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news release The Akron Art Museum Presents the Unconventional Photographic Explorations of Jerry Birchfield

For Release: March 15, 2018

Akron, Ohio—Cleveland-native artist Jerry Birchfield takes a non-traditional approach to the medium of photography. His innovative artworks blend photographic images and abstract elements using camera-less techniques. Birchfield’s work in photography and sculpture is the focus of a new exhibition presented by the Akron Art Museum, the artist’s first solo museum show. Jerry Birchfield: Asleep in the Dust opens on March 24, 2018 and features examples of the artist’s recent photographs, plaster relief sculptures and an ambitious sculptural installation. The exhibition highlights Birchfield’s unconventional approach to photographic processes and the rich material nature of his work.

Akron Art Museum Assistant Curator Elizabeth Carney said, “Jerry Birchfield’s work challenges us to reconsider the way we look at photographs. We usually look for the picture and evaluate our interest in images based on their subject matter. In Birchfield’s work, lyrical abstract forms obscure or obliterate the images underlying the final composition. And when we can see parts of images, the subjects are not inherently beautiful. Beauty and meaning in Birchfield’s work emerges through the artist’s process, which transforms base materials into extraordinary objects.”

Working in the darkroom, Birchfield uses traditional techniques in unusual ways. Film negatives provide a starting point for each photographic print, but the artist also applies techniques used to make camera-less photograms, introducing entirely new compositional elements to each print. Birchfield also uses darkroom chemicals to alter the final image, including toners that give the appearance of color to the black and white photographs.

Carney said, “Unlike most printed photographs, Birchfield’s are one-of-a-kind. Each sheet of paper retains traces of the artist’s physical actions during the print-making process. The photographic image is only the beginning—the darkroom is where the transformation from material to artwork happens.”

Birchfield’s work flows between standard definitions of art media. He uses photography, sculpture, drawing and text in his measured, time-intensive art-making practice. The artist carefully constructs each aspect of his work in the controlled space of the darkroom or his studio, where scraps and unfinished works often reappear in new forms and artworks. In some cases, the artist uses his photographs to create sculptures, encasing the prints in plaster, and creating wall-mounted sculptures that cover portions of the photographic images and warp the paper they are printed on. Asleep in the Dust debuts a large sculpture titled Yes, They Were Made to Level. This major work complements the material nature of the photographs and wall sculptures included in the exhibition. A platform modeled after a stage holds precisely arranged objects, some of which have emerged from the detritus of past projects.

Carney said, “Like the recurrent ideas and aesthetic themes found throughout his work, Birchfield’s materials and subjects often reappear in new versions of themselves. The relationships between image, object, subject and meaning blur. The works prompt as many questions as they attempt to answer.”

Jerry Birchfield (born Cleveland, 1985) earned his BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2009 and his MFA from Cornell University in 2014. His work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions across the Northeast Ohio region and beyond.

"Jerry Birchfield's innovative artwork complements the Akron Art Museum's dedication to exhibiting the greatest in modern and contemporary photography. His work uses photography as a starting point in a body of work that raises questions about how photographs function in art and in our aesthetic experiences," Carney said.

Jerry Birchfield: Asleep in the Dust is on view at the Akron Art Museum from March 24 through September 23, 2018.

The museum will host a reception for the exhibitions Jerry Birchfield: Asleep in the Dust and Frameworks: Paintings by Dragana Crnjak, Andrea Joki and Matthew Kolodziej on Thursday, May 17 from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M. Brief presentations by the artists will begin at 6:30 P.M. The event is free and open to all.

Jerry Birchfield: Asleep in the Dust is organized by the Akron Art Museum with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.

For more information about Jerry Birchfield: Asleep in the Dust at the Akron Art Museum, visit the museum at Join the conversation on social media with #BirchfieldAkron, and follow the museum on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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