Storytellers: Living Narrative

Billy White, Jed Clampett, glazed ceramics 10 x 7 x 4", Image courtesy NIAD

Storytellers brings together works anchored in narrative from disabled artists working in progressive art studios across the country, these selections providing an expansive view of manifold and highly original approaches. The pieces featured in this exhibition provide entry points into bodies of work that construct robust narratives, representing ongoing projects and life-long dedications of twelve artists maintaining practices with the essential studio support of LAND in NYC, Hozhoni in Flagstaff, Creative Growth and NIAD in the Bay Area, First Street Gallery Art Center and ECF in Los Angeles, and Creative Vision Factory in Wilmington, Delaware.   

Much like our previous curatorial projects, this exhibition is informed by our intention to not only advocate for the continued support of these studios and the recognition of these artists as contemporary, but also to indicate the unique contributions and influence these artists have had on the contemporary art discourse and culture in general, as artists and members of our community. In this interest, we have striven to present two seemingly contradictory ideas.

Firstly, disabled artists are producing narrative work that is just as diverse in the concepts, methods, and aesthetics employed by mainstream artists. This exhibition ranges from the explicit visual storytelling of Carlo Daleo, Larry Pearsall, or William Tyler, to the more abstract explorations of Garrol Gayden, Sara Malpass, and Kenya Hanley. 

Secondly, these artists’ works originate from a unique perspective directly informed by their disability and the remarkable role that narrative plays in their daily life. Using a broad understanding of the function of narrative in visual art, even the most reductive or opaque work focused on process and materiality has a narrative element, while not explicit. What denotes mainstream artists as “insiders” is their contributions to the shared story of western culture and art history, which provides the context for their works. It’s intuitive to understand then that this common narrative is what “outsiders” are exterior to. Furthermore, it’s natural that these self-taught artists would be inclined to create narratives of their own invention to provide context in which their work may exist. Fabricating a story out of necessity or doing so in a manner detached from the shared mainstream, is essentially different from contriving one in order to interact with an existing narrative. 

Hugo Rocha, Madres Egoistas, colored pencil on paper, 24" x 18", 2015, image courtesy First Street Gallery

Considering the way that narrative art tends to interact with popular culture (a quality LAND’s artists have been noticed for), Michael Pellew’s references are diverse, but tend to focus on musicians, specifically heavy metal band members. His drawings communicate an earnest, idiosyncratic relationship with pop culture (an imagined fiction), as opposed to a reflection or commentary. Mainstream references to pop culture in the works of artists such as Eric Yahnker or Rachel Harrison are insider works due to their clever nods to art history and current politics. Although lauded as elevated commentary and critique, it is the “outsider” elements of these works, however, that is most compelling; they depend on a DIY assemblage aesthetic in the case of Harrison, and an earnest affinity for 80’s B movies and trash celebrity culture in that of Yahnker to be endearing or authentic. From this perspective, consider the Storytellers artists who employ methods to relate identity driven narratives, such as Los Angeles based artist Hugo Rocha, whose colored pencil works are drawn from screenshots of telenovelas, or Miranda Delgai whose wool weavings recall her personal history, using materials and processes rooted in memory and centuries of her family’s Navajo tradition. 

Sara Malpass, Untitled, marker on paper, 8.5" x 11", 2016, image courtesy NIAD 

Sara Malpass began compiling lists on notebook paper long before pursuing art as a career at NIAD. Her hand-written daily records, whose reductive, pragmatic language serves as a striking and often humorous personal archive, are central to her creative practice and oeuvre. Much like Malpass, many of these artists engage in inventing one's own narrative not just as an approach to art-making but to navigating everyday life, intrinsically connected to their ways of being. Ultimately these stories can function as a bridge to the viewer, creating common ground between disparate modes of thinking.

Storytellers curated by Andreana Donahue and Tim Ortiz opens March 2 , 6-8pm at LAND in Brooklyn.