I arrived aggressively early. For a while, it was just the cheese table and me. The gallery was long, with seven white walls, five untouched. The exhibit, which began on June 3rd, is entitled Seven: A Performative Drawing Project, and is Montserrat College of Art’s second annual showcase of what I’d describe as drawing installation. Seven artists will participate through August 8th, each painting and drawing on one of the walls—one artist a week for seven consecutive weeks. As the theme seems to be the number seven, the artists are to create representations of what the number means to them.
The reception and talk I attended was for the second artist, Percy Fortini-Wright. He introduced himself as primarily a graffiti artist and oil painter, two mediums with seemingly little in common. On the right half of his assigned wall, there hung an oil painting he did of Benjamin Franklin. He had spray-painted circles of color around the portrait, giving Franklin a body and a hand holding a spray can, suggesting the 18th Century statesman created the circles. On the left half of the wall, Fortini-Wright had spray-painted a graffiti tag of his first name. The letters formed a base on which he layered images of modern city life—a lit street at night, vibrant colors, fragments of steel beams exploding from the center, and small, dark human figures walking on, or leaping from, the letters.
The artist seemed to be offering a dark comment on what contemporary America has become, the Framers’ idealistic vision of society having turned out to be disastrous. Franklin, who is literally framed in the portrait, is spray-painting—and thus creating—the cataclysmic contemporary scene to the left. He’s also looking away from what he’s creating, seemingly unaware of his creation, suggesting the Founding Fathers were oblivious to the dystopian inevitabilities of their utopian vision. Best intentions gone awry.
In a way, the cataclysmic scene reminded me of Francis Cugat’s classic 1925 painting for the first-edition cover of The Great Gatsby, a cover that’s still used, depicting an explosion of American excess. The scene also reminded me of photographs of the World Trade Center collapsing in the 9/11 attack.
Fortini-Wright, however, seemed to have different intentions. In his talk, he dwelled more on the wonders of creation, noting the theme of seven inspired him spiritually, the Earth having been created in seven days, and made him think of the color spectrum, hence the circles of color. “In terms of anchoring and balance, I’m a Libra,” he said. Translation: he appreciates balance. He expressed an interest in harmonizing chaos and clarity, which is evident in his art, though I saw clear discrepancies between what the art said and what the artist said.
This piece was dramatically different from that of the first artist, Andy Bablo, who took a more geometric, mathematical approach. Since the reception and talk for Fortini-Wright, artists Alexa Guariglia and Allison Cole have presented their work. The remaining artists are John Gonzalez, Autumn Ahn, and David Teng Olsen, who will each create their drawings between now and the end of July. The unfolding exhibit is worth another look.