NORMAN — Oklahoma City rapper Jabee stares steadily from a wall of the MAINSITE Contemporary Art gallery.
In a portrait by Norman-based photographer Cody Giles, the local hip-hop star is surrounded not by screaming fans, but by a swirling series of white dots and lines created by the painter, muralist and mark maker of OKC, Jaiye Farrell.
Viewed through augmented reality, a second portrait of Jabee by Giles is quickly engulfed by another set of Farrell’s distinct primary designs.
“Me and Cody have been bumping into each other for years. He photographed me at a Jabee show — so we kind of met through Jabee, through one of his shows — and we’re like, ‘Let’s catch up open’. And we had a really good conversation: we were connecting on a lot of ideas and things that we were feeling at the same time,” Farrell said.
The culmination of 10 months of work, their collaborative exhibition Between Spaces opened earlier this month at MAINSITE, where it will be on view until September 9. More than a passive viewing experience, the Norman exhibition in the city center is exploring the spaces between digital and traditional art as well as between physical and virtual reality.
“At the height of the pandemic … I had drawn portraits where the subject wasn’t looking at the camera, because we were all disconnected at the time. But then to hear him speak, ‘We’re not disconnected. We’re more connected than ever because of the digital world,” Giles said as he prepared to host the exhibition’s opening on August 12.
“That’s part of the conversation we’ve had between digital and traditional spaces. … So this came out of that conversation, ‘What does it mean, if we bring these two together? How can they play together? And how do you ask that question and then bring people to be part of the exhibit, not just come and see it?'”
The exhibition features portraits decorated with ‘primordial’ signs
At first glance, Between the Spaces resembles a traditional art show: After all, the centerpiece of the collaborative exhibition is a series of Giles’ photographs that line the gallery walls. Along with Jabee, the portraits depict a diverse group of subjects, including local artists Ebony Iman Dallas and Ariana Hall, musicians Liam Hosty, Gavin Taylor and Kade Trentham (also known as KVDE), educator Charlotte Gordon and more.
“Any talented photographer can take a beautiful picture of a person, but the greatest compliment anyone can ever pay me is when they look at a portrait I’ve taken of someone they know and they say, ‘Oh yeah, I I can see. their personality.’ I like that – and I make that connection,” said Giles, a former photojournalist for the Norman Transcript and Norman Magazine.
“The whole thing about this show is that human connection and playing with that issue of digital vs. non-digital, connection vs. disconnection.”
The exhibit includes two photos of each subject, with one physically embellished by a set of Farrell’s distinctive abstract designs.
“Often, I would say, it’s more about making intuitive marks: It’s like I draw from the subconscious to lock these movements and gestures in time and space,” Farrell said, adding that he was first inspired to experimented with sign making as a teenager. working in a bakery, where he tried painting with cream bags.
“I think there’s an element of multiculturalism to it. I think taking cues is a very innately human thing — and I think that’s why people relate to it. … It’s multicultural in a way. I do a signature or fingerprint of humanity and nature.”
The AR app allows viewers to see portraits in a new way
Although they appear unadorned at first glance, Giles’ second portrait on each pair is practically painted with Farrell’s insignia when viewed through the Artivive augmented reality app.
An AR platform specifically for art and artists, the free app is available for iPhone and Android, and MAINSITE visitors are encouraged to download it before taking the Between Spaces tour.
“It’s using augmented reality and experimenting with new ways to display art outside of the typical gallery wall…Oklahoma may be a smaller market, but artists are still doing the things that artists are doing in markets as well bigger. I think it’s really exciting what they’ve done here,” said Erinn Gavaghan, executive director of the MAINSITE-based Norman Arts Council.
‘Between Spaces’ includes Polaroids, 3-D orbs and selfie spaces
Along with the 36 portraits that are the centerpiece of the show, “Between the Spaces” includes 3-D printed orbs, a plaster bust of Michelangelo’s “David” and vinyl window designs that all bear Farrell’s signature marks. During the opening reception, visitors could be photographed in front of a black-and-white selfie wall he created for a gallery of Polaroid portraits added to the exhibit.
Best known for black and white work, Farrell created for the exhibition a colorful abstract video installation where participants can create selfie videos.
“When I first started, experimentation brought me to color. But moving to black and white helped me to conceive … and think about these ideas of how mark-making relates to humanity, how we transform objects into the space around them by decorated them,” said Farrell, who is part of the OKC artist collective Factory Obscura and has worked on many of their immersive attractions.
“Now, I think I’m getting into a space to develop ideas about why I’m turning to color and how I actually want to share color with people versus, ‘I’m just messing around with color because I like it.’ ‘ There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s good to experiment – but if I can add another layer that people can relate to, that’s what I want to do.”
Form of faith and growth ‘Between spaces’ for artists
For Giles, it wasn’t difficult to trust Farrell to make marks in his work, as the portraitist must develop a similar sense of trust with the people he photographs.
“At the end of the day, he’s not going to mess it up. He’s been doing it for so long, and it looks great. And he’s a lot cooler than I am, so anything that will add to those portraits it just elevates them. even more,” Giles said, as Farrell nodded and smiled.
Likewise, Farrell entrusted Giles to photograph him for the exhibition. In the full body portrait, Farrell is wearing only body paint that he applied himself in his own unique style.
“That was really hard. I had my girlfriend help me get myself back,” Farrell said. “Collaboration is always an opportunity to grow and maybe come up with ideas that you probably wouldn’t have come up with on your own.”
Along with regular gallery hours from 10am to 4pm Tuesday-Saturday, MAINSITE will host a closing reception for Between Spaces from 6pm to 9pm on September 9 during the monthly walk of the second Friday Norman Art Walk.
“It’s fun for both of us to do this and show what we can do together and the power of people working together… It definitely expands the field,” Farrell said. “This is the biggest goal I’ve gotten to show a digital project like this … so we’ll see where it goes from here with introducing these new ideas to people.”
When: Until September 9.
Where: MAINSITE Contemporary Art, 122 E Main St, Norman.
Gallery hours: 10am to 4pm Tuesday-Saturday.
Closing the wait: 6 to 9 p.m., Sept. 9 during the monthly Friday Norman Art Walk.
Features Writer Brandy “BAM” McDonnell has covered Oklahoma’s arts, entertainment and culture sectors for The Oklahoman for 20 years. Contact her at bm[email protected], www.facebook.com/brandybammcdonnell and twitter.com/BAMOK. Support her work by signing up for her See & Do Oklahoma newsletter and subscribing to The Oklahoman.