Just a word or two (thousand) to urge you to see the collages of James Lee Van Horn and Riley Kemerling at Relax, It’s Just Coffee!
Over the last two years I’ve kept tabs on the progress of James Lee Van Horn’s massive collage project, titled “B’reshith.”
The collage began with the Milky Way chocolate bar advertisement in the lower left corner. In the advertisement, the bar is broken and the caramel center stretches enticingly between the halves. Behind the stretching caramel, James inserted the image of a woman parting the stream of caramel, revealing a deeper orb of light. He was smart to begin with a reference to the Milky Way, because he was indeed setting off to create a virtual universe of images, whose complex (absurd, poetic, accidental) referentiality open and sustain a kind of internal ‘space’. B’reshith is 8ft. x 4ft., but most of the images that fill the space are taken from magazines of a standard 9in. x 11in. format. Because the relatively large space within the frame dwarfs the comparatively small images (figures), there is really no dominant figure in the piece. No protagonist, or unifying subject, but a homogeneous spattering of subjects vying for our attention. If we stand back and view the piece as a whole the figures go out of focus, and we are forced to read it as a formal surface of rhythms, colors, and lines. It’s only when we approach the piece, taking it in section by section, that we can clearly see the images and begin to tease out possible narratives. This visual limitation is important because it simulates an epistemological limitation, which I believe is central to James’ worldview and which can be summed up by Bucky Fuller’s maxim, “The world is non-simultaneously apprehended.”
B’reshith has gone through many stages since then, and it’s great to finally see it in its ‘finished’ state. The beauty of James’ approach to Work is that he rolls with whatever happens. I don’t mean to say that he doesn’t have certain intentions when he begins his work. He does, and those intentions continue to shape it throughout the process, but he isn’t afraid to lose control. Example: In one of B’reshith’s later stages it was vandalized pretty heavily with graffiti. This might lead others to abandon the project, but I swear to god when he told me about it he was giddy as a school girl. He loves the accidental. He welcomes the Other. His starting place is the external. He curates fragments of others, appropriates, adds to, removes from, referees the most disparate aspects of our culture. I see him more as a caretaker of these small public spaces than an author. His work is a disorienting blend of gaudy found materials, the most banal pop-cultural references, and references to esoteric wisdom traditions. Though his work begins from the outside, it’s clear the work is praxis for internal change (psycho-spiritual): for James in the creation, for us in the reading. I’ll leave you to the reading.
The collaboration between James and Riley Kemerling started when James gave her the collage scraps left over from B’reshith. From these scraps she made two collages (Fig. A and Fig. B).
Riley’s approach is significantly different than James’. James seems concerned with simulating the sensation of rapid change, spacial disorientation, and the anxiety we all (unconsciously) feel as inhabitants of the contemporary imagescape, something akin to what Fredric Jameson called post-modern hyperspace, where technology and information processing leave us unable to locate ourselves within space. We are smeared out, at all times, online, in television. We circle the globe in nanoseconds and are everywhere but here, quietly, now. Riley, by contrast, seems to neutralize the onslaught of images by digesting them. Whereas the images in James’ collages remain distinct because of his clean-edged style, Riley paints the collages, obscuring the edges and burying the images within the surface of the work. It’s as if she is changing and blending the appropriated images into her own Being-substance. The soft, diffused surfaces and the subject matter itself lend her work a feminine, sexy quality that James’ hard-edged, brutal compositions don’t possess.
I claimed the starting place of James’ work seems to be the joy he takes in displacing his own Self, by opening himself up to the Other. For him the work begins with the external. By contrast, I sense that Riley’s approach is more internal. Her work feels rooted in a deep, sensitive relationship to her own interior life. In James’ work, the appropriated images are never really altered. They operate much as they always have, as referents to things in the world. James offers us a sea of images to drown in, and the pleasure of viewing his work is that he simultaneously teaches us how to swim in the randomness. By contrast, because of the way Riley has manipulated these same appropriated images, they no longer seem to refer to the outside world, but to disclose something intimate about herself.
I hope I’ve given you some ideas of how to approach the work. Please, please, please go to Relax, It’s Just Coffee, grab a latte, and spend some time with their work. This is a great collaboration! Here are a few more images from the show.
Born in the thresholds of dial-up and hypertext James Lee Van Horn, aka Teenwolf, stalks the Rust Belt as a trickster and a pundit’s worst nightmare. Nourished on the teats of Maybe logic and ontological graffiti he searches for the silver bullet that will signal his PERICHORESIS.
Riley Kemerling is an Ohio born and raised artist, now studying Illustration and Drawing at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Riley uses a variety of materials in her work, such as charcoal, acrylics, oils, watercolors, graphite, and pen and ink.
Jason Kaufman is a writer and sculptor living in Mansfield, Ohio with his wife, Jenny, and son, Cormac. He is closely involved with the local art community in Mansfield, where he participates in monthly art critiques and writing workshops, poetry & prose open-mics, and writes reviews of regional art exhibitions. Jason works for The Renaissance and Main Street Books, a local independent book store.