To See: Swing Low at the Bijou Gallery
Kris Neely ‘s new guardians fly. They shouldn’t, cobbled out of rough-sawn plywood, riddled with screws, colored with graffiti by hands other than his own. These angels should fall.
But they rise. Defying their materiality–heavy, scarred by splinters, hammered–Neely’s new guardians at the Bijou Gallery in downtown Spartanburg, SC elevate themselves and those who stand before them. He has appropriately titled his show “Swing Low”: his pictures, so like our own physical selves they should drag, wait instead to lift us up.
Neely, who serves as Assistant Professor and Coordinator for Studio Art at Wofford College, has painted over 10,000 angels in his guardian series. Drawing on aesthetic and spiritual connections to outsider art, American folk art, and Christian icons, the vast number of these images present on two-dimensional surfaces, usually single slats of found wood or narrow canvases. Neely understands the repetitive act of creating these paintings over more than a decade as a spiritual discipline. Many have found comfort in their straightforward simplicity.
His new work opens in new dimensions. Breaking from a single plane, Neely offers multi-layered assemblages in guardian form. These pictures, while retaining all the disarming directness of his original imagery, seem to fly through the complex movement of shadow and color. Their component parts turn, intersect, break from one another. The sculptural quality of the new series recalls the elegant rawness of Richard Tuttle.
It has taken stamina and courage for Neely to sustain the production of so large and consistent a body of work over so many years–stamina for the sheer volume of work created, and courage because his work often defies expectations of sophistication in professional art.The sincerity of his spiritual vision may explain his persistence on both counts. These new guardians provide a startling new direction in his ideas and craft, without losing the heart of his original endeavor: art that cares for those who experience it.