Savannah artist’s “ink collage” of plants is full of whimsy in dark undercurrents

In 2023, Tamara Garvey was named Best Visual Artist by local publication Connect Savannah, beating out three other well-known creatives: José Ray, Tittybats and Juliana Lupacchino. However, I feel like Garvey remains somewhat under the radar, one of the few full-time artists in the Mistress of the South but rarely cited as a top creator by the region’s aesthetes.

Her latest exhibition, “Ink Collage,” on view at Hop Atomica at the end of May, is unlikely to change that perception. But for those of us who love the artist’s work, this is further proof that Garvey is well-deserved for his title.

“We have a tradition of using these silly, crazy things to deal with the really serious, terrible dangers of the outside world,” Garvey said of her work, which she compared to the Dadaists’ use of absurdism to deal with the first World War way to connect.

There’s a trick to Garvey’s work, a feature that may be one of the reasons she’s often overlooked: it’s cute. Works like Hamster, Long Neck Monster and One Chomp all refer to the creatures hidden within the works, little creatures that appear to be little more than silly blobs of color, colorful and interesting but certainly not Will appear.

but it is not the truth.

“A little lighthearted and silly, but a little lonely underneath”

“A lot of times, little melancholy things… get buried in this colorful, joyful-looking painting,” she explains. “I think there’s a thread that runs through me [work] It’s kind of like, the world can be very hard and dark, and it can be hard for us. These are kind of like a clown’s tears. Just being a little goofy and trying to be a little lighthearted and silly and understand that there’s a little bit of sadness or a little bit of loneliness underneath.

Garvey was proficient in many mediums, but in terms of her fine art, she is perhaps best known for her pen and ink works on paper. Although the artist’s imagery and style are modern, her work is very classical, using quill pen and ink to create her pieces. Her paintings almost always feature some kind of natural element, a holdover from her time studying biology before turning to a career in art.

Ink collage expands on Garvey’s personal artistic tradition, taking previously created small works and trimming, cutting and repurposing the images, then combining them with newly created components and contexts to build a unified whole. However, unity does not mean linearity, and in many works Garvey deliberately juxtaposes disparate parts to make a statement.

“One of the things I like to play with is, within the same piece, different realms of the world; land, sea and space,” she says of her approach to performance. “So in some of these pieces, there’s a mash-up where the background looks like a whimsical world and then there are elements that are pasted in that are either underwater or in the sky.”

“It’s a game that ties the whole natural world together, where everything affects each other,” Garvey continued. “It’s weird, it’s ridiculous, that the flowers are floating on what could be the ocean.”

Intermingled among the eleven new collages are three works from her Burglars series, each depicting an old-timey black-masked burglar wearing a black-and-white striped shirt, crawling through the woods. They interact vaguely with objects made ridiculous by their placement, such as burgers, wine glasses, and books, and thanks to the blur of the trees in the background, the thieves can appear human-sized or miniature, with the choice left to the viewer.

Then there’s “Being a Donut.”

“I might be in a bad mood,” Garvey thought, recalling what prompted her to draw her delicious-looking red velvet breakfast pastries. “I looked at this donut and thought, ‘Imagine if you were universally loved.'”

The artist cut out the candy painting and added it to a vibrant psychedelic background that Garvey described as evoking a “soft mushroom vibe,” including the text “Imagine if you were a donut… everyone would love you very much. :)”. Like much of her work, it’s cute and fun, but also has a sense of wistfulness that ties into a concept Garvey says has come up over and over again in her art over the past few years.

“A common question I think about a lot is that there’s this strong rhythm in society where you match up with someone that your life isn’t really complete until you find that person, and the person who finds the right person has it easier, ” she thought. “They have a partner, someone else who can help them with everything, and if you don’t have that, you don’t have that.”

Garvey is likeable, friendly, and always smiling, and her work is full of quirky characters and fun colors. But for the artist and her art, this is just the beginning of the story. Once you take some time to learn more about the 2023 Best Visual Artist and her creations, it’s easy to see why she received such an honor, and why we’re now starting to talk about her name alongside other, more well-known Savannah artists.

“I started doing [these collages] On my own; I didn’t show it to a lot of people, so I didn’t really know what people would think,” she said. “But I really like them.”

The “Ink Collages” exhibition will last until May 31. 10:30pm. Find Tamara Garvey on Instagram @tamgarv.

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