Unconventional portraiture in ‘Adorned Spaces’

By Dorothy Shinn, Beacon Journal art and architecture critic

Most of us try to look our best when we know we’re having our picture taken.

Imagine if someone asked whether, rather than taking a picture of you, they could take a picture of your bedroom? I for one would make a mad dash to said room and begin straightening up.Adorned Spaces

Or what if, in addition to several quirky “informal” poses, the photographer then began shooting what you were doing just before his arrival?

The unconventional portraiture exhibition at Summit Artspace shows works that explore our relationships to space and how our environments can transform into outward expressions of our inward lives.

Through June 14, two photographers explore this fertile portraiture subgenre in Adorned Spaces. With two very different approaches to this concept, photographers Andrew Thomas Lopez and Marissa McClellan play with their spaces differently, but with clear and precise direction for their intent.

This kind of portrait by proxy has been done before, but it seems different when it could be of people you might know.

The artists will discuss their work in free public talks at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and May 29. McClellan’s talk on Thursday is about her project, More Than a Bed. She will provide insights as to how documented images of bedrooms become personal portraits of the people that inhabit and embellish these spaces.

Lopez’s subject is “Creativity and Autism” on May 29, discussing the experience of working with his son, Sebastian, for his project, This Means Something … This is Important.

Lopez focuses on the importance of art and photography as a way to engage with a child who has autism, tapping into their strengths and brilliance as opposed to viewing the condition as a deficiency. Representatives from the Akron chapter of the Autism Society will be present at the talk.

Rob Lehr, Summit Artspace Gallery director, curated More than a Bed and This Means Something … This is Important because, he said, he wanted to showcase the depth and richness of the talent in Summit County.

Both photographers are from Akron and have participated in many regional group shows along with solo shows to their credit, but neither had ever submitted an exhibit proposal to Summit Artspace.

“I knew there were more artists out there than were submitting applications to us,” Lehr said. “So I thought, why wait? There’s nothing wrong with asking artists I know to have strong work to show it here.”

McClellan’s work is as much an anthropological study as it is portrait/still life. For the past four to five years, she has asked friends and family if she could photograph their bedrooms in their natural, un-neatened state.

“A lot of this is about how we leave things behind in spaces that we occupy that end up being portraits of who we are,” Lehr said of McClellan’s work.

“Andrew’s work is of a son who’s autistic. The images in the small gallery are of the still lifes that they construct together.”

Lopez’s son creates patterns, building spaces imbued with mystique and imagination, and Lopez then acts as a co-creator of the resulting conceptions.

The images reveal how Sebastian’s interests center around organization, pattern and color, as though finding similarities of structure gives meaning to his play, making him feel better, Lehr noted. The result is a beautiful combination of portraiture and still life.

“Andrew’s been working on this since Sebastian was 4,” Lehr said. “Now he’s 10. It’s another take on how we occupy space and how it becomes portraiture.”

In some instances, McClellan said her forays into others’ bedrooms were as much archaeological digs as they were portraiture or anthropology.

Gesturing like a swimmer doing breast strokes in a pool, she recalled: “In some cases, I had to wade through stuff piled up several inches on the floor or weave through these tiny paths between piles.

“This one house that I had gone to, they were like that because there were children, but they didn’t think about it being that way. They were very open about it and happy to let me photograph their space.”

Pointing to a grid of smaller photographs on a wall, she noted that none of them had “uncluttered floors, except maybe this little guy here,” she singled out one image.

“This teenage girl had turned her room into a painting studio,” she indicated a photograph of a room with a circle cleared out where paint had left marks on the carpet.

Her subjects may be relieved to know that none of the images identifies the room’s occupant by name, only by age and gender. And that’s good because, as it turns out, looking at someone’s bedroom can be as revealing as looking at his or her personal diary.

Take, for instance, the bedroom of a high-school-age guy whose wardrobe consists almost entirely of items in camouflage material, except for the lone stuffed bunny on the night table.

Or what about the bedroom containing sculptures, paintings and even large embossed medallions of majestic lions?

“That bedroom belongs to a 24-year-old male who grew up very poor in a very difficult family situation and moved around a lot and never had a decent home. When he graduated, he got a good job and bought a condo where everything is just over the top,” McClellan said.

There’s a bedroom scrunched into a tiny loft space belonging to a 31-year-old male graphic designer who’s also in a heavy metal band. “It’s such a tiny space I had to hang over the railing to take this photograph,” McClellan recalled.

Her favorite space seemed to be a bedroom belonging to a 7-year-old girl, who has three older brothers, all of them deep into sports.

“She just goes in here and plays by herself,” McClellan noted. “Just give her a scrap of cardboard and she will turn it into a board game or something for her dolls. She’s very creative.”

“These images all have stories to tell,” Lehr said, going from one large-format photograph to another. “I wanted the viewer to relate to something they’d seen before, like a bedroom, which kind of forces them to judge themselves and the people whose spaces these are.”

The photographs of both artists are beautifully composed and lit — McClellan’s characterized by an all-revealing flood of daylight brightness, and the works by Lopez dramatic, almost Renaissance in their feel with soft, glowing tones and satiny surfaces emerging from mysterious dark backgrounds.

Lehr has given the images in the main gallery plenty of breathing room and has organized the north end of the gallery as a sitting area in front of a monitor where additional McClellan images are shown in a continuous loop.

He has re-imagined the small side gallery as an area for smaller, more intimate works whose importance remains on an equal footing with the works in the main gallery. “There’ll be no more relegating works of less importance to that space,” he declared.

Dorothy Shinn writes about art and architecture for the Akron Beacon Journal. Send information to her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640 or dtgshinn@att.net.

Original Post: http://www.ohio.com/the330entertainment/exhibits/art-review-unconventional-portraiture-in-adorned-spaces-1.488532