An Honest Struggle: Heaven Burr and Cody Evans’ “Vain and Honest”

By Leah Keller

Some interesting artwork is on display at the SPAC Gallery this week. Two very different artists tackle questions about identity in their show Vain and Honest. Divided by a temporary partition, the gallery seems to be split between two worlds. The first world, that of Heaven Burr, is one filled with a “wish list” of glitz, glamour, and girlhood. Several small panel paintings are hung on the partition; these paintings depict gemstones and diamonds, and have a background of color-blocked triangles radiating from a single point. When looked at closely, the use of glitter and the raised application of the paint create an interesting aesthetic. The combination of bold colors and angular geometric shapes catches the viewer’s eye, and the repetition of similar content and form leaves the visitor wondering what the meaning behind these paintings could be.

Burr’s Wish List is the most notable portion of her show. Her wish list is not merely a list, but miniature re-creations of designer clothing and accessories crafted from clay. These figurines are each displayed with a paper doily that says the item name in a girly font. These individual doilies match three that are also on the wall, with the title Wish List written on one, and a description of Burr’s grappling with materialism and what it means to be a woman on the other two. Burr states that she does not think that materialism is a bad thing, but she asks the viewer to answer that question for herself. The viewer is engaged in conversation with Burr, and she is also engaged in contemplation herself over this open-ended question of ethics and femininity. While looking at these representations of material luxury that most women have desired at one time or another, the female visitor will wonder if coveting these indulgent items is a sin, or just part of being a woman.

On the opposite side of the gallery, identity questions of another kind are being raised. Cody Evans takes an honest look at faith and religion. His artist’s statement explains that his pieces are an interpretation of the deconstruction and reconstruction of his faith throughout the last four years. His most noteworthy, although visually simple, piece is a carpet that has been hung from the ceiling about three feet away from the wall. The carpet is about five feet across and nine to ten feet in length, and a portion of the carpet rests on the floor. Because of the way the carpet is installed, the viewer is able to see the underside, or what is “swept under the rug.” For Evans, this representation is largely related to exposing bullying within the church, but the experience of revealing the underside of the carpet is universally applicable to a variety of issues. The carpet hangs about three feet from the wall, and this space creates the illusion of a hallway. When walking under the rug, the viewer may feel like it is just the underbelly of a carpet, but an interesting experience actually occurs. During the time spent behind the carpet, the visitor is unable to see the outside world. Once the viewer emerges on the opposite side, she has instantaneously achieved a new point of view. This interactive experience is likely a metaphor for the new perspectives that can be achieved when exposing the concealed secrets forced to hide under a facade of perfection.

Evans has¬† also displayed three large paintings of saints, as well as a statue of the Virgin Mary’s head that has been broken and rebuilt with glue and twine. These pieces are more closely linked to Burr’s–both artists are struggling with issues of identity and personal beliefs–but the progression from Burr’s to Evans’ artwork is a bit jarring. As an entirety, Vain and Honest may be an interesting juxtaposition of visual artworks, but both Burr and Evans address universal issues from an honest and personal point of view.

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