Sometimes I feel that my sights are set toward the sky but my heart remains underwater. Rarely does visual art depict that hard-to-define feeling, but in An Inward Gaze, currently on view at Blue Sky Gallery, I see this emotion on display. Featuring the works of Brittney Cathey-Adams and Arielle Bobb-Willis, this exhibition is highly emotional and a reminder that it is brave to make art about feelings, especially if those feelings are uncomfortable.
Brittney Cathey-Adams turns the camera on herself in an act of liberation rather than scrutiny. In her photographs, she immerses herself into nature—withstanding the elements and all they throw at her. The darkness of the forest contrasts her ivory skin—skin that cannot camouflage here—that is then submerged into water. The body reacts instantly when transitioning beneath the surface, we squint and we shield ourselves. These images could be considered provocative, but I feel as if they are protective. Her vulnerability is portrayed in such a way that encourages the viewer to open up a bit more. The artist feels like an ally, someone who will be on your team and stand with you when your vulnerability shows too.
Cathey-Adams’ use of repetition, intimate lighting, and thoughtful reveal of flesh pays homage to self-portraits artists before her. The photographs calls to mind Anne Brigman’s haunting, yet liberating self-portraits. The exhibition’s curators Jon Feinstein and Roula Seikaly note that the artist, “inserts herself without asking permission,” reclaiming power in terms of control and vulnerability. Brigman once stated, “My pictures tell of my freedom of soul, of my emancipation from fear.” Fellow self-portrait artist Francesca Woodman said, “You cannot see me from where I look at myself.” We are hyper aware of where our body is in space. The amount of time that we spend criticizing our own vessel is exhausting. In this exhibition, the contrasting styles of each artist is as powerful as the shared emotions explored.
Arielle Bobb-Willis’ photographs boast an intimacy that is void of direct gaze. Awkward gestures exemplify her anxiety but are balanced by a cheerful color palette, harmonizing despair and hope in a single image. I find the iris-assaulting palette of Bob-Willis’ work uncomfortable but I feel like that’s the point. I feel unsettlingly self-aware through someone else’s lens but concurrently comforted by these familiar, distorted bodies.
The transition from Cathey-Adam’s relatable black-and-white style into Bob-Willis’ world of color forces me to examine my feelings of uneasiness. I feel entrenched in the push and pull of outward appearance battling internal dialogue and what it means to maintain control while finding balance—or try to. An Inward Gaze is perhaps a prompt for us to dig a little deeper.
An Inward Gaze is on view at Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, OR through June 2, 2019.