monument.” This idea is sharp and meaningful, but the execution less so.

THE HOUSE IN MY HEAD is on view through Aug. 29 at the Weston Art Gallery downtown. Get show and gallery details here.

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