Benjamin Parks with his artwork, Mike
In Returning | Belonging, a two-person exhibition at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art, Benjamin Parks and Kathy Liao explore the complicated and shifting nature of interpersonal connection. These works become the material expressions of the artists’ emotional experiences with distances, both physical and spiritual, from their families and communities. The act of creating images of loved ones that are displayed together allows this exhibition to bring individuals into the
same space even as reality forces separation.
Benjamin Parks, a native of Savannah, Missouri, is exhibiting his entire series “Family Is Like Blood, I Need It To Live” for the first time. This series of nine paintings was completed over five years. The large canvases depict the artist, his son, his parents and his five siblings. Each family member looks straight from the canvas and dares the viewer to break eye contact. Parks’ portraits are built of layers of paint with underlayers of writing, drawing and painting peeking through to hint at his process of building the painting in order to find the essential soul of the subject. In these paintings of his family, he has processed the love, conflict, isolation, grace and connection that often complicate family relationships. Parks writes, “Each step and layer of paint mirrors a life experience . . . My goal through painting is to bring the subconscious into awareness.”
The physical distances that pull at the connections among immigrant families have long been a part of Taiwan-born artist Kathy Liao’s work. Images of family seen through computer screens, photographs and memories replace the connections developed in shared spaces. The loss and emotional toll of distance and separation are not new to families separated by migration, but these barriers to community and feeling of isolation now resonate with new audiences in a closed-off world of quarantine, cancelled events and lost travel. Liao’s use of mixed media such as paint, paper, pencils and prints give a physical form to memories and distant communities through repetition and ritual that give the artworks both hazy and deeply felt essences of memories and emotions. The process of creation leaves a tangible object inviting the viewer into the artist’s recollections and longings.
Returning | Belonging is on view at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph now through April 16, 2022.
Financial assistance provided by the St. Joseph, Missouri Visitors Bureau.
–Megan Benitz, AKMA Registrar and Exhibitions Manager