Bateaux by Kyle Ragsdale
Opening night for Kyle Ragsdale’s show, Bateaux, is also the opening night for the 2018 Spirit & Place Festival. What better way to celebrate the festival’s theme, “Intersections,” than the Harrison Center, which serves as a home for artists of all races, ages, social groups, neighborhoods, faiths, and more to intersect with one another. Explore how styles, mediums, colors, and shapes collide and blend to create Indy’s vibrant arts community.
On Friday, November 2, the Harrison Center presents Bateaux, new work by Kyle Ragsdale, which showcases a fantastic fleet of light, flat-bottomed riverboats and their striking passengers. We spent some time with the beloved Mr. Ragsdale to hear the story behind his nautical exhibition.
The story begins in 1825 when utopian thinker Robert Owen, along with other idealist intellectuals, floated down the Ohio river in a boat called “The Boatload of Knowledge” to settle in New Harmony, Indiana to start a new and perfect society. In 2011, Kyle commemorated the journey with a mural the length of the boat (128 feet!) along the Indianapolis canal, called “Hoosier Hospitality on a Boatload of Knowledge.” He had painted boats full of animals and people before, usually floating in the sky above a landmark building, but this work focused more on the voyage itself.
Kyle’s interest in painting boats was reignited this past year when the Arts Council moved offices and returned the original mockup of his mural. A friend of his (an eye doctor) really wanted to purchase the piece, but not wanting to sell, Kyle eventually made him a new boat painting that is displayed so that it’s the first thing his friend’s patients see when they leave eye surgery. There is a similar piece of his in the Hoosier Salon State Museum. He enjoyed these boat paintings so much that he decided to continue the theme in his annual November show in the Harrison Gallery.
When Kyle first started working on Bateaux, which are the type of boats featured in this show, he painted more peaceful and tranquil scenes. Rather than lots of action or movement, the earlier works draw attention to the diverse and eclectic passengers. The travellers don’t always look like they chose to be together, as they include people of many ethnicities from different time periods and stages of life. Animals are intermittently mixed in with the crowd, inspired by Kyle’s trip to Washington state where he listened to his friend’s son play a cello concert for llamas on a farm. The skies and backgrounds are filled with patterns, reminiscent of national and nautical flags. Even though he was often inspired by things he saw in reality, Kyle used hardly any photo references for this show, giving it a fictitious feel.
“As I kept going,” Kyle explained, “I felt like I was responding to the world feeling more heavy and troubled. The paintings became a little more emotional. The seas became more turbulent, so the last ones seem adventurous or perilous.” These more tumultuous works elicit a feeling of not quite knowing how the journey will end, and the ships are often in strange places, like the sky or desert floor. Sometimes, the voyagers seem like sojourners fleeing, sometimes they seem like they’re part of a happy escape, and sometimes they seem like they’ve run aground. There are also hints of biblical themes, which is something Kyle hasn’t included in his works before.
Another distinctive feature of Bateaux is that this show is mostly acrylic, which is almost bizarre for Kyle since he’s painted almost exclusively with oil since 1989. He intentionally put different sheens on the paintings so they change throughout the day. The mix of metallic, interference, and matte paints together create a texture that plays with the light in the room. Watching Kyle hang the show, artist Alicia Zanoni remarked, “It’s just amazing. There’s so much emotion in it.”
The opening of this show has an extra special feature; dancers from Herron High School will perform an original dance inspired by Bateaux and other famous boat paintings in art history. The performance will occur throughout the night in the sanctuary across from the Harrison Gallery. We hope you will join us for what is perhaps - dare we say it - Mr. Ragsdale’s most compelling show yet.