Squeak Carnwath, Walter Robinson, and Orlando Leyba all create abstract works of art that employ highly personalized symbolism. Yet, each of these artists has massive appeal in the art world at large. Their works are included in such impressive collections as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Art Museum, Carnegie-Mellon University Art Collection, and San Jose Museum of Art. This exhibition at Turner Carroll will be the first time their works have been shown together, though their shared use of symbolic visual communication is undeniable.
Carnwath has become known as a quasi-philosopher of contemporary culture and society. She paints elements of mundane, everyday life, such as grocery lists or scribbled down quotations from the radio news, juxtaposed with remnants from high culture, such as the Etruscan urn or candelabra. This exhibition features multi-sensory work from her most recent body of work: the Shuffle series. Carnwath paints a playlist that includes songs that reflect the grit of our lives. From “Crazy” to “Rehab,” “Respect,” and “Take Me to the River,” these songs symbolize the longing, distress, and determination we all share. Via the accompanying ipod that hangs next to the painting and plays the playlist for the viewer as they view it, the symbolism in this painting moves us through not only our visual sense, but also our auditory sense.
Walter Robinson uses socio-political symbolism in his sculpture. His “Promise” serves as a symbol of artistic endeavors. It is a larger than life paint brush, with the brush made of human hair. The human hair brush bristles symbolize not only the highly personal nature of revealing oneself by making art, but also the sacrifice, by virtue of giving up adornment/body part for his art. In his “Pencil Box,” Robinson creates 3 foot tall colored pencils as an homage to his mother, who recently passed away. The pencils symbolize different aspects of her personality. They are each different colors, with specific words relating to her life, written on each pencil. Rather than being perfectly the same size and condition, each of these aspects is flawed in some way, as is any aspect of a human being.
Orlando Leyba’s paintings employ symbols that remind us of images from reality. They seem so familiar, yet it’s hard to put our finger on what they actually represent. Leyba’s symbols are personal and cultural. He describes his work as a “result of overlapping cultures (and) languages.” Leyba grew up in Chimayo, New Mexico, in a household that spoke one a different language at every meal of the day. Consequently, Leyba became quite interested in researching his ancestral history. He travelled throughout areas of Spanish influence, such as Morocco and Latin America; the resulting symbolism is apparent in his work. “These influences and experiences are distilled into shape, color, emotion and movement,” he explains. “At times, they are neither solid or fluid; they are ephemeral and rooted in human experiences – well intentioned, cyclical and inherently flawed.” Certain areas of his paintings remind us of Spanish tile; other areas remind us of mathematical geometry, derived from his math teacher father. Yet other areas contain fluid, serpentine, diasphoric symbolism, as in his “Vibora”. In the lower left portion of the painting, the black form is unidentifiable, yet evokes a symbol of comfort such as a cast iron tea kettle. Such nurturing, cultural symbolism is undeniably compelling to us all.