Saturday, October 11, 2008

genteel gospels and socially engaged art

Whatever one thinks of the two Reinike paintings in the previous post (and they aren't compositionally his strongest, by any means), they do encode the social teachings of a Christian church that has only been able to excuse its more reactionary moments by overemphasizing the poor's rewards in heaven and ignoring the Gospels' condemnation of the consequences of wealth here on earth.

I have long insisted that while it is a mistake to ignore formalist issues (if a message-laden work is too cluttered or outright ugly, it is hard to get an audience to look at it), there are artworks that gain enormously in interest because of when and where they were created. I still remember my sense of surprise when I first encountered Reinike's Cacophony, an extremely polite but blunt reminder that the frenetic laying up of treasures on earth then going on had an air of the Golden Calf about them. One didn't expect to find such sentiments expressed openly in the context of an immensely reserved and literate appreciation for the accomplishments of traditional culture, but Reinike has always been a very genteel version of the big-picture kind of guy, and I've grown accustomed to surprises from his work.

I free-associated my way to recollecting Reinike paintings, which I hadn't thought of in some time, by way of thinking about the late Atlanta folk artist Ned Cartledge's social-commentary bas-relief panels from the Reagan years. I'm surprised to find almost no images of them online, though a Nexus Press book reproducing them is still available from the Contemporary.

Cartledge was an enormously reflective working-class progressive, an anti-racist Southern white who once produced an image of Uncle Sam crucified as a protest against those who were putting religion to regressive political uses.

In decades when Southern folk art (I leave to one side the then-controversial "African-American vernacular art" championed by William Arnett) was identified with flamboyant showmen and rural apocalypticists, Cartledge was a quietly urbane urban folk artist making witty but carefully reasoned points about the condition of society.

These two artists have almost nothing in common, except that each one's work goes against the prevailing stereotypes associated with his position in the art world.

The only lesson to be drawn from this is that the South, and the planet in general, is a much more complicated place than we think. And short of going into the two-thousand-word explications of the sort in which I indulge on the joculum.livejournal blog, that is a fairly pathetic excuse for a conclusion, but it's the best I can do at the moment.

2 comments:

Charles H. Reinike III said...

Thanks for helping spread the word. One quote disturbed me though: “Cacophony and Three Temples are unfashionably wedded to blatantly traditional symbolism, and will not be to everyone's taste.”

You know my goal is to communicate as universally as possible. Using symbolism in painting or sculpture (or any art form for that matter) requires that the artist balance on a very thin line. If it is too obvious it is boring. If it’s too esoteric, it will be ignored. The thrust of my work is to reconnect viewers with their theological and intellectual roots. My greatest concern today is that the quest for new has cut us off from the lessons of the past. You can cut the taproot of a tree and it will live for a while, but it will gradually die even though it is seemingly putting out vigorous new growth. How can one refer visually to the lessons of the past without using traditional references?

As fellow travelers on this planet in the here and now, we have the awesome responsibility to sift through the garbage of the information age and find those basic truths that are worth passing on to the future. We are sandwiched between past and future, and we can never escape the present. What we do with the present becomes our legacy.

My greatest hope is to stimulate visually a bit of discussion and awareness of the big picture, instead of concentrating on the little bits and pieces of daily life. To survive and prosper in this materialistic world, we MUST develop some semblance of an ethical and intellectual worldview.

Charles H. Reinike III
October 11, 2008

Stuart said...

It seems to me that we are obiously sandwiched between the past and the future. The important consideration is that the only things we have that allow us to think about and envision that future are those images and experiences of the past. One may think of oneself as being in the present, but our present is, for the most part, the sum total of our images of the past.
As we discuss the work of Charles Reinike, III, it is worthwhile to consider the work of Charles Reinike, Jr. Charles Jr. and Charles III are both exceptional artists and clearly Charles III has created images that create instant memories. I have no doubt that the best of his work succeeds grandly at “reconnecting the viewer with his or her theological and intellectual roots.” Charles Jr. succeeded grandly at creating images that captured the “little bits and pieces of daily life” that form the soul of that deep, rich, and eternally valuable Louisiana culture. As with the images of Charles III, the images of Charles Jr create lasting memories. So, what makes these images by father and son fine art is not so much the extraordinary technical skill these two men display but rather the vision – that deep thoughtful vision – that both have passed on to those of us lucky enough to see their work. And, these works create lasting memories. And it is upon such memories that we build our own present and envision our collective future.