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Two solo exhibits now at Gallery Kayafas in Boston’s South End through January 10, 2015 reference military history in ways that lend new meaning to the phrase “tour de force”. Both Caleb Cole and Judy Haberl utilize photographically based, mixed media works to immerse viewers in multisensory explorations of the places where military and personal histories converge. Judy Haberl pays tribute to her father, a WWII pilot in “Flight”. Utilizing aerial photographs she shot from commercial airplanes, Haberl printed the images in B&W onto soft blankets, pillows and scarfs that have been carefully strewn across the gallery floor to resemble an earthly terrain. Hers is a journey with a soft landing.
Not so much for Caleb Cole, whose work continues to be an identity quest. He has famously gotten viewers to rethink judging a book by its cover in his sly and sensitive series “Other People’s Clothes” wherein he imagines and constructs complex scenarios from donning clothes he finds at garage sales and thrift stores. But in his current work, “Blue Boys” and “Histories”, his tone is decidedly solemn, sometimes even heartrending. Incorporating mostly military costumes, both his focus and methods have changed.
Here, Cole explores the formation of male identity, leaving behind his contemporary, color, two-dimensional domain in favor of expanding his palette to include historical artifacts such as found letters, negatives and portraits, military and other formal clothing, vintage Boy Scout lifesaving manuals and various boys’ books. Everything an alien to our planet would need to figure out what makes a model boy. On the surface. And then Cole injects his pieces with doubt, sentimental longing and blatant desire, zeroing in on the uncertain place between the revealed and the hidden, the icon and the human being.
The pieces themselves reflect Cole’s dedication to a thorough integration of his materials and theme. During WWII, discharge papers for homosexuals were colored blue. In his series “Blue Boys”, Cole has made Cyanotype (blue) prints of soldiers from found glass negatives onto the “males seeking males” ads that appear at the back of Drummer magazines from the 1970’s. The contrast of somber military portraits atop sexually explicit (and completely legible) text conjures the secrecy and distress imposed on legions of gay young men trying to discover and carve their identities.
Cole turns his sharp eye on the comradeship encouraged by the military, Boy Scouts and sports teams to insinuate the treacherous ground faced by all boys in trying to define their masculinity. Acts of tenderness are depicted in pieces like “To My Rosebud”, an original framed vintage print of a soldier, the inside perimeter of which Cole has encircled with tiny rosettes he fashioned from soldiers’ letters, while “The Ways We Touched”, a collage of vintage and antique photos of men together is bittersweet and “Pansies”, flower stick-pins sporting a tiny, vintage, male headshot at each flower’s core, are pointed indeed. Cole’s elegantly crafted work poses poignant questions about societal expectations with piercing effect. By highlighting the ways in which some of our most esteemed institutions have perpetrated alienation, Cole arouses our compassion and underscores our common humanity.
For more information about this exhibit, go to: http://www.gallerykayafas.com/
Feature Image: “Blue Boy #1, 2014” unique Cyanotype on vintage magazine page by Caleb Cole (courtesy of the artist and Gallery Kayafas, Boston)