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Indepth Arts News:

"R E A D: A New Series of Paintings by Duston Spear"
2005-10-27 until 2005-12-27
Sara Tecchia Roma New York
New York, NY, USA United States of America

Opening October 27th, 2005, Sara Tecchia Roma New York is pleased to present R E A D, a new series of paintings by Duston Spear. Continuing her ongoing exploration of word-image conjunctions creating visual poetry, the new exhibition uses the war poems of Stephen Crane (1871-1900), best known for Red Badge of Courage, as a sounding board for new work. Rendering the poet's words in scrawled lines and conjoining them with emblematic images, she then vandalized her own paintings by going back into the piece with a graffiti artist's intention—a way of reiterating the message, as a warning, to the viewer.

Spear explains: “I took up a relationship with Crane’s text, what critic Deborah Frizzell called ‘ventriloquizing his lines in word-image conjunctions.’[1] Crane has this black and white take on war—so sarcastic and haunting—‘these men were born to drill and die’—and the way he could lullaby a warning-like, ‘Do not weep maiden, war is kind…’

“I coupled Crane’s words with my inability to turn off NPR in the studio. Even if the static made the words incomprehensible, I could tell by the calmness of the speaker’s voice that nothing bad had happened. I put that static into visual form on my paintings by burying certain words of Crane’s anti-war poems, covering them with thick oil paint. I’d written them in tar so they had a way of creeping back through—it was a good fight. Those paintings were originally shown two years ago, and I liked the way folks were looking at them and reading them even though they couldn’t really read the words.”

Last March, during a residency at the American Academy in Rome, Spear became inspired by the unexpected proliferation of graffiti. She incorporated the techniques of these 'writers' to hit her canvases with words and stencils—new symbols of surveillance and secrecy. Graffiti serving as both an act of vandalism and as an international message board for those that can read the codes.

“All of the graffiti—inescapable,” notes Spear. “And this is Rome, parlor room to the world! On returning, I showed the photos of my trip to Passion, an inmate at the upstate New York prison where I teach in the college program. Reading the graffiti, she remarked, “Hey, I didn’t know that the Bloods were in Italy!” And then I finally understood why the State does not exhibit prisoner’s artwork; they’re worried that gang messages will be hidden in the picture. Art can be dangerous! That’s a great thought. I like that. But I’m not a street writer, not in a gang, so I take my messages from Crane’s cues. My big canvases become walls and I take a piece of them like a writer and I say, hey, this many years later, ‘We Patriots Slave’, and it’s not a tag but a bold loud comment. And I write ‘War Night’ because that’s how in the dark this all feels.”

The title of this comprehensive show of twelve paintings and works on paper—R E A D—works as a verb in the present and past tense and as a color or a political affiliation when spoken. Spear directs her viewers to encounter history in the present—the feeling is one of beauty in the cause of urgency.

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