Miller Gallery's latest exhibit embraces political messages and human connections 

The Art of Persisting

click to enlarge Jo Hay creates portraits of women she admires — and ones of rabbits, too

Jo Hay/Courtesy Miller Gallery

Jo Hay creates portraits of women she admires — and ones of rabbits, too

Gallerist Sarah Miller believes that art will change you, even if you don't believe it yourself. In her latest curated show, Miller has culled three seemingly disparate artists and works for one cohesive theme. "Art opens your eyes to different ideas, it sends a message without words," says Miller.

In Fire & Grace, we find 4'x6' politically charged portraits by British-American artist Jo Hay. At that size, the brush strokes are like breaking waves, the bright pastels so rich and deep you feel as though you could dive into the canvas. In contrast, the smaller, monochromatic bunny sketches by internationally renowned artist Hunt Slonem are so simple you wonder at their genesis. And then there are the detailed silk screens, a positive and negative for each piece — the negative space in the first work is a color in the second — by now famous street artist and Charleston native Shepard Fairey.

From people to bunnies to bold graphics, all of the art in Fire & Grace is imbued with meaning: we can work towards a better world while appreciating what beauty the world still posesses. With visual art, one can gradually build a relationship with an idea, a concept, or mantra. "You're allowed to digest at your own pace," says Miller. "I love when someone comes in for the first time and they say 'Oh this isn't my style' and then by the third time they come in they're like 'Oh, I like this one.'" In an age where everyone feels compelled or obligated to make a decision, fast, to pick a side, now, it's nice to slow down and contemplate a subject.

"There's a political/social aspect to the show," says Miller, "but there's also this really beautiful side that represents humanity and all of the people and the simplicity of art, too."

click to enlarge In addition to Hay's rabbits, Fire & Grace features works from Shepard Fairey and Hunt Slonem (who also paints bunnies, FYI) - JO HAY/COURTESY MILLER GALLERY
  • Jo Hay/Courtesy Miller Gallery
  • In addition to Hay's rabbits, Fire & Grace features works from Shepard Fairey and Hunt Slonem (who also paints bunnies, FYI)

Hay is the exhibit's featured artist, not only because she is an impressive roster artist who Miller is "very proud to have" but also because Miller respects Hay's message. "She has a very social stance about her work," she says. "I definitely wanted to highlight that aspect of her creation and complement her."

The exhibit will feature two portraits from Hay's Persisters series: one of Rachel Maddow and one of the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In an artist statement, Hay describes the series as an ode to "outstanding women who have made an impression with their tenacious resolve to succeed in their pursuit of justice."

"Basically the show will encapsulate the juxtapositon of what we have going on in society right now," says Miller. "There's the push for equality and there's the resistance movement. Jo is definitely highlighting the persisters, the women who are making change happen ... she's sort of memorializing them while they're still alive."

Miller chose these two women specifically (Hay also has portraits of Hillary Clinton and the Women's March leaders) because: "What Ruth has done is monumental and people will respond to that. Rachel (Maddow) is here because even though I don't agree with everything she says, overall we're politically aligned and I believed in that piece very much so; it's a wonderful re-creation of her face. To use pinks and purples and grays in places where it's usually flesh toned — it's a great representation of Jo's work."

In addition to these people portraits, the gallery will also have some of Hay's rabbit portraits. At first glance, the colorful and large-scale animal paintings are strikingly similar to the human visages; upon further reflection, one finds the message of these rabbits is also similarly aligned to that of the persisters.

"As a child Jo had a rabbit and it was a very comforting part of her childhood," says Miller. All of Hay's rabbits are named Grace, after women in history who showed incredible grace at some time. In the exhibit there's Grace Hartigan, second generation American abstract expressionist painter; Grace Paley, American short story writer, poet, teacher, and political activist; Grace Hopper, an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral; and author Grace Metalious, known for her controversial novel Peyton Place, published in the late 1950s and covering such taboo topics as incest, abortion, adultery, lust, and murder.

click to enlarge JO HAY/COURTESY MILLER GALLERY
  • Jo Hay/Courtesy Miller Gallery

Complementing Hay's lush, large-scale pieces are a series of Slonem's famous bunnies. "I love Hunt's work," says Miller. It's hard not to love the simple lines, the oblong lopsided ears taking up almost the entire frame. Where Hay's rabbits are nearly three dimensional in detail, Slonem's bunnies are barebones, outlines of shapes rather than fleshed-out sentient beings. They aren't asking you to please, vote, in the next election, and they aren't insisting you fire up your political activism. They're just bunnies. "Hunt's bunnies are not created to push any message," says Miller. "Truly they are his morning warm up. He starts his day like that and it's very basic but he loves it and it helps him. He wants to share that with everyone."


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