Tori Tinsley’s Double Distance at Georgia State’s Ernest G. Welch gallery is a rich emotional interplay of painted sculptures and sculptural paintings from her Hug series. Tinsley paints her mother and herself as cartoon characters attempting to hug through the struggles of dealing with her mother’s frontotemporal dementia, a degenerative brain disease. As she explores the ways that this disease has changed her mother’s personality and their relationship, the two characters are always emotionally out of sync. In her statement Tinsley writes of the two characters that, “At times they also become one, signifying the enmeshment that takes places in caring for my mom, even as she simultaneously slips away.” Tinsley ruminates on compositions, repeating them with changes in color, scale and emotion and — through slight changes in copied motifs — multiplies the emotional charge through temporal depth.
Her penchant for unadulterated color and formal explorations of repeated subjects bring to mind the vibrancy and nostalgia of Wayne Thiebaud. Using bright, streaky brushstrokes suggestive of fingerpainting, the mother–daughter figures are reduced to Pepto-Bismol© pink blobs. A tiny study of two unaligned paintings outlines a scene fully fleshed out in a larger iteration titled “Incriminating Hug.” Each panel holds one character and gives an intimate setting for the shock and dismay of their emotional state — a soft sculpture arm stretches around the two paintings and the hands flaccidly drop to the floor in futility.
“Split Hug” stands out as a beautiful entangled composition. The armless figures, each on their own canvases, look and engage one another. With their faces frozen in contrasting masks of comedy and tragedy, which character is which is irrelevant. The tension of the paintings is held in their inability to connect. The soft sculpture double-ended arm lays on the floor below, reaching up in attempt to touch them both. The paintings are stuffed like a soft children’s book made out of fabric, and the characters protrude from the canvas. Their bodies are ripped apart, knotty and patched, deepening the inner turmoil despite the amusing failure of the arm.
Tinsley zooms out in “Hug Island,” a delightful stuffed painting. She writes of the place, “In caring for them, I created a space for them to thrive.” Viewed from afar, the composition resembles a human heart. The scene reveals itself when inspected intimately — you can make out the two characters residing there, their bodies slightly ambiguous. Underneath the surface is the faint pattern of floral bed sheets, it all working together to form a visual version of ‘home is where the heart is.’
With the visual language of cartoons, children’s art and books, Tinsley has created a sophisticated exhibition with a great deal of emotional sensitivity. She succeeds in creating both a testament of resilience as well as a warm, loving tribute. In straddling the line between flat and dimensional, Double Distance manages a perfect union.
Derek Faust’s incongruent ilk, in the same gallery space, is chic and elegant in its spare industrial formalism. If it leaves you wondering what it’s about, like a joke that has to be explained, it’s because Faust’s work can fall flat without a careful viewing. The exhibition title suggests a class of things that don’t go together, and it is the only provided evidence (along with the individual titles of the compositions) of the content of the work. Taken together, the pieces feel like a mystery — a puzzle to be solved. Following a trail of relationships is a way to read further. Ultimately, the viewer is left to bring your own conclusions from the work as to its “aboutness.”
Faust writes in his statement, “There is an intersection between objects and image that drips with subjective judgement. What is reality; where does object become image and vice–versa?” Without any context other than the grouping, the utilitarian qualities of the separate materials are never subverted. It is also hard to tell where found objects end and what is fabricated, a testament to Faust’s construction skills. Were it not for the minimalism of the space, the feel would simply give way to that of a storage facility. That careful, feng-shui-like placement that imparts a deliberateness and asks for a second look.
The most successful work of the exhibition is “Crew Only,” a photograph of a cruise ship out to sea presented upside down on a metal easel. Its form resembles a diamond–shaped temporary construction sign. You can consider how transportation is not the primary purpose of cruises, or read it with the title to explore the divide between staff and passenger. The intersections of the inverted photograph with the semiotics of a construction sign alludes to some imminent aquatic disaster, the shape of the piece itself functioning as a clue: a diamond–shaped sign always warns of possible hazards ahead.
This leads to a rabbit trail of connections. The combination of water and danger can inform your reading of “Trace,” a composition of sign small tire, next to metal pipe draped with a large photograph of puddles and a water hose. Following that, I considered what the combination of sea and accident have to do with “Dune,” the small rear windshield lighting up a line of sand in front of it. There is less ambiguity of this in Faust’s “Florida Fall.” The work consists of two decorative plastic plants, one of which is hilariously hacked down, surrounded with leaves, and in its fake soil is a machete.
In placing all the onus on the viewer to ascribe meaning, yet providing little to understand, there is a potential the viewer is left not caring. Our relationship to most everyday objects is such that we value them based on their utilitarian nature and, as a result of Faust’s approach of limited information, it forms the foundation of his vignettes. Filtering out the impatient, incongruent ilk rewards the contemplative with a beautifully constructed cipher of minimal work.