Chances are it’s the monkeys that will draw you in. Part fascinating, part frightening, artist Marcus Kenney’s wildly colorful monkey sculptures stand guard in the window of the Rebekah Jacob Gallery this month. Crafted of styrofoam, the monkeys are covered with bright, texture-heavy materials like fuzzy pom-poms, feathers, and tiny beads. Their expressions are fierce and their forms are in motion, as if they’re stalking along the floor. They’re a striking introduction to the gallery’s Southern Progressives group show, which showcases works by Kenney, Kevin Taylor, and Tarleton Blackwell. Including paintings, sculpture, and works on paper, the show brings together some of the gallery’s most visually arresting pieces.
That’s part of why Southern Progressives is fairly small. Though Jacob originally intended to feature more than 40 works, she ended up whittling it down to around 15. “All the pieces are so strong that I felt they each needed ample wall space,” Jacob says. “And we’re able to show bigger pieces, like this six-by-nine foot piece [by Taylor].” Taylor, a native Southerner now based in San Francisco, focuses on the relationship between man and nature. His paintings are realistically executed, yet with a surrealist twist — his works in Southern Progressives, for example, show live, or once-living, animals in white museum settings. There’s an owl flapping its wings on a square pedestal, and the bleeding head of a polar bear encased in glass. “He’s one of our most popular artists,” Jacob says. “We can hardly keep him in inventory.”
Taylor’s work is hung next to a large mixed media piece by Tarleton Blackwell, a diptych called “Cock Fight.” The two roosters are practically hidden among a frenzy of lines. It’s almost alive with movement. “There’s this frenetic energy. He’s just a genius at mark-making. His linework is incredible,” Jacob says. Blackwell’s more abstract depictions contrast wonderfully with Taylor’s formalist animals, highlighting one of the advantages of a group show — seeing how different artists approach similar subject matter can really open up a viewer’s perspective.
That is especially the case with Kenney’s work, which could be said to be the star of Southern Progressives. Starting with the monkey sculptures and continuing with a series of decorated taxidermied heads, Kenney’s sculptures demand one’s attention. Originally a photographer, the Savannah-based Kenney now works in many mediums including paint, collage, and of course, sculpture. Jacob chose several of his taxidermy-based sculptures and paintings, as well as the styrofoam sculptures, for Southern Progressives. “It’s all in the details,” she says, pointing out a tiny collage on a taxidermied deer head. The head is decorated with a kind of explosion of feathers and leaves, almost like a headdress, as well as strings of beads and synthetic hair. “He’s originally from Louisiana, so that festive, Cajun vibe really translates. He goes to a lot of thrift stores and vintage shops, and appropriates these treasures into his sculptures.”
Kenney and Blackwell are both fairly new to Jacob’s roster, and Southern Progressives is, in part, designed to introduce the public to their work. After spending years in King Street’s antiques district, Jacob says her new space on Upper King has brought in a whole new demographic. “I love being here. There’s such good energy up here, and the larger space has allowed me to expand as a curator.”
In addition to moving to a larger physical space, the gallery has expanded its offerings over the past year as well. “We’ve grown tremendously,” Jacob says. “We’re focusing on more seasoned, professional talent, and I’ve hired a business strategist and a legal counsel. That has freed me up creatively.”
That freedom includes the ability to become more mobile — last year, Jacob took pieces from her gallery to Washington, D.C. for the Fine Art Photography Fair, and she plans to continue taking advantage of opportunities to reach viewers in other cities.
All in all, 2013 is shaping up to be a big year for the Rebekah Jacob Gallery. Jacob is looking forward to showcasing her artists’ work with more unique shows like Southern Progressives, highlighting the level of talent that she now represents. “The roster we have right now is the most solid, collectible group we’ve ever had,” she says. “It’s a really exciting time.”