Notes on Durham Third Friday, Part 2: Image and idiosyncrasy | Arts
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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Notes on Durham Third Friday, Part 2: Image and idiosyncrasy

Posted by on Wed, Aug 24, 2011 at 9:46 AM

Although summer doesn’t end until the fall equinox in late September, August’s Third Friday in Durham uses the public impatience with the season as a springboard into fall. Tom Elrod already described some of the bounty of visual arts in an earlier post, but that was only the half of it.

Lee Delegards installation Dont Touch the Ground is at Golden Belts Room 100 through Oct. 2.
  • Lee Delegard's installation "Don't Touch the Ground" is at Golden Belt's Room 100 through Oct. 2.
“The Nature of Drawing,” a show of india ink drawings by Ripley Whiteside and paint and graphite compositions by Mary Ann Anderson, opened at the Durham Art Guild's main gallery on the first floor of the Durham Arts Council building. Up through Oct. 2, this show packs a viewer’s table with entrees of compositional skill and side dishes of technical mastery.

Whiteside uses a large vocabulary of lines, forms and gestures to construct his unpopulated scenes in india ink. Sometimes his images are wrought, almost etched; in other pieces a layered wash and contour approaches watercolor technique.

“The Duck Blind” depicts a still pond reflecting its perimeter of cattails and an ominous, obtrusive blind. Neither hunters nor prey are visible; only the tangled, empty scrub trees along the shoreline. But the tangles more than step forward as the subject. A wilderness of leaves and growth rendered as hectic curlicues, the dense undergrowth sums to an animate complaint against the hunters’ presence.

In another cartoonish piece entitled “The Pinocchio Tree,” Whiteside fills the body of the tree’s trunk and branches with a more explicitly ideogrammatic assortment of crosshatches and lettrist forms. Any aesthetically farther down this trajectory and Whiteside will have to resort to the woodcut. How he makes this image cohere into a tree, regardless of how close you stand to the paper to scrutinize his individual marks, is remarkable.

Anderson’s abstracted mixed-media works oppose Whiteside’s denotation across the gallery. Anderson thins acrylic paint to achieve an effect like diaphanous fabric on synthetic Yupo paper. She also incorporates rubbed graphite into many pieces, picking up fragments of images from printing plates placed underneath the paper. This selection of work shows Anderson working in two modes: large, wispy diptychs that use little to no graphite application, and denser compositions that blend the two media into the overall compositions.

The diptychs are spare, with the overwhelming majority of the paper surface untouched. Scrutiny of Anderson’s wisps, however, brings out wonders. In two pieces entitled “Force of Nature,” the tendrils recall air-blown scarves from five paces away, drops of ink falling through aquarium water from arm’s length, and microscopic genetic coils from a breath’s distance. It’s a mistake to describe these as improvisations, as easy as Anderson has made them look at first glance. Be sure to step in to examine exactly how she has manipulated the paint to image folds and twists.

Mary Ann Andersons Coming From Tao
  • Mary Ann Anderson's "Coming From Tao"

In the denser works, Anderson sometimes depends upon the finishing varnish to unite her images. In “Qi,” which mixes graphite rubbings of Hindu iconography within the body of a flame-like paint form, her contrast of the material and immaterial remains unresolved but doesn’t seem intentional. In “Transitory Nature,” however, the graphite nodes are used to give the piece both a lateral and vertical coherence, prompting figurative musing. Is it a flower? Is it coral? The composition, rather than the technique, holds your attention.

In the Durham Art Guild’s other space at Golden Belt’s Room 100, Lee Delegard’s “Don’t Touch the Ground”—something between an installation and a thematic arrangement of works—is on display through Oct. 2. Although the many works in the room are individually titled, it’s hard not to read the show as a coherent installation because the same obsessive impulse seems to have led to each item’s creation or inclusion.

Many artists call themselves “multimedia artists,” which too often means that they got a Flip camera for Christmas and borrowed the office video projector over the weekend. But Delegard’s incorporation of drawing, painting, sculpture, video, and curation—really “whatever’s at hand”—earns her the term.

A ritually banded, pointed stick provides the room’s cohering image. At least five sticks are placed around the space but the impression is that there might be more of them unnoticed in the corners. The stick appears in a graphite drawing as well. This ritualistic fixation with the stick draws in the other images into a resonant, loaded unknown. The six-foot stack of hardback books, the popsicle green windbreaker, the shelf of eight rocks with nonconsecutive sample numbers, the tiled arrangement of wood and laminate samples—what does it all mean?

Remember that game you used to play in the rec room when you were kids, pretending that the floor was covered with hot lava, jumping from sofa to chair, tossing cushions on the carpet to make a path to the kitchen linoleum? This show taps into that fantastic anxiety or anxious fantasy, depending on the pre-adolescent self that you bring to it. Many of the works are tiny, or at floor level, forcing a child’s perspective. Many works suggest hidden meanings, figuratively in the recurring image of the pointed stick, and literally in a multitude of clear marbles tucked unobtrusively between the gallery wall and a painted wooden panel leaned against it. The video is of a bicycle kept on the painted yellow line in the street, shot from the perspective of the cyclist looking down, so that the bike’s frame obscures the line.

Two sculptural pieces occupy the center of the room, while all other works are clustered around its perimeter. A giant, lumpy, striped fabric form—is it macramé?—is stretched over a ramshackle pile of clubhouse supplies. Delegard lists boxes, canned goods, a yoga mat, a cooler, and a radio in her materials list. Does each of these items have a specific history or significance a la Dario Robleto, that’s gone unexplained in the catalog? Do the cans hold the brand of green beans that Delegard ate in casseroles as a kid? Is the cooler the one her family packed beer and sandwiches in for Independence Day picnics?

The other central piece is more of an implied impediment. One of the sticks hangs, its point less than an inch from the floor, at the center of a taped-off circle, implying a pendulum’s conical range. It’s a frightening, inexplicable moment, pulling you into the realm of fantasy and fear. You won’t step into that circle. Something bad will happen. You don’t know what—just something bad. Unless the rocks are arranged just right on the little shelf. Or the book stack is perfectly straight…

Two photography shows opened in downtown galleries on Friday. John Zager’s shots of Durham’s neighborhoods and historical places can be seen at Through This Lens through Sept. 10. They’re collected in his new book Durham In Changing Light, which was reviewed earlier and so won’t be covered in depth here. The gallery show, however, does more than merely recapitulate the book, as several outtakes grace the walls.

A more probing and thought-provoking show of Guy Hochman and Katie Frohbose’s photographs hangs at the Carrack Modern Art Gallery through Sept. 2. