Desperately seeking provocation
Coming off of I-70, and turning onto Main Street in Minturn, you will see a storefront on your left bearing the name SOKE. Pronounced soak, and derived from the Latin “soca,” meaning to seek, the gallery is the brainchild of owner Justin Brunelle.Less than one year old, the gallery has already established a following as the result of its cutting edge art. Not housing the ubiquitous wildlife, or landscape paintings, SOKE represents more than a dozen artists working in a variety of mediums who defy being pigeonholed. In keeping with the recent holiday weekend, the front of the gallery is presently devoted to an all American theme, where the common thread of American iconography ties paintings, photographs and memorabilia together.Paintings by Brandy LeMae of enlarged matchbook cover advertisements share wall space with the often-hilarious photographs of Lucas Richards. Richards owns an enormous collection of miniature figurines. His assortment of tiny cowboys and Indians are the central subject matter of the macro-photographs now on display.
A wry statement reading like a bad advertisement or a page from pulp fiction accompanies each of these images. For example, the caption under a close-up of a horse and rider states, “Yodelin’ Yosef Yakofsky rides his star horse Jiggles at the third Annual Hebrew National Rodeo, Brooklyn, NY 1910.”One of the joys of visiting SOKE is Brunelle’s provocative juxtaposition of art and artists. Most of the work SOKE presents will either stimulate your senses, emotions, or funny bone, and in the case of this show, all three.In contrast to the whimsical exhibit in the entrance gallery, the images hung in SOKE’s “Viewing Room” are a retrospective of work by photographer Patti Levey. Not everyone will find these black and white symbolic portraits to their liking, but few will be able to deny their impact. Often political, frequently shocking and uniquely feminist in their subject and treatment, Levey is an artist that is more than creative, she is intelligent and intuitive.
In her earlier work, Levey typically did self-portraits, very often nude, and not always flattering. She continues to use herself as the central figure, but not in a conceited way, but rather as more of a convenience.”When I was young and stupid,” she says, “I use to go into abandoned buildings and take photos of myself naked.” Wiser now, she is more selective in her locations, yet manages to find sites that provide texture and unusual surfaces to compliment her photos.Her academic background includes master’s degrees in Clinical Psychology and Feminist Therapy. The later being the most prevalent in her chosen profession. Her burka clad women holding a centerfold, or standing next to a nude draped in an American flag, provoke as much as intrigue. Part of her “Taking Liberty” series, photo essays inspired by 9/11, reflect Levey’s regard for personal freedom and identity.
The crumbling fireplaces, walls and rocks she uses as integral elements in other compositions are in contrast to some mysterious light source that suggests there is hope from the despair depicted in the image.The series of photos entitled “Mementomore” ingeniously combine animal heads morphing into nude figures. The metamorphosis rather than being subtle is quite obvious in its marriage. “Butterfly,” for example, carries the concept to a more complete state, wherein the insect is placed over the face, resulting in an eerie melding of two beautiful objects.If you need a break from the usual and have seen enough pictures of the Maroon Bells, bugling elks or bronze children on a swing, head over to Minturn and visit SOKE. You won’t be disappointed.Stew Mosberg is a writer and journalist working out of Blue River. He holds a Bachelor of Design degree from the University of Florida, College of Fine Arts and Architecture, is author of two books on design and is the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He can be reached by email at: WrtrF@aol.com