We enter the two-person exhibition, Collected Spaces at Waterloo Arts, and we see that Maeve Billings and Bex Fuller, second and third-year students at the Cleveland Institute of Art, are clearly questioning that status quo. Our first impression is that there is an alarming amount of red and we have a vague flashback to the scene in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining where a river of blood splashes through red elevator doors until we are immersed in darkness. It's a short scene, maybe 20 seconds long, but it is effective in its ability to wrangle angst from the audience.
"Originally the show was going to be a solo exhibition of Bex's work," says Maeve Billings, "but I was invited to join because our work had similar themes exploring human issues and fear and they are visually complimentary paintings." In this exhibition, Billings bases her work on current social issues by abstracting images of an issue and then recreating them into her own depiction. In "Cast Away" we bear witness to the neglect of our nation's homeless population. High rise apartment buildings and the dreams of New York City living are the backdrop to tent cities in the foreground. Billings's technique is close to Impressionism with a strong dose of reality thrown in for good measure. "Crossing Borders" examines the immigrant caravan and protests that have been occurring at the southern border. The work is still abstracted, but we can see people manifesting over the wall.
Their work speaks out against the horror show that is our current state of affairs. As the partial government shutdown causes over 800,000 American workers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, scrambling to stay atop bills, "Cast Away" isn't far from reality for many.
The expiration of the Violence on Women Act during the beginning of the shutdown brings funding cuts for victims of sexual assault, stalking and domestic abuse. Bex Fuller's paintings check into the ever-present representation of violence against women in media and entertainment. "Perpetuated: Color Me Blood Red, Nicole Brown Simpson" presents a portrait of the decedent with a crime scene photo alongside a film still of a women from a horror film who has met her demise in a similar fashion; the latter is stylized and eroticized. Both paintings are difficult to look at as Fuller gives a hard examination between the glorification of brutality and exploitation. According to Fuller, "The moment of realization when one can see a difference between the two paintings is what could be the most important part of the viewing process." In "Perpetuated: Helter Skelter, Sharon Tate," Fuller uses the same technique — the paintings are awash with brown and maroon, pinks and purple hues that carry the disturbing theme.
Fuller also explores the human interior with glossy, bulbous intestines and what appear to be cross sections of vessels. The style is very similar to that of artist Katie Richards, but with a lot more coagulated blood. Still, Fuller is successful in tying in these paintings with her statement: "When internal organs are exposed, the viewer has to think about what state the organs are in, which could be diseased, decaying or dead. I hope for the viewer to have a visceral reaction and start thinking about their own body in relation to these paintings as they hint at the fragility and mortality of our bodies." Oh, we do.
Arguably, Billings and Fuller are students and still honing their medium, but the balance between the subtleties of Billings' art versus the in-your-face delivery of Fuller's paintings somehow works to their advantage. We are interested in seeing where they go with their work as it develops and matures. The dialogue is there and lack of subject matter for these two emerging artists won't be a problem. From Artemisia Gentileschi to Banksy, challenging the status quo is what artists do, after all.