By Jeffery L Carey, Jr.
“Besides Eros, then, there was a death drive.”
Within humanity there seems to be an obsession with the concepts of love and death. This obsession worms its way into our stories, poems, and art, and has been doing so for over 35,000 years when a cave dweller carved the Venus of Hohle Fels out of the bone of a wooly mammoth.
Buckham Gallery’s newest exhibit, Eros and Thanatos, shines a new light on this ancient obsession by featuring 62 themed pieces from around the United States. According to Buckham Gallery’s Exhibition Director Michele Leclaire, the exhibit was selected from a group of 375 submissions.
The show continues at the gallery, 121 W. Second St., in downtown Flint, through March 7.
“We were happy with the response since this was our first effort in a nationally juried competition,” Executive Director Lynn Penning said. This is the first competition since she arrived at Buckham, she said, and where there was prize money offered. Penning also stated that it was unclear if the gallery had ever done something like this, going back to its origins in the 80’s.
The theme Eros and Thanatos comes from the Greek, with Eros being the Greek god of erotic love and Thanatos the Greek equivalent to death. The theme was further expanded on by psychologist Sigmund Freud, and many of the pieces on exhibit at Buckham delve into the deeper meanings of love and death.
Freud defined Eros as more than just love–it was also about preserving life and gratifying basic needs. Thanatos, or the death instinct as Freud labeled it, juxtaposed Eros while dealing with impulses towards self-destruction.
“This is the second time we have had this theme, Eros and Thanatos,” Leclaire said. “I remembered looking at some of the old pamphlets and stuff from [one of the gallery’s founding artists] John Dempsey’s memorabilia and they had had an Eros and Thanatos which was [the late founding artist] Tom Nuzum’s old theme from the 90’s, I believe.”
“I think that’s really significant,” said Penning, “We still go back to those early days as a guiding light.”
“We’re trying to get back to what they started and the energy in the community and the scale of the themes of the show,” added Leclaire, “There are about four artists from Genesee County and then artists from 24 states around the country.”
Leclaire worked with Ed Fraga, the competitions jurist, to select the artists and their pieces for the show. Fraga, as stated in his bio, “is an esteemed Detroit-based artist, a recipient of an Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Fellowship, a Kresge Artist Fellowship, and a Bellagio Center Rockefeller Foundation residency.”
Fraga selected the winners of the show Friday, Feb. 14, and announced them that afternoon during Flint’s customary art walk. “You know it is really tough,” Fraga said of his decisions. “I keep reading about the title, Eros and Thanatos, and researching Freud and the different origins.”
“It’s almost like two contrasting disparate things together,” he commented, “and it is really tough, but the kinds of things that are in my work are disparate opposites that kind of merge. In the end I’m looking for the highest quality of work, the most original work, and something that technically really shows the versatility of the artist and pushes boundaries.”
First Prize of $1,000 went to artist Gerardo Castro of New York for the piece titled, Call Me Papi. Second Prize of $500 and went to artist Brandin Baron of California for the piece titled Memento Mori, Poe’s ‘Berenice’. Third Prize was $250 and went to artist Larry Butcher of Michigan for the piece titled, Red Echo.
“Art surprises and mystifies you,” said Fraga. “I think it’s a good show. It’s like the yin yang, and I am fascinated with the death aspect–and with the death subject there is a lot of ways to see it and read into it.”
“I felt the first prize award to Gerardo Castro was obvious because of his use of scale and materials to create a truly unique work of art,” said Fraga. “It is also a highly charged personal work, which was another of the criteria I was looking for. Castro’s use of imagery and symbols, collage and embedded jewels brought his work(s) to life.”
Fraga described Brandin Baron’s piece as the opposite to Castro’s painting because of its small scale. What made Baron’s work compelling was the reference to a literary work that also delved into the subjects of love and death. “I like when art draws from other sources to make an artistic point,” Fraga said.
“Finally, Larry Butcher’s, Red Echo, is a powerful drawing that kept me engaged,” Fraga said. “I like works that don’t reveal themselves all at once and this work is a tour de force.” Fraga said he appreciated that Butcher taught painting and drawing for 39 years.
Fraga suggested within the show’s theme there is a tension, especially with sexuality, that is on the edge of death. “You look at animals that procreate and then die like salmon.” He went on to say jokingly that perhaps the piece should “look like its devouring itself after it’s procreated.”
Eros and Thanatos was a challenging theme for most artists, Fraga said, noting in that many in the show chose Eros over Thanatos in their finished pieces.
“I didn’t hold that against them,” he said, “but I made my decision based on who best rose to the challenge of the theme while also leaving something to the imagination. The mystery of the work of art is key to making it breathe life.”
According to Fraga, “There were many works that didn’t receive awards that deserve similar praise and I was glad to meet some of the artists on Friday to thank them for their commitment and devotion to years of investigation and exploration.”
Some notable pieces that captured the spirit of the love and death were artists Zach Koch of Alabama with the piece entitled, Cool as Ice, a second piece by Larry Butcher entitled, Old Love Letters, Flint’s own Paul Rozycki with the piece entitled, Eros Angel #1, and Judy Lipman Shechter and David Shechter with their piece entitled, Crime Scene: 7 a.m.
“I thought Michele installed the show beautifully,” Fraga said, “and I was pleased to meet several of the artists in the show. One came in from upstate New York.”
Fraga also said the quality of work in the show was very high. “Really good art continues to draw you into it,” he said. Fraga said he was curious to find artists who entered material because it spoke to their work and not necessarily just because there was a prize.
“It’s embedded in their work,” Fraga said, “and there’s a genuineness to the work, and there is this theme and it’s like, ahh, it’s like harmonic conversions and oh, yes, this is what my work is about.”
Eros and Thanatos runs through March 7 at Buckham Gallery, 121 W. Second St., Flint. More information available at (810) 239-6233.
Banner photo “Red Echo,” third place finisher in the current Buckham show, by Michigan’s Larry Butcher (Photo by Darlene Carey).
EVM Staff Writer Jeff Carey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM Staff Writer and photographer Darlene Carey can be reached at email@example.com.