the handshake

by erin thursby
The Art Institute tends to focus on what you might call hard-nosed art, or income art. It gives artists or those with artistic inclinations the sort of training they would need to get a job that might actually earn them a steady income.
Gallery curator is a job, yes, but there aren’t enough positions out there for them to justify having an entire curriculum focused on it. Still, they do use putting on a gallery show as a tool for learning.
The Gallery Group at the Art Institute of Jacksonville is a focus group of graphic design and interactive media students responsible for curating, installing and advertising two exhibitions each school year. Students develop a concept, research artists and curate each exhibition with the intention of further defining the relationship between “fine art” and design.
They’re putting on their very first show starting January 30 running through February 20th. Called The Handshake, the exhibition features work from two artists who are also musicians and tattooists, Jason Boyer (Richmond, VA) and Robert Ryan (Asbury Park, NJ). Tattoo artists have recently gained some respect as artists in the gallery community for their work outside the skin medium. While some of the clean lines and precision of the pieces might owe something to tattoo flash art, both of the featured artists have taken their medium far beyond that.
Ryan’s work seems to mine imagery from every possible mythology, finding crossroads where they all meet. His style is pulled from 13th century tapestries, alchemical tomes and the often irreverent doodles and paganism you might find in the margins of a supposedly Christian illuminated manuscript. And there’s something so gypsy in his mix bright colors, appropriate somehow because he’s using the colors to bring together so many different mythologies.
Boyer’s images are a little more about personal mythology. They’re dark and strange and you might find yourself looking at his work a little longer, trying to parse the meaning together. Chaotic connectivity runs through his work. While Ryan borrows from various mythologies to make his own, Boyer’s seems to come from a stranger, less manic place, with his own fully grown mythos. There’s more deep loss in Boyer’s work, whereas Ryan’s work contains a fierce joy even in the darkest of his momento mori imagery. Looking at Boyer’s stuff isn’t always pleasant (the best art isn’t), but there’s more of an emotional response when you look at his work.
According to the program, in an intro penned by Barrett Fiser, The Handshake exhibit is an introduction, the work of two meeting for the first time. Jason Boyer and Robert Ryan were, until now, strangers. The work on the wall is a visible manifestation of an introduction, an agreement, and perhaps, an obscure association.”
Local artist Tonya Lee is the faculty advisor for the Gallery Group. She started the group because students wanted to be involved outside the classroom. Besides bringing in art the students wouldn’t ordinarily get to see, she sees it as opportunity for the students to hone the design skills and concepts they learn in the classroom. The shows will be, says Lee, “A real-world reinforcement of the concepts they study.”
Graphic artists get to lay out the program and students can look at the sort of grunt work that goes on behind the scenes. “The Handshake show will be a useful tool in the illustration, design and drawing courses that are taught at AiJax. We are also planning on conducting lectures about the use of symbols in art and design history for the students. These lectures will tie into the concepts that they learn in ‘Conceptual Imagery’, ‘Design Symbolism’ and ‘The History of Western Art’.”
Sonia Diaz, one of the students involved in setting up the show, has learned plenty about the world of art exhibition. She’s a graphic artist who says she “first joined [the group] because I wanted to learn about a different type of art.” Not only did she learn about gallery art, she learned about the nuts and bolts behind it, filling out forms, making sure the artist’s works are insured for transport, speaking to the public and handling interviews.
The largest lesson was in communication skills. She had to communicate with the artists and communicate their feelings to the group and she’s had to communicate to get things done so they could work as a group. “There’s a lot more to it than I thought to put it all together,” says Diaz.
You can see The Handshake at the Art Institute’s gallery at 8775 Baypine Rd. through February 20th.