Burlap babies

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The too-wise giant baby faces at Rosenfeld Gallery this month dominate the space with their visionary eyes, startled looks, burlap facial planes and heavy-duty juicy, brilliantly colored paint (image, “Innocent(s) Interrupted v”).

The faces, some of them larger than 50 inches, are from Tendai Johnson. (I have deleted some incorrect information I had about Johnson’s interesting upbringing. For the correct information –it’s pretty interesting and worth following the link–go to post here). Johnson’s upbringing in both Zimbabwe and the state of Georgia, imprinted him with political passion and memories of burlap as a common, useful material.

The work blew me away, with its merger of the homely and craft qualities with fine art qualities. Johnson, who taught at Moore College, is no outsider, but the work packs the outsider wallop. No 2-D jpg image will convey the paint slathered on the burlap or the physicality of the planes and suggestion of scarification created by burlap swatches embedded in medium.

The baby faces are imagined, said gallery owner Richard Rosenfeld when I was in there. They are metaphors, and yet they seem specific enough to be believable portraits. Only their surprisingly wise expressions bely their portrait qualities.

The eyes in each painting reflect some image of lost innocence–in this detail you can see a quote from the news image of the naked Vietnamese girl fleeing, her clothes destroyed by Napalm (left, detail, “”Innocent(s) Interrupted v”).

Rosenfeld has spent the month staring across from his desk at another Johnson painting, “Intelligent Design,” a large burlap figure in a tub. Clearly Rosenfeld has been enjoying his long slow look. He said he has been thinking about how the guy is God, the hand a quote from the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the Creation a reflection in the water that suggests God taking a dump. The genitals are invisible amidst all the Lucien Freud flesh, suggesting impotence, Rosenfeld said (“Intelligent Design,” 74″ x 55″).

Also in the show are charcoal drawings from the “Innocent(s) Interrupted” series, delicately drawn with eyes and mouths blotted or skin scarred by disease or some other problem.

Disturbing all. And worth a look.

Holiday ornaments for Manna

While I was in there, Rosenfeld said he was looking for artist-made holiday ornaments for a contest and holiday sale to benefit Manna. They can be religious or secular, and must be delivered at the gallery by Sunday, Dec. 4.

Also at Rosenfeld

Rosenfeld was also showing Ab Ex paintings by Patricia Auguste and small sculptures of horses by Dan Malczewski.

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