Exhibit preview: Charles Bukowski poem inspires extensive exhibit "Born Into This"

Jesse Tigges, Columbus Alive

"God, I freaking love this show!" was the first thing Alicia Vanderelli said as I walked into her gallery last week to discuss the exhibit "Born Into This." When she opened The Vanderelli Room in late 2014, she was already envisioning an exhibit based on the Charles Bukowski poem "Dinosauria, We." She was instantly resolute about the poem as inspiration, but decided to take a curatorial approach that required time and a lot of leg work.

Instead of asking for new work, Vanderelli connected with the 33 participating artists by visiting each artist's studio to discuss which pieces already in their collection examined the themes of Bukowski's poem. She was confident each artist would have a piece (or multiple pieces in some cases) that fit because Bukowski's mediation on the ruin of humanity is universal.

"I would say it's prevalent in so many artists' work. We're all experiencing this meltdown of society, and everyone already had something that represented the emotion," Vanderelli said about how Bukowski's poem, despite being written decades ago, considers issues still relevant today. "I got to interact with [the artists] in their space, look through their work and find a piece. Developing a personal relationship was really important for this show."

In "Dinosauria, We," Bukowski delves into the fall of humanity, borne mainly of a corruption of the soul via greed, power, violence - our utter inability to overcome the inherent flaws of human nature. With this group exhibit, featuring over 70 pieces, Vanderelli chose the poem's most fatalist line, "Born into this" - which proposes we're forced into an existence destined to misery and destruction - and sought representations of Bukowski's pessimistic rationale.

"I connect with Bukowski's work in general. He is and has always been brutally honest. Regardless of how he lived his personal life, being a drunk and not very nice to women … he was so affected by the world and felt the need to show it," Vanderelli said.

Multidisciplinary artist Ruth Burke, who'd never met Vanderelli previous to their studio encounter and will have two sculptures ("Staccato" and "Literate") in the exhibit, found the visit a constructive process.

"We had a lovely conversation about life and literature … [and] the fact she spent time to come see the work in person, and get a sense of its presence or the materiality of the work, demands respect," Burke said. "Having a piece chosen for a theme is all about perception. Making something new revolves more around the artist's intention. It's a powerful thing when work resonates a mood that's universally understood by … people that experience it. It's all about the perception of the audience. They become part of it, willing or not. I see the real beauty of art in the different ways it can be seen and understood."

Established artist Stephanie Rond found the approach refreshing, stating, "It was very different to have someone pick a piece from work I've already made rather than make something new. Honestly, it was a nice change to feel I had already potentially held up my end of the bargain. I enjoyed listening to her thought process and watching her eyes light up when she knew she'd found what she was looking for."

The result of Vanderelli's efforts is the gallery's largest (in terms of number of pieces) and most diverse exhibit. The walls are teeming with paintings, photography and mixed-media of all sizes, and the gallery has never housed more sculpture and three-dimensional pieces.

Save for the Rob Jones portrait of Bukowski that serves as an entrance piece to the gallery, the "Born Into This" collection contains myriad interpretations of the author's words. Some directly examine Bukowski's imagery ("Heart of War" by Charles Wince), while others tie in contemporary topics, like Chris Fields' provocative "Plug In, Tune Out" sculpture of a skull ensnared in a network of wires and distractions converging at a smart phone foundation.

"I wanted to branch out to new people, and there are so many talented artists in Columbus I [hadn't worked with yet]. The thing I like is there is such a variety of artists: self-taught, professors, college graduates, MFA [candidates], professionals, everything."

Photos by Meghan Ralston

The Vanderelli Room

Through March 29

Reception: 7-11 p.m. Friday, March 20

218 McDowell St., Franklinton