Robert Morgan’s work announces itself. The artist’s newest exhibit of found object art, “Pangaea”—his first Lexington show in years, a collaboration with Patrick Smith — is on arresting display at the City Gallery on Main Street.
Smith’s realistic paintings mingle with Morgan’s toddler-sized sculptures covered in bright paint and assorted trinkets, perched on upside-down trash cans.
“We totally love it,” said Celeste Lewis, director of the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, as she described how passersby would smush against the glass to get a better view of the exhibition in its first days.
The show is an exhibition of uniquely Lexington stories. Both Morgan’s found art and Smith’s paintings deal with the stories of Lexington residents and the evolving character of the city.
The unconventional art went against what Smith said he saw as a trend in Lexington of showing art that seeks to imitate New York or Los Angeles art, or art that is more academic than radical with no sense of location.
“This show is the complete opposite of that,” Smith said. “You couldn’t see this show somewhere else.”
Morgan came up with the name of the exhibit, and in a concept statement he said “the idea of an ancient motherland came to mind in the planning of this exhibition. You may see the faces of the citizens of this lost world or hear stories of their personal tragedies and triumphs. Either way you are ship wrecked on strangely familiar shore of a forgotten world.”
Morgan said he specifically placed the front piece, “The Island of Lost Souls,” in the window facing Main Street in order to tell the story of a 19-year-old meth addict who lived with Morgan for a short time. His nightmare inspired Morgan to craft a sculpture that represented the boy’s life and shattered childhood.
Morgan uses small objects such as snow globes, toy reptiles, and Dollar Tree knickknacks like letters to tell a full story.
“It’s my vocabulary,” he said.
Smith creates paintings by starting with a base photograph, tinting it sepia, and then applying paints in layers that create a slightly raised, textured effect. Smith said he strives for realism in his portraits.
“I think it’s disappointing when you see a painting and it looks like a painting,” he said.
The art isn’t for everyone. Morgan described how a visitor to the exhibit became convinced the sculptures were possessed and left the gallery. Smith has also faced criticism for his art, including a critical Herald-Leader letter to the editor when a self-portrait from Smith’s January exhibition, which is available now at the City Gallery, was published in the paper.
The artists were unfazed. “You only get negative press if it’s good,” Smith said. “ “I do want people to be turned around a little by the medium,” Morgan said as well.
The two artists are long-time friends, but “Pangaea” marks their first gallery collaboration.
“Even though our work is very different, we feed off each other a bit,” Morgan said.
The artists’ work is complementary but doesn’t compete with each other, Smith said. The themes and even colors work together to create a unified message for visitors.
“I was shocked how well they went together,” he said.
The pieces are available for sale through August 5, when the exhibit closes. But someone who wants to buy a found art piece must love the story behind the art as well as the physical structure, Morgan said, because the story is integral to the piece.
“It’s like adoption,” he said. “It’s not for decor.”
The City Gallery and “Pangaea” will be part of the July 20 Gallery Hop.
IF YOU GO
What: Art exhibit by Robert Morgan and Patrick Smith at the City Gallery.
Where: City Gallery at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, 141 E Main St.
When: Through Aug. 5. Gallery Hop reception 5-8 p.m. Jul. 20.
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun., closed Mon.
What: More than 50 downtown Lexington galleries and art venues open to the public
When: 5-8 p.m. Jul. 20