Friday, June 23, 2017

Serrah Russell collages at Feast Art Center

The evening and the evening out

by Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, June 22, 2017

“There's blood in the water but the world could change its heart,” collage by Serrah Russell, courtesy Feast Art Center
Discovering the work of Serrah Russell, first through Feast Art Center and then through the Internet, was a pleasure for which I am grateful. Russell is a Seattle photographer, video artist and sculptor.

As a way of not allowing shock, sadness, anger, fear or confusion from trapping her in a standstill after the 2016 election, she challenged herself to make a new collage every day for 100 days. Selected works from those 100 days comprise her current show at Feast Art Center. Using works from other photographers, she cut, tore and reassembled photographs from magazines into artworks that (I am paraphrasing) brought art from the past into the present to look toward the future.

“I strived to see my source material better, to look within the photos that had been captured by someone else, years prior, and see them for what they were and what they could become. I then sought to transfer that act of empathy to the events transpiring around me,” Russell explains.

“What has been built can still be torn down,” collage by Serrah Russell, courtesy Feast Art Center
There are 58 collages in the show, all the same size, 16-by-30 inches, arranged in two stacked rows along the gallery walls. They carry enigmatic titles that in many instances refer to hope emerging from horrible or depressing  situations.

In each collage, cut-out snippets from magazine photos are put together in asymmetrical compositions on white backgrounds. Many of the photo-collages are either black and white or an intriguing combination of black-and-white and color images.

Many of the images are foreboding or mysterious. Bodies, faces, parts of bodies are combined with partial images of interior or exterior scenes. They are cut into odd geometric shapes with sharp edges. Compositionally the separate images within each collage harmonize and contrast with each other in startling ways. Within each there are disparate images that despite their odd combinations go together because, as a typical example, there is a shape or color in one that leads the eye into the other.

A few examples:

In “There's blood in the water but the world could change its heart,” we see a woman in a pink satin gown, one limp-wristed hand pointing to an arm that hangs down. Beneath and behind this angularly cut section is a picture of rippling water washed with the same pink tone, and in the water there is a reflection of something indefinable that looks like blood pouring from the cut-off arm. The enigma that makes this image so mesmerizing is the combination of colors associated with femininity and love, the hopeful title and the blood in the water.

“The land in protest” pictures a naked woman seen from just below her breast to part of her face. She is holding a candle. It is a color photo in warm tones of yellow. The other two sections, gray tones, depict a stormy sky and a straight, pleated skirt in the dark of night. As in most of these collages, contrasting images are united where parts of one image line up almost perfectly with parts of another, in this case the woman’s torso with the pleated skirt below.

“What has been built can still be torn down” depicts the opposite of the hopeful message from “There’s blood in the water …” The message here is that what has been built is wrong, destructive, but can be torn down. It shows a black man’s fist in a power salute. Around this are soft gray images of clouds and ground cut at odd angles that match the angle of the man’s arm.

It can easily take an hour or longer to study each of these collages and suss out the meaning and appreciate the artistry of Russell’s compositions. It is worth that careful study.

Serrah Russell: The evening and the evening out, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, and by appointment, through July 9, reception June 24, 6-9 p.m., Feast Arts Center, 1402 S. 11th St., Tacoma, 

1 comment:

Serrah Russell said...

Thank you for this, Alec! I really appreciate your thoughtful view of the work.