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Imagination and incarceration

Converge Gallery mainstay Johnny Romeo to curate dual shows

By JASON KLOSE

Sun-Gazette Correspondent

Converge Gallery is excited to host a dual exhibition, featuring the vibrant and colorful pop art paintings by guest curator and internationally acclaimed Australian pop artist Johnny Romeo and newly discovered artist, Mark Loughney. An opening reception will be held 6-9 p.m. Friday, Nov.4. The exhibition runs from Nov. 4-26, at Converge Gallery, 140 W. Fourth St.

Romeo’s work, titled “Lincoln: The Freedom Series,” is the thrilling new collaborative exhibition between Romeo and leading US-based snowboard company Gilson Boards. Drawing on the iconic imagery of America’s most beloved president, Abraham Lincoln, the exhibition brings together original Romeo paintings and four custom-made boards that seek to connect the worlds of fine art and snowboarding culture. Bursting at the seams with Romeo’s exhilarating Neo-Expressionist Pop stylings, the series is a gloriously colorful reimagining of both Lincoln and the traditional snowboard from Australia’s King of Pop.

The subject matter for Romeo’s works are depictions of Abraham Lincoln with various writings surrounding the imagery, such as “Battle Star” and “Brave Heart.” These works will be accompanied by a limited edition set of snowboards – manufactured locally by Gilson Snowboards – called “The Freedom Series.”

Inspired by the legacy and symbolism of Lincoln, the series is an electrifying celebration of freedom in all its forms. The freedom to innovate and create lies at the heart of the Gilson x Romeo collaborative exhibition, showcasing boards that fuse Gilson’s cutting edge design with rambunctious, Technicolor renditions of Old Abe. Exhibited as artworks, the Gilson x Romeo Freedom boards capture Romeo and Gilson’s ambition to break down the barriers between the gallery space and the snow slopes. The drive to push snowboarding culture into new and exciting terrain pays homage to the very pioneering spirit that has made Abraham Lincoln the immortalized icon of freedom that he is today.

“Four of the Lincoln canvases make up the artwork on the snowboards, ready to hit the slopes this season,” said John Yogodzinski, Director of Converge Gallery. “In addition to this, we will have a few open edition prints of Johnny’s work available, copies of his book ‘TV Land’ available, and t-shirts depicting Lincoln.”

A prisoner in the Dallas, Pa., prison, Mark Loughney first heard of Romeo and the gallery through an interview the gallery did with WVIA radio. Loughney was so moved by how Romeo spoke about his process and passion for his artwork that he wrote a letter to the gallery.

“We looked at his work and were blown away by the detail and talent,” Yogodzinski said. “These intricate drawings on paper feature various imaginative bugs and creatures with a sort of whimsical feel to them. Very little color is used in the drawings.”

Romeo’s work critiques the madness of a modern world driven by pervasive advertising, hollow materialism and wasteful excess, exploring the way in which we construct our identities through the idolization of pop culture and brand-name heroes. The Australian born painter’s work is critically acclaimed in its attempt to represent a visual type of poetic and rhythmic blending of word, symbol and image.

“Referred to as a bombastic neo expressionist pure pop painter with a lot to say about modern life, his work deals with the way we construct our identities from the vast array of images that pop culture immerses us in,” Yogodzinski said. “His work centers on pop culture, cultural homogenization, the failures of blind consumerism, media saturation, celebrity fetish and brand name heroes.”

Romeo mixes pop techniques with street art to critique some of the consumerist sentiments pervasive in society and, at times, in art, leading to him being called a colorist and a pop individualist. His work is in numerous public and private national and international collections.

A talented portrait artist from Northeastern Pennsylvania, Loughney has works on display that are somewhat an off-chute of his portraiture work. Loughney describes these works as a stream-of-consciousness fusion of “non-objective conceptual elements – with recognizable objects.” In Loughney’s drawings, biomorphic shapes and abstractions meld seamlessly with giant insects and the simulacra of strange little animals, creating an engrossing and surreal visual landscape of the artist’s subconscious.

“The recurring motif of striped pupa-looking creatures that Loughney refers to as ‘Botflies,’ has a particular emotional resonance, capturing both his vulnerability as a prisoner, and levity towards embracing life,” Yogodzinski said.

Yogodzinski believes guest curators bring flare and notoriety to an exhibition, and he is looking forward to spending some time with Romeo again for this great exhibition. “Johnny wanted to do this as a way to build up the career of his fellow artists,” he said. “He has a real passion for this area and loves the gallery, and he makes an effort to plan something on an annual basis. With Johnny’s international stature I knew he’d be able to pick out only the best from Loughney’s works.”

Converge Gallery was created to give visibility to local and more international artists, test new initiatives and address a further attention to the local community.

The gallery, already internationally recognized for its ambitious program, has been extremely selective and focused on finding emerging or notable mid-career artists with a contemporary emphasis oriented to display the most challenging and innovative art.

“What we are trying to do, without any pretense to define art, is to elevate the discussion about art, reality, and perception,” Yogodzinski said. “Converge Gallery’s goal is to sell the meaning, cultural context and the individual point of view of the artist. Both artist and collector are encouraged to approach a certain level of aesthetic value, clarity of content, and vision. The greatest achievement for us would be to extend the boundaries of art, and generate a conversation between artists and the general public.”

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