Able to Make Just So Much

“These are my ideas.bridging-pattern_mercury-article

1. Putting Angela and Nina in a horror house.

2. Have them scream and run.”

So begins the inside cover of a comic-book-in-progress by Natasha Colon, who makes art about thrice weekly at Studio 57, the artisanal arm of Middletown nonprofit Looking Upwards. Colon’s a prolific writer and portraitist. Her take on Marilyn Monroe grins against a void black background, the colors compellingly smooth: cadmium yellow hair, blobby blue eyes, teeth and earrings of undiluted titanium white.

Alongside portraits, spooky stuff (like zombie babies, Cerberus, frankengirls, werewolves or even a rotting corpse) is Colon’s preferred subject matter in both text and image. Appropriately, she contributes a slippery, moody rendition of Vincent Price to an upcoming exhibit that unifies Rhode Island’s numerous disability service organizations. In “Bridging Patterns,” opening Friday, Jan. 20, at Jamestown Arts Center, artists with disabilities from Bridges Inc., Looking Upwards, Flying Shuttles, RHD-RI and Top Drawer congregate in the gallery.

It’s not the first time they’ve shared wall space: RHD-RI has run an Outsider Art Fair at its Pawtucket location since 2015, with last September’s iteration initially joining these organizations together. Many of these artists have also shown at Providence’s Inner Space Gallery, an outsider art venue that opened last year.

Casey Weibust, art coordinator for Bridges’ Out-of-the-Box Art Studio, discovered these kindred clans through the Outsider Art Fair: “I figured, why not collaborate with all these organizations?” Weibust is also print studio director at JAC and thought the center would be a fitting showcase for these artists, whose thoughts and creations are often pushed to the periphery.

The camaraderie here is correspondingly excited, with collaboration bounding beyond shared space. Artists from all five organizations have painted torsos, heads, arms, legs, shoulders and hips as part of a site-specific installation — an exquisite corpse. This artistic parlor game requires an artwork be constructed piecemeal, with each participant hiding their efforts until the final specimen is composited. Exhibiting artists worked on their pieces separately and composed the frankenstein physiques on-site at JAC. The result, says RHD-RI art director Nate Carroll, is a lush illustration of a “spirit of collaboration, of working together towards a common goal.” As the exhibit’s title suggests, the participating studios have also produced patterned work.

Inner jouissance and idiosyncrasy ostensibly motivate this art — but the notion that artists with disabilities labor purely in humility and quietude is wrong. Most artists want their work to be seen. Nonprofits help expand the creation of and audience for this art, providing not only studio space, time and supplies, but opportunities for public exhibition. Jamestown’s Out-of-the-Box regularly participates in art fairs, and a grant received in December increased its capabilities. Top Drawer maintains a gallery and shop in Warren. RHD-RI orchestrated another art bazaar in December, while Pawtucket’s Flying Shuttles previously exhibited at JAC in 2015.

 

Alexander Castro, Newport Mercury
Tuesday, January 17, 2017

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