South by South­west

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Au­to­mo­bile li­cense plates in Alabama proudly pro­claim the state as “the heart of Dixie.” Alabama na­tive Sloane Bibb picked that name for his show at LaKind Gallery, which opened Feb. 9. “I love the South,” Bibb said, adding that he hopes to share “my heart— my love and con­nec­tion and un­der­stand­ing of this place I call home— with the heart of the South­west.” Bibb will be in Santa Fe for a re­cep­tion on Fri­day, Feb. 12.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Auburn Uni­ver­sity with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in graphic de­sign, Bibb looked at jobs in Chicago and New York. He even­tu­ally landed work closer to home, in At­lanta. Be­fore long, though, he was back in his home­town of De­catur, Alabama, near Huntsville. “Never in a mil­lion years did I think I’d end up back here. I guess I’m just a small-town per­son,” he mused.

Part paint­ing, part as­sem­blage or col­lage, the artist’s work has been com­pared to that of Joseph Cor­nell and Robert Rauschen­berg, who united paint­ing and sculp­ture in his Com­bines. Like Rauschen­berg— as well as Ge­orges Braque and Pablo Pi­casso, who are cred­ited with bring­ing col­lage as an artis­tic tech­nique into the mod­ern era— Bibb uses a va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als (paint, pa­per, wood, wax, and tar) and ob­jects (ther­mostats, car em­blems, scrap metal) in in­no­va­tive, some­times quirky or ir­ra­tional com­bi­na­tions to cre­ate a sense of the fan­tas­tic and to evoke nos­tal­gia. Bibb achieves the golden, yel­lowed tone that helps con­vey a sense of age with his “se­cret in­gre­di­ent,” a tar wash. “It changes the char­ac­ter of ev­ery paint­ing,” he in­sisted.

Tex­ture is the essence of Bibb’s work. “When this work orig­i­nally be­gan… it was pretty much straight-up paint­ing fo­cused on tex­tures,” Bibb said. “I be­gan on can­vas and was glu­ing pa­per to the can­vas as an un­der­coat­ing. The can­vases were warp­ing, so I de­cided to start mak­ing my can­vases out of wood, and the work pro­gressed into col­lage. I was able to at­tach metal, and over the years… my work be­came more 3-D.”

Bibb stores items for his works in a 1,500square-foot ware­house. Let­ters, mag­a­zines, old Spiegel and Mont­gomeryWard cat­a­logs, and other pa­per ma­te­ri­als cover four 8-foot­long ta­bles. When his par­ents bought an old home in Court­land, Alabama, the artist hit the jack­pot: the pre­vi­ous own­ers had left be­hind boxes of let­ters dat­ing as far back as the 1880s. Friends and ac­quain­tances give him items to in­cor­po­rate, too, and he buys bits and pieces on eBay. “I do like to go to junk­yards,” he con­fessed. “I grav­i­tate to­ward junk. I think it’s the great­est thing in the world.”

In the bulk of his work, Bibb com­bines th­ese dis­parate el­e­ments in im­ages of birds and bird nests, fish, gui­tars, and women in var­i­ous states of dress. “I have al­ways en­joyed draw­ing the hu­man fig­ure,” said Bibb. “I usu­ally start with the fig­ure, and I tend to dress [it] as the work pro­gresses. By the time I fin­ish, it’s a lot dif­fer­ent than what I had in mind. Some­times when I de­cide I’m fin­ished with the paint­ing, the women are not fin­ished get­ting dressed.”

Cloth­ing plays an im­por­tant role in his art, he added. “Cloth­ing and tex­ture go hand in hand.… I like get­ting the An­thro­polo­gie cat­a­log as much as my wife does. The cloth­ing, the fabrics, the de­sign… are all in­ter­est­ing to me. Peo­ple dress the way they want the out­side world to see them. It’s our cam­ou­flage or some­times our bea­con. I use a lot of clip­pings from old Spiegels from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. I find all of the fash­ions in th­ese cat­a­logs in­ter­est­ing and some­times quite com­i­cal. I es­pe­cially find the lin­gerie sec­tions in­ter­est­ing. … You can see the pains and trou­ble of mak­ing one­self ‘pre­sentable.’ It looks down­right un­com­fort­able. I guess that’s why they adorned the fa­cade with lace and frills.”

Bibb’s work cer­tainly has an air of nos­tal­gia, whether it’s for early-20th-cen­tury fash­ion, cars, or other things. “My grand­fa­ther used to take me ev­ery sum­mer to trout fish. I have many fond mem­o­ries of those trips. He was also my big­gest fan. He paid for my art lessons as a child and al­ways en­cour­aged me.… I guess, in a sense, my fish are an homage to him.”

Some pieces fea­ture im­ages that are un­mis­tak­ably South­ern— Elvis Pres­ley and the Krispy Kreme logo, for ex­am­ple. Asked about other, sub­tler ways his work con­veys no­tions about the South, Bibb wa­vered. “It’s hard to put into words, be­cause it just hap­pens. I’m a South­erner, and my art­work is me.

“I think the over­all essence of it has a South­ern feel,” he con­ceded, cit­ing Alabama’s in­fa­mous red clay, the ram­shackle look of run-down homes, and the rust of old ware­houses and steel mills as in­flu­ences that some­how make their way into many of the fin­ished pieces. “It sparks your imagination about the grandeur of it, of a par­tic­u­lar time.”

Bibb said that, in this col­lec­tion, “I re­ally pushed my­self to ex­plore the in­ter­play of hap­pi­ness tinged with sad­ness”— or what he has re­ferred to as “con­stant push-pull be­tween ro­mance and re­al­ity.” The South in par­tic­u­lar evokes that bit­ter­sweet qual­ity, he noted. “The South is a lot bet­ter than peo­ple give it credit for. We’ve been la­beled and will live with it for­ever.

“Even when things seem per­fect or grand, they never re­ally are. I love the South. It’s a part of me. But it has a his­tory that haunts us. You can’t fully love it without fully ac­cept­ing it; and that’s both happy and sad, re­ally.”

The Sev­enth Pair, 60 x 48 inches

2010, mixed me­dia,

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