"Get Me Out of My Head" reflects the mind's workings at El Museo
New exhibit downtown takes look inside two local artists' heads
As exhibit-goers first walk into El Museo, they’re met immediately with a fusion of two artists’ works, Robert Harris and Kurt Von Voetsch.
On Friday, over 30 people attended the opening and artist talk for “Get Me Out of My Head” at Allen Street’s El Museo. The reception made the already small venue a bit tighter as Harris, one of two featured artists in the exhibit, discussed his paintings. The exhibit also featured Von Voetsch, a UB alumnus, who tackled his battle with brain cancer in his work.
“Get Me Out of My Head” is on view at El Museo until Sept. 23. The gallery is open from 1-7 p.m. weekly from Wednesday to Saturday and admission is free.
On the left side of the gallery’s introductory space, Von Voetsch’s “Untitled (Self Portrait)” hangs about in charcoaled fashion. It diverges yet complements the colored workings of Harris, with a flower-wielding, straight-faced man in “Self Portrait in Yellow.”
If the first two pieces of the exhibit allude to anything, both artists capture their minds even if the pieces are aesthetically or conceptually different.
Bryan Lee, a UB alumnus, curated the exhibit for El Museo, a non-profit Buffalo arts organization spearheaded by the Latino Artists Collective in 1977.
“On the surface reading of the exhibit’s name, these are all the artists’ thoughts spilling onto a canvas,” Lee said. “They have a kind of immediacy, rawness and they aren’t very polished – which reflects how our thoughts actually are. It also plays with this idea of the very serious and the very cheeky and humorous.”
This combination, Lee said, is exemplified in Von Voetsch’s work, which deals strongly with his mortality in dark and funny ways.
Von Voetsch’s work in the exhibit is disturbingly attractive, with smoked away prints of the brain being dazzled with stars on a rough canvas.
In one of the gallery’s most pronounced pieces – a piece from Von Voetsch’s 2010 Cancer Clown series – pins hold up loose paper, roughly asking questions. The artist’s text in the piece states, “Maybe in the next life he can be an artist in NYC + f*cking cool.” The piece also sees a group of candles asking, “Why so anti-Buffalo?”
Von Voetsch is also strong in his declarations, denouncing the afterlife in “Untitled (F*ck Death).” The work notes a strong but sure statement, one found amongst lines and graphic waves that contrast a black backing wall.
Harris’ paintings are equally as captivating as Von Voetsch’s mixed media work.
Harris has been recently featured in 2016’s Painting in Progress, an exhibit highlighting his work at Niagara University’s Castellani Museum. It was there that Von Voetsch and Harris met, but the idea to fuse the two artists’ work together came from El Museo curator, Bryan Lee.
“There’s a sense of independence in our styles – that we’re our own genre, so to speak,” Harris said. “For me, I’m inspired by daily life, personal association, things I read. But what I’ve learned in the past year or so is not to get inspiration from other artists because it won’t work effectively.”
Harris said while on a trip to New York City earlier this year, he came to the realization his work is somewhat similar to that of Max Beckmann. Although Harris’ work seems self-portrait-centric, much like what Beckmann became known for, his work touches many other grounds.
In his talk at the gallery’s opening, he discussed how many of his pieces come from his imagination as well as his social settings. Harris attributes art as a refuge for his mind which helped him growing up in Niagara Falls.
One piece inspired by locality is 2016’s “Hangman.” The work is a peach-toned depiction of women playing a game of hangman at Buffalo’s Olympic Tower on Pearl Street.
Other pieces of Harris’ examine daily life, like “Pub Trivia,” re-imagining a scene one could find in a nearby Allentown drinking hub. Others speak to grimness, like “Self Portrait No. 6,” which reveals an hourglass’ sands escaping its upper half as a skull looks onward.
The event attracted patrons like Lemseh Carothers-Abdullah, an artist living in Buffalo, who’s interested in the different media the artists used in the exhibit.
“I thought the artists’ techniques, along with the use of colors, are interesting as well as their expressions,” Carothers-Abdullah said. “As an artist, too, it gives me more inspiration.”
Later this month, Von Voetsch will have another exhibit on view in Buffalo. Stage Four will be featured at the Buffalo Arts Studio, opening Sept. 22.
Correction: the original article stated Harris' exhibit was named "Painting Pictures."
Benjamin Blanchet is a senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org