I'm fascinated by the way people like Gareth Fitzgerald Barry view the world. The recent RIT graduate and emerging artist works for Atlas Builders, a construction company subsidized by the government to revitalize the inner-city landscape with new single-family housing. It's easy to see where his field of work has influenced his art — Barry often works with steel, iron, and concrete elements — but he's also got a keen awareness of how to transform the seemingly mundane objects around us into quietly poignant works, pulling overlooked bits of beauty into the light by cleverly rearranging subtle elements such that they may be suddenly seen anew. A dozen of his sensitive sculptural works, as well as a selection of still photographs from his "Blurring Lines" video, are currently being shown at Axom Gallery.
Axom Gallery is tucked off the chic entrance of the office and studio space shared by artist Rick Muto and his wife, Robin, an interior designer. With their support, their daughter, Margot, curates shows in the bright and airy gallery.
Before entering the exhibition space, visitors encounter a few of Barry's smaller sculptures set on tabletops, and an array of film stills from his 10-minute video. "Blurring Lines" follows a continuous bright yellow paint-drip line that crosses King Street, a "serendipitously created accident" from the leaky truck of the Monroe County Stripers, who paint the traffic lines on our roads.
In the video, Barry has layered the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking about events leading up to the Civil Rights Movement and piano music played by Nina Simone with imagery of this meandering line, and the environment where it is found. You can watch the entirety of the video on the artist's website, but included in the entrance of the space are stills, showing bright paint against the faded grays and browns of the city, in details of drips, or expanses of the trailing lines. The work is a good introduction to Barry's fascination with finding secret stories in the details that most of us overlook.
"It is my intention to create something from what most of us call nothing, to draw attention to things that have been forgotten, neglected, and underappreciated, and bring them to the fore-front," says Barry in a provided artist's statement. This is evident in his sculptural works, which whether diminutive or substantial in size, bring attention to the tension of weight and form, and the strangely emotional tug of details such as texture and patina.
Barry's work has undeniable gravitas. Margot Muto felt this, and responded. "The beauty of running your own gallery is that you can use it as an opportunity to share with the public the art that moves you deeply," she says. "The sophistication of Gareth's design sensibility and his relationship as a maker with his material stood out the minute I was confronted with his work." Barry knows his materials, and imbues them with his own "poetic sensibility," she says. "This kind of sophistication is rare to see coming from a recent undergraduate."
One of the most immediately impactful works in the show is "The Weight," a tall structure of a curved steel I-beam on a cement base, which with a length of rusted chain, supports a large, rough angle of what once might have been driftwood, now cast in iron. The beam seems to bend under the weight of its burden, creating a palpable tension. This tension extends to the organic form, trapped in a forced-petrified state, and its precarious-feeling, heavy dangle.
In a separate corner, "Iron Wallabees" lay on the floor, a cast pair of men's shoes with well-worn impressions left by an individual owner. The weighty material quietly alludes to the simple, glorious pleasure of removing one's shoes at the end of a long day.
"Tall Grass and Cat Tails" is a nearly flat, tall column of immortalized organic matter fixed to one wall of the space, the bumps and stalks of the plants swathed in a bright orange rust. Despite its roughness, there is a certain elegance to the piece, and it's easy to envision stumbling upon it at the end of a narrow hallway, or amid lush life affixed to a garden wall.
Barry's organic capturing continues with "Cracked Shell," what looks to be one hemisphere of an ostrich shell or even the dome of a skull, cast in iron and affixed to a rough wood block. The form has a cracks running through its thick surface, and the textured interior shimmers as though this vessel remembers the precious cargo it once held.
Axom Gallery will host a closing reception for Barry's exhibit on Saturday, August 24, 6-9 p.m. This is the last day of the exhibit and the artist will be present.