04 November 2013


Published on Temporary Art Review - temporaryartreview.com


Sheri Fleck Rieth, Tom Lee & Herb Rieth
Wright Art Gallery
Delta State University
Cleveland, Mississippi
September 20 – November 1, 2013

Review by Jake Weigel

Exhibition view
Cleveland, Mississippi, just northwest of Jackson, is a beautiful delta town, home to Delta State University. This fall, the Wright Art Gallery in the Department of Art hosted a three-person exhibition featuring Sheri Fleck Rieth, Tom Lee and Herb Rieth. The exhibition had the essence of a play with charmingly eccentric characters that all share a different perspective on a larger story. In each work, nonsense prevails until it is revealed that there is a fundamental truth of existence that each have a stake in.

The exhibited work by Sheri Fleck Rieth was selected from the last several years and contains strong personal and symbolic meanings layered throughout. According to the artist’s statement, each print contains a story of the paths she has taken, even those she did not mean to take. Each is a reflection on this history “while taking [her] place riding shotgun down the avalanche.” The narratives most often revolve around stories from her childhood in Kansas, motherhood and teaching. Some of the details are more personal and not as significant to outside viewers as others, but still help weave the complex narrative together with an almost mystical twist.

At Sea, Sheri Fleck Rieth

At Sea is filled with water with no land in sight. An old straw-filled yoke for a mule is placed directly in the middle of the print. This positioning forces the viewer to see through the middle of the yoke and help carry the burden. A small image of a pony, a dove-tailed oar, the Virgin Mary, a tiny gold butterfly sticker and gold stars complete the composition. All symbols point to navigation and guidance through metaphorically difficult and bleak times toward the emergence of a comforting sight. Fleck Rieth’s palette softens the passage with colors of pure blue, pink, yellow and gold rather than dark and moody as one would expect in the situation.

Bella Ciao, Sheri Fleck Rieth

Bella Ciao is a named after the Italian World War II anti-Fascist song which translates to “Hello/Goodbye Beautiful.” Flowers, seeds and fabric stitching recall a good domestic home, similar to St. Anna’s A Line, another print in the exhibition. An added beauty of Bella Ciao comes from the association with the song, and the seeds become golden tears of remembrance. In the words of the song, “Flower for the partisan who died for freedom.”

Using household materials such as a house painter’s canvas, tar paper, an apron and a wooden architectural support column is in line with the rest of the show, Tom Lee’s two wall pieces and a sculptural installation creates two sides or perspectives with each work, where the second sneaks up on the viewer with sardonic mirth. Lee’s large wall hanging is a rough canvas featuring a painted cartoon rabbit lying on his back in water beside a suggestive-looking carrot. The word “scoop” is painted at the bottom of the composition adding mischievous humor to the piece. With closer inspection, the viewer sees three small, sculpted skulls and a hand hanging to the left of the rabbit. Here, the party is over with fertility and death side by side.
Tom Lee
Tom Lee
The sculpture in the middle of the gallery uses a wooden support column that lies on the floor. One end is shrouded in a apron from cut paper and the other has a hole with small, wooden sculptures and copper bowls lying in front of it on stitched cheesecloth: a large symbol of power lying impotent with a sign of domestic femininity wrapped around one end. The cycle of life, death and a struggle for power in between are the most apparent themes in Lee’s work.
Herb Rieth has a total of six mixed media wall hangings that vary in size, the largest being Marsyas vs. Apollo at twelve feet in width. Though his works are mostly comprised of fabric, Rieth also uses safety pins, metal studs possible taken from an old leather jacket, and paint. Like Sheri Fleck Rieth’s work, Reith privileges hindsight and lessons to be learned or sought. Rieth relies on strong allusions to art history and Greek mythology to explore the follies of man, war and socio-political messages.

Elegy for the Republic, Herb Rieth
Elegy to the Republic is perhaps the most insightful into Rieth’s oeuvre for it references Robert Motherwell’s series of over 200 painting in Elegies for the Spanish Republic. Motherwell painted in response to the large loss of life during the Spanish Civil War from 1943 to 1946 and goes into great depth explaining his reasons and processes for the series. Motherwell’s series consisted of large bulbous forms alternating between columns and black holes. Rieth has appropriated this iconography with fabric and paint. The somber blue and orange composition includes two forms representing the cyclical nature of life and death with army patterned fabric used as a signifier of war. The modern connection between the Spanish Civil War and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is quite apparent.

Rieth’s most recent and complex work County Fair appears to be a grab bag of allusions and styles. The idea of struggle and conflict still resonates, but in a lighter manner. The brightly colored piece mimics the colorful atmosphere of a fair and  references WWE wrestling, a pop cultural nod also seen in Missile Command (2007), which refers to the Atari video game. From our modern living rooms, sometimes war is all fun and illusion.
County Fair, Herb Rieth
As entwined as the artists’ lives are, there are points of intersection and overlap that are to be expected. To varying degrees, personal feelings are present throughout the exhibition from Sheri Fleck Rieth’s imagery to Herb Rieth’s emotive response to events and Tom Lee’s esoteric wit and humor. However, serious elements explore the human condition, learning, conflict, death and other hardships. The complex interplay between what is real, what seems real and taking comfort in this reality is something that very few artists are able to capture entirely but is successfully apparent in this exhibition.

Use of soft but pure colors suggests a liveliness that cannot be defeated, though they are tempered by realities of life. These struggles are softened by the shared color palettes and the domestic materials that each of the artists incorporate much like the comfort of family. All three artist use stitching in at least one piece and the mark of their hands in other ways. The physical and metaphorical home of the three artists has much to offer, whether it’s a madhouse or a shelter from the madness outside of it. Perhaps these handmade elements imply home as a safe haven where everything will be okay, or something they will make use of regardless.
Exhibition view
Sheri Fleck Rieth and Tom Lee live in Coldwater, Mississippi. Lee is Professor of Sculpture at Memphis College of Art and Design and Fleck Rieth is Associate Professor of Printmaking and former Chair of the Department of Art at The University of Mississippi in Oxford. Herb Rieth is currently Instructor of Painting and Drawing at Pellisippi State Community College in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.