Jerry Butler, Shelby Kahr, Maryam Ladoni, and Kayla Story’s shows at Overture range from subdued to funky. (Above: Shelby Kahr, “Subterranean Preservation Blues (My Mom The Doomsday Prepper).”)
The word “folk” denotes a kind of people in general or, more specifically, refers to a civilization’s customs, crafts, and traditions as passed from generation to generation. The first definition is an all-encompassing one that brings together two joint exhibitions running at Overture Center Galleries I and II through June 2: Jerry Butler and Shelby Kahr‘s Folks, and Maryam Ladoni and Kayla Story‘s Into The Light. And the magic of these shows lies in understanding how they speak to that second definition.
Butler, a Madison-based artist whose career spans more than 40 years, reflects on his beginnings with “Planting An Artist,“ a collage on gesso board that depicts a textured matriarch encouraging a young Butler’s budding artistic talents. The piece, along with others in Butler’s part of the show, demonstrates the beauty of generational interactions and connecting the wisdom of elders to the aspirations of youth.
The folk Kahr, a recent UW-Madison grad, portrays in her paintings are somber in appearance, in contrast to the vibrant colors of their surroundings. Kahr brings to life the funkiness of inherited tradition as it plays out in Wisconsin. “To Sit And Grow Strange,” an acrylic-on-wood work, depicts a contemplative, solemn bar babe in a Korn t-shirt somewhere in Wisconsin. Kahr’s depictions persuade the viewer to broaden their conceptions of cultural heritage, namely that of Wisconsin. Kahr uses awkward exaggerations to bring color to the tragic weirdness of life; for example, the forlorn wonder of drinking alone in a bar and other visual signifiers that may be found in Midwest culture.
The themes of rich inheritances and powerful narration carry over to Into The Light. Kayla Story’s exhibition on fatherlessness places strong portrait photos of individuals alongside smaller images of objects that remind them of their fathers. Story’s visual narratives are matched on the opposite wall by Ladoni’s seven solitary pieces tracing Ladoni’s reflections on childhood in Iran. These subdued and pensive pieces capture life at its origins, the place from which we draw the questions: Who am I? How did I become? And, when do I finish becoming?
Butler and Kahr created an ensemble of characters, such that one would wonder whether they were viewing at a gallery or just out people-watching. Story and Ladoni’s photographs are so intimate that the usual silence that accompanies the absence of crowds coming and going from shows is interrupted as the artwork echoes with powerful narration.
There are many things that we can inherit—resolve, the genes of a person who birthed us, disposition, the culture of a place that birthed us. By valuing our personal identities, the folks who made us who we are, and the places that made us who we are, we learn to cherish the deep richness these inheritances bring us.