Melissa Furness: Oddments

In the Project Space: Ashley Eliza Williams: Communication Attempts

K Contemporary

September 7 - 28, 2019

  • Opening Reception: Saturday, September 7, 6-9 pm
CaputMortumMelissaFurnessCaput Mortum - Melissa Furness

Nucleus Communication Attempt AshleyWilliams
Nucleus Communication Attempt - Ashley E. Williams

In her newest body of work, Melissa Furness depicts compilations of objects commonly used within the history of painting as a critique of the traditional Western canon of art. Furness extracts common elements from their original sources and recontextualizes them as a collected pile, like rubbish, to visually discard as cliché rather than to individually revere.
 
Ashley Eliza Williams’ paintings shift between representation and abstraction, zooming in and out of extreme focus. She is interested in what she calls “enclosed environments” or “shy ecosystems” — landscapes that exist within a contained area, often on or within a single object like a rock or cloud. These landscapes are painted with extreme detail and isolated in space. The scale is often ambiguous.

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Her subject matter here depicts collections of items that were repeated motifs of their day, representing ideals of opulence, beauty and knowledge. In Furness’ opinion, “This canon reflects a bias in favor of art by those who have occupied the most socially, politically, and economically powerful positions in culture”.

Looking to art history, Furness explores the writing of Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Artists (1550), in which he compiled biographies of the Italian artists and architects whom he regarded as the “most eminent”, leading him to be regarded as the father of art history. In this work, Vasari intended “to distinguish the better from the good, and the best from the better, the most distinguished from the less prominent qualities”. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the canon of Italian Renaissance artists Vasari established in his book endures as the standard to this day. Furness questions, “But does it? A canon lays claim to permanence, as it is thought to be valid independent of time and place. In producing these works as ruins, I seek to question this history. I look to place these so-called distinguishing traits of better, good, and best on an equal and lesser level as simply a pile of stuff that is no different than a pile of trash to be discarded.”

In her work, Melissa utilizes the structure of the ruin to present ideas regarding history and a questioning of the past as it moves into the future. In this exhibition, she chose to work with the dolmen as a structure of referent. The dolmen is an ancient monument that can be found all around the world and which is somewhat unknown in terms of its use and significance, and yet dolmens have survived thousands of years. They are sometimes seen as portals, passage grave sites or places where ritual took place, with piles of bones or other objects found buried beneath them. The artist shares, “By utilizing this idea of the ruin, I point to the death of this Western canon of art (and give a small nod to the many deaths of painting declared throughout history). I extract these so-called objects of beauty and opulence as defined by this canon and put them in piles to put into question their significance in the world as we know it today. They become nothing more than a pile of clichés or stereotypes upon which other cultures are unfairly ranked.”

These piles come together on a gradient backdrop reminiscent of the media screen, freezing the pile in action in the manner of a graphic novel. This adds to the equalizing force of the “pile of stuff”, transforming the revered thing into something of a cartoon, a stylized popular image on the level of an item purchased, thumbed through and discarded just as easily as a comic book or advertisement.

“My work has consistently been about public and private histories.” In this exhibition, the paintings are displayed as structural objects, and are grouped in three or more stretched canvases as a ruin (the dolmen or stone table)—a public structure. The pile of objects from art history—a public dialogue—within each of the works that comprise a structure, suggests a thematic or narrative relationship between the component parts that hold layered meanings of personal significance as an internal narrative for the viewer to take away.

Melissa Furness received her MFA in Painting and Drawing from the University of Iowa with minors in both sculpture and printmaking. Her work has been most influenced by her experiences of travel, which have included artist’s residencies in Beijing, China; Mexico City; County Kilkenny, Ireland; Gdansk, Poland; and Balatonfured, Hungary, as well as those in the U.S. at Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California and the Corporation of Yaddo in upstate New York. These experiences have led her on numerous creative adventures, some of which can be read about in the artist’s blog, titled “translocalities”. Furness’ current strain of work in painting and installation is influenced by history and infused with personal narrative.

Furness regularly exhibits her work both nationally and internationally, with international group exhibitions and open studios in Beijing, Mexico City, Budapest, Swansea, Florence, Lecce, Zurich, Korea, Cape Town, Palestine and Sarajevo, amongst others. She was selected to participate in the 2015 Biennial of the Americas, through which she resided in Mexico City for 10 weeks as an art ambassador and has additionally participated in 2016 Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Karala, India through A.I.R. Gallery of New York.

The artist is an alumnus of A.I.R. Gallery, as well as a current member of the Artnauts Collective, both of which use the visual arts as a tool for addressing global issues. Her work was recently published in New American Paintings edition #132 through the Open Studios Press. Furness is currently an Associate Professor of Art Practices at the University of Colorado Denver and Associate Chair of the Visual Arts Department.

Ashley Eliza Williams’ paintings shift between representation and abstraction, zooming in and out of extreme focus. She is interested in what she calls “enclosed environments” or “shy ecosystems” — landscapes that exist within a contained area, often on or within a single object like a rock or cloud. These landscapes are painted with extreme detail and isolated in space. The scale is often ambiguous.

Her newest work is a series of “communication attempts.” These painting-sculpture relationships grew from a fascination with non-human language, exchanges between living and non-living things, historical museum displays, and dioramas. The objects in this exhibition include sculptures of mysterious fragments, fossils, and other obscure artifacts. The paintings depict geological forms, clouds, and mists — a tactile world that is familiar and unfamiliar. Do the sculptures describe the paintings, or do they inhabit them? Are signals being exchanged? Can they be detected? This project is part of an ongoing exploration into alternative ways of interacting with nature and with each other. Williams received her BA in art history and studio art from The University of Virginia in 2009 and her MFA from The University of Colorado in 2013. She has attended artist residencies in the United States, Europe, and Asia. She teaches at The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and lives in North Adams, Massachusetts.