Rgb is the new BLK

Commercial photographer and designer Bill Sitzmann has made a good living and a significant impact on pop culture, especially music. As a freelancer and core member of Minorwhite Studio, a collective of graphic artists and writers devoted to music, fashion and architecture, Sitzmann has helped put Omaha on a national map with cover shots in Time and Rolling Stone on behalf of Saddle Creek bands. Those cover photos of artists like the Faint and Bright Eyes established Sitzmann not only as an accomplished commercial artist but as interesting interpreter of an American lifestyle with a decidedly global, urban point of view. The well-traveled artist brings an edge to his promotional and advertising shoots that fit well into Minorwhite’s mission to create “conceptual still lifes” on behalf of its clients. In other words, work that engages the mind as well as the senses in ways unexpected. The latter is especially what attracted Shane and Shaun Bainbridge of the New BLK Gallery, who have organized Sitzmann’s first solo show, RGb: MODERN. DIGITAL. AMERICAN. PHOTOGRAPHY. This exhibition, which continues at the venue’s location at 1213 Jones St., may have an “American” brand on it, but it clearly has Sitzmann’s stamp as well. “I noticed immediately with Bill’s photography of the local music scene he was trying to capture visually what his ear interpreted, like a young Annie Leibovitz,” Bainbridge says. “One thing was certain, when you saw it, you knew it was Sitzmann’s, that unique line drawn in the sand matched with a completely open, positive personality.” Sitzmann initially brought this more intellectual approach to his photography to New BLK at the gallery’s diverse group show, Respectacle, a body of work that challenged the viewer to not only “respect the vision” but attempt to interpret it as well. Among the more rewarding efforts for both artist and viewer was his large digital tableau, “The Second Coming,” which this critic described as “prophetic and apocalyptic” and featured the artist and his family in cameo. RGb features 17 large and medium digital prints with what the artist describes as an automotive finish of sanding and varnish learned from fellow artist Matt Jones in order to remove the glossy appeal typical of most commercial photography. The one exception is the large format, glazed print “Urban Harvest” that along with the last equally imposing work, “Expat,” serve as imposing bookends for this largely effective, first solo effort. “’Urban Harvest’ was hanging in a small group show at the back of the Nomad Lounge,” Bainbridge says, “and it made me take notice of Bill outside the music scene and the commercial world. There is that air of cool to the desperation he depicts. For the first time I really understood his ability to construct piecemeal images into a thought or dream or passing fancy.” This work, along with a sort of triptych of more overtly satirical pieces, hang in the main floor gallery and represent the more realistic aspect of this show in both subject and theme. In most of the remaining work in the gallery below we are treated to tableaux of social commentary whose commentaries are subtler but elusive, and personal yet more cryptic. In virtually all the imagery a single male figure dominates, and it can be argued that he is literally the artist, a stand-in, a doppelganger or an alter ego. Simply because, these narratives are largely auto-biographical based upon first-hand experienced, dreams, wishes or fears in what he interprets as the human condition, American 21st century edition. For instance, “Urban Harvest” imagines Sitzmann as a millennial in a post 9/11 pastiche living with his young family out of their Dodge Caravan on the verge of losing everything and ending up on the street. The protagonist looks off the frame to the left with an air of almost diffidence as his prospects look dim. Despite this and the threatening foreshortening of this urban milieu, the mood is almost laconic as his wife and son distract themselves on their laptop. They appear almost indifferent to their new vagabond, off the grid status as if okay with no more commitments or entanglements. And that graffiti on the brick wall behind them, “Yes We Did!!!” may not be ironic. The next three Giclee prints, “Time Savers: In, In/Out and Out,” strongly suggest that the quality of life left behind by our hero in the first image left a lot to be desired. This is especially true of the figure in “In/Out,” who hasn’t the time in his busy world to eat McDonald’s, text and take a crap, so he does all three simultaneously while on the toilet. This is scabrous, Swiftian satire in the best tradition of the latter’s “A Modest Proposal.” The next 13 vignettes, with the exception of two portraits, one startling and expressionistic, No. 10 “makes you … stranger,” the other impressionistic and unimpressive; No. 14, “never more than She can handle,” are obscure scenarios, the best of which at least impress visually as well as intrigue. Conversely, No. 5, “We All Live on Colin’s Submarine” is lost in an overly dark blue palette; No. 8, “The Flock Has Lost Its Shepherd” is undone by text overkill when the image alone lives up to its title and No. 13, “Slow Disclosure” is contrived in its far left composition. More successful in design and concept, especially so, are Nos. 6, 12, 16 and 17. In the first, “Which Side is Really Bitching for Change,” a diplomat type “phones it in” in a bit of Chaplinesque slapstick reminiscent of the short “Easy Street” while a building across the street screams “End This Barbarian Israeli Aggression.” This most socio-political piece comments effectively on all such issues that divide us via its clever, humorous use of signage also. Two more personal auto-bio works include “Founders Favorite,” No. 12, and “The Visitors,” No. 16. In the former, a young man in his long underwear sits bewildered chained to his dining room floor while his family is fading from view at the table. This could be interpreted as, either his family has become the “ball and chain” in his career life or it is he and his own personal issues that are weighing them down as they fade from sight. “Visitors” is equally striking and ambiguous. In this scenario, Sitzmann is gazing, back to the viewer, at a multi-generational family portrait with his own image superimposed over a sibling or two, parents and maybe a grandparent, aunt or uncle. At first glance, the artist may be contemplating the impact of his hereditary makeup, but what’s really interesting is that while his family is in color, he appears almost as a black-and-white negative, which suggests at least one of two things: the lack of nurture in his upbringing despite what nature endowed him with, or he fears he hasn’t lived up to either. Lastly, there is that ghastly and ghoulish “Expat” to contemplate. Laid out on a surgical table, Sitzmann has just had the “United States” removed, apparently from his gut or loins, in a bloody operation. It’s a fitting end and companion piece to the opening “Urban Harvest.” Sitzmann, finally, sarcastically, has had all that ails him removed, much of which is on display in images No. 2-16, and his life goes on without fear, worries or conflict. The question remains: Was the operation a success, or was our hero as artist and “Expat” merely lobotomized of sorts and paid for with his muse? The look in his eyes would suggest the latter, further evidence that sometimes the cure is worse than what ails you. RGb: MODERN. DIGITAL. AMERICAN. PHOTOGRAPHY. of Bill Sitzmann continues through Mar. 25 at the New BLK, 1213 Jones St. Visit thenewblk.com for details.

posted at 08:15 pm
on Wednesday, March 09th, 2011

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