This evening, in the intimate Melet Mercantile Gallery space that shares a floor with Bob Melet’s incomparable vintage thrift store in SoHo, Todd DiCiurcio and Hunter Barnes will be holding court for their latest duel photography and contemporary art exhibition titled, We The People. This current exhibition bears striking resemblance to their first collaboration in Melet’s gallery, Americana No Depression, which debuted in October 2014 and was nothing short of a wild success. Where Americana No Depression presented a broad swath of marginalized figures, captured beautifully in Barnes’ soulful black and white portraits and interpreted with exquisite, childlike wonder in DiCiurcio’s mixed media paintings, We The People, narrows Barnes’ focus to the people of The Nez Perce. The show also sees DiCiurcio’s reactionary process mature, as he immediately and unconsciously allows the soul within the photos to flow out onto his canvasses in emotional washes of Sumi Ink. “Hunter’s range is relative in a lot of ways,” say DiCiurcio with careful consideration. “There’s always a type of peripheral vibration in terms of the culture, but [it manifests] directly in the bleed.”
“I trust Todd and let him do his thing,” says Barnes, who dug in deep with the Nez Perce over the last four years, capturing the under appreciated humanity of the tribe’s members and in a larger sense, their equally overlooked communities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and other areas of the Pacific Northwest. “People don’t usually take the time to get to know who they are and their beliefs,” says Barnes. “There’s a lot of spirit and heritage that takes time to understand.”
Empathy, that is, taking the time to understand, has never been America’s strong suit, especially when it comes to native people. It’s unfortunate that much of the media attention involving Native Americans revolves around the gross misappropriation of their tribal imagery, often in film and sport, or even on the flippant fairgrounds of Coachella. The truth is, these communities are open to share their cultures, art, and way of life with outsiders if they approach with an open heart and a pure spirit; the Great Spirit, as they call it. “The native culture has a power and presence that invokes fear in the very establishment that attempts to undermine it,” says DiCiurcio. We The People, on the other hand, is nothing short of a mutual, entangled celebration of a shared human existence.
Taking a series of walks through the Melet Mercantile Gallery floor while absorbing Barnes and DiCiurcio’s works can feel a bit like a ceremony in its own right, as new images appear and disappear within the frames, like playful and at times frustrated spirits, looking to reach out, to be seen, heard and understood. This is a rich dialogue that has gone through several phases, operates on many levels, and should continue on in a broader and culturally positive context through other media channels, not to mention the art world at large.
Lastly, there are few artists in this city, let alone the country, that operate with true warrior spirit; real RocknRollas as they say. Both Barnes and DiCiurcio move through the art, fashion, and music worlds like seasoned yet humble rock stars. That’s why it was essential to procure a photographer who exists on the same spiritual plane; a hardened yet playful soul, one who is worthy to soak up the artists’ own potent creative Manu. “There is only one Mick Rock,” says Barnes and DiCiurcio, seemingly in unison. “It’s who he is, heart and soul.”