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Playfully Profound

Two Lake City Exhibitions Spark Conversation Through Art

by Allyson Sutton

detail of Ryan Lytle, More Than One Can Bear, needle felting with wool, 73 x 96 x 36″

Larger-than-life stuffed animals knit with vibrant hues like magenta and turquoise. Brightly-colored paintings depicting beloved cartoon characters like Popeye. A giant wool bear. An eight foot painting of a toy pirate ship. These are some of the works that will be on display in Lake City, South Carolina this fall; the wool creatures in a show called Animalia: Needle Felted Works by Ryan Lytle, and the toy paintings in a show titled Not All Fun and Games by Rafael Barros.

And while both exhibitions are filled with some sense of childlike wonder, there’s a deeper meaning at play.

“These exhibitions are fun to a certain degree,” explains ArtFields Executive Director Jamison Kerr. “But that’s not where it ends.”

The ArtFields team has wanted to bring Barros’ work to Lake City ever since visiting his studio during a trip to Miami in 2016.

Rafael Barros, My Hero-In, acrylic on wood, 30 x 30”

“We felt strongly about his work for years, and this ended up being the right time to bring him here,” says Kerr. “Many of the issues Rafeal touches on are timely and necessary conversations.”

Originally from Colombia, Barros says he grew up in a culture where people “joke a lot” to cope with hardship and violence. His work draws upon that playful spirit and witty sense of humor to bring attention to social injustice.

Says Barros, “I’m inspired by the day-to-day, the social trouble, the world in which we live. I might hear a news story or have my own lived experience that I want to represent, and I try to use humor to represent that in my paintings.”

At first glance, his iconographic paintings look like modern depictions of our favorite childhood objects: trains, planes, Ring Pops, Lego’s, even characters from Star Wars and Toy Story. But upon closer inspection, a deeper message comes into view. The Ring Pops? Those call attention to marriage equality. Buzz Lightyear? He’s in a piece titled School Shootings.

“I want to be a fly on the wall so I can see people doing double-takes,” says Kerr. “It’s that kind of work. At first glance, you think it’s one thing, but look a bit further and his message goes far beyond a simple toy.”

Adds Barros, “If with my art, I can raise awareness and inspire someone to make a change, it’s a win-win.”

Rafael Barros, Gringo-Land, acrylic on wood, 30 x 30”

A few blocks away from Barros’ exhibition, visitors to Lake City can also catch the stunning works of Ryan Lytle, who was invited back for a solo show after winning this year’s sculpture award at ArtFields.

His winning multi-piece installation, More Than One Can Bear, was attention-grabbing not only because of its stature (it stands a staggering six feet tall and eight feet long) but because of its message: We all have a choice to act as prey or predator, and the way we choose to act affects those around us. The works he’ll display during Animalia will be similarly captivating and subtly complex.

Ryan Lytle, More Than One Can Bear, needle felting with wool, 73 x 96 x 36″

“I’m interested in the predator/prey dynamic and how these roles can overlap into our own society,” shares Lytle. “I use rabbits frequently because they are a prey animal with a lot of predators, but they use their community and their instinct to protect themselves. Pieces like More Than One Can Bear show a role reversal of power, with the prey defying their natural instincts and overcoming their oppressors.”

“Ryan’s work is bright and interesting, and there’s an element of nostalgia to it,” says Kerr. “But it’s not just vibrant, fun colors. Upon closer inspection, you see the craftsmanship and technique that’s gone into it, and it brings a whole new level of appreciation.”

True to ArtFields’ mission, these two exhibitions are intended to make art — and the discussions that inevitably ensue — accessible to a broad audience.

“We want our visitors to feel that art is for everyone,” says Kerr. “There’s a level of accessibility to these two artists’ work. Whenever you have exhibitions like these that are fun and bold and exciting, you may get people in the galleries that normally wouldn’t feel like it was their place.”

Ryan Lytle, Until the Bitter End, needle felting with wool, 52 x 60 x 18”

The colors and characters of these two shows are meant to capture people’s curiosity, drawing them in to explore a bit further, to consider different interpretations of the familiar, and to gain new perspectives.

“Art prompts conversations,” says Kerr. “ArtFields is not here to tell anyone how they should feel or think or how to have these discussions, but it’s our job to give a platform to artists who aren’t afraid to talk about bigger issues. We’re excited to be part of the conversations that these two shows will spark.”

Ryan Lytle, Dishonest Jest, needle felting with wool, 45 x 18 x 36”

Visit Animalia at Trax Visual Art Center and Not All Fun and Games at Jones Carter Gallery in Lake City, SC. Both exhibitions are on display from August 23 to October 19, 2019.

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Posted in Visual on August 20, 2019 (Issue 42: Summer 2019) by Matt Mill.

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