Neil Bender and Jen Ray
Wasmer Art Gallery
Curated by John Loscuito
October 18 - November 15, 2018
Opening Reception, FGCU Jazz Combo performance, and Artist Talk - Thursday, October 18, 5 -7pm
Neil Bender (Tampa, FL) and Jen Ray (New York, NY) meet for the first time in Fort Myers, Florida with unscripted results. Rebels at heart, each artist has created unique visual worlds through painting and installation. Ray’s warrior women occupy floating islands, fighting off unwanted intruders, while Bender’s ambiguous figures evoke mischief and pleasure. As the conversation continues between the two artists, questions surrounding motivation and inspiration are revealed.
Sponsored by Gene and Lee Seidler and the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture and The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel
Image, left to right: Neil Bender, My First Shirt, 2014, Ink and acrylic on paper, 28 x 22", Courtesy of the artist; Jen Ray, Untitled, 2018, Watercolor and ink on handmade paper, 15 x 11", Courtesy of the artist and Albertz Benda, NY
Blind dates can be awkward and ill conceived, but hopefully arranged with good intentions
that yield an interesting outcome. Neil Bender and Jen Ray agreed to a “blind date”
of sorts and at the time of this writing the date is still going on. A few phone conversations,
emails and an initial meeting have occurred but the gallery installation and opening
will reveal the outcome.
A few guidelines were defined by Bender and Ray before they agreed to the blind date. They chose some of their favorite songs to share beforehand in order to get to know each other better. The gallery would be divided diagonally so they would each have their own space while installing their work. Objects of inspiration would also be brought to the gallery as a way to jumpstart the conversation and provide insight into their creative processes. A third space in the gallery would be created to allow viewers to sit, relax and learn more about their past influences and accomplishments. Finally, the FGCU Jazz Combo would be invited to interpret some of their chosen songs and play them live during the exhibition opening.
The inspiration for bringing these two artists together came from a number of common threads present in both of their works. Danger, celebration, rebellion, and empowerment were obvious connections, yet they used them for different purposes. Bender’s work is of the flesh, both foreign and familiar, amplified through his gestural application of paint. Ray’s methods on the other hand are more restrained and controlled, depicting the body more as symbol and icon. Both artists provocatively overthrow expectations and conventions dealing with gender, authority and stereotypes.
Bender’s fragmented, ambiguous figures are hard to pin down. They are both male and female, sexual and clinical, internal and external. They flirt with revealing and concealing their intentions within soft, fluid landscapes that are just as psychological as they are physical. Alongside this shifting flesh are symbols and memories in the form of mundane objects and totems. They deceptively offer points of reference from pop culture, incorporating the power of cultural norms and signposts.
Neil Bender states, "The work for 'Blind Date' begins with a lyrical wall painting called "Let Things Happen" that functions as a stage for a variety of paintings and drawings to perform upon ...dancing, flirting, coupling, arguing, and all the other activities one does when they live with a partner(s). I love the idea of this show ---an open space of interaction and serious play, where my musical aversions to pop perversity, and love of the potential of flatness and screen-like quality of painting and drawing, can mingle together. Scale and media shift, from cut-paper acrylic garments, to paintings on fabric stretched over canvas (such as "Come On The Piano", where '68 leather-Elvis hovers in suspended time with a Francis Bacon-like coupling). As a Floridian, I find an amazing conflagration of political sentiments, and I want them to intersect and co-habitate in my work, as an affirmation of how simple, yet complex we all are."
Jen Ray’s paintings and installations depict symbols of women’s power. Her artworks bring together a wide variety of influences from Ray’s life including her family friend and circus performer Patricia Jameson Cuneo. Ray’s painting of a leopard tooth necklace originates from Cuneo but resonates beyond any one specific person. Alongside the necklace are leopard prints, high heels, and leather jackets. These symbols of beauty, independence and sexuality have been adopted across race, class, age and even gender. In fact the high heel shoe was originally worn by men and was a symbol of the aristocracy but its complicated history also includes it being used as a weapon in Hollywood movies such as Single White Female.
As for the new works created for this exhibition, Ray says, “The three new paintings I've created for 'Blind Date' are site-specific works serving as signposts to my over-all influences. I see these works relating to performance, spectacle, rock and roll, and a kind of personal humor. The bloody shoes positioned below the mournful banners are symbols of the exhausted performer, a taste of the ugliness behind the glamour. Two women telepathically communicate, agreeing 'One Way Or Another' the moment before they take action. This is a moment of decisive resolve. Lastly, the lovingly painted leopard print, a symbol of sexy opulence for rich and poor alike, is a nod to rock music and feminine toughness.”
Bender and Ray’s installations provoke and inspire as they reveal fears and ambitions. The works are daring, audacious and fun with that punk rock, “anything-goes” attitude connecting them. They remind us that we can reinvent ourselves; take chances; be a little wild and still be strong, thoughtful, and accepting human beings. But we have to choose our own path; no one model works. In fact, the idea of a model is antithetical to Bender and Ray.
~ John Loscuito | FGCU Art Galleries Director
Image credits from essay, top to bottom: Neil Bender, My Romance, 2017, Ink, acrylic, and collage on paper, 20 x 15", Courtesy of the Artist; Neil Bender, Dmitri, 2015, Ink, acrylic, and collage on paper, 32 x 29", Courtesy of the Artist; Jen Ray, Untitled, 2018, Watercolor and ink on handmade paper, 48 x 48”, Courtesy of the Artist and Albertz Benda, NY; Jen Ray, Fangs, 2018, Digital rendering of ink drawing, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the Artist and Albertz Benda, NY.