The art movement of surrealism was born from revolutionary and consciousness-transforming roots just after the First World War.
Although it no longer has the counterculture, anti-colonialist sayings it once espoused, Surrealism retains its intent to provoke deeper meaning and reflection through a twist or even a sideways take on how the world appears or seems to appear.
“Surreal by Nature,” on view through February 12 at Akron Soul Train Gallery, features the work of northeast Ohio artists Jonah Jacobs and Maria Uhase. This is a thought-provoking exhibition that highlights the work of two artists who “dive deep” into their subjects and materials in ways that inform how their work is done and what the work communicates.
Both artists explore the natural world, but they do so in very different ways. Maria Uhase, a 2019 graduate of the University of Akron based in Wadsworth, paints in a hyper-realistic style and focuses on developing surreal relationships between animals and plants. Uhase’s paintings are familiar, beautiful, serene and even somewhat frightening.
For the works in this exhibition, Uhase experimented with the collaboration between human creativity and artificial intelligence using a neural network program to help generate new concepts. For the exhibition, she entered text into the program, which generated additional text about the paintings she was creating.
The text and the paintings relate but are not direct interpretations of each other, which is thought-provoking and a bit disarming. The way the artist depicts the animals she depicts is also thought-provoking. Extra eyes or open wounds over which vegetation often grows are repeated elements in almost all of his works in the show.
“They Rule the Kingdom They Built” is an oil and acrylic on canvas depicting three white rat-like creatures sitting on a clump of branches. The four-eyed rats all have long tails that seem to be tied together. Small flowers grow from holes or wounds in rats. The text that was generated with this work is more like a story and that adds to the impact. It forces you to contemplate the visual art and the text.
“Premonition of a Repetition” is also an oil and acrylic on canvas that features two birds entwined around a tree branch that has ant-like insects crawling through mud-filled tubes and transforming into winged insects. A vine-like plant grows from a wound on the chest of one of the birds and has wrapped around the other bird. Both birds seem to be about to fly away or maybe try to catch some of the insects. It’s a beautiful painting that has the look and feel of a nature study if it weren’t for the subtle touches that move it in a completely different direction.
Jonah Jacobs is a self-taught artist from Cleveland. He uses unconventional materials including oatmeal, plaster, sand, wire, gravel and dryer sheets which he layers on cardboard which he burns and shapes into organic shapes. These sculptures are then soaked and sprayed with dyes. Jacob’s work is influenced by knots and microscopic structures found in nature.
“Internode #1” is one of Jacobs’ largest works on display and is made of fire-sculpted cardboard, dye, paint, oatmeal, cotton swabs and glitter. It is a large oval-shaped work that hangs on the wall and is longer from top to bottom than side to side.
Crispy, organic, coralline or even possibly volcanic shapes make up this sculpture which expands in the center of a yellow and orange which then changes to red and then brown as you work towards the outer edge of the sculpture.
The rough texture of this piece, created in part by the combination of oatmeal and cardboard, and the bright, vibrant colors used to paint it, help create a presence of something that took a long time to form. .
Surrealism now has a history of over 100 years. It morphed from its more political roots and became more like what Sigmund Freud described as “something that feels both familiar and strange”.
“Surreal by Nature” certainly fits that apt description.
Contact Anderson Turner at [email protected]
Exposure: “Surreal by nature”
Place: Akron Soul Train Gallery, 191 S. Main St., Akron
Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday until February 12
More information: 330-573-0517 or https://www.akronsoultrain.org/