Antiestablishment nihilists might be a common perception of modern artists, but community pride isn't unheard of within the creative class.
City Arts Center has two large exhibitions that will be on display through Dec. 20, featuring dozens of artists focusing on Oklahoma. One exhibit features artists who redesigned the state flag, while the other asked artists to canvas the city and capture the personality of the neighborhoods where they live and work.
Clint Stone, the center's artistic director, said "community" is a central theme in both exhibitions.
"We are proud of our city, the changes we are making and it seemed like a great time to take a look at Oklahoma City," he said.
"Our Town" features 27 metro artists who were each assigned neighborhood and asked to create works interpreting the character of the area.
Paul Mays was assigned Jefferson Park, located near the Paseo Arts District near N.W. 25th Street and Walker Avenue. Swirling reds, blues, greens and blacks interlock and, according to Mays, represent the interplay of the physical elements of the neighborhood. His pieces also prominently feature the number addresses of the buildings that inspired them.
"I went around Jefferson taking pictures, trying to figure out what aspect of the neighborhood I was going to do," Mays said. "I tried to find what connects myself with (the) Jefferson neighborhood."
Nathan Lee covered the Asian District along Classen Boulevard and named his series "Past Present Future."
"None of those elements have been forgotten by the Asian community," Lee said. "They maintain a cultural identity but they are able to evolve with others around them. They are, however, willing to share who they are with the rest of Oklahoma."
Amanda Weathers-Bradway focused on the growth of the burgeoning Plaza District and the history of Carey Place. Bradway said she didn't want to zero in on detailed replications of the Plaza District, since so many buildings are being revitalized and the "streetscape could be completely different in a year."
"For Carey Place, the theme was the legend surrounding Carey, a fictitious girl who was murdered on the steps of the Hatchet House," Bradway said. "In one piece, she is alive, and the next, she is a ghostly figure. The legend has been around for decades and is why the area is so popular on Halloween night."
The companion exhibit, "46 Flags," is a collection of re-imagined Oklahoma flags, ranging from a towering installation piece to a latch hook rug. The two exhibits were originally planned to be shown separately, but their themes were similar enough that gallery directors decided to combine them.
"46 Flags" curator Hugh Meade envisioned the idea more than a year ago, after designing a flag of his own using the same materials and techniques he uses for his dramatic furniture pieces.
"I chose to incorporate some of the materials and form because I'm not traditionally a two-dimensional painter," Meade said. "I'm a furniture maker, so I wanted my piece to reflect that."
The result was "Second Century Emblem," a vast sea of green with one large star containing binary code "? a nod to his own vision of revolutionizing the furniture industry through technology. Rather than stopping there, he expanded the concept to other artists in the state.
"I have so many friends and acquaintances that are artists, I wondered what someone else would do," Meade said. "When I started talking about the idea, it seemed like it would be very popular."
Romy Owens created a fabric flag teaming with symbolism with red and blue dots representing the state's 77 county seats, which reflect her surprise about the prevalence of democratic counties that seemed to contradict the state's conservative voting record. Ultimately, the piece was designed to communicate her affinity for the Sooner State.
"The prospect of recreating the Oklahoma flag was awesomely overwhelming," she wrote in her artist's statement. "I labored on design for days, thinking about all that I love about Oklahoma and how to make my flag symbolically significant "¦ as for creating a latch hook rug, I wanted to create something that was warm and inviting and felt good and represented the lush Oklahoma landscape."
"?Charles Martin & Natalie Burkey
(Editor's note: Paul Mays is a graphic designer at Oklahoma Gazette.)