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Monday, Aug. 5, 2013

You, Me, & Everything In-Between

‘Critical Mass’ winner displays work

Joshua Chambers
I sat there trying to validate my impulses and avoid regret

[Editor’s Note: Joshua Chambers is the winner of 2013 Best in Show award for the “Critical Mass” exhibition, which was critiqued and judged by San Diego-based art critic, Lauren Buscemi, last spring. As winner, Chambers opened his solo exhibition July 25 at artspace. In continuation of the National Endowment of the Arts-granted “Critical Mass” series, Buscemi returned to artspace to write a review of Chambers’ new work, “You, Me & Everything In-Between.”]

Lauren Buscemi


Fresh and cultivated contemporary signature style is attracting visitors to Joshua Chambers’ solo exhibition “You, Me, & Everything In-Between” at artspace in downtown Shreveport.
Chambers sets the stage with vibrant washes of color found in his paintings. Clean minimal white backdrops used in his drawings demonstrate a sophisticated use of space.
On close inspection, well-crafted detailed characters may be explored – transforming everyday exchanges into poetic and absurd drama.
Standout paintings include, “I Don’t Know What You Want From Me (2013)” and “I Sat There Trying to Validate My Impulses and Avoid Regret (2013).”
“I don’t know what you want from me,” one of the last works Chambers’ completed for the exhibition, features a strong use of space highlighting a deep blue upper background and blonde lower flat foreground. Stairs lead to an upper level featuring a chimpanzee (Chambers’ alter ego) and a pig (symbolic of sloth) sharing an overflowing bath. On the lower level a diver donning an antique mask is submerged surrounded by paper boats.
Antique machines and diving equipment reflect Chambers’ “Indiana Jones interest” in exploration and invention. Machines that have failed particularly fascinate him, but their history of failure is a key component for future success. He said the appeal lies in “the idea that those inventions – based in exploration, travel or invention – had an immense amount of risk to the people that were doing them.”
He continued, “you would have a wood barrel over your head and someone above sea level is pumping air into it so that you can breathe and the people that were crazy enough to put that diving equipment on and get in there.”
This attitude reflects Chambers’ openness to experimentation and the process of honing his craft. 
Text incorporated into his pieces provides an additional layer of graphic punch. The text, ‘I don’t know what you want from me,’ sits stacked on the staircase. “This specifically has more of a physical space than the others. I was trying to use that body of text becoming more of a character in and of itself,” Chambers said.
The backdrop and symbolic characters merged with text provide layers of meaning keeping viewers engaged.
Certain characters and symbols are recognizable. We often see Chambers’ self-portrait and his wife, Leigh Anne, throughout his work.
“I Sat There Trying To Validate My Impulses and Avoid Regret” depicts a simple stark white house against a rich green backdrop. The house in the lower right corner is connected to a boat with a long thin thread in the upper left corner. Looking out from a window of the house a recognizable man with a beard and thick rim glasses (a self-portrait of Chambers) once again stands next to a chimpanzee wearing a bright orange life vest smoking a cigarette. In the boat Leigh Anne sits with her dark hair and a forlorn expression. It is beside the point that some viewers may recognize these portraits as they capture the universal theme of misunderstanding between two people. It is an optimistic and hopeful work in that the figures remain connected by a thread and the text honestly and humorously acknowledges our potential for human folly.
Also, the use of cinderblock weights and strings are common, tapping into the universal theme of being stuck or controlled by outer forces. Chambers’ text supports this notion reflected in his drawing, “He Shook It Off And Continued the Thread Of His Thoughts (2013),” which is a self-portrait of Chambers literally throwing a cinderblock over the edge of a cliff.
Another self-portrait, “He Cut Loose The Sandbags But The Balloon Wouldn’t Go Any Higher (2013),” taps into human limitations. These relatable leitmotifs provide viewers with a tangible connection. Other forms are more ambiguous, such as the goat, gold fish, sand hill crane, gas masks and antique flying machines.  
Chambers culls from literature, religion and early diving and flying manuals, borrowing from a rich body of source material. In his mind, the animals are symbolic of human characteristics from vices and virtues to more nuanced complex sensibilities. It is not necessary for viewers to be aware of all of the symbolic meanings. Rather, his work encourages viewers to play the role of detective probing his distinct repertoire of symbols. Again some are clear, whereas others are mystifying. Viewers can get lost in the interpretive possibilities or they may stand back and enjoy the play between the deeply saturated color and intricate figures mixed with clever text.  Chambers has constructed a stage for viewers to play out their own narratives and dramas.
“You, Me, & Everything In-Between” can be seen through Aug. 24 at artspace.
– Lauren Buscemi

About Joshua Chambers
Joshua Chambers is a painter who works in acrylic, pen and ink and printmaking. His style has often been described as illustrative, illusive and “odd.” With a love of theater but a quiet nature, Joshua’s work echoes the philosophy of absurdist playwrights and deconstructed sets. Receiving his master of fine arts from Louisiana Tech University in 2009 and his bachelors of art from Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, Chambers’ work has been published in New American Paintings, Creative Quarterly and Studio Visit Magazine. Chambers’ work can currently be found in the Graphite Gallery in New Orleans and in permanent collections in the Lessadra Gallery in Bulgaria and Osage Gallery in the Gilrease Museum of the Americas. Chambers lives in Bossier Parish with his wife, Leigh Anne, and their daughter Sophia and is currently a teacher for the Talented Art Program of Bossier Parish Schools.

About Lauren Buscemi
Lauren Buscemi has taught art history at the University of San Diego since 2005, focusing on 20th and 21st century art and visual culture. In January 2011, Buscemi taught in Barcelona on “Barcelona and Modernity” through the University of San Diego’s international exchange program. Buscemi is actively involved in the San Diego arts community and has worked for the Commission for Arts and Culture’s Public Art Program and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s Public Art Committee. She has written for Riveria magazine and is a current contributor to art ltd. Buscemi is participating as a visiting critic to artspace in Shreveport as part of a NEA grant.


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