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The United States of Anxiety

August 30, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 10

Bowersock Gallery Exhibits Current State of Affairs

by Steve Desroches

Carey Armstrong-Ellis, Big Mouth Big Trouble Big Money

Carey Armstrong-Ellis, Big Mouth Big Trouble Big Money

We’re living in times of high anxiety. Since Election Day 2016, and the subsequent inauguration of Donald Trump this past January, it feels as if we’re all on a merry-go-round spinning faster and faster as the unrest in the United States slams into the problems and challenges the world was already facing. It feels as if tectonic plates of politics and culture have violently slipped. Regardless of anyone’s particular political views, it’s hard to deny that this a tumultuous period in our history. Art is a powerful tool to help a society make sense out of chaos, as well as provide a reflection of ourselves to consider.

Steven Carpenter, Make America Sane Again

Steven Carpenter, Make America Sane Again

It was with all that in mind that back in April Steve Bowersock asked the artists he represents at his eponymous gallery to create a work that expressed how they were feeling about the current state of affairs, which became the name of the exhibition opening this Friday and remaining on display throughout September. Bowersock wasn’t looking for anything specific nor did he give much direction. He wanted their honest reactions. Some of his artists bristled at the idea as they said their art is where they go to escape from the world. Others relished the chance to break away from their traditional work to try something new. As each piece came in Bowersock said he was often taken by common themes the artists addressed as well as imagery in the work that comprises this sign of the times exhibition.

“I was surprised, but I was also surprised that for many it was already in their work,” says Bowersock. “There was already an anxiety in everyone’s minds, and it was there before even the election.”

Jayne Adams, Protest

Jayne Adams, Protest

Several of the pieces include some reference to nuclear war, and many came in prior to the war of atomic words between Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, illustrating what was already on the minds of the artists. Oil painter Carey Armstrong-Ellis, who paints toys and everyday objects to create a narrative, submitted Big Mouth, Big Trouble, Big Money, featuring a Barbie doll trapped by a Jabba the Hutt figurine with a sinister guidebook at his side and a mushroom cloud behind them. And Steven Carpenter created a bronze bust of a man with an anguished expression on his face about to slam his raised fists down in a work titled Make America Sane Again.

If one word were to describe the mood of the group of artists, it’s “angry,” says Bowersock. Some expressed a loss of focus and an inability to work in the weeks that followed Trump’s election, further explaining that creating art now is especially difficult as its hard to access a full range of emotions when they primarily feel tension and anger. While anger may be the unifying emotion, each artist expresses distinct points of view as Bowersock explains he also did not ask where each artist’s political allegiances lay. Everyone was welcome to participate, regardless. He was most interested in honest reactions and good work.

“How do you keep focused on your work with all that is happening around you,” says Bowersock. “I didn’t want it to be a specifically political show. I wanted the artists to direct the show.”

Julie Beck, Lydia the Lawyer

Julie Beck, Lydia the Lawyer

Now that it’s late August, Bowersock says he can look back at the summer and say with certainty that many who came through his gallery expressed their own unsolicited range of emotions about not only all that is going on in the world, but also with concern for Provincetown, a change from previous seasons. As the town welcomes people from all over the world, they bring with them their state of mind, which collectively creates a palpable energy. The summer of 2015 was filled with joy and celebration about the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, while 2016 had folks on edge following the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. This summer has a hard-to-describe mystique as certainly people are worried about the Trump administration and the resurgence of white supremacy, but also about Provincetown itself as it continues to face the associated problems brought on by gentrification, something some of the gallery’s artists have talked about, as well.

“Something’s happening here,” says Bowersock. “There’s a lot of people noticing a change. An identity crisis? The loss of community? The town is more transient than ever. Maybe that’s part of what I’m feeling? The whole town to me feels like it’s in a weird state. I can’t explain it, but you can feel it.”

Current State of Affairs is on exhibition at the Bowersock Gallery, 373 Commercial St., September 1 – 30. There will be an opening reception Friday, September 1, 7 – 9 p.m. For more information call 508.487.4994 or visit bowersockgallery.com.