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Weekly Update – Matthews, Holsing at Gallery Joe


This week’s Weekly has my review of Rob Matthews’s Knoxville Girl and Marilyn Holsing’s Young Marie at Gallery Joe. Below is the copy with some pictures. More photos at flickr. And here’s Libby’s post on the show and our Look! episode.

Gray’s Anatomy
Two shows explore moral ambiguity.

Rob Matthews, KnoxvilleGirl-TheDeposition
Rob Matthews, Knoxville Girl, the Deposition, at Gallery Joe.

Rob Matthews’ 14-drawing murder saga is a morality tale reminiscent of the pious lessons told via stained glass windows in the great cathedrals.

His “The Knoxville Girl” suite of works is based loosely on real murders in Knoxville, Tenn., and on the Appalachian ballad “Knoxville Girl.” Universal in its themes of jealousy, rage, rash action and regret, Matthews’ allegory for evil and his examination of gang behavior and individual responsibility are almost too close to home—which is why they’re so potent.

Rob Matthews, KnoxvilleGirl-Disposal
The Disposal

Don’t look for color in these drawings. The world is gray and white and there’s no horizon line, so everyone’s traveling in a void of space and time.

Matthews sets the scene with young people drinking and laughing. Fellini’s parades of fools and clowns come to mind. Their clothes and facial features make the characters indistinct and almost generic. They’re an army of interchangeable young people. One woman murders another. The bystanders either cheer or stand shocked. Then they all move on together, and while the perpetrator experiences a moment of remorse, the gang has already taken charge and disposed of the evidence. In the last panel it’s unclear whether anyone will pay a penalty for their actions.

Few modern artists today are making work of such moral urgency. Matthews conceived the piece, set up the photographs that are the basis for the work and created the elegant, timely and soulful graphite drawings. Like works by earlier artists of morality tales such as Hieronymus Bosch, Honoré Daumier and William Hogarth, Matthews sets the scene in contemporary times and asks viewers to draw their own conclusions. There are no answers here—only big questions.

Marilyn Holsing, Young Marie, sheltering the woodland creatures under her skirt.
Marilyn Holsing, Young Marie, sheltering the woodland creatures under her skirt.

Meanwhile, in the Vault Gallery Marilyn Holsing’s suite of drawings “The True History of Young Marie” is a great companion to Matthews’ show.

Holsing’s nonlinear story panels in gouache and colored pencil imagine a young Marie Antoinette at play in a magical garden space. Alone except for her animal friends, the princess is busy constructing beehive-like structures, and in one case sheltering the small woodland creatures under her skirt.

Marilyn Holsing
Enter Holsing’s installation through the curtained hallway set up by the artist.

Holsing has installed the drawings in a room painted and adorned to resemble an ancien regime boudoir with hand-embroidered pillows on elegant settees and faux pearl baubles that look inset in the wall. The idea that Marie Antoinette had an innocent youth was recently dealt with in Sofia Coppola’s movie. Here, Holsing creates poignant tableaux that are like Hummel, Royal Doulton or Lladró figurines—nostalgic for innocence. The difference is that Holsing’s young Marie is less innocent, and her play must be seen as practice for her later role as a queen hated by her subjects.

“Knoxville Girl”/“La Vraie Histoire de Jeune Marie”
Through Dec. 15. Gallery Joe, 302 Arch St. 215.592.7752.