In an enduring act of patronage that shines a light in an often economically strapped local art scene, the Forward Arts Foundation gives one Atlanta artist a twofold gift each year: $10,000 and an exhibition at the Swan Coach House Gallery.
Since 1965, the foundation has acknowledged local art with this generous double-whammy of support.
This year’s winner of the 2012-2013 Emerging Artist Award is BORN, a one-name-only former graffiti artist who has made the transition — like so many who grow tired of the limited venue opportunities of highway overpasses and derelict brick walls — from the streets to the gallery.
The work on display at Swan Coach House Gallery is refined and well-executed, if anything too much so. A little edge would have been welcome. BORN offers what feels like an extended riff on music (many of the sculptures resemble abstracted musical instruments) with his assemblages of found wood, metal and objects. He calls his show “Wabi Sabi,” after the Japanese term for a state of flawed beauty. Though BORN has left the streets, a remnant remains in work that takes discarded, time-weathered materials — flawed materials — and transforms them into elegant artworks.
There are obvious evocations of musical instruments in “Wabi Sabi” like “Instrument,” an assemblage of wood and metal formed into an imagined instrument with a long neck and wide rounded base suggesting a mandolin or the teardrop-shaped Asian biwa. With its time-worn patina the object looks like some relic of a vanished culture. And then there are more abstracted sculptures like “KV62,” whose elongated wooden shape also evokes an instrument of some kind, with its rows of painted lines suggesting the keys of a piano or accordion.
But BORN achieves a sublime marriage of form and substance in his exceedingly lovely “Terminus,” which assumedly takes its title from Atlanta’s first name. With its buildinglike shape, its sharp corners and lines suggest the postmodern architecture that defines downtown. One corner of the sculpture connects in an armature of thin wooden pieces, a kind of lattice through which rows of colored wire can be seen. The piece beautifully summons up the idea of “city” in a singular form.
One piece by each of the Emerging Artist Award finalists — S. Andre Keichian, Kevin Byrd, Romy Maloon and John-Paul Floyd (who each receive a $2,000 award) — gives a very limited, teasing sense of their work. All of the finalists’ works show promise, though none of them astound.
Maloon’s “Wild Dogs Stumble upon the Ladies of the Flies” may be the most memorable showing in that group, a sculptural work that at first glance resembles Georgia artist Mary Engel’s decorative dog sculptures, which she embellishes with mosaics, toys, buttons and other objects. But there is darkness beneath the surface of Maloon’s white fake-flower festooned dogs gathering around a fallen limb. Red-tinted flowers amid the white ones suggest the dogs are feasting on fresh kill and a similar ruby-red-dripping pole nearby suggests a severed head mounted on a staff. Not everything gels in this work, but it is promising stuff from an artist who has worked as an event designer by day and applies the frou frou materials to provocative ends in her art.
“Wabi Sabi: New Works by BORN”
Through June 1, 2013. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays. Free. Swan Coach House Gallery, 3130 Slaton Drive NW, Atlanta. 404-266-2636, www.swancoachhouse.com.
Bottom line: Emerging Artist Award winner BORN offers refined, promising new sculptural work using salvaged materials, with four award finalists offering tentative, occasionally thought-provoking individual pieces.