Try A Little Tenderness As Painful As It Seems: March 2011

Reprinted from The Pinkline Project
By Tara Heuser

 If you’ve recently noticed text popping up on abandoned buildings in southeast DC, you’re not alone. This is the work of Vancouver-based artist Ben Skinner.  In a show curated by art blogger The Jealous Curator, Ben Skinner has created site-specific vinyl text installations around the provisional neighborhoods of Anacostia.  But, don’t worry; you won’t have to walk the streets searching for deserted buildings to see his work. “Try a Little Tenderness As Painful As It Seems” is the name of Skinner’s exhibition currently showing at Honfleur Gallery.

Ben Skinner was kind  enough to walk me through his exhibition last Saturday afternoon.  He told me  “Try a Little Tenderness As Painful As It Seems” is a collection of new works influenced by research he did on the Anacostia area.  Skinner’s exhibition was heavily influenced by David Garber’s blog detailing the many changes currently happening in Anacostia.  One on-site painting installation takes up one entire wall of Honfleur Gallery’s first floor.  As the majority of Skinner’s displayed works, this painting is text-based.  Ben stuck to a fairly limited palette, but orchestrated the mural so that each letter is a different color than the one beside it. The text is deliberately tough to read, but deciphering it is half the fun!   The artist really emphasizes the negative space in this mural, a theme evident throughout the show.

Upon entering Honfleur Gallery, guests are greeted with a twenty foot tall installation Skinner assembled on site. The installation is composed entirely of foam core, which is pretty awesome considering foam core is not exactly a malleable material, and is an exact replica of a real scaffold.  I can’t even begin to explain the mathematics behind the intricate design and execution.  All I know is it that Skinner’s installation looks like the actual scaffolding you see around buildings that are under construction.  Don’t be fooled though, this installation is delicate enough that a heavy hand could cause a major collapse

Wooden circular panels also comprise the first floor of the exhibition.  Ben Skinner used a variety of mixed media such as colorful candy sprinkles (yes, the kind you eat), glitter and aluminum to cover the panels. Each work contains phrases that are fluid enough to leave interpretation up to the viewer.  Again, Skinner’s use of negative space around the text is celebrated as much (if not more) than the words themselves.  If you miss any of the abandoned buildings that have been touched by Skinner’s art, you have a chance to see his work captured in photographs that are displayed on the second floor.

Another remarkable installation can be found on Honfleur Gallery’s second floor and is aptly titled “Blinds Leading The Blinds”.  This piece of art is composed of wooden blinds that transcend color and connotation.  There are so many cool elements in this work of art!  A single word is printed in the center of each blind.  If the piece is viewed from top to bottom you will notice the gradual color transformation of the blinds from shades of pink to purple to blue.  Ben was careful to keep the same color gradation in the blinds and the text even though the hues of each go in the reverse order (so the words go from blue to pink when viewing the piece from top to bottom).  As the color changes so does the undertone of the words, coming to a fading point of neutrality in the center.  The denotation of the text appears to change as well, but what if all of these adjectives basically mean the same thing?  As usual Ben leaves us contemplating the many ways in which a single word or phrase can be interpreted.  “Blinds Leading The Blinds” can also be viewed from bottom to top as there is no wrong way to look at this piece.

In addition to the displayed works, there are very reasonably priced limited edition screenprints of the glittery “Try A Little Tenderness As Painful As It Seems”.  These prints are available to purchase from Honfleur Gallery.  I couldn’t resist and now have one hanging on my wall!  “Try A Little Tenderness As Painful As It Seems” is a must see exhibition; just be sure to see it before April 8th!

Try A Little Tenderness As Painful As It Seems, Honfleur Gallery, 1241 Good Hope Road SE, Washington, DC  20020