By Deborah Johnson, Gallery Director/Owner

April 14 will be the opening of Art Connections Gallery’s Second Saturday Soiree show “Wig Heavier than a Boot”, a collaborative creative effort between photographer David Johnson and poet Philip Matthews. Usually I let the art and the artist’s words speak for our shows but this is one show that has moved me greatly and I want to share my thoughts as curator of the show.

Johnson and Matthews worked over two years on this project weaving together a creative ribbon of images and words exploring the issue of gender identity and expression and the relationship between Philip and Petal, a persona whom Matthews manifests in a gender queer body. The words of convervasations and poetry suggested images. The production of the images as they were taken with Philip and Petal in various locales suggested more words of poetry. The resulting images and words are ethereal, moving, sometimes mystical, and both timeless and timely. Johnson’s use of the large format camera and film adds to this sense of timelessness.

Gender identity and expression in the LGBT community are issues very much in our news today and this show offers a sensitive and thoughtful approach allowing discussion and conversation to arise. Even the title gives the tension that can be painful in expressing the individual. Along with the still images, Johnson has created a video in which Matthews is shaving as he prepares to transition into Petal. The simple act becomes almost painful as Matthews literally scrapes away his masculinity to be open to the femininity of Petal. Personal growth is reflected in the visual images as well as the words of poetry as Johnson, who is a straight male, and Matthews, who is gay, grapple with how to work together to use both of their individual creative voices to tell this story.
There is risk in presenting this show. The gallery is new to a community that does not know us and that we do not know yet. However, these issues are ones that impact us all whether legally, morally, or personally and deserve the thoughtfulness that Johnson and Matthews bring to the table. Art has always reflected the world in which it was made and frequently pushed for changes. In particular, photography has drawn us in and required us to grapple with our world. From the first photographs of war taken during the American Civil War to images of Vietnam and current wars in the Middle East, from images of poverty taken in the Dust Bowl of Depression and images of pain in the concentration camps of Europe, we have been moved to tears and to change. Art has a place in the adornment of our homes and offices but, more importantly, it can bring meaning and message to our lives.

Both Matthews (from North Carolina) and Johnson (from St. Louis) will be in the gallery on April 14 for a gallery talk and poetry reading from 2-3pm. They will be joined by Austin poet and actor Jesus I. Valles. There will be a reception from 4-8 pm with live music, wine and cheese. The show will hang in the gallery at 123 N. Main Street on the square in La Grange until May 7