Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce: mysteries in the wilderness

The exhibition 'Eyeshine' combines the work of Ryan Pierce and Wendy Given that grew out of a shared Signal Fire Outpost residency


Eyeshine is the first of a series of exhibitions that Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce are presenting around the subjects of wildness and the night. In the bright and airy Autzen Gallery at Portland State University, the artists reflect and touch upon these and other interests that stem from the natural world.

The idea for Eyeshine came together as Given and Pierce hosted this past summer’s Signal Fire Outpost Residency—an intensive residency program set on public land. Their discussions, usually at night after full and active days, wandered around such topics as wilderness, animal and plant imagery, nocturnal life, and the embodiment of mysticism.

'Eyeshine' features the work of Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce at Autzen Gallery, PSU/Photo by  Matt Blum

‘Eyeshine’ features the work of Wendy Given and Ryan Pierce at Autzen Gallery, PSU/Photo by Matt Blum

Though both artists are inspired by nature, their work doesn’t idealize the natural world, and neither takes on romantic notions of the untrammeled landscape. Rather, both Given and Pierce are concerned with nature in its present condition through an historic lens—a contentious landscape, rife with the consequences of modernity.

Three of Pierce’s paintings in the exhibition are outdoor still lifes. Their suggestion of beauty is entangled with the threat to the landscape—natural, invasive, and manmade objects, side by side. Using flashe acrylic and spray paint, the paintings’ flat quality emerges. Even the light source appears harsh, as if under direct noon light, unforgivingly exposing all surfaces.

Pierce’s sculptural works focus on the image of the conquistador—an antagonist recently a focus in the artist’s body of work—with haunting mask-like faces. Invasive #7 is installed like a museum collection of culled objects from deep under sea. The metallic glaze outlining the marks of where they have broken or cracked emphasizes their museological preciousness. Just like the tradition of kintsugi—the Japanese art of showing the object’s history of breakage and repair—the breaks in Invasive #7 seem to symbolize broken marks upon the lands the conquistadors encountered, marks of colonization, still evident today.

Ryan Pierce's paintings show landscapes in less than pristine condition, and his sculpture is often about the conquistadors/Matt Blum

Ryan Pierce’s paintings show landscapes in less than pristine condition, and his sculpture is often about the conquistadors/Matt Blum

As Pierce touches on the Age of Discovery as a parable for our contemporary moment, Given also looks to the past in this exhibition—the Romantic era touching upon nature with a gothic mood—oval shaped photographs, nocturnal sightings, imagery of crows, and peacock feathers. Unlike Pierce’s brightly lit subjects and artifacts crushed by time, Given’s sculptures and photographs emphasize the night, shadows, reflections, and the ethereal realm of alchemy.

The most striking visual element in the exhibition is Given’s hanging sculpture Cauda Pavonis, made of long peacock tail feathers with the eye of the feathers radiating out, hanging from the ceiling. The blackened feathers create a soft, yet dramatic silhouette. Their original bright colors are subdued in blackness, but with slow movement from a breeze, subtle shifts of color can be seen. In the alchemic term, the cauda pavonis (peacock tail) is when an array of colors appears through various stages of transformation. Given begins with blackening—a decomposition in alchemy—but the inherent colors of the feathers remain evident. Their transformative colors endure.

Given’s three photographs set in individual oval frames with a convex Plexi-mount give the illusion of eyes. In these landscapes, wiry branches appear like retinal blood vessels. Similar to the eye imagery in the peacock feathers in Cauda Pavonis, these photographs emphasize the presence of the eye, not only as a physical presence in the space, but underlining moments of inwardness from viewers. Similarly, Starshine is a mirrored octahedron reflecting the interior space of the gallery and the people who walk nearby, slightly altering our visual cue of space, and ultimately directing the viewer inward.

Though the approaches in the practices of Given and Pierce are rather different, Eyeshine creates an engaged conversation between works and subjects, with space to breathe and reflect upon shared ideas.

Eyeshine is the first in a series of exhibitions Pierce and Given will work together on. Eyeshine closes Friday, January 29. Their next exhibition, titled Nocturne, is scheduled to open at whitespace in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 1, 2016.

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