Studio 22 exhibits celebrate famous artists of the last century

Contrasting exhibits highlight artists’ strengths

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In its latest exhibits, Studio 22 highlighted two artists’ strengths through stark contrast between the neighboring exhibits. 
 
For the month of May, Studio 22 displayed two series by vastly different artists: Bernard Clark’s Notorious and Neli Nenkova’s Tears and Smiles
 
Owners of the studio, Ally and Hersh Jacob, arranged their May exhibits in a way meant to draw attention to the extreme differences between each artist’s work by optimizing their space to create a more satisfying experience.  
 
Clark’s work is in the first exhibit room, greeting viewers when they enter the upstairs gallery. 
 
His photographs are an assortment of black-and-white headshots—a series he calls Celebrity Mugshots—making  up a smaller subsection of his larger ongoing series called Notorious
 
Notorious began as a study on mugshots of gangsters—hence the title. 
 
Much of Clark’s work centers around rugged subjects like old abandoned shops and restaurants, retro logos, tattoo artists and their work, and anything generally considered “badass.” Celebrity Mugshots evolved from this study. 
 
He started by creating fake celebrity mugshots to line the walls next to the real ones. Many of the mugshots are famous, making it hard to spot a real one from a fake. The very fact that so many celebrities also harbour a criminal record is intriguing. 
 
His series contemplates the relationship between Hollywood and crime.  
 
Many faces will be recognizable as some of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities. If you look closer, you’ll see that they’re not photographs, but mosaics. 
 
Made up of keyboard keys, dice, and Scrabble tiles, the mosaics are made by expanding the photographs until they’re grainy and unrecognizable. Clark then uses an algorithm to fill in the pixels with tiles and keys to create his own rendering of the mugshot.   
 
Not all of his works are based on actual police mugshots. Some are photo stills from movies, or, in the case of his Elvis photo, are fake police mugshots. 
 
Some examples that line the walls are Jane Fonda holding up her fist in an act of rebellion, John Belushi, Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, and Johnny Cash. 
 
Walking into the next exhibit room, Nenkova’s work similarly features some of the most recognizable faces in pop culture. They’re profiles of jazz artists over the last few decades. Her work is painted in bright neon colours, overwhelming the senses. 
 
The exhibits are vastly different from one another—but it’s their differences that allow their strength to shine through. 
 
Clark’s absence of colour makes Nenkova’s extreme use of colour more enjoyable. Viewers are deprived of stimulation through Clark’s muted, reserved collection, then bombarded by emotion and expression in Nenkova’s work. 
 
Nenkova’s work on her series, Tears and Smiles, started with her portrait of Nina Simone. 
 
Simone—who, in the painting, is shown in shades of purple accessorized with hues of orange—is painted in profile. She gazes off with no emotion on her face, but her narrowed eyes give her an air of superiority. 
 
Nenkova started painting Simone without a plan to make a whole series on jazz musicians. 
 
At first, her goal was to make portraits using just three colours. Eventually, this became less important to her, as she felt the singers required more depth to convey their emotions. 
 
Each artist she paints has historically dealt with extreme diversity or struggle. Nenkova’s fascination with these artists is in their success, despite their hardships. 
 
Simone wanted to be a concert pianist, but nobody wanted to hire a Black woman to play the piano. 
 
She wrote music and lyrics and started performing them herself, despite never intending to be a singer. Her success was born from her rejection. 
 
Other artists painted in her series include Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Amy Winehouse, and Chet Baker. 
 
These artists all endured difficulties throughout their careers but ultimately, despite the negativity surrounding some of them, all are remembered for their greatness. 
 
Their lives, memorialized in Nenkova’s work, are a reminder of the value of hard work and perseverance. 
 
This series is a tribute to their endurance.

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