In the 1990s, the toymaker Little Tikes released an advertisement for a double sided children's art easel. In the ad, a little black girl and little white boy are pictured painting. The little boy is holding a paint brush, finishing off a watercolor landscape, while the little girl is erasing whatever she made. The image's vantage point doesn't allow the would-be customer to see what art the girl has made. For the painter Cameron Welch, this multicultural anodyne scene speaks volumes about the ways identity is shaped, even in moments perceived as innocent. And it inspired I see you (beware of dog), one of three large-scale mixed-media paintings mounted on handmade mosaics featured in his first solo exhibition, Hide and Seek, at yours mine & our gallery.
"I see you (beware of dog) addresses [race] under the umbrella of domesticity and innocence," Welch tells Creators. "It talks about gender, race, privilege, and the performance of those issues all in a nostalgic package that most people can relate to." Behind four images of the vintage ad, marked and distorted by the artist, is a coloring book scene of Cerberus, the three headed dog, who in Greek mythology guards Hades, the chthonic god of the underworld. The entire painting hangs on a white picket fence, which Welch made. "What are we actually seeing? Who has access to certain information, and who doesn't? There's also something mischievous about the whole thing," he says.
The exhibition also features the painting Black Beauty. The work, like the others in the show, indirectly recalls the 20th century Italian movement of Arte Povera by using common materials—fabric, coloring books, crayon, spray paint, advertisements, and markers of mythology—to explore high and low art encountered in the everyday. Black Beauty features images of a flower set ablaze imposed on an unfinished coloring book picture of Pegasus, the white winged stallion of Greek mythology. The scene is mounted on top of a bed of multicolored mosaic roses, which evoke both traditional collage and craft making practices. The multi-layered, messy scene of competing ideas shows Pegasus, a symbol frequently deployed in Renaissance painting and an ancient sign of wisdom, on a canvas with a flower on fire, a symbol of passionate anger. The feelings expressed in the painting, as roundabout as they are, seem like a perfect assessment of current racial politics.
"For Eurydice utilizes an iconic image of Aaliyah, which speaks specifically to so many people but also reflects the whole 90s revival thing that's going on," says the artist. The singer is paired with an image of Orpheus, whose story is timeworn but romantic. The whole painting rests on a panel covered in hand-cut CDs made into a mosaic. "Everything is playing with and against each other thing. The CD being this sort of dated relic of my childhood and the process of making a mosaic reinforcing the Ancient Greek imagery in the painting. The metaphor of the mosaic is kind of poetic, using broken disparate pieces to create something beautiful," he says.
"The work in the show is really nostalgic," says Welch. The signifiers in the paintings point to various moments in time, each dealing with a major theme which is anchored by the Greek mythological figures depicted in the narrative works. "I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make the work really loud. Paintings of mine, in the past, have always dealt with identity to some degree, but I feel that this show in particular starts to illustrate that conversation a little more flagrantly," he says, reflecting on his inclusion of figures in a painting practice that previously excluded them. "I realized that I could draw from images as a means to really direct the conversation in the work and create a more nuanced narrative. There's something really potent about being an artist of color and colliding these ancient images with others that start to talk about race."
Hide and Seek continues through June 30 at yours mine & ours gallery. Click here for more information.