Wig Heavier Than a Boot brings together photography by David Johnson and poetry by Philip Matthews. Revealing Petal—a drag consciousness as whom Philip manifests to write, and David photographs—the project crosses art-making rituals with isolated performances within domestic spaces and pastoral landscapes. Taken together, the resulting photographs and poems reveal dynamic relationships between author, character, and observer. By articulating a specific creative process in which one identity becomes two, the project in turn opens up a conversation about gender expression through an art-historical lens.
The photographs provide one record of author and character, blurring art-historical masculine and feminine postures and gestures. The poems provide another, which elaborate upon the lived experience of being, modeling, and sometimes, obscuring Petal. Subverting the ekphrastic literary tradition, Philip’s poems do not respond to Johnson’s photographs, nor vice-versa. Both forms are made in the present: as David directs the shoot, Philip makes performance notes that give way to the poem. The durational mode of writing parallels the time it takes to prepare for a photograph, while the sudden capture sheds light on the burst of line that yields a poem. In this process, David and Philip continually break open and leverage their own biases and desires to create an authentic body of work.
Petal is alternately present and not, like a nonphysical entity invoked by a medium. The photographs capture the blend or distinction between Philip and Petal, and the poems hybridize their perspectives, enacting a relationship that is surreal, empowering, and unbearable, as the project title suggests. What is constant is a sense of a person wanting to belong to the place that hosts them (i.e. farmland in rural Wisconsin, the coast of North Carolina, an art museum in St. Louis, a small church), even or especially when the social norms of that place are felt to ostracize them. Both photographs and poems balance narrative with fragmentation and invite multiple interpretations.
GALLERY TALK AND POETRY READING
Philip Matthews is a poet and meditation teacher working between eastern North Carolina and St. Louis/Kansas City. Rituals performed in isolated, expansive landscapes anchor his poetry, which has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, High Chair, and elsewhere. He also writes site-specific meditations, and has recently led public programs at PLUG Projects and the H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute. He was a finalist for the 2017 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, awarded a 2017 Tending Space Fellowship by the Hemera Foundation, and a 2016-2017 Writing Fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Formerly, he was the Assistant Curator of Public Projects at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis. He received his MFA Writing from Washington University in St. Louis and BA English from Tulane University.
David Johnson is an artist, educator and curator based in St. Louis, MO. He received an MFA in Visual Art from Washington University in St. Louis in 2007 and earned his BFA in Studio Art with an emphasis in Photography from Texas Christian University. In 2011, David was awarded the Great Rivers Visual Arts Award from the Gateway Foundation. This biennial award culminated with his 2012 exhibition institutional etiquette and strange overtones at the Contemporary Art Museum in Saint Louis.
His photographs have been exhibited internationally including: the Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis, Mildred Lane Kemper Museum,Fort Wayne Museum of Art, National Building Museum in Washington D.C. and Rathaus Stuttgart, Germany. His work can be found in the collection at The Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. Don’t Take Pictures, the Humble Arts Foundation and Lenscratch have featured his work online. David has curated exhibitions for Center of Creative Arts, Paul Artspace and the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum. Currently, Johnson is a Lecturer at Saint Louis University and Washington University in St. Louis.