Here in Charlotte, artist Romare Bearden is a household name. We claim the artist, who was born in the Q.C. but lived elsewhere for most of his life, as one of our own. But this story isn't about Bearden, whose collage work pushed civil boundaries by touching on the growing rights of African-Americans and Southern African-American life.
Instead, this is about Anne Lemanski, a not-so-household name and multidisciplinary artist whose works are in town for a limited time (though you have until Jan. 2, 2016 to explore her Simulacra exhibit at McColl Center for Art + Innovation). Lemanski has created a socially conscious series of digital collage prints and animal sculptures that revolves around nature and its place in modernity and the human world. While doing so, she's combining two mediums that feed off of one another in an aesthetically pleasing demeanor.
Lemanski, who earned her BFA from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit and currently resides in Spruce Pines, North Carolina, is best know for her animal sculptures, created from copper armature wiring and paper.
But for her two-and-a-half-month residency at McColl, she incorporates two-dimensional collaging with three-dimensional works that are cohesive and complimentary in scope. Yet, there's an uneasy feel to the wild life and it's placement in the installation as a whole. In the two-dimensional works there's a sense of suffocation with human interferences and man-made by products, while the 3D works are placed in a tense, action motion in the galleries unnatural confines.
Lemanski used a 1959 math textbook for her works' background — ocean blue coloring pops with geometric patterns and symbols. The images, collected from dusty, old encyclopedias were cut and pasted for each collage, which was then scanned into single digital prints.
"The encyclopedias are the one thing that I held onto over all the purges and yard sales and moves. I've probably moved 10 times in the last 25 years, but they were the one thing I always took with me and I guess now I know why," Lemanski says. "I just always loved them. I was drawn to them and loved the imagery. If I was to paint something, that's what I would want it to be like. It's difficult for me to get my thoughts through on a drawing or painting. My mind really works in a three-dimensional realm, so with the collages all the images were there so it was just sort of like a puzzle. Putting them together was a nice exercise for the brain and to work in that way, where you have a very immediate result."
A collector of encyclopedias for roughly 25 years, Lemanski puts them to good use. The images of torn out pages take on a new life, as clippings are scattered for composition and design, as well as introspective counterparts that beg for a closer inspection.
Among the many animals, in wild-like poses, viewers will find some humans and modern-day items — medicine, sugar, perfume, diamond rings, airplanes, oil drops, money, bug spray, oil and others that nods towards climate change and natural interferences and modern technology.
"It's so deeply buried in my subconscious that even if I tried to get away from that sort of concept, I think it would still come out because that's just how my brain works," Lemanski says of her longtime fascination with nature and its relationship to the modern world.
In addition to traditional collaging techniques like composition, color, pattern and the use of negative space, Lemanski's unconscious flow of thoughts leaves an impression.
"I couldn't give you a single concept behind each piece that was intentional, but it was definitely there just because I am the one that made it," she notes.
For Lemanski, the collaging process went fast in comparison to her work on sculptures — making a collage only took her one day, while her sculptures usually take weeks or months to assemble. After discovering McColl's large format printer, she wanted to take advantage of the equipment by honing in on collage work, a new medium that she's terms as "fun."
But it's the mix of two and three dimensional works that makes this exhibit an eye to behold. In the middle of the gallery is a large pedestal with a formula symbol structuring. Situated around it is a life-like impala in a striking mid-air pose. Beside it is a large jackrabbit and disproportionately large spider — the first spider Lemanski has ever made.
The creatures inch their way into the conflicting setting. The looks on their faces are stark and stitching on their bodies is threaded with imagery from works along the surrounding walls. The collage work brings the sculptures to life while the sculptures create a trapped, clustered setting to the collages.
"Everything from in the sculptural pieces is pulled directly from the collages. The skin that I sewed onto those armatures is a blowup of the original creatures that were used in the collage," Lemanski says. "It was scanned and manipulated, but pulled directly from the collages."
While Lemanski doesn't site Romare Bearden as a source of inspiration for her collaging interests, she does praise Joseph Conrad for his assemblage art and use of found materials.
Her ongoing stance with the disconnection between humans and the natural world could also be a by product of her time in the Q.C. While in Charlotte for her residency, she stayed in an apartment off of a bustling expressway. The setting is a contrast to her home with four-acres of land in Spruce Pines.
"It made me be aware of how so many people live that way. No wonder people are so disconnected with the natural world when they live in a place looking down on the expressway where you're lucky to even see a bird fly by," says Lemanski. "It's very strange, at least it would be for me, to live like this and that so many people do live this way. It says a lot about our society."