STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
21st Century Media News Service
People taking selfies show themselves to the world, but do they really? Walking past someone, or seeing a portrait, can viewers tell who they truly are?
The exhibit “Face Value” at Main Line Art Center explores that idea through the work of artists Nick Cassway, Mark Khaisman and Steven Earl Weber. They combine portraiture and social commentary demonstrating “the power of the portrait to tell a story, illuminate social injustices or capture a moment in time … in the pictorial representation as well as the media and process by which it was made,” according to the press release. The tools the artists use include packaging tape, computer cut stencils and printed glass.
Ukrainian-born Khaisman, who studied art and architecture at the Moscow Architectural Institute and now lives and works in Philadelphia, uses lightboxes as well as tape works on gallery windows.
Cassway, who earned a BFA from Tyler School of Art, based his work on a civil war drama created with his analog-to-digital-to-analog process that incorporates drawings edited together in Photoshop and output to computer cut stencils with house paint and metal leaf.
The work of Weber, who received his BFA from Kent State University and his MFA from the University of Delaware, includes shadows reflected on surfaces from mirrors and panes of glass. Weber, whose sculptures and installations have been exhibited locally and internationally, started printmaking to combine that with sculpture. He created images on porcelain before; now this project is another step.
For this latest work, he focused on drug addicts living, hanging out and scoring heroin underneath the El tracks in Kensington. He lives not far away and hated being approached by them for money. He realized he had strong feelings about people he didn’t even know. Through this project, he wanted to work through those feelings, he said.
He hung out there at various times of day, sitting on the steps, acting like he was waiting for someone on the train. People approached him and he struck up a conversation, eventually telling them he was an artist working on a project. When he asked permission to photograph them, almost everyone said yes.
“You can’t just go up and snap a photo,” he said. “You have to talk to them and ask them for a favor.”
Of his 10 exhibit pieces, some look like old-style tin-type photographs, “almost etched into an old mirror,” he said. Others are done by screen printing in white ink on glass, which almost looks like a negative, but when light is shined through it, the ink casts detailed shadows.
“Rendering people in shadow is a metaphor for them — they’re shadows of themselves,” he said.
Weber used his iPhone to take the pictures, which made it easier to connect with people than bulky equipment, he said. He’s always taking photos, to use in projects or as inspiration. One way or another, he’s always creating.
“I have no other choice [but to be an artist],” he said. “It’s something that keeps me sane.”
Art helps him to explore his feelings, to expunge emotions and to experience the world around him. It also can change his perspective. During this project, for instance, the discussions with his subjects opened his heart.
“I have a lot more empathy after getting to know them,” he said.
He found out, too, that he and some of his subjects share common interests. During a discussion with one man, the two talked about tin types. Weber asked the man how he knew about them. “I went to art school,” the man said.
“That was interesting,” Weber said. “There but for the grace of God, you know? This guy went through the same sort of schooling I did. He started off with the same intentions and look where he ended up” — proof that one can never take people at Face Value.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Face Value” featuring Nick Cassway, Mark Khaisman and Steven Earl Weber; Artist Talk and Reception Friday, Oct. 10, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
WHEN: Exhibit on display Oct. 6 to Nov. 5
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thurday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday to Sunday.
WHERE: Main Line Art Center, 746 Panmure Road, Haverford, PA 19041.
INFO: Call (610) 525-0272 or visit www.mainlineart.org.