A new exhibition has opened in the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery called “Duo Trio,” which seeks to breathe new life into an age-old format of storytelling in art.
The exhibition, which features the work of 14 Ohio artists, is made up exclusively of diptychs and triptychs — works separated into two and three flat panels attached at a hinge or hinges, respectively. These paneled paintings are typically narrative in nature and peaked in popularity during the Middle Ages.
The pieces on display downtown at the Riffe Center hold true to that tradition in unexpected new ways.
Art Werger, an artist featured in the exhibition, explained this reinvention.
“For me, a single image is a fragment of spacetime, and the diptych or triptych can be an expansion of that space,” he said.
Werger works with intaglio, a form of printmaking in which copper plates are chemically etched and used to press ink into paper. Other artists featured work with paints, textiles and sculpture.
No matter the medium, Werger said he thinks this multi piece format elicits a meaning that is more than the sum of its parts.
“Each one stands on its own as a composition — as a formal image, as a metaphor,” Werger said. “So making more than one image, you start to have a dialogue between works.”
While Werger has employed the traditionally spatial narrative of the triptych to portray modern stories, other artists, like Deb Pinter, have found entirely original ways of telling a story.
Pinter presses live plants into her prints, embedding them in ink on the page. This leads to a story of life, death and rebirth, as viewers watch the life on the page slowly brown and wither over time.
Pinter’s work is almost a retelling of her own career. She got her start working with cutting-edge camera technology in New York before going home to Cleveland to pursue her own work. She worked with cameras that printed massive images with a narrow depth of field, which inspired her current practice of printing or scanning three-dimensional bouquets into flat, focused planes.
Pinter’s time working for the Cleveland Museum of Art exposed her to countless triptychs, and she admitted to always having a fondness for narrative formats.
“In the work you make, you can find a string that connects it all,” she said.
Another featured artist, Julie Abijanac, has found a way to make the classic paneled form even more abstract. She works in three dimensions, folding and gluing paper to construct her pieces. Some hang from the ceiling like stalactites, others bloom from the wall in a deep, foreboding black. All of them imply growth, but not necessarily in a constructive way.
Abijanac used to be a painter, but after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma she had to find an artistic outlet that wouldn’t expose her to any potential carcinogens. Her current work takes the shape of cancer cells and metastasis.
She feels that her work is spreading like a disease or fungus when it is taken by a curator. The curator gets to display it in their own way, projecting the condition how they would like to see it. This metastasis is a narrative all on its own, telling a story of the beauty that can arise from limitation.
All the pieces in “Duo Trio” have their own story to tell, and each one invites the viewer to fill their own story into the spaces between each piece.
Werger puts it best:
“What happens in the gutter between these images? …How did we get from here to there?” he asked, “And so that gutter becomes the viewer’s interpretation. That’s where the viewer’s mind is really activated.”
“Duo Trio: Contemporary Diptychs and Triptychs by 14 Ohio Artists” runs in the Riffe Gallery through April 13.