Redemption: National show at Skye Gallery explores the moral economy

Redemption is a collection of works from 19 different artists across 12 states, each providing a window that opens onto deeply personal territory. When gallery owner Jonny Skye put out the call for entries, she did not choose the artists for their credentials or their marketing power. She chose them because they had something to say. This is a gallery where conversations begin, and Jonny’s aim is to challenge the dominant narrative. Redemption asked the question: “Is there a moral economy?” and it was a very diverse group of artists who came forth to offer answers. Broni Likomanov’s “Diogenes” seethes with a strangled passion, while in Jason Guynes’ graphite drawing “Cadiz,” a heart slumps against the half open doors of a shed, spidery roots seeking sunlight as the body dwindles. There is also quiet strength here; in Margaret Elmer’s “Awakened,” a calm innocence shines with the force of a shield. 

The path to redemption is seldom clear, and these images speak of the stumbling process, dabbing at sores and cutting away dead tissue. These wounds cannot all be wrapped in the same dressing; the source of their injuries differ. The gallery walls are lined with complex visions – in DeSieno’s photograph “62.009730, -6.771640,” an empty road winds through ashen wasteland, while in Donna Garcia’s “Float,” we gaze upon a motionless figure face down in water. Light sometimes shines through the desolation; child-like comfort warms Jean Wetta’s “There, There,” and “Taking Flight” by Victoria Pendragon rises into radiant, opening clouds. But in “City of Hope,” a 3D lenticular print by Hannah Ueno, the fragile nature of our faith is thrown into crystal clarity – a group of buildings huddle together mid-air on an uprooted clod of earth, surrounded by a menacing fleet of planes. There is no final conclusion or summary in these works – rather, open-ended stories that still seek a resolution.

“Inventing Souls #3” by Kamal Al Mansour at Skye Gallery

On my visit to Skye Gallery, Kamal Al Mansour’s diorama “Inventing Souls #3” was the first piece I saw when I entered. It shimmered like a mirage on the far wall, a holographic stage circumscribed by its own light. Moving closer, I was drawn quite literally into the scene and stood watching with the ghosts that haunted its faded buildings. Standing before me, a man in limp trousers and tired shirt raises a folded newspaper. A headline reads, “Long Sought Freedom,” yet the expression in his eyes is not one of victory, but the stare of a man who has known the fight too long. 

I had a chance to speak with the artist, a man who found his own creative redemption 30 years after he first entered college as a visual arts major. Kamal Al Mansour’s intended path was intercepted by an argument of reason from well-known civil rights attorney Leo Branton: “How are you going to make a living at that?” Al Mansour graduated from UCLA in 1981 with a degree in political science, then went on to graduate from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, with a Juris Doctorate degree. It was not until “people in my life began dying,” that Kamal considered a question posed by book author Po Bronson: What should I do with my life? The sudden certainty of his answer spurred an abrupt change in plans and in 2005, Kamal created 15 original works of art in nine months for his first solo exhibition at La Petite Gallery in Los Angeles. Since then, he has exhibited in more than 40 group and solo shows across the country. His work, combining traditional drafting skills with digital art and multiple mediums, gives birth to assemblages that confront and communicate with viewers. There are stories here that are at once social, political and spiritual. 

Redemption, defined as “an act that serves to compensate for defects or flaws,” is a conversation that is long overdue. If we have a deficit as a society, it may be that of true feelings. The Skye Gallery is a sanctuary for artists whose work is fueled by emotion, and in today’s world, that is no small feat. In our search for success, we have become adept at branding and tweeting; but in conquering that virtual world, we seem to have forgotten who we are. Perhaps the most important act of redemption lies in giving the same respect to our emotions and to our souls that we give to the slick emojis, tweets and icons that parade across our screens. We are still human. We feel; we cry. If we can admit that, perhaps the healing can begin.

Redemption includes artists David Prado, Paul Rogers, Will Ross, Julie Rothman, Emmeline Solomon, Donna Wolfe, Sandra Frankel, Jeanne Garrison, Sarah Jane Lapp and James Long. Every work speaks an important truth; this is an exhibit that deserves to be seen. •  

Redemption runs through Sat, Dec 7 at Skye Gallery, 381 Broadway, PVD. For more, visit skye-gallery.com

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