Eric Vacheresse closes the loop with ‘Gate Keeper’

When earlier this week Eric Vacheresse showed me around “Gate Keeper,” his new exhibit opening in the Vanderelli Room, he could literally have been walking in his grandfather’s footsteps, given that his grandfather father grew up in a McDowell Street housing estate that once existed where the Franklinton Gallery now exists.

“It’s a bit surreal. It’s almost like I’ve come full circle,” said Vacheresse, a Franklinton resident like her grandfather and great-grandfather, who once lived in the apartment above what is now Rehab Tavern. “I have always felt a connection with this region, with my grandfather and seeing old photos of him. But I didn’t know he grew up on McDowell until I moved to 129 [Studios]. It felt like it was meant to be. And having one of my first solo shows here at Vanderelli Hall, right next to the land he grew up on, is one of those cool things. It brings me closer to my family. »

The new exhibit, which opens today (January 14) to coincide with Franklinton Friday, consists of two shows. The larger front half of the gallery is taken up by “Gate Keeper”, comprising paintings and sculptures made by Vacheresse, the oldest of which dates from 2019. The back half of the gallery is filled with 40 small drawings made in Sharpie marker in color by artist Sam Rietenbach, collected here as “Actual Size”.

The diversity of Vacheresse’s work is staggering, with earlier pieces favoring bold black outlines and borrowing more stylistically from the street art he first immersed himself in. Some of these pieces are more chaotic, like “Life Goes On,” a colorful collage-like work the artist painted during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 that reflects this instability. Later works, like a surreal series spanning the gallery’s north wall, project a contrasting sense of stillness, which the artist says has crept in amid COVID-induced closures over the past two years.

“I live at 129, and we try to balance it being an event space and a living space, so there was never really time to sit down and do art,” Vacheresse said. “But once we couldn’t have people anymore, it allowed me to work in that space like a real studio, and it gave me moments of solitude where I could really think instead of just constantly moving. “

The mental shift is immediately apparent as you swing your gaze from the gallery’s south wall, dominated by bold street art-inspired works, to its north wall, populated by more subtle pieces, many of which contain faceless illuminated apparitions. “A lot of my work refers to the passing, or the afterlife, or that unknown,” Vacheresse said, an idea that has resurfaced with more frequency amid the daily tally of COVID deaths. “It’s fascinating because we don’t understand it, and we can’t put it in a box and say, ‘That’s the way it is.’ And that stuff you can’t grab is really great when you want to create something.

A drawing by Sam Rietenbach

“Actual Size”, on the other hand, serves as a series of diary entries taken from the daily life of Rietenbach, who said he completed each work in a relatively short period of time in order to capture a particular moment, feeling or emotion. before he could. evaporate. Rietenbach finished a piece, for example, in the backseat of the car on a drive through Kansas, quickly anchoring a train he saw rumble across the flat landscape.

“It’s like therapy, and it’s all my diary,” Rietenbach said, pointing to the dozens of small drawings hanging on the walls. “I have won and will always win more than I will ever show. They pile up and I have them in envelopes and they are always with me. It’s in the open air. Sometimes it’s an experience or a where I am, or a trip I’m on. And sometimes it’s nightmares or weird fairy tales or silly ideas. And sometimes it’s abstract puzzles, where I play with the shapes and colors of a way that I’ve been doing for a long time…. When I was a kid, I was drawing these mazes and designing skate parks, and I remember thinking spatially, almost drawing these plans.

Like Vacheresse, Rietenbach also has a background in graffiti, which he says helped him develop skills beneficial for these smaller-scale works, namely the ability to maintain control of his marker while working under pressure. and with a sense of immediacy.

“But this particular show is really personal to me, more so than the paintings or the murals or the graffiti,” said Rietenbach, who added that much of his bedding and clothes are stained in different shades of Sharpie, due to his habit of falling asleep with a marker in his hand. “These, emotionally, are really part of me. … It’s like, ‘Oh, this was Kansas, and we were going to my brother’s wedding and the train came across the landscape at the right time.’ … It’s a labor of love.


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