‘Odyssey Collective’ at the Red Brick brings together three Roaring Fork Valley artists
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Odyssey Collective,’ exhibition by John Cohorst, Chris Erickson, Andrew Roberts-Gray
Where: Red Brick Center for the Arts
When: Through Sunday, Sept. 8
More info: redbrickaspen.com
When artist Andrew Roberts-Gray moved his creative home base to Carbondale’s Studio for Arts + Works (SAW) three years ago, two of his new neighbors in the shared space offered to help him lug some heavy equipment.
The favor from ceramicist John Cohorst and painter Chris Erickson, who loaded Roberts-Gray’s massive table saw on a trailer from Roberts-Gray’s home in Glenwood Springs and helped install it at SAW, marked the beginning of a fruitful creative partnership for this trio of leading Roaring Fork Valley-based artists. It resulted in the summer-long Red Brick Center for the Arts exhibition, “Odyssey Collective,” which showcases some 70 total pieces from the men revolving loosely around their shared interest in science fiction and technology.
“That was the beginning,” Roberts-Gray said of the helping hand with his studio move. “Once we were all there, we talked. And there were things about our work that spoke to each other. There was a lot of energy, a lot of new ideas.”
The trio didn’t form a collective in any official capacity — the “Odyssey Collective” title came for the purposes of the Red Brick show — but they soon felt they were working as a creative team, informally workshopping ideas and concepts with one another and harnessing the close proximity of their studios to sprout and spread wild new creative growth in each of their practices.
“Even if it wasn’t conscious, it was happening,” Roberts-Gray said.
The trio often talked about their shared ideas about science fiction, technology, utopias and dystopias. Those chats, and a mutual affinity for Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” brought them together for the Red Brick show, which opened in July and runs through Sunday.
The threesome didn’t constrict itself with the theme, instead simply encouraging one another to continue exploring the ideas they’ve shared. Viewers will see the literal imprint of technological history in the computer codes screen-printed onto Roberts-Gray’s newest paintings. They may be reminded of Kubrick’s “Star Gate” visuals from “2001” in the color palate of Erickson’s vibrant new abstract acrylic paintings. Or they may note echoes of Kubrick’s “2001” apes in Cohorst’s playful yeti-based iconography on his new ceramic vessels.
“I thought it was interesting how we have these different approaches to the history of technology,” Roberts-Gray said.
The newest of Erickson’s pieces are large format abstracts in loud colors, layered in heavy body acrylic paint. They’re a departure from more narrative pieces like “Emission Condition,” also included here, filled with his cartoon-like figures in black and white — mimicking climate change iconography of smoke stacks, medical crosses, skeletal figures and his signature thought bubbles and smoke clouds.
Roberts-Gray, for nearly three decades now, has been making work that juxtaposes the natural world and the man-made. Most often, he employs his instantly recognizable motif of juxtaposing cold and boldly colored geometric shapes against abstracted natural spaces, like the black mountain forms that populate much of his “Odyssey Collective” works.
He’s used literal layers of material and intellectual layers of meaning to powerful effect. His newest pieces in the Red Brick show are made on thick plexi-glass — some sand-blasted and textured, some crystal clear, with paint and printed material on both sides to bring a new depth to his long-established visual vocabulary.
“All of my work is about layers,” he said. “Layers of cultural reference, paint, printing. This made it so that you can see those layers. With air and light between them, it activated the ideas in this new way.”
“Odyssey Collective” is a noteworthy achievement for the Red Brick as the city-managed facility and art gallery recovers from an embezzlement scandal for which its former director was convicted of felony theft and, in July, sentenced to 90 days in jail.
Current Red Brick director Sarah Roy over the last year has made small but significant steps to better showcase locally based artists in the space, including a dedicated space for solo exhibitions and a move away from the Red Brick tradition of putting up group shows with a dozen or more artists represented at once. Instead, as in this summer’s “Odyssey Collective” and an upcoming fall photography show, she’s demonstrating a focused curatorial vision, showcasing more work by fewer artists in exhibitions that give viewers the opportunity to take a deeper and more fulfilling dive into the work.
“I think we all feel it was very successful,” Roberts-Gray said of the “Odyssey Collective” show. “We feel like we were able to transform the space a little differently. So I’m very happy with the show.”
An artist’s odyssey, he noted, is most often a go-it-alone journey. But as he’s learned in recent years since his move from Glenwood to Carbondale and from an isolated home studio to the humming shared space of SAW, it doesn’t have to be: “One of the things I learned from coming to SAW and being with all of these artists of different ages is that it’s just better to be on the odyssey with different people.”
For Roberts-Gray, the Red Brick show is among a plethora of recent collaborations that mark a new turn in his career. He also recently opened — with his wife, Annette — the playfully futurist show “In the Year 2525” at the Carbondale Clay Center, and collaborated with Cate Tallmadge on the R2 Gallery show “Loom,” about the history of computers. And he put together a massive eight-person performance art piece as an Aspen Art Museum Fellow — a one-time happening that drew an overflow crowd to the museum rooftop in May and became an unexpectedly major art event of the year in Aspen.
He credits this shift toward collaboration to his experiences at SAW with artists like Cohorst and Erickson.
“SAW has become such an important part of my practice and not something I would have ever thought I would have in the studio,” he said. “I’ve been transformed by it.”
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