The Southern Ohio Museum will soon be closing their galleries for the holidays and will reopen after the New Year. One of the Museum’s final shows of 2013 is a solo exhibition by Kentucky artist and Portsmouth favorite, Ron Isaacs.
Museum curator Sarah Johnson has long been an integral part in the local art scene and when it came time to celebrate the Museum’s 35th anniversary, she wanted Isaacs to be featured around the same time. Isaacs had agreed to return to close out the 34th year, which is meaningful to the museum, since he was in their first ever exhibit. Since then, he has appeared in the Museum five other times, which is rare for the museum to do, but since his work is a local favorite, they keep him coming back. The gallery currently on display is called “Seasons” and is in the Richard’s Gallery
The museum Artistic Director Charlotte Gordon stated that to understand why Isaacs is a local favorite, you really need to just visit the gallery and see his work for yourself.
“He has developed a tromp-l’oeil sense of painting, a trick of the eye that is so realistic that you cannot believe it’s not what you’re seeing,” Gordon said.
Tromp-l’oeil is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create optical illusion that depicted objects exist in three dimensions. The style is very complicated to master and a skilled tromp-l’oeil artist is very hard to come by.
“To carry off tromp-l’oeil is very complicated. I’ve seen a lot of artists get almost there, but you can still tell it is a painting. His level of craftsmanship carries him over and beyond the norm. His level of attention to detail and the presence his artwork has is really something. I think to have even one of his pieces in a gallery would be enough to take the focus in a show and take over the whole room. They just have a presence to them that is palpable that hits the place where art is supposed to hit in the soul,” Gordon said.
Gordon said that the gallery is about the botanical cycle and life. The way that the gallery is spread out, the child’s clothing starts off spring and flows through what is basically an aging process in the artwork depiction ending with winter and mourning dresses.
Isaacs work is completely carved out of birch plywood to make a model replica of what he wants to paint. He takes into account everything when carving. For instance, the dresses in the current show have pleats and multiple layers with notches that appear to be creases and seams.
After carving out the multi-level canvas of birch, Isaacs applies his painting skills and creates a very believable replica of what he is creating, whether it is a pair of metal shearing scissors or a tree branch covered in leaves and rough lichen.
A lot of Isaacs’s work in this particular show feature many different types of tree branches. The branches seen in his work are all carved from the same birch plywood as everything else. Gordon stated that a part of Isaacs’s process is to go onto his property, where he has many different trees, and he will pick a perfect branch for his artwork. He then studies the specimen, graphs it out and creates a model replica to look exactly like it from birch, before painting it to look exactly like the original.
Birch plywood is not the common plywood you buy off the shelf. The material is very refined, has no knots, doesn’t warp and is very clean. The material used for his canvases is high grade and adds to the beauty and the realness of the paintings.
“I was trained as a painter and I’ve grown one step at a time,” Isaacs said. “I started off by adding a sawed out piece of wood to the surface of the canvas and to add layer and introduce a new object to the painting. After a few of these I had asked myself why I even need the canvas and it kind of took off from there. “
Isaacs said that his work is halfway between painting and sculpture and joked that it is more two and a half dimensions, rather than three.
A common practice that Isaacs applies to his work is adding a small, unrealistic touch to some of his work. A realistic and passable dress will melt into a chalkboard, where it will becomes lines and a sketch on the board.
“That is a result of problem solving and for adding content as well,” Isaacs said. “I’ve always wanted to put things together; I’m not content on just reproducing. Combining elements to take on new possibilities for content and meaning is one part of it and it started to be interesting to have these processes and metamorphoses take over. One process of mine is to set up something as being real and then finding a way to create a paradox and go back to make something impossible happen.”
Another reason he uses this technique is to be able to add elements and generate flow. Paintings can usually have random objects enter and create a paradox, but sculptures are a bit harder to pull off in that aspect.
“The show has gotten a lot of traffic thus far,” Gordon said. “When you’re standing in front of his work, it is hard to believe that what he is telling you in in front of you isn’t there. It has been very well received. We’ve had a lot of schools visit and artists. Ron Isaacs is kind of an artist’s artist; he is very well respected in the art community.”
The Southern Ohio Museum will close the Ron Isaacs gallery on Dec. 21.
No dates have been stated at this time for when they will close for the holidays, but will be doing so for renovations. The museum will be repainting their interior, particularly the recently saved basement, since it had been sealed off from water entry after the plaza was created in the alley last summer.