Along the ‘The Road Less Traveled’

Kat Kneevers, Contributing writer

The Road Less Traveled is the collective title of 15 exhibitions at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan running during 2017.

The exhibition series brings together many artists who worked off the beaten path, frequently creating their own living environment, which is not only about physical locations, but also more esoteric concepts of belief, individuality and invention.

What they did goes way beyond decorating a domicile. They transform their surroundings to echo a driving sense of purpose in life.

‘Pasaquoyanism: Eddie Owens Martin’

Eddie Owens Martin (1908–1986) came from conservative and humble beginnings in rural Georgia. Like many young people, he was drawn to the big city and so hitchhiked his way out. He eventually landed in New York City, where he worked “as a street hustler, drag queen, bartender and gambler,” as well as taking up fortunetelling, according to PBS series Independent Lens. Martin had a vision that refashioned his identity as St. EOM, the leader of a spiritual practice called Pasaquoyanism, which is about “the truth, nature and the Earth and man’s lost rituals.”

Inheriting his family’s property in Buena Vista, Georgia, became Martin’s opportunity to establish a home and transform the property into something completely attuned to his interests and aesthetics. The buildings, fences and St. EOM himself became decorated and created. In the Kohler gallery space, contemporary Brazilian artist Gê Orthof also contributes an installation where you can don a scarf, learn to tie a turban and dress in jangling bracelets and anklets as a nod to the ceremonial costume of St. EOM.

‘The World in a Garden: Nek Chand’

The sculptures of Indian artist Nek Chand (1924–2015) also were made in secret, but more as a way of bringing to life a sort of fantasy garden. Today it is known as The Rock Garden of Chandigarh. When Chand started his endeavor in 1958, he had no way of knowing that his evolving project would become one of the most visited destination in India, second only to the Taj Mahal.

Chand’s profession as a roads inspector led him to discover unique pieces of stone and pottery from villages torn down during the process of construction. As a sort of resurrection, the bits and pieces became the mosaic forms of all sorts of characters in Chand’s hidden garden, which was created in a secret spot on government land. Chand called his figures “immortal beings of an otherworldly kingdom,” they are human and animal, playful and mystical. Eventually the figures in the garden numbered more than 10,000, and the Kohler Arts Center’s receipt of a significant collection makes it the largest repository of his work outside of India.

Other exhibitions in The Road Less Traveled include major environments such as the home of The Rhinestone Cowboy, Loy Bowlin (1909–1995). His dazzling house, which he called “The Beautiful Holy Jewel Home,” is reconstructed in the gallery and illustrates an extraordinary sense of embellishment at Bowlin’s hand. The glitter and multicolor paper on the walls were only the start — Bowlin’s sparkling clothing is also on view, as well as personal effects that have a similar treatment.

These are just a few of the many artists included in this current slate of shows, and they demonstrate the overwhelming nature of creative spirit to make and transform the world around us.

Many of us have a strong desire to change things these days as the news of the world seems like an overwhelming, hegemonic force. These artists reveal that transformation can begin small in the immediate physical environment, and grow into a larger tapestry of lived ideals.

‘An Encounter with Presence: Emery Blagdon’

The life and work of Emery Blagdon (1908–1986) are centered in the rural landscape, in the wilds near Stapleton, Nebraska. Over the course of about 30 years, endless quantities of aluminum, wire, tinfoil and paint were made into “The Healing Machine,” which was housed in a humble shed on his property. The purpose of the machine was to channel

JMKAC
A sculpture by Emory Blagdon.

energy to help alleviate illness and pain. The environment was preserved by Blagdon’s friend Dan Dryden, who had befriended him before moving to New York. Through the intervention of Dryden and his friend Don Christensen, it was catalogued and exhibited and, in 2004, purchased by the Kohler Foundation.

“The Healing Machine” is shown in a recreation of its shed, a dazzling vision of sliver strands and color. Your eyes are captured by endless details and the subtle movement of the countless mobiles. Along with the installation, drawings and additional sculptures are part of the exhibition, offering a moment to move into the space of a man who truly believed in the healing power of art.

On exhibit

Each of the exhibitions in The Road Less Traveled can be viewed for a limited time during 2017. See the John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s website jmkac.org for details. The JMKAC is at 608 New York Ave., Sheboygan.

Opening

Carlos Hermosilla Álvarez & Colin Matthes: Echoing Concerns
Charles Allis Art Museum
1801 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee
March 16–June 25
Opening reception with gallery talk by catalog essayist Christopher Wiley at 7 p.m. March 16.

Hermosilla and Matthes are two artists with strong political views and powerful images to match. Both work in print mediums, with Hermosilla regarded as “the father of Chilean realist printmaking,” and Milwaukee-based Matthes a self-described “engineer of the absurd,” using his graphic work to aim at social and political causes.

Closing

The Cleft and Shimmering Hour
Portrait Society Gallery
Fifth floor, 207 E. Buffalo St., Milwaukee
Exhibition closes March 26.

Collaborative duo Shana McCaw and Brent Budsberg, in collaboration with filmmaker Tate Bunker, are showing an immersive exhibition of sculptural photographs, photographs and video imagery that “investigate subjective perceptions of the past and the disparities between genealogy, archaeology, ‘official’ history and the influence of Hollywood and popular culture.”