The Westerly Public Library, in Westerly RI, resonates with old money and civic virtue, both of which can seem as quaint and bygone as the dinosaurs. It’s a mansion-sized pile, faced in yellow brick, dating from the 1890s, and backed by a beautiful swath of parkland. I was pleasantly surprised to find contemporary art nestled in the library’s Hoxie gallery, on the second floor, near the nonfiction stacks, where it was, though not as unexpected as a dinosaur, more welcome than one. In a library everything is controlled, so even the mild transgression of Falo Blu’s Rain Rain go away, come again another day, little boys & girls want to play feels rebellious
To begin with, Falo Blu is a pen name, a collaboration between painter Brian Keith Stephens and photographer Pola Esther, both of Old Lyme, CT. Rain Rain… (as I call it) is of neither discipline, though paint is involved in the space-filling installation. Through the door of the gallery you can see clotheslines stretched from wall to wall; shirts, pants and underwear, all white, hang from the lines. On most of these clothes the word “sun” has been written or screen printed in yellow. A few pieces carry one letter, and are set in trios to spell the word. At the center are a few pieces with text in blue creating the children’s rhyme. Around the perimeter of the gallery, shoes—from children’s sneakers to high-heels—have been painted blue and are taped by the sole to the walls. A few shoes sit on the floor by the walls. The blue of water and sky, yellow of sun, and white clouds—all these bring the outdoors in.
The piece is gently playful. The looping lines suggested by the shoes remind one of dance diagrams, or, more appropriately, running through a sunny field where laundry has been hung to dry. This, and the differing sizes of the clothes, breaks the linearity of the clotheslines, bringing a refreshing little taste of anarchy to the formal lines of the library itself. Surrounded by so much that is proper and organized also brings to mind those communities that have tried to ban outdoor clotheslines, movements led by people who either have no sense of aesthetics or are just jerks. Nothing in the very brief comments supplied by the artists on the library’s website suggests such a political interpretation, but I offer it should they wish to adopt it.
The aforementioned web page does not help matters. The uncredited writer says of Falo Blu, “Romance is the subject, in the sense of exploring and exploiting its great rhythm in the history of time.” Very profound, perhaps, but more an hyperbole than an explanation. The wall label in the gallery is a slight improvement: “The installation…is meant to bring into mind and heart pure kinder spirit. Reestablish connection with nature, which gets lost by growing presence of technological innovations. It is above all the invitation to play and celebrate simple but powerful energy of life.” In their own words the artists are rather clearer: “We are naturally emerged [sic]in figurative imagery but we are also fascinated with words as signs and signals and their placement on canvas. But our canvas, besides traditional pieces of fabric or paper, could be a wall, bed sheet, article of clothing, old postcard, or even a dance floor. We like to use living, sometimes urban spaces as display locations and reuse artifacts of life.”
Their collaborations are interesting, but there is a randomness that suggests no conscious plan, a “let’s see what happens” attitude that is as much a risk as a benefit. Falo Blu is not mentioned on either artist’s website (briankeithstephens.com, polaesther.com), and Falo Blu’s only web presence, a Tumblr page, is a collection of images and short video clips that do not suggest much thought has been put into it. Marketing is, for good and ill, an important part of getting art known by the wider world; in this, Falo Blu is still in its infancy. But, lest this sound too critical, there is talent at work, and, as an emerging collaboration, younger than either of the artists who make it up, Falo Blu has a lot going for it.
The show runs through June at the Hoxie Gallery, at the Westerly Public Library, 44 Broad Street, Westerly, RI 02891.www.westerlylibrary.org