Inside a Charlotte studio, a hundred faces peer in different directions. These are the unsettling, yet engrossing sculptures of Dustin Farnsworth, a current resident at the McColl Center for Art + Innovation. As the artist prepared for his upcoming show, titled “Tell Me More,” he spoke to Hi-Fructose about his latest, massive works.
Since last being featured on Hi-Fructose’s website, Farnsworth’s work has taken more of a socially conscious turn. A wall of skulls sculptures, set against painted banners and signs carrying messages like “Dismantle White Supremacy,” come from a collaboration with Timothy Maddox, who creates signs for protesters on-site. His signature heads with architectural headdresses, evolved to show the societal weights carried by youth, are currently transitioning to much larger idea. A body of work that started at Penland was “all about the youth, and this weight they inherit from society. But it was all based on my own perceptions of that. In my work here (in Charlotte), I’ve been interviewing kids in the 8 to 14 range about their hopes and fears. So I’m letting that determine the direction of the work. As my work progresses, it’s becoming less of what my thoughts are about being a youth and more centered on what’s actually happening.”
The show will play those interviews as whispers, as part of an auditory component. The piece “XLIII,” with its massive 6-foot crown that balances on a chair, references the 43 African-American killed by police in 2016. When asked in how he balances his work becoming larger and larger and being a working artist who needs to earn a living, Farnsworth offered an anecdote: “Two years ago a gallery took me to SCOPE Miami,” Farnsworth says. “Before that, I had the feeling that if the work could get into that venue, that it would find it’s audience. That was the one place I felt I knew the work could soar. When nothing sold, I left that show shaken to the core, questioning what I was doing. I was broke, and that thing I felt most sure of was a fantasy. That eventually became one of the most freeing experiences. It took me a few weeks to get back up on the horse. Another residency came through, and I began working on some of the largest pieces I’ve ever made.
“In many ways, that was also the break from the work that was based purely on what my thoughts about what today’s youth is experiencing. That was the break from micro to the macro. This new work is really aiming to take the pulse of our current cultural fabric. To honour that and to put that voice on a platform. In many ways, it feels like I’m really learning about what it means to collaborate for the first time. Becoming a better listener. Making room for evolution in the work and not dictating every turn.”
“Tell Me More” kicks off April 14 and runs through May 27. The show also features work from Joyce J. Scott and Mary Tuma.