Bio: Alex Brewer, 34, is better known as Hense, the street-art handle he repeatedly painted in giant letters around town as a graffiti artist starting in the early 1990s. But the Atlanta native has transitioned over the last five years into a gallery artist and commissioned public artist with a growing list of credits, including recent murals at the Westside Cultural Arts Center and a building in Lima, Peru. In addition to his first piece acquired by the the museum, "Drawing Inside the Perimeter" includes a site-specific gallery wall mural (10 feet by 21.5 feet) commissioned by the High.
On his artistic identity: "A lot of this transition has to do with maturing, wanting to express myself in other ways, still wanting to work in public space, still wanting to do things that are going to be seen by a lot of people who don't go into a gallery or museum. I wanted to break out of being known as an artist who paints his name. … I do miss those days, and do think about what it would be like to be the rebel out there illegally doing stuff. (But) the work I'm doing now speaks more to who I am truly."
On his love of color: "For my first solo exhibit at Sandler Hudson (Gallery, in 2008), I did this body of work that was very black and white, very muted and minimalist. Most likely I thought that's what was expected of me as a gallery artist — to create work that could be placed in collections and people's homes. I think I started realizing recently I needed to be myself. I could actually use the bright colors I was using as a graffiti artist, using pinks and lime greens and all kinds of wild colors that I thought, I guess, would be shocking to some people. Now color is one of the most important aspects of my work. Without color, I couldn't fully express myself."
On being in the High's permanent collection: "It's a huge honor. I can't say enough about what that means. I've been going to High Museum since I was a little kid, so it's a little surreal that I'm actually going to put paint on a wall in there. It's definitely a dream come true."
Where to find his work: In the Sandler Hudson Gallery exhibit "Hense: Prints and Paintings" though August (www.sandlerhudson.com) and online at www.hensethename.com.
Bio: Born in South Korea, Moon, 40, came to the U.S. in 1999 to study at the University of Iowa, where she earned her second and third master's degrees. Though she now has what she calls "an American family" — husband Andy Moon Wilson, a textile designer who is also in "Drawing Inside the Perimeter," and 4-year-old son Oliver — to go along with her Korean one, her work frequently speaks to the challenges of living a life in transition. The art juxtaposes Asian and Western motifs.
On always being in transition: "That's never going to change. I think that's the state of my mind. When I go back to Korea to visit my Korean family, I feel like I'm not safe there, this isn't my home, my home is the United States now. But when I come back (here), I think of Korea. It's shifting all the time."
On making a career in Atlanta: "Whichever city you go to besides New York or Los Angeles, people always are talking about the same issue: 'We're not getting enough attention. We need to get out of here!' The grass looks greener on other side. But the problem is when you move to the large city, there are other issues: You have to pay more rent, there's too much stimulation. I think Atlanta is perfect for the artist to explore and stay and do whatever they do."
Where to find her work: Moon is represented by Saltworks, which features her work in a pop-up show called "Four Atlantans" through Aug. 3 at the White Provisions Building (www.saltworksgallery.com). She's also represented in galleries in New York and Washington and has ongoing relationships with ones in Switzerland and South Korea. She also will have a one-woman show at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, opening Sept. 7 (www.mocaga.org).
Bio: Styles moved to Atlanta from the family farm in Madison at age 8, but the farm never quite left him despite difficult early years. Now 69, his abstract drawings, paintings and mixed-media works express the glory of nature.
On his inspiration: "I spent the first eight years of my life in Madison, in an abusive and dysfunctional family. To escape the ugliness of my family life, I often found comfort and beauty in my surroundings — looking closely at the infinite patterns of the wood grain of the floor, the weathered wood siding of the unpainted house, the beautiful frozen condensation on the windows in winter, the awe of the energy and magic of spring, the rhythm of the raindrops on the leaky tin roof and even the pattern of the cracked dried mud on the back of a family hog. All of this, and more, still inform the visual language of my work."
Where to find his work: Avisca Fine Art (www.aviscafineart.com) and September Gray Art Consulting (www.septembergrayart.com).
Other participating artists
Anthony Craig Drennen
Ann Marie Manker
Andy Moon Wilson
Teresa Bramlette Reeves
The High Museum of Art exhibition “Drawing Inside the Perimeter” is a substantial group show: 56 drawings, counting two expansive wall murals, by 41 metro Atlanta artists. But as big as it is in size, it may be bigger in how it symbolizes a shift in the way Atlanta’s largest museum relates to and reflects the city’s creative community.
