Metanoia, a group exhibition featuring work from Ryan Cox, Austin Smith, and Courtney Shea, opened at Lee O’Neil Gallery last Friday the 13th. Centered around the concept of transformation (the title of the show literally means “change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion”), the works of these three undergrad SCAD painting majors are disparate in style but still effective in their unique approaches.
I always feel like the best group shows come from people who aren’t necessarily best friends. People who’ve chosen to work together because of the pull of each other’s artwork, rather than some relational pull, tend to be able to edit more critically, creating an exhibition in which the works are in service of each other rather than glossing over potential problems in favor of preserving good will.
That’s what’s happening here. Cox’s embellished drag paintings, Shea’s draped fabric “paintings”, and Smith’s mixed media conceptual works all ride the line between over-the-top self-indulgence and self-aware camp to find a middle ground in which they exist as cleverly critical.
That’s not to say there’s not room for improvement – Cox’s panel screens, for example, either need beefing up or parsing down, they are at once too minimal and not minimal enough, seeming to float without presence in the space. But overall this is a cohesive show (which sounds like a lukewarm compliment but shouldn’t) that manages to be fun and even a little funny – it has a point-of-view without taking itself too seriously.
Cox’s paintings are truly vibrant and belie some definite potential for a future solo exhibition. Taken too far, his incorporation of rhinestones, gems and fake pink hair could easily have entered the realm of kitsch, but instead we get the self-aware camp I mentioned earlier – a clear send-up of drag culture but within the context of Cox’s artistic voice. He’s in control here, deftly handling materials that might otherwise overwhelm.
Courtney Shea’s fabric installation and paintings are at once the bridge between Cox’s and Smith’s works and the body of work that is the most memorable. Shea seamlessly integrates her installation piece into her paintings, giving us a holistic artistic vision rarely seen in group exhibitions.
Austin Smith’s mixed media paintings veer a bit too close to crafty for my tastes, but her fantastic “Terrorist” can’t be ignored. From a series of works borne out of a rebellion against her southern conservative upbringing, “Terrorist” flawlessly carries Smith’s concept while showcasing a remarkable understanding of color and texture. It is graphic and tactile and funny and smart – all the things this show is where it succeeds.
Time is running out to check out Metanoia. The show officially comes down on Tuesday, May 17.