Roy LaGrone: Beta Projections and Artifacts from Earth

Blue Star Contemporary Art Center

Vicki Meek

Blue Star Contemporary Art Center recently mounted an exhibition of new work by Tupelo-born, Italy-based Roy LaGrone, curated by artist Bernice Appelin-Williams. There are a lot of things about LaGrone’s work that excite me, but I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that my primary interest resides in his use and manipulation of digital technology. Artists like LaGrone who grew up in the computer age—those who employ computer technology as effortlessly as I use a paintbrush or pencil—always intrigue me. Admittedly, I am initially drawn to his work because I want to know how he does what he does. Given this admission, LaGrone’s work continues to engage long after one recovers from the primary seduction of technological wizardry.

There is a certain uneasiness in the layered images LaGrone creates. By merging ambiguous objects with common interior and exterior settings and manipulating the outcome through various digital overlays, the artist imparts each of his images with an otherworldly aura, which belongs neither to the realm of the real or the imaginary in entirety. LaGrone seems to enjoy toying with our sense of sight as he articulates his scenarios—scenes that challenge the audience to reconsider what they think they know about the subject matter at hand.

For instance, in Koochie Blues (Politics of the Womb) the artist presents an image of what appears to be an ob-gyn office, shrouded in a translucent screen that houses bits of metal and wire mesh and encased in a womblike seashell rimmed in a pinkish red. This treatment gives the office the appearance of a quasi torture chamber. A prickly blowfish adhered to the outer shell further supports the notion that this place provides anything but comfort. As one can discern from the title of the piece, the work is also sociopolitically suggestive—visual commentary on how the sexist politics and practices of the medical profession obligate women the world over to endure humiliating, torturelike experiences with regularity.

Roy LaGrone, Beta Projection Series: Ship's Log #5240
(Sharecropper Reflections)
, 2006
Chromogenic print
30 x 35 inches
Edition of 3

Likewise, in Ship’s Log #5240 (Sharecropper Reflections) we are asked to ponder the lives of those engaged in a neo-slave trade. LaGrone presents us with an image of cotton fields, cotton bolls and farm equipment juxtaposed with a squirt bottle and string of pearls submerged in an indistinguishable liquid. Could he be commenting on a system that promises a way out of poverty, while relegating the sharecropper to futilely chasing the elusive dream of prosperity?

Looking deeper into the layered image, one can surmise that LaGrone is willing to leave interpretation to the viewer. However, those versed in the legacy of the American sharecropper will see one thing; those who aren’t will see something altogether different, but both will sense a deeper implication.

But there is something else about Roy LaGrone’s work that draws me in. His marriage of computer technology and photography is a wonderful example of how to contextualize discussions of social, political and environmental issues in ways that are both fresh and engaging, steering the work away from the polemical approach often associated with political art. In an art world full of socially conscious work incapable of allowing any room for the imagination, Roy LaGrone provides some much-needed intellective space.

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