Since its Centennial Olympic Games exhibit in 1996, “Rings: Five Passions in World Art,” the High has presented a seemingly unending stream of international masterworks. With its status as a general art museum boasting seven curatorial departments and a broad mission, the museum has offered a wide array of other shows, too.
» ALSO AT THE HIGH: 'Girl With a Pearl Earring'
But until a few years ago, there was a perception in the Atlanta art community, vented often on arts blogs, that the High had become too focused on its high-dollar collaborations with glossy partners including the Louvre and Museum of Modern Art to spare attention for the metro area's increasingly vital art-making scene.
In fact, independent Atlanta curator Marianne Lambert dates the High’s declining interest in local and regional art to a full decade before the Olympics. Peter Morrin, the museum’s first 20th century art curator, had launched a biannual “Southern Expressions” exhibition and pushed collecting works by Southeastern folk artists such as the late Bill Traylor, before departing in 1986 to run the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Ky.
“After Peter left I think the High began to focus on gaining a more national and international reputation,” Lambert said, “and there was little interest in showing regional art.”
Then at the dawn of this decade, a succession of one-person High shows by Atlanta and Georgia artists — including Radcliffe Bailey’s paintings and installation art, Chip Simone’s photographs, Susan Cofer’s drawings, the late Hale Woodruff’s murals and Gogo Ferguson’s jewelry — signaled change was afoot.
“Drawing Inside the Perimeter,” because it’s such a large grouping and emphasizes emerging artists (roughly 60 percent are showing at a major museum for the first time), underlines the High’s heightened interest while building on the momentum of previous Georgia exhibits.
"They're great drawings, every one of them," said Michael Rooks, the High's curator of modern and contemporary art. "I think they can stand up with any contemporary artist working anywhere."
Rooks is frequently credited for raising the homegrown in the High’s fertile mix. But he says museum leaders were seeking a curator skilled in community outreach when he applied.
“That’s something I have always felt passionate about and I made a commitment to doing since I became a curator,” said Rooks, who arrived with that reputation from, among other stops, the Contemporary Museum Honolulu and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Shortly after starting, Rooks learned about a $50,000 bequest to the museum from Judith Alexander, an art dealer and patron who died in 2004, to acquire work by Georgia artists. Over those years, Rooks’ predecessors had only made one purchase, which might be interpreted as an indication of where local art resided on the priority list.
Working with Lambert, a lifetime friend of Alexander’s and for whom the Lambert Fund was named, Rooks narrowed collecting to metro Atlanta and the medium to drawing, relatively affordable compared to paintings and sculptures. That would allow them to “spread the wealth,” he said, and, indeed, most of the purchases were made at Atlanta galleries. As the works accumulated over the last two years, the curators knew they had the makings of an exhibit, as well.
“Drawing Inside the Perimeter,” which fills the Wieland Pavilion’s main lower level gallery, features works that extend beyond traditional drawing to incorporate a wide variety of materials, including computer-generated imagery, mixed media, paint, collage, printmaking, even blood.
“We’re trying to show that drawing takes many different forms and artists are using different tools to make what we still call drawings, expanding the idea of the practice,” Rooks said.
"For me what's important for all these artists and the others who will be in the collection ultimately is to see themselves in this kind of a context," he added. "If you don't have an opportunity to reflect upon who you are in relationship to your peers, then you're always comparing yourselves to what's happening outside, and that's never good."
He recalled the “Second City syndrome” of inferiority from when he lived in Chicago, “where you’re always comparing yourself to what’s going on in New York instead of looking around to see [that] we’ve got a really great thing going on here with really amazing artists.”
High director Michael Shapiro praised Rooks and Lambert’s selections for “reflecting the excellence” of art-making Atlanta.
Shapiro acknowledged that balancing local, national and international art is “always a challenge” but also “an opportunity.” He said the High recently hosted leaders from a dozen smaller, independent visual arts organizations, including Eyedrum, Art Papers and WonderRoot, exploring if “there is a way of linking arms together for the greater good.”
The High director said no one is yet sure what form such partnerships should take, but he added that the museum is game.
“Trying to find a way to get a handle on the creative flow in our own town and to assist in its development is certainly part of our mission.”