‘4 Queer Voices’ sing in exhibition at William Way LGBT Community Center
Artblog's Managing Editor, Wit López, stopped by the "4 Queer Voices" show in the lobby gallery at William Way LGBT Community Center in Center City, Philadelphia. Read about their joy in witnessing the excellence of this group show. Catch the display before it comes down on Friday, April 26th!

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Exhibition view: "4 Queer Voices" at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.
Exhibition view: “4 Queer Voices” at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.

In a beautifully installed exhibition, curated by Janus Ourma of the William Way LGBT Community Center’s Art Committee, 4 Queer Voices presents the works of four of Philadelphia’s brightest stars: Marcus Branch, Santiago Galeas, Ryan Psota, and Marisa Velázquez-Rivas. When I first entered the lobby gallery, I noticed the collaborative style of the way the works are installed. The display is very conversational, with pieces from each artist on every wall in the lobby, instead of each artist having a wall to call their own. As my eyes engaged with the pieces, I felt an ebb and flow between the styles, techniques, and materials used for the works.

The first piece I saw was “Girls Just Want to Have Funds” by Marisa Velázquez-Rivas. On a 12”x12” piece of bare wood is the black acrylic outline of two disembodied hands clasped together. This piece draws the viewer in through its simplicity at first glance, as it appears to be a set of praying hands that would, traditionally, be holding a rosary. Upon second glance, the viewer will notice that the hands have long, stiletto fingernails and are holding a large stack of money. Directly underneath this piece, is Velázquez-Rivas’s painting “Creation of Eve.” The painting features two brown hands, once again with a long set of manicured nails, touching fingertips. It seems to be a reference to Michelangelo’s fresco “The Creation of Adam” which adorns a portion of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. I love that these two paintings by Velázquez-Rivas recall and immediately subvert common Christian iconography and give them a pop art spin. The heavy black lines and style of shading is reminiscent of the artwork of illustrator Roy Lichtenstein. Other works of Velázquez-Rivas’s in the space tell stories of revolution, liberation, and justice for marginalized populations, such as her beautifully rendered painting of a brown-skinned person in a black hijab topped by a colorful flower crown. The title of this painting is also the lettering on the shirt of the person, stating, “You Belong.”

“Girls Just Want to Have Funds”(top) and “Creation of Eve” (bottom) by Marisa Velazquez-Rivas. From "4 Queer Voices" at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.
“Girls Just Want to Have Funds”(top) and “Creation of Eve” (bottom) by Marisa Velazquez-Rivas. From “4 Queer Voices” at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.

Ryan Psota’s work fills me with childlike delight. In a combination of muted and bold colors, these mixed media depictions of people just existing in whimsical, yet mundane ways remind me of the illustrations in picture books of my youth. To me, Psota’s style evokes the illustrations of Lane Smith, known for his work in children’s books like The Stinky Cheese Man and Grandpa Green. In “Kathy,” Psota uses a repurposed wooden drawer as the canvas for a mixed media portrait, in shades of browns and oranges, of a person in a Fair Isle sweater with both hands up and a slight smile. In contrast, “Swimmer,” painted in bright red and blue, depicts a topless person crying as they stand surrounded by fluid: possibly a body of water, possibly a pool of tears.

"Kathy" by Ryan Psota. From "4 Queer Voices" at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.
“Kathy” by Ryan Psota. From “4 Queer Voices” at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.

The eponymous photograph of singer-songwriter Merlot, as taken by Marcus Branch, is absolutely breathtaking. In this shot, which Branch captured as part of an editorial for Gay Times magazine, Merlot stares off into the distance in a light-colored strapless top, white satin gloves up to the elbows, and a black hat against a bluish marble backdrop. The black hat rests toward the back of the head creating the effect of a halo, giving the image a saintly feel. Two of Branch’s other digital color photos in the exhibition, both 30”x20”, “Untitled (An Ode to Autumn)” and “Untitled (Embrace),” seem to capture the tenderness and timeliness of queer intimacy.

"Merlot" by Marcus Branch. From "4 Queer Voices" at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.
“Merlot” by Marcus Branch. From “4 Queer Voices” at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.

With the precision in portraiture of Kehinde Wiley and the blending and layering of Mark Rothko, Santiago Galeas has achieved a unique painting style all his own. These large oil portraits (the smallest being 24”x24”) all tell a part of a different story, and in a magic realism way, they blend reality with the fantastical and dreamlike, as the images of people undulate between the realms of each painting’s foreground and background. Each of the subjects in Galeas’ works are making strong eye contact with the viewer, without a hint of a smile present on any of their faces, but the various combinations of colors selected for the background and abstractions of each portrait set the mood. Galeas’ piece “Como la Flor,” a person in a red and yellow flowered crop top stands in their power against a flowery, yet fiery background where the floral shirt pattern seems to double as flames behind them, their hands and forearms glowing a bright reddish-orange. In the midst of it, the area around their forehead and the tops of their ears glow a cool, deep indigo. Additionally, the title “Como la Flor” is also the name of a popular song by the gone-too-soon, Mexican American pop sensation, Selena Quintanilla, which according to the song’s lyrics, might suggest that this painting is about heartbreak.

"Como la Flor" by Santiago Galeas. From "4 Queer Voices" at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.
“Como la Flor” by Santiago Galeas. From “4 Queer Voices” at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Photo courtesy of Wit López.

Overall, this exhibition is a gem and the four artists featured are skillful in their uses of their selected media. It was truly a pleasure to witness their explorations of identity, experience the depth of their artistry across media, and for me, personally, to see works that resonated so deeply with my own identity.

4 Queer Voices, curated expertly by Janus Ourma, will be on display at William Way LGBT Community Center until Friday, April 26, 2019. The show is comprised of the works of Marcus Branch, Santiago Galeas, Ryan Psota, and Marisa Velázquez-Rivas.

Tags

Como la flor, Creation of Adam, Grandpa Green, Janus Ourma, LGBT Community Center, Marcus Branch, Marisa Velázquez-Rivas, Merlot, Michelangelo, painting, photography, queer, Ryan Psota, Santiago Galeas, singer-songwriter, The Stinky Cheese Man, William Way Center

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