J GO celebrates America with ‘Loaded Symbols’
While people will be in the midst of patriotic celebrations across the country this weekend to celebrate the nation’s 235th birthday, others will be quietly contemplating the meaning of freedom.
JGO Gallery will open a new exhibit that will coincide with the Fourth of July holiday. "Loaded Symbols: The Right to Bear Art," featuring the textured paintings of Jay Kelly and the gun photographs of James Georgopoulos will open July 2. The show will also feature the sculptures of Danae Miller.
The Park Record caught up with Kelly and Georgopoulos last week in separate phone calls to their respective studios located at Venice Beach, Calif., and talked about art, their subject matter and the upcoming show.
Jay Kelly Drapes His Icons with Objects
The main piece Kelly has chosen for the show is the big daddy icon of the United States – American flag.
"I’ve painted quite a few of them now, but the first one I did was an ode to (contemporary flag artist) Jasper Johns years ago," Kelly said. "While I was working on that piece, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened, so the whole feeling of the piece changed. I let the red stripes bleed and paint drip. It turned into something totally different than what I had started out doing."
"It was the first time in my life that I felt really patriotic, and the flag meant something a little bit different to me," he said.
Initially, Kelly thought he was finished with flags, but he was giving a show in Los Angeles last fall.
"It just happened the opening was going to be Sept. 11, 10 years after the attacks, so I said, ‘I’ll do another flag,’" Kelly explained. "It went over very well and I thought maybe there was more to the (symbol), because I had been playing with the flag as a symbol and tried different approaches to it."
The colors that Kelly used for the flag that will be the centerpiece of the JGO show aren’t traditional.
"They’re in line with an Americana feel," he said. "I used golds and sepias."
In addition to the flag, Kelly will display other iconic images such as trees, mountains, deer and the eagle.
"I’m showing all kinds of symbols from the American West, which are not overt as the American flag," he said. "Instead, they are things that remind me of Park City and Sierra Nevada, where I grew up."
Kelly uses additional material on his works to give them visual and physical textures.
"I’ve been incorporating reclaimed wood and objects like hammers and such into the pieces to add to the layers of collage and paint," he said. "I also wove newspapers and texts from books into each piece. All of this is meant to add depth and give each piece its own sense of history. There may be a few political comments here and there, but I’m not preaching and not making an anti-war statement. It’s my take on where we are as a country right now."
Some of the ideas for the works that will be shown at JGO came to Kelly while he listened to NPR in his studio, he said.
"Sometimes hearing all that stuff kind of gets me down, with all the turmoil going on in the world – Middle East, Northern Africa," he said. "It always hits me that there are people fighting for freedom around the world, and we have freedom here and most of us takes it for granted. So the works that I’m going to show convey a positive theme to remind people we have freedom."
James Georgopoulos Shoots Guns for Living
At the same time Kelly was sending his American Icon paintings to JGO Gallery owner Judy Grenney, his neighbor, and fellow artist, James Georgopoulos was doing the same thing with his gun photographs.
Grenny told them it would be interesting to show these works together, so Georgopoulos focused on his works featuring iconic guns from Western films.
"I have a vast collection of photos of a series of film guns that were used in motion picture, television and music videos," Georgopoulos said. "These are actual guns that were used by the actors. I have photos of guns from ‘Scarface’ to the Lady Gaga music video ‘Born This Way’ to iconic guns like the magnum .44 that Clint Eastwood used in the ‘Dirty Harry’ movies.
"However, for the show at JGO Gallery, I’m only sending the popular guns like the ‘Back To the Future III’ gun used by Doc, as well as Clint Eastwood’s gun from ‘Outlaw Josey Wales’ and a few others," he said.
While his art is focused on weaponry, Georgopoulos tries to show the gun as a non-threatening object.
"I use contemporary colors to highlight the photographs, so they’re more like objects that people can look at and ask questions about. Still, at the end of the day, my works are just photographs of iconic movie guns."
Many people have asked why Georgopoulos chose guns for his artistic subject.
"It’s not because I have a love for weapons or guns and violence, but I was trying to find an answer for a studio artist, like myself, who wa taking a back seat to a lot of graffiti artists who made art that was, in the public’s eye, ‘cool,’" he said. "What I wanted to do was show iconic images from popular culture. So I started photographing guns, brass knuckles – different street items that people could identify with."
At first it was difficult getting access to these movie props.
People didn’t want me taking pictures of the serial numbers and all that, because they are some real guns," he said. "Getting permission took a good six months to set my first session."
Once he started taking photos and showing his friends and colleagues, one asked if he could get a shot of a gun used in ‘Scarface.’
"I located it and shot it, with a camera, and, sold it, and ever since then, I can’t create these photos fast enough," Georgopoulos said.
Since the photographer’s reputation has grown over the years, he finds it easier to get access to prop guns.
"These are all either owned by an armory that caters to the Motion Picture industry or owned by individual collectors," he said. "I can usually contact them and set up a shoot.
"My No. 1 source is a place called The Golden Closet, which has everything from Michael Jackson’s wardrobe to that ‘Scarface’ gun," Georgopoulos said. "They have hooked me up with many collectors. I owe a lot to them."
All Georgopoulos’ images are done on film.
"There is not one piece of digital work in my studio at all, because the digital world is not my friend," he said with a laugh. "I like using chemicals, paper and film."
Georgopoulos feels his photos fit with the spirit of the JGO exhibit.
"A lot of these guns are part of Americana," he said. "All the films they have appeared in are about America, the West and the different battles that happened during the time when the United States was growing as a nation. I think these guns are more iconic, than our love for modern weapons, because the modern guns, in terms of liberty and having the right to bear arms, is great for individuals, but we don’t use the new weapons to change a country like we did back in the Old West."
An opening reception for the exhibit "Loaded Symbols: The Right to Bear Art," will be held at J GO Gallery, 408 Main St., from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 2. The exhibit will be displayed through July 28. Admission is free. For more information, visit http://www.Jkfineart.com or http://www.jamesgeorgopoulos.org or call the gallery at (435) 649-1006.
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