Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Violent Collage: Work of Ramsay Antonio-Barnes

Ramsay Antonio-Barnes is throwing knives at you. His large wall collage, Tool, is a spray of knives, a jet of blades erupting from a central core, menacing the room. The work is personal, reflecting Ramsay's boyhood fascination with knives, his long-time membership in the Boy and Eagle Scouts, but there's a stark objectivity to it as well, an almost ritualized show of violence, and fear, directed at, and implicating, the audience. "What is our capability for violence?" Ramsay asks. "Do knives kill people or do we kill people? How much do we fear that capability?"


Several years ago, Ramsay began appropriating images from camping and Eagle Scout manuals to use in his painting. He used these images of Scouts and Scout leaders to look at adolescence, its fears and hopes, its burgeoning sexuality, and to explore how in contemporary culture we make the transitions to adulthood. "The work deals with the kind of sexual ambiguity of the time," Ramsay says, "that awkward coming of age and realization of sexual identity." His painting, Infolding, shows boys in various poses, squatting before a race or wrestling together on the ground. The depictions might seem straightforward enough except for the bloody-colored smear wiped across a boy's face or the sexual tension Ramsey imparts to the piece through the boys' exuberant physicality and evocative poses.

Again, there is the obvious personal aspect of these paintings, Ramsay reflecting on his childhood, his coming to terms as a bisexual male. And yet the illustrative quality of the images, borrowing as they are from manuals, allows a certain remove from the work, an emotional distance through the generalized quality of the drawings. Through the paintings we're invited to look at the ritual of childhood and sex, its violence and fear and excitement, stand back and observe how we, and we all, cross that threshold from children to adults.

For Ramsay, the knife image is a perfect distillation of this subjective/objective interplay. "The knife," he says, "has become almost an icon for me because it's both something personal, but it's also a compact symbol for bigger ideas of violence or control." In his pocket-knife collages, Ramsay has photographed his Eagle Scout knife and then Photoshopped in images of Edwardian era Coney Island divers, mustached and dressed in full-body bathing suits. These divers, which Ramsay describes as feminized males with their pointed feet and graceful diving poses, are balanced against or in opposition to the knife handle or blades. Looking at these collages, we can wonder, are the divers using the knives as gymnastic props or are they doing their best to avoid the sharp edges of the blades? "Who is in control?" Ramsay asks.

In a similar vein, Ramsay has been looking at images of bullfighters, stylized and androgynous, and incorporating them into mixed media works of cut paper and sequins. "In bullfights, you have this very ornate man," he says, "and this display of ritualized murder, but there is also a strong element of danger, things that can be controlled and things that can't." Ramsay has an interest in going to watch the bullfights, just as he attended a night of boxing matches not too long ago, out of a desire for personal involvement: "I wanted to go to the boxing matches to pay, to promote this thing, to be as much a part of it as I could while still being a spectator." Still, again, there is the tension in this work between a sense of individual experience and a stylized remove. His drunk love sculpture, a recreation of his personal punching bag screen printed and hand stamped with the images of men in a boxing ring, has obvious autobiographical elements but something in its size and weightiness is also distant and objective, clearly a constructed object of art.

"The knife is a perfect open/closed, on/off form," Ramsay says. "When open, the knife has a whole different meaning, whole different connotation, than when it's closed. What happens when you open it?" For Ramsay, the appropriation of this image, like the images of bullfighters or Eagle Scouts, generates a powerful crux between opposing forces, ritual versus action, male versus female, personal versus universal, subjective versus objective. His work, constantly collaging itself, borrowing from his life and others', from camping manuals and diving illustration, grapples with our shifting sense of identity, who we are and how much we, and how much the world, are in charge of where we are going.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

as always interesting and provoking. I don't get the connection between painting and collage in this artists work. It seems like a crossroads moment to me. A merger between ideas. I can see, in words(?) how the ideas all go together but it does not flow that way in the work described. This seems like a changing point, IMO. I really love the painting of the bullfighter shown, I bet it is even cooler up close. I can see how the idea of collage and texture that collage brings to a piece is influenced in the textural aspects of the painting. His painting is like bits and pieces of paint together.

I would love to see a follow up to this artist in a year from now. His evolution should be interesting.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks for the thoughts, Cole, and for reading. Always appreciate you coming by.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very proud of Mr. Antonio-Barnes...I went to High School with him and the bullfighter painting is amazing...having lived in Spain...just amazing...great work JR...I knew you would make your mark!!

Sean Nickerson

3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fantastic interview!
So glad to have found it...

J a n e

8:47 AM  
Blogger Salina said...

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3:01 AM  

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