You may have seen the images popping up on facebook. Boldly designed and shot in propaganda-poster fashion, they are part of a digital art project by Stephen Dorsett, an art teacher at Lexington Catholic. Subjects include prominent local artists and activists like Frank X Walker, Kurt Gohde, and Ginny Ramsey.
Dorsett, who has taught art at Lexington Catholic for the past nine years, says, “This January, I decided to create a series of digital images of the local leaders who inspire me with their advocacy of economic equality. The process goes like this, I meet with a person who advocates for economic equality, photograph them, and ask them to submit a quote that answers the questions, ‘What is the cause of economic inequality, and what is the solution?’ I then create an original digital backdrop for their quote and photograph. Finally, I spread the images through social media. Though I have no current plans to show this work in a public space, I welcome any opportunity to share the thoughts of the leaders who are making Kentucky a better place to live for everyone.”
The pieces exist digitally at the moment. He said he was struck by the idea that the project might reach a lot more people through social media than through art galleries, and he doesn’t have a longer term plan or goal for it just yet, though he’s spent years thinking about it.
Affrilachian poets co-founder and UK professor Frank X Walker says, “I loved this idea as soon as I heard about it. Art and activism is way under appreciated. This particular project deserves a rotating billboard out on New Circle Road…Or better yet, the side of an entire Lextran bus!”
Dorsett says, “I have for a long time been inspired by artists like Vic Muniz, Ai Weiwei, and JR to make artwork that communicates a respect and concern for the disadvantaged in society. Recently, I decided to create this series of graphic images of local leaders who advocate for economic equality.”
He graduated from Murray State with a bachelor’s degree in visual art in 1999. After graduation, he traveled to Japan to teach English and exhibit paintings. He ended up staying in Japan for three years. Upon returning to the United States, he studied at Eastern Kentucky University where he received his master’s degree in art education. In addition to teaching at Lexington Catholic for the past nine years, he has also been working at the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program for the last five. He’s currently the Associate Campus Director at the Murray State Campus of GSP.
The “Picturing Equality” project isn’t the first time Dorsett has collaborated with artist and Transy professor Kurt Gohde, who says, “Stephen and his students at Lexington Catholic have worked with the Community Engagement Through the Arts (CETA) class (that I teach with Kremena Todorova) for a few years now. Though they are not able to be with us every day the class meets, Stephen has found ways to meaningfully involve his students–often at the very start of the public artworks that we create collaboratively with people throughout the community.”
Gohde adds, “Stephen leads his students quietly and by example, he involves them in the community collaborative projects of CETA and with him they have contributed beautifully to these public artworks–specifically the wheatpaste murals of 2011 and the 1,000 Dolls project of 2012. We hope that our work with Stephen and his students will continue for many years to come.”
He says, “His desire to make artwork that is meaningful, artwork that addresses the community directly both as subjects and participants is compelling. I am so glad that he makes art in Lexington. And his request to be a part of this project was humbling.”
What you might not know about Dorsett…On his way back to work from lunch on a sunny afternoon last August, Dorsett was hit head on by a drunk driver on Lane Allen Road. According to local tv news outlets, the driver was charged with DUI, assault second degree, no operator’s license, and no insurance. Dorsett suffered “only two broken bones” (as he put it), underwent surgery at UK, and now has a plate in both his radius and ulna.
Because of the last name of the drunk driver, a tremendous amount of stereotyping, profiling, and hate speech broke out in the comments sections of the local news sites. Dorsett says the outpouring of hatred disgusted him. What he said at the time was, “I also want to show my concern for the drunk driver involved in this accident. I hope that his wounds heal, I hope that he is treated fairly by the justice system. I hope that his family doesn’t suffer for his poor choices, I hope that he learns to make better choices in the future, and I hope he is allowed to prosper after he pays his debt to society.”
Dorsett says he has recovered, and is grateful, as an artist, to have full range of mobility post-accident.
Last year, Dorsett had a show at Lexington Rescue Mission Thrift Store, called Thrift Store Relics. He explained, “When I first moved out on my own, I gave away all the clothes my family had given me. I then went to a thrift store and purchased all new clothes. Along with these clothes that I couldn’t have afforded at retail prices came a sense of independence. Walking in town with my new thrift store clothes, I saw a group of migrant workers wearing what I had donated. I felt empowered by my ability to contribute to someone else’s wardrobe. I realized then that maybe I was wearing the clothes that the migrant workers had donated, and that they were possibly thinking the same thoughts as they saw me wearing their old clothes. Regardless of whether or not this was the case, we were all part of a community stitched together by a thrift store. The idea of having an art show in a thrift store came from the desire to bring a diverse community together to contemplate how objects sold in thrift stores relate to the people who create, donate, and purchase them. The items available in thrift stores are so eclectic that every shopper is bound to come across objects they don’t understand on a cultural level. In these cases, the value of these objects lies in the curiosity they inspire. Curiosity, in turn, leads to questioning and eventually to a greater understanding.”
Gohde says, “Stephen’s willingness to experiment with alternative exhibition formats and gallery spaces is inspiring. His exhibition at the Volunteers of America store (which included objects purchased at the store and creatively captured photographs of the same objects) was incredibly thoughtful. The fact that his artworks (framed photographs) were priced in line with other items found in this thrift store made his artworks affordable to nearly anyone who visited to find a pair of used jeans or a toaster that still works even though it may be twenty years old.”
Friday April 19, 2013 Gallery Hop: Lexington Catholic High School’s Collin Cox Memorial Art Show will be featured at The Carnegie Center. This juried exhibition displays the work of some of Lexington Catholic High School’s most talented art students. Drawings, paintings, photography, graphic design images, sculptures, and pottery will be featured.
This article also appears on page 6 of the April 11, 2013 print issue of Ace.
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