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"Portrait": Artists Living With Disabilities

Regional Arts Commission partners with VSA Missouri for new exhibit

Melelani Perry, "Fair Works," mixed media. photo by Dickson Beall (click for larger version)
January 28, 2015
Wander through the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) current exhibition, "Portrait," to hear discordant beats, rarely observed in the market-approved art world today.

RAC's gallery walls throb with the volume of deep feeling from many personal voices, though the life story from just one voice would be cause enough to weep. In sponsoring this show, Vision/Strength/Access of Missouri (VSA Missouri) – which promotes access to the arts for people with disabilities – calls for resonant chords of response from an art world that is too often driven by celebrity tunes of market-approved works.

Many times, one first approaches artwork by asking, "Do I like it; am I interested in this?" The answer to confrontation with the uncomfortable and the unfamiliar is frequently "no." It's far easier to display images that may once have been disturbing, but are now politically/religiously/culturally safe, accumulated from the many filters of marketplace, museums and academia.

Michael Draga, "Malevolence for the Muse," glazed stoneware. photo by Dickson Beall (click for larger version)
It's much easier to accept an artist's statement about obscure connections between his/her art process and its meaning than it is to simply be present with someone's pain.

"The Grind of Being," by Christopher RJ Worth, depicts great physical and emotional pain and poses a difficult philosophical question about being, itself. Where is meaning and purpose in this kind of life?

Then, as if anything is easy, comes "Malevolence of the Muse," a glazed stoneware clay portrait by Michael Draga, with the left side of the face appearing as the wise muse, and the right side characterized with an anti-personality disorder.

The clearest depiction of human struggle in finding direction may be Kit Keith's work, "Fluvenazine," which is stamped in red at the bottom "Keith Sign Company – Hand Made." His compassionate portrait of a disturbed woman, fractured by her fixation on handbags and other consumer goods, is collaged into schizophrenic breaks and superimposed on a map with multiple compasses.

Kit Keith, "Fluvenazine," mixed media. photo by Dickson Beall (click for larger version)
The artists in this show yearn, as we all do, to express ideas, to communicate feelings and worldview, and to be seen beyond their individual disabilities. Who thinks first of deafness with Beethoven, or mental illness with Van Gogh, or polio with Frieda Kahlo or paralysis with Chuck Close? Each of us hold within ourselves the artist, writer, poet, actor, musician or dancer, however hidden or obscured. It is through our stories and our creations that we are seen and recognized. No less so for these artists and their expressive works.

The artists in this exhibition are all to be applauded – Sean Brassil, Michael Draga, Matthew Freeman, Lynne Green, Kit Keith, Paul Lodes, Charlene Leona Marks, Kait Mauro, Melelani Perry, Dan Speck and Christopher RJ Worth.

Through all periods, peoples and places – Prehistory to Post Modern, Africa to the Americas, local to now global – art history has listened to religious, political and social prophets and sages. The voices have been mostly male, and that's beginning to change. Yet, isn't it time to ask who else we haven't heard from or listened to?

"Portraits" will be on display through Feb. 21, with a gallery talk on Friday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m., at the Regional Arts Commission, 6128 Delmar Blvd.

VSA Missouri is located in Living Room, a cafe/bakery at 2808 Sutton Blvd., in Maplewood. It offers classes, workshops and events.

An inclusive model for arts education, its encourages people living with and without disabilities to register. More information is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/VSAMO?ref=hl.

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