Featured photo: “Goodnight Sweetheart,” by Scott Wolf.
It rained. In June. My notebook got soggy, and I had to stuff my camera under my shirt. OK, just had to get that out of the way, because we longtime Phoenicians get excited about rain. In June.
On to the art: There is a show inside Bokeh Gallery at monOrchid that I wish everyone could see in this post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan age of acknowledging our veterans, but perhaps not fully acknowledging their pain. “Stories of Their Sacrifices: PTSD” features the photography of Christopher “Boats” Oshana and Scott Johnson — Oshana with close-up color portraits of veterans bearing mental and emotional — if not physical — scars, and Johnson with heartwarming black-and-white portraits of veterans bonding with service dogs from the “Soldier’s Best Friend” project.
Curator Nicole Royse posted on Instagram that Mayor Greg Stanton attended the First Friday opening, which is a laudable follow-up to the mayor’s nationally recognized efforts to help Phoenix’s homeless veterans.
Moved by the rawness and impact of Oshana’s portraits, I really had to know, “How in the heck did you get those shots?” and his answers were moving as well.
Oshana, who served in the Navy for 20 years and retired in 2004, said he networks through friends, vets organizations and social media to find soldiers who will realize that these will be portraits of a different kind, and that the resulting images might emerge from long conversations about their time of service. “When they talk, I shoot,” Oshana says, adding that he’s always mindful that not every story can be shared, or should be shared. Yet, tears are often shed, and many veterans later tell Oshana that the photo session was therapeutic. Two of the most difficult stories that resulted in heart-wrenching photos: how a medic couldn’t save a friend during a land-mine explosion, and how a female soldier has had to come to terms with the sexual assault that she endured. “All the photos (shot at monOrchid’s studio) are straight out of the camera — all I do is color-correct and sharpen them,” Oshana said.
Next door in monOrchid‘s main gallery, local painter Scott Wolf injected some twisted humor into my evening: his stencils on wood panel are part of a show called “Layers,” with Wolf sharing space with another local artist, DadSocks, who also explores the potential of stenciling.
Wolf says he draws inspiration from mid-20th century pulp fiction, comic books and retro popular culture. His funny images of idealized family life, rendered in bright monochrome colors and line drawings, are juxtaposed with hints of violence and menace — which made me laugh and feel creeped out at the same time. An example is “Intermission,” where a car rushing to a good spot at the drive-in has evidently run someone over — although all you see is a leg missing its shoe, under a tire, and a police officer, while something called “Color Orgy” plays on the big screen. Another example is the vignette of an attractive woman kissing a man who’s rolling up his sleeve to reveal that one of his arms is actually a long snake.
Another popular stop during June’s First Friday circus … oops, meant to type “circuit” … was the Eddie Shea/Denise Yaghmourian show at Modified Arts, where these two outstanding Phoenix artists are having concurrent solo shows. Good to see the gallery so full. Shea’s dreamlike, oversized paintings combine wonderfully with Yaghmourian’s feather armatures and small, boxed studies of bones and thread. My review is slated for the July/August issue of Art Ltd. magazine.
I’m glad I walked to the Olney Gallery at Trinity Cathedral (thank you to the guys who let me share their umbrella as I waited for the “walk” sign at First Avenue), where Halldor Hjalmarson is showing ceramics that imagine various desert and ocean creatures being served up in a cast-iron pan. I also loved the “Get Well” series of bowls, where the ceramist incorporated Morse Code for the word “heal” by indenting the rims of the bowls with dots and dashes.
A few thoughts on the big news of last week in the Phoenix visual arts community: Bentley Gallery is reducing the 14,000-square-foot lower-downtown warehouse space it uses for its always top-notch exhibitions of paintings, sculptures and installations to less than half that size. The change will take place over the summer. OK, I get it — collectors often prefer to visit online “spaces” rather than physical art spaces, and the gallery doesn’t get much walk-in traffic. Still, I will miss the tranquility and museum-like quality of the space, which often made a visit to Bentley the highlight of my afternoon over the past couple of years. So I would ask this of the gallery: Please don’t “stuff” art into the redesigned space, and if you continue to have daytime-only public hours, please find ways to draw in art lovers of all ages. Share your longtime perspicacity about all things contemporary art — we really need more Bentleys (and Settes!). Evening or weekend lectures? Appearances outside the gallery? Sponsored shows at venues showing emerging artists? And please continue to show Arizona artists, as you did recently with “Minimally Speaking.” Looking forward to seeing the changes.