It’s my Party [and I’ll Cry if I Want to]: An Essay by Cindy Stockton Moore

Grizzly Grizzly member, Cindy Stockton Moore responds to the three-person March exhibition, ‘It’s my Party [and I’ll Cry if I Want to]’ featuring Christine Buckton Tillman, Janell Olah, and Christine Shields.

Grizzly Grizzly’s March exhibition has all the makings of a memorable get together: eccentric guests, colorful decorations, a show-stopping cake, even a catchy soundtrack. Fittingly titled ‘It’s my Party [and I’ll Cry if I Want to]’, the show includes artists Christine Buckton Tillman, Janell Olah, and Christine Shields. Seductively colored and strangely melancholy, their work is deceptively light-hearted.  Intermingled throughout the gallery, the visual pairings introduce enjoyable conversations that are complicated on reflection. The resulting exhibition is playfully restrained, the show’s sugary sweetness tinged with ache, like the celebrations of youth that inspired it.

California-based, artist and musician, Christine Shields recalls her birthdays vividly: “For many years as a child I always got a carousel cake… which had a menagerie of marzipan animals, and a little circus top made of colored cardboard to resemble a merry-go-round. I loved these cakes and would keep the animals, which I would add to my massive collection…. I believed they were all real… Birthdays were a happy thing up until a certain point when my family fell apart.” 

In her painting ‘Costume Party’, the carousel animals reappear as silencing masks: a giraffe headed girl in a party dress rambles in the distance, while an elephant and rabbit share a static moment.  The children in her narrative scenes appear frozen in time – there is cognitive slippage between the photographic nature of the figures and the hyper-saturated hues of their surroundings.  The artist leaves no doubt that these memories have been revisited.

Costume Party
Christine Shields, Costume Party, cel vinyl on paper. 22″ x 30”, 2017

Christine Shields also introduces us to an imaginary cast of children in a series of small, untitled works on paper. Working quickly and spontaneously, the artist allows these colorful, painted faces to emerge from her unconscious.  She explains, “I make 9 at a time, jumping from one to another, and doing my best not to think, but to just GO. I work quickly, and it allows subconscious energies to create the work.”  For ‘It’s My Party…’, Christine altered her characters to be more youthful, the resulting imagery is eerily fantastical.

Janell Olah also made new work for the occasion – a brightly hued, inflatable cake that rises and falls over the course of several minutes.  She reflects, “My sister and I have birthdays close together, so my mom used to make us a shared cake. It was always a theme cake…whatever we were into…Winnie the Pooh, Smurfs, etc. My mom always went over the top with themes, and I find myself doing the same with my kids.” Over five feet tall, her sculpture is a three-tiered confection of neon and gray rip-stop fabric, powered by fans on timers.

Synchronized to inflate with a choreographed kazoo soundtrack, Olah’s sculpture playfully defies gravity, only to slowly succumb again and again.  Its regular repetition serves as a reminder of the progression of time. The corresponding soundtrack is performed by Jacopo De Nicola, an Italian born, Philadelphia-based musician.  The Gypsy undertones of his eclectic melody lend a burlesque feel to the inflatable, making the slow cadence of its repeated rise and fall revealing – in a more adult fashion.

Janell Olah, And Yet Another Year my Love, 2017

Likewise, Christine Buckton Tillman’s work toys with expectations. What first appear to be paper chains strewn from the rafters of the gallery are – on closer inspection – revealed to be ceramic.  The artist extrudes the shapes, forming the chain link-by-link; its delicate connections made more tenuous by the fragility of materials.

The artist shares, “Ironically, I hate Happy Birthday being sung to me and have planned my own wedding and three proms at my job without decorations. I do get a balloon or two for the little’s birthday though.”  Her hand-painted ‘Gloomy Balloons’ for the Grizzly Grizzly exhibition are black ink pooled on watercolor paper. Clustered at intervals throughout the gallery, the paintings hover above eye-level, the liquidity of the ink referencing a different material manifestation of floating.  Christine Buckton Tillman crafts by hand decorations that are often mass-produced and manufactured to be disposable; her strategic transfer of labor calls to question the materials at the core of our shared festivities.

Christine Buckton Tillman, Clay Paper Chain

In different ways, each of the artists unwrap the prettily packaged layers of ‘celebration,’ revealing the emotional dissonance at the core of social gatherings.  Whether pointing out the bittersweet bite of nostalgia, the incessant inevitability of aging, or the commodified commercialism of our experience, these three artists use the ‘party’ as an occasion for a joyful exploration of paradox, giving reason to celebrate life’s many contradictions.

Cindy Stockton Moore is a part of the curatorial team at Grizzly Grizzly. She is a Philadelphia-based artist whose current/recent solo projects include ‘Consciousness and Revolt’ at the Moore College’s Wilson Gallery and ‘Other Absences’ at Eastern State Penitentiary. Recent two person exhibitions include: ‘Mute Things’ at Stockton University Galleries, ‘An Island Now Peopled’ at Chashama Chelsea Project Space and ‘Water/Line’ at The Center for Contemporary Art (Bedminster, NJ.). Her writing on art has appeared in ArtNews, NYArts Magazine, The New York Sun, in addition to university and web publications.

Christine Buckton Tillman hails from the great Northern Chicago suburb of Libertyville, IL-home of the Wildcats. Buckton is her maiden name but she made it her middle name because she takes her grandmother’s advice. She acquired the last name of Tillman when she married a nice boy from Maryland who she met in year four of her seven-year stint as an Iowan. After 11 years in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, Christine just moved to the suburbs. She is conflicted.

Janell Olah grew up in spacious Lancaster County, PA and now lives on a tiny street in Philadelphia with her husband, Ryan, and her two lovely children, Camper (6) and Maybelle (2). She maintains an efficient studio in their tiny basement where she makes large inflatable sculptures and draws up complex installations. She received her MFA from the University of Delaware (2006), and her BFA from Millersville University (2001). She has participated in the Fabric Workshop and Museum’s Apprenticeship Program, the Cooper Union School of Art Summer Residency Program, and the 2014 Fleisher Wind Challenge Series. Janell has exhibited her work in many venues and cities including Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Miami. Her work can also currently be seen in Terminal A-West at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Christine Shields is an artist and musician from California. She grew up primarily in rural areas from the coast to the Sierras, spending a lot of time alone in nature in childhood, and as much time as possible at music shows and drawing with her friends in her teenage years. At the age of 17 she moved to San Francisco, joined a band, and started attending the Art Institute where she studied painting, drawing, animation and film. Many years spent steeped in the counter cultures of San Francisco, New York City, and Los Angeles resulted in a well rounded creative life built around necessity and imagination.

Italian born, Philadelphia based, singer songwriter Jacopo De Nicola mixes Old and New World influences into a sophisticated sonic cocktail. Expanding the tradition of the Italian Cantautori, Jacopo enlivens the audience with infectious upbeat tunes as well as introspective ballads and protest songs. His eclectic repertoire is propelled by a rhythmic Gypsy/World pulse and punctuated by virtuosic kazoo melodies that have become a signature of his live performances. De Nicola performs internationally both as a solo artist and with his gypsy-rock band The Late Saints. Jacopo’s initial fascination with the Kazoo has developed over the course of the years into a symbiotic relationship. Excited by the extreme versatility of the instrument and its lack of chromatic restraints that turn it into the perfect improvisational instrument (if you can hear it, you can kazoo it), De Nicola has experimented with different models and types and eventually built a rig to expand its voicings.

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