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GLIMPSE INSIDE THE BOX

BEVERLY GALLERY AT FORT GONDO COMPOUND FOR THE ARTS

Old Vienna Hot Chips, Kool cigarettes, instant coffee and Ramen noodles. A yellow legal pad, pen and a personal fan. One single plastic spoon. Not the state-issued spork served at every meal, but a non-descript, highly coveted, NORMAL spoon. Symbols of the most basic and overlooked rituals of daily life provide a sense of routine when all other facets of a humane existence are removed. These objects, representing the adopted comforts of life ‘on the inside’, met us at the entrance, acting as a key into the exhibit, A Glimpse Inside the Box at Beverly Gallery on Cherokee street. Curated by students of the St. Louis University Prison Arts & Education Program held at Eastern Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Center (ERDCC) in Bonne Terre, Missouri, all artworks, essays, wall tags, and recipes were carefully crafted by a diverse group of incarcerated men. Arranged by the five stages of grief and loss as described by Swiss-American Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, the exhibit at first looked like an “outsider” art fair. Arranged in discrete groupings were pencil and charcoal drawings, rubbings, toilet paper and soap sculptures, and sewing kit dioramas. Wayfinding in a clockwise direction brought the first stage of denial, with the others following in order ending in acceptance as visitors exited the space. Denial: Although skillful and masterfully detailed, the works in ‘denial’ could easily pass as the private sketches of a horny but tortured teenager. Ranging from graphite and colored pencil on paper to mixed media on cardboard, these renderings of women conflict with each other. The perfectly round breasts and buttocks of characters that merge Xena: Warrior Princess with Kim Kardashian seem to have difficulty

even hanging on the same wall with ‘Celeste’-the drawn tribute to the any-woman. She could be wife, mother, sister, me. Anger: Seven charcoal and graphite drawings look like torn and rubbed records of an emotive, visceral response to obvious distress. Something’s been bashed and broken. Trying to scratch their way out through mark-making, this collective of artists has tapped into the frantic mentality surrounding the loss of life, loss of freedom, loss of self. This wall of uncomfortable and aggressive drawings is completed by a patriotic, leather-tooled image of America’s bald eagle above the saying ‘One Nation Under God’. Is this piece an ironic F-you to our national government or a sincere gesture of possible comfort? Bargaining: “Eggs in space w/ Dr. Taco. Eyes on boobs. Why is there glass in my socks?” The analytical and mathematical drawings in this section act as maps and formulas attempting to make sense of that which has no logic. Arranged into two columns are minimal, pencil on paper works and intricately detailed, geometric, and colorful drawings. They appear as opposite teams complete with mascots; toilet paper and soap sculptures of a cute, cartoon kitty for the left and a bucking mustang for the right. The variety of work along with the aforementioned quotes combine for a ‘tit for tat’, nonsensical desperation and pleading. Depression: Melting zombie figures, sad kids, terrifyingly squashing “black Friday” crowds positioned with ephemeral portrayals of light and nature. The symbolism of a language and vision stunted or at least stalled. Everything is tight and

A Glimpse Inside the Box, installation view at Beverly Gallery, (photo credit: Richard Reilly) 05 ALLTHEARTSTL.COM FALL 2015

IN REVIEW

Joe Bostic, detail from Acceptance Wall (photo credit: Amy Reidel)

without the gestural energy that gives drawing breath. There is a sense that the air has been sucked out of the room when facing one of these intimate works. Thoughtful and emotionally heavy, they show understanding of value and composition. Acceptance: Finally. I’m able to cry. Tiny dioramas made from toothpicks, wooden ice cream spoons, walnut shells, empty sewing kit boxes, and Emory boards cut right through the thick of any bullshit. Using only fingernail-clippers and an Emory board as his tools, Joe Bostic has created cozy worlds of fishing, camping, and family memories. There is no longer a sense of urgency. These works all obviously required an extensive amount of time to create and that alone suggests a sort of surrendering. Nothing is trying to be something it’s not, and with these sincere, miniature families trapped forever in their little memory boxes, it’s time for me to move on. - Amy Reidel

All the Art, Fall 2015  

The Visual Art Quarterly of St. Louis

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