This past Saturday, contemporary art gallery Ro2 Art hosted a reception for artists Jeanne C. Neal and Kai Peter Martin. The gallery, which was founded nine years ago by Susan Roth Romans and son Jordan Roth, has been at its present Cedars neighborhood corner location for the last three years, where it occupies a period house built in 1930.
The Cedars is becoming a new art hub in Dallas, and Ro2 has served as a strong catalyst for a cultural change.
Neal’s pieces were laid out in the front room, a luminous space where people circulated among the sculptures and paintings in a sort of dialogue with the art. The images reflected the theme of the solo show, Seriously Silly.
Neal pairs the serious with the casual and the non-objective next to the figurative in an imperfectly imbalanced juxtaposition. There is constant interaction happening in Neal’s art: bright colors contrasting with dark hues, depicting the playful, the serious, the silly and the somber.
But what does "silly" mean for Jeanne C. Neal? It means light-hearted as opposed to stupid. It means finding a certain “balance between the silly and the serious in our lives,” she tells the Observer. Being less burdened by the weighty things.
Some of her pieces are more figurative than others. High-energy, colorful areas contrasted with dark shapes. Her images are interpreted depending on the viewer's perspective. Where one person may see a queenly figure surrounded by flying bees, for example, somebody else may see a religious figure surrounded by angels. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
“The experimental nature of the creative process” is what makes Neal happy, she says. “I find the creation process fulfilling and satisfying.”
Neal gets inspiration from the materials she’s working with, and the basis for the Seriously Silly show was a fortune cookie. “Every piece in the show is based on finding the silly in the serious. It could be a color combination or something in nature.”
Neal, a Dallas native, says she works fast, and it shows. The items in the exhibition were all made this year.
Martin, on the other hand, gets his long-term inspiration “from relationships, from the exterior world, from what’s beyond our internal consciousness.” The New Orleans resident was inspired for his showing, A Wilderness Inside, by the internal space first, and the exterior world second.
His pieces are textured and have thick, rough edges. Some paintings are like windows into rooms or private spaces. But others are framed images that function as windows that look out onto nature with some human intervention, like a ship or a flagpole. There’s an oneiric, whimsical quality to the painter's imagery as well.
Martin works with paper pulp plaster applied to canvas, which makes for a rough texture.
Martin's work is about “being able to manipulate imagery” by painting, drawing, sculpting, cutting the paper pulp plaster into shapes and images.
“I realized the sculptural possibilities of this material. Very resilient and flexible,” Martin says.
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The end result is a cross between a sculpture and a painting, works cleverly placed in an enclosed space that replicates the theme of his show: inner spaces. What happens when we are confined inside, removed from the world outside. The motifs vary from hill shapes, trees, tangled shapes, memories, fantasies.
In his art, Martin explores the way we navigate the physical space and plays with the concepts of place, home, the outside world and its effect on human beings.
Both shows are on view until Aug. 3 at Ro2 Art, 1501 S. Ervay St. (The Cedars).