This past Friday at Red Hook Coffee and Tea was the opening of a show by artist and designer Lauren Ladner. There was also a live performance by blues musician Matthew “Mule” McKinley, for whom she designed the artwork on his just-released album, “Alone on the Orange Floor.”
Ladner’s sampling of work is in a few different mediums and styles — photography, patterned-textures and realistic painting — but much of it pays homage to her home of Southern Maryland. She explains the area as a sort of escape, since these days she resides in Philadelphia. The rural scenes in her photos are a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of city life and remind us that sometimes it’s good to slow it down and reflect a little. Many of her photos are of dilapidated old barns, both interior and exterior. The images depict the large, yet generally simple structures found all across America and how they interact with their environment. While the structures’ hard edges contrast the natural fields and vines nearby, they are worn down and almost softened with age, making them seem more like a part of nature.
A major element Ladner focuses on is texture, and it is evident throughout the entire show. The eroded wood of barns and the spiky swaths of grass aside, some of her compositions are abstract textures alone. These were created out of photographs taken during camping trips, which were then manipulated with hand-drawn elements. Whether in the bark of living trees or the knots and rusty hinges of old barns, these explorations of rough patterns and substances are a way to connect vicariously to the countryside.
McKinley strapped on his guitar — at one point also a banjo — and got the visitors at the show stomping. His bluesy Maryland jams even drew in a couple people from the street to check out the show, and it’s not hard to hear why. It’s almost impossible not to get moving along with his contagious strumming. His deep, dirty vocals often come from covers of old blues tunes from artists like Muddy Waters (whose actual first name was, coincidentally, McKinley). One of Ladner’s paintings depicts McKinley in his element: slapping his standup bass. With the musician standing next to the likeness, the resemblance was uncanny.
If you are itching for a visit to the country, but tied to the city, the show at Red Hook is a great way to whet your appetite. While McKinley might not be playing, his albums are available for purchase (complete with Ladner’s orange-skull design). The structures and textures of Ladner’s work connect us to the roots of rural charm, as well as the crooning blues musicians playing on porches in every corner of the country.
Red Hook Coffee and Tea is located at 765 S. Fourth St.; 215-923-0178.