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There’ve been two things on my mind lately:

One is the concept of nostalgia, that thing our brains do when  we remember the past as gloriously perfect, so much better than our current situations. Someone once told me that the reason for this is that our subconscious knows we lived and knows we made it through struggles, so we misremember the past as easier than it actually was.

This leads me to the second idea in my mind, that of the story of Lot’s Wife. The woman in the Bible turned into salt for looking back as the town they had lived in was destroyed by The Lord.

They both occupy the same street in my mind. The moment in the story that  Lot’s Wife experiences nostalgia is the space within her mind before she looked back. How did she remember the ungodly town? What was she looking for? What made her turn back?

What even, was her name?

How do we capture the past in art in a way that both preserves and shares the moments we’ve lived in, the streets we grew up on?

I went in search of answers to Sync Gallery, a member-owned and operated gallery coming into its tenth year of life. The themes in my head, the questions of being pulled into the past, I found quite literally in Lynda Tygart’s work, Nostalgic Denver. Tygart works with visuals of places in Denver that no longer exist. Inspired, in part, by the changes of Tennyson street in only a few years, Tygart realized she needed to start photographing the views she enjoyed as a testament to the Denver she lives in.

Tygart’s work conjures up a kind of eerie postcard. While the focus of the images is on inviting places (parks, bridges, jazz clubs, neighborhoods, etc.,) there is not a single person to be seen. There has to be, just off frame, sharing the scene, but we see none of them. The manicured grass and the man-made bricks all speak to the existence of her fellow citizens of Denver, but we never see them. There were places, chapels I recognized in her work, but the overall illusion is one of emptiness. These are places most of us have been to. These are our homes and offices, just underneath the skyline, yet I don’t know who lives in Tygart’s images. They’re gone. Moved or replaced or broken down, they exist in the edges of Tygart’s semi-realistic framing.

Dazzle Jazz Club, Denver; Mixed Media on Wood Panel; 24"x30"
(Lynda Tygart: Dazzle Jazz Club, Denver; Photography, Mixed Media on Wood Panel; 24”x30”)

The edges of her pieces collapse inwards, creating a chorus ripple effect, pulling the viewer deeper into a dream-like place, a place from so far away (so recent), a place that exists right behind you (don’t look, it’s gone). Change isn’t bad, per se, but it feels like it. Change rips your family up, puts you in a land unfamiliar, and says: Don’t. Look.

The moment of looking at something you aren’t supposed to runs throughout Tiana Graves’ exhibition, Recollections. Graves speaks in person with assurance, and it shows in her work. Graves takes old family photos, discarded or lost, and weaves them into a rigid quilt, a tapestry of warped faces bending in and out of view, cloth stuffing and thread obscuring their features. Graves was trained in photography, she tells me. She still takes pictures of estate sales, using film not digital, and develops photos of a home’s final days. She points to one of her works and asks me: “You think the next homeowner will keep the wood paneling? Or those couches?” I have to say no.

There’s a second part to Graves’ work: a mobile in the middle of the gallery. Ghostly houses with ill-defined foundations float in the middle of everything. Although unadorned on the outside, you peer into the windows, the doorways, and see pictures that are instantly familiar and yet bizarre. The photos glare back, no longer in the frame they were made for. People attending the gallery disagreed on whether the house or the quilt was more disconcerting.

(Tiana Graves: Recollections; Found Photographs, Mixed Media; 3.5’x5’)

Graves evokes such strong unease, the most perfect example of imposter syndrome I’ve come across in person. The found photographs themselves are not disturbing When viewed from a distance they seem almost playful. There’s a strange undercurrent that catches up to you when you stand and stare. These are photos you could find in your grandmother’s house. These are photos of people your great-uncle graduated high school with. Graves literally weaves a layer of disconnect; it’s hard to tell whether I’m supposed to be comforted by the sheer number of faces I don’t recognize, or if I should feel lost in a sea of people who came before me.

The nameless faces remind me of Lot’s Wife. I don’t know her name. All I know is one moment out of her life that’s been placed in front of me.

Stories of religion and power are inherent to Jesse Van Horn’s work, Myth, Symbol & Allusion. B-29 bombers fly as Cicadas, the cyclical nature of war shown in the wingspan of the planes that dropped atomic bombs on the nation of Japan. The myths of religion and consciousness are found in the lotus flowers and the bright semi-monochromatic colors. Painted on plywood, the massive pieces of Van Horn take on a curious state: neither organic nor inorganic, he captures the essence of becoming and birth inside massive testaments to art’s power. Van Horn tells me that he “is drawn to subject matter that evokes mythology, or that alludes to mythological memory. Most of my work speaks to the dichotomy man/nature or science/mysticism. However, I do not see these as opposites as is typical in Western culture, but as aspects of the same unified whole.”

You can find eastern influences if you know where to look. There’s western religion as well, and certainly the images of war can be found. Van Horn’s work exists where so many of us do; in the same world of fire and ice, of people and machines. So much of my mind is occupied with symbols and stories I’ve been told, and I’m willing to bet that most of you are the same.

(Jesse Van Horne: The Reckoning; Acrylic on Plywood: 22”x48”)

Van Horn’s work alludes to a bigger, unseen world all around us. The sharp lines meld together to create beautiful organic blossoms, vines of myths you know hanging at the edges, like an abandoned fortress. The minimal becomes the massive. A face becomes a venerated religious icon. The repetition, the motifs, the restatement, the litany, the rhythm of Van Horn’s work conjures up a feeling of recognition in the viewer. These are our stories.

These are all our stories. Our town, our grandparents. When an outside force razes everything to the ground, whether at once or over years, will you look back?

What do you miss from your old life?

Sync Gallery is located at 931 Santa Fe Drive, 80204, in Denver’s Art District. Tiana Graves, Lynda Tygart, and Jesse Van Horne are featured January 17th – February 9th. Sync Gallery is open every Thursday and Friday from 1pm – 4pm, on Saturdays from noon – 4pm, and will be participating in First Fridays from 6pm – 9pm.