Velvet Sternum Press Release

Velvet Sternum Press Release

by Lauren Kennedy

Velvet Sternum featuring Joel Parsons and Clare Torina

A new exhibition from Sheet Cake Gallery


MEMPHIS, TN, January 8, 2024 – Sheet Cake Gallery is proud to host a new presentation of work from Joel Parsons and Clare Torina, opening January 20, 2024. Velvet Sternum will feature drawings, enamels, paintings, and installation. These new bodies of work from both artists build on elements and ideas that they have been exploring for some time through their respective multidisciplinary practices. Parsons and Torina both present work across a range of media, layering abstraction and ambiguity with rich details that demonstrate the incredible technical abilities of each, and display a sharp humor with a tinge of sadness. 


Parsons’ work centers queer intimacy using dance, tears, and heartbreaking writing to draw you in and invite you to spend time with your own loving and longing. Dance shows up in his practice both as a nod to his long-term partner (the artistic director of Ballet Memphis) and a performative gesture referencing his experiences as a queer man. This new body of work celebrates disco and the grid. Disco is an important cultural touchstone for the queer community, with roots at Stonewall and guerilla dance clubs where queer people could dance with their partners and lovers openly and unabashedly. The grid appears in Parsons' work, often as a disco ball or dance floor, as a way to organize and create order among his figures, charms, embellishments, roses, and text, but it often falls apart or fails, underscoring the futility of making sense of a world on fire.


From his artist statement: “I am not satisfied with the world I live in, so I have to make a new world, for myself and for the people I love and the people I want to love. I’m making a place for us between the actual and the ideal, estrangement and identification, alienation and seduction, failure and success - a place to perform ambivalences.”


Torina’s work often uses familiar images but distorts them in such a way as to make them feel tantalizing and strange through a playful approach to scale and trompe l’oeil techniques (highly realistic illusions creating three dimensional space and objects on a two dimensional surface). She often thinks about the mythology of the artist, the romanticization of the very real difficulties and constraints that they regularly confront to make and share their work. Those constraints have led her to explore new territory in these new paintings and sculptures through reusing and layering different materials and previous work. While Torina’s work for this exhibition plays with new approaches, the observations and reflections on the absurdity of our daily experiences and symbolic gestures we make to cope with reality that shine in her ongoing practice are on full display. 


From her artist statement: “I draw imagery from a personal set of fascinations - objects of worship, animal behavior, superstition, physical comedy and exhibition history.”


Joel Parsons is an artist, curator, and teached based in Memphis, TN where he is an Assistant Professor of Art, Director of Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Director of Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College. He has been shown at Flyweight Projects in New York, NY; the Tom of Finland Foundation in Los Angeles, CA; Yale University’s Greene Gallery’ Western Exhibitions in Chicago, IL; and the Yerba Buena Art Center Triennial in San Francisco, CA. His queer country music band and performance art project, The Sissy Dicks, has released three albums and regularly plays venues in the Southeastern United States, including Goner Fest in Memphis, TN and the Spellcasters Maritime Ball in New Orleans, LA. He received a BA from Rhodes College, Phi Beta Kappa, and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, where he was awarded the John Quincy Adams Fellowship. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, Art Papers, and Art in America. 


Clare Torina is a multidisciplinary artist who was raised in Memphis and is currently based in New York NY. Her work has been exhibited at the Clough-Hanson Gallery at Rhodes College in Memphis, TN; Artport, Kensington, NY; Stanley Brown Jewelist, Chicago, IL; Wassaic Project, Wassaic, NY; and has been a resident at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. In addition to her own practice, Torina is the co-runner of Flyweight, a 1:13 scale mobile exhibition space for solo projects. She received her BFA from the University of Memphis, and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.