ArtsATL > Art+Design > Review: A mellow Tierney Gearon celebrates childhood and wonder in photographs at Jackson Fine Art

Review: A mellow Tierney Gearon celebrates childhood and wonder in photographs at Jackson Fine Art

Tierney Gearon: Untitled, (Telluride Triangle).
Tierney Gearon:  Untitled, (Telluride Triangle).
Tierney Gearon: Untitled, (Telluride Triangle).

Photographer Tierney Gearon returns to Jackson Fine Art with two vibrant new projects. The photographs in “COLORSHAPE” incorporate brightly colored Plexiglas geometrics into a variety of settings. “Alphabet” features images from her new children’s book, Tierney Gearon: Alphabet Book. Both are on view through February 2, 2014.

Gearon’s family — her four children and her extended family and friends — has been her subject for most of her career. It is work she calls the “diary of my soul.” The Atlanta native claimed a place in contemporary photography through her relentless and fearless gaze on all things personal. Her book of photographs Daddy, where are you? is an intimate, always frank and often painful look at her young children, her tangled relationship with her mother and her mother’s mental illness. In “The Mother Project,” the 2006 documentary film that complemented that book, Gearon admits, ”I used to think I’m going to become like her.”

“Explosure”, the series that followed in 2008, displayed a more formal bent. Gearon created a series of dreamlike images and surreal juxtapositions with double exposure of film executed completely in camera. One of the images from that series, “frame 1, 2008,” anticipates the see-through, inside/outside world of the Plexiglas shapes in “COLORSHAPE.”

The photograph creates a world in which one child seemingly looks out from behind a translucent scrim of yellow while another, outside of the scrim, is totally unaware of any world other than his own.

Tierney Gearon: "Frame 1," 2008.
Tierney Gearon: “Frame 1,” 2008.

If “Explosure” introduced a chance narrative through the in-camera double exposure of one image over another, the new photos speak directly to the viewer, even encouraging the viewer’s own narrative. Gearon asserts her choice of setting, of container and contained rather than leave the result to chance processes. The tone and mood have changed as well:  a sense of ease and wonder pervade.

Gearon made the series during family vacations and visits to friends in locales as diverse as Kauai, Palm Springs, Telluride and St. Bart’s. Large-scale archival pigment fiber prints, at an average 40”x50”, feature rugged landscapes of jagged, snow-capped mountains, lush Hawaiian vistas or the manicured street corners at the edge of a lonely desert. She assembled translucent geometric structures from jewel-toned sheets of Plexiglas on-site for each photograph. All but one house a child, friend or pet.

The Plexiglas structure dominates the landscape with an order that is illusory. Neither the landscape around the structure nor the subject inside it is actually altered its placement. Except for our curiosity, nothing changes but our perspective, and in that, of course, everything changes. It is difficult not to think of Wallace Stevens’ modernist classic, “Anecdote of the Jar.” In that poem, the speaker places a clear, gray jar on a hill in Tennessee, the placement of which “made the slovenly wilderness/Surround that hill…The wilderness rose up to it,/And sprawled around, no longer wild…It(the jar) took dominion everywhere.”

We experience the color and geometry as they act on the environment in the photograph. Our eye is drawn to the bright shape and the ripples of color in the shadows that fall away on the ground outside the shape. None of the children inside those shapes seems eager to come out. No wonder. Imagine how the world must look from inside a cube of the brightest cerulean, a rectangle of sunniest yellow or a hot magenta triangle.

Tierney Gearon: Untitled (Baby in a Box, St Bart's).
Tierney Gearon: Untitled (Baby in a Box, St Bart’s).

In “Untitled, (Baby in Box, St. Bart’s),” the Plexiglas box lends the idea of reliquary, the baby inside the azure cube forever young. In “Untitled, (Telluride Triangle),” the sky blue and white cloud pajamas of the little girl examining her hands inside a magenta triangle match the blue and white sky outside the shape. A perfect rhyme, captured. Even if for a moment. Could Gearon be hoping to still time?

Gearon also made the “Alphabet” series on family trips or school holidays — what she calls “calculated kid-chaos playtime.” The images, which bear alliterative titles in her book (“Bear Boy”, “Jumping Joy”, “Grumpy Girls”), portray her two youngest children and their friends in costumes, masks and dress-up.

Gearon's "Grumpy Girls."
Gearon’s “Grumpy Girls.”

Imagine your mother taking you to the desert in a red convertible with a friend and a box of spray paint, and telling you to have at it. The result is “Untitled, (Clown Car)” and sheer joy.

Gearon says of her mother in that earlier project, “In all this rubble of grass in her front yard, she finds this one little flower. I want to celebrate that.” Perhaps she did become a little like her mother after all. With her new work Gearon finds the bright flower in life, shows it to us, and we all celebrate.

All images courtesy of Jackson Fine Art and the artist. Copyright Tierney Gearon.

Click here to view more photos. 

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