by Joe Nolan
Last Friday night I went to the opening of The Secret Room at Threesquared. The exhibition included videos and paintings by David Hellams, Jaime Raybin and Jenna Maurice — all three of whom work for Watkins as admissions recruiters.
The trio all log lots of time on the road, evangelizing talented teens on the value of a higher education in the arts. I watched the Maysles Brothers groundbreaking debut Salesman again over the weekend. If you haven't seen it, give it a peep. This exhibition and the film made me think about selling Bibles and selling knowledge, and how either might make Willy Lomans of us all.
These recruiter-artists all experience long periods of isolation in cars, planes and hotel rooms. They also represent an institution to rooms full of people, and engage with teens at a point when they're making very big decisions about the first steps they want to take in the real world. It's enough to weird-out anybody, and that weirdness is this exhibit's jumping-off-point.
There's a lot to like about this show: Maurice's images projected high on the gallery's back wall were a real eye-catcher, and I liked the funny/absurd travelogue films she and Raybin contributed even better. Raybin's self-portrait, which pictures her talking on a string-phone connected to tin cans, is another highlight — the artist paints herself chatting with her real-life boyfriend, reminding me that the childish device is sometimes called a "lovers' telephone."
David Hellams' paintings were the show's most engaging works, picturing silent, unpopulated interiors with seemingly traditional intentions and techniques. Viewers who may be unaware of Hellams' wide variety of creations would be forgiven for thinking these paintings might be so simple — they're not.
The paintings are untitled, but most have descriptions. "Arrangement With Keyboard" pictures a keytar balanced on a piano stool at one end of an antique rug runner. The same rug can be seen in another room that is glimpsed through a "hole" in the background that implies a window into a parallel universe. Another runner appears in "Arrangement With Amplifier," along with an antique table, chairs, and the Peavey mentioned in the description. In both pieces the elements float above backgrounds of monochrome tan and mauve, respectively. This setup sounds positively pop, but the subject matter and the palette won't allow the graphic-seeming composition to trump the colors and surfaces Hellams coaxes from his brush. Painting wins here, and so do Hellams' viewers.
See all of Hellams' work at the closing reception for The Secret Room. It coincides with this weekend's art crawl — Saturday, June 7, from 6-9 p.m. — at Threesquared.