Once-upon-a-time painter-turned-fabric artist, Clay Lohmann’s work deploys a singularly beautiful brutality. It’s both unabashedly assertive and delicate. These traits are intrinsic to the materials he wields and the way in which he wields them, but as a side thought, it also seems less than accidental that they’re also primary aspects of the human condition. Wonderfully storied textiles imbued with history and experience, Lohmann’s art is here to do something. This exhibition, however, is a different animal altogether. Unusually political for Lohmann, Us is a much-needed kick in the teeth.
I stopped in at CEI Artworks last Thursday afternoon a couple of hours before the art walk, somewhat instantly realizing that I was less there to see something than to be a part of it. The two main walls and a third wall fabricated from the artwork itself are covered floor to ceiling with known, unknown, and often completely obscured figures. Some images are painted, some appropriated (at times glitched or crudely blown up), and the entirety of the collection is subjected to gun target paraphernalia, often abstracted, often peppered with evidence of violence. Though heavily relying on the power of repetition to form a greater whole, each figure is embalmed in the sovereignty of their own panel; each the subject of their own individual stories of gun violence, or rather, the potentiality, or maybe even the inevitability of it.
Usually anonymity lends itself to a disintegration of the individual, but I found the effect here to be quite different, even lending itself to a strange, almost automatic familiarity. The starkest images, silhouettes that line the main wall, feel simultaneously like everyone and someone.
Later that evening, when the Arts Walk opening was in full swing, someone speaking with Lohmann asked the unavoidable “So, tell me about this?” question, to which Lohmann responded: “This is us.” The overly simplified artists’ answer is an age-old cliché, but in this case it was simply a surgical truth—one that is incredibly easy to access in the work itself. Us is a staggeringly gorgeous collection of work, but it is also conceptually horrifying. It’s not hard to see yourself in it, or empathize with that duality. There’s a primal sense-making to it.
All in all, I spent a few hours with the work, and stand convinced that this is the only way to take this exhibition in. There are a lot of hidden things to find, both in the work itself and within yourself as you relate to it. As Lohmann told me during a brief conversation: if you’re part of a public gathering in this country, you are a target. That is our cultural reality, yet many of us are disproportionately subjected to it through denial or whatever else. Us boldly calls for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment on the frontline of its statement, and through that I believe takes a shot, so to speak, at that denial. While it may seem easy to criticize his stance by arguing for a blunted sense of personal freedom, I challenge you to park yourself in the CEI Artworks gallery for an afternoon and reconsider what that paradigm looks like.
Us runs at CEI Artworks until October 15. Gallery hours are 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. You can check out more of Clay Lohmann’s work by visiting http://guysew.com.
By Johnny Beaver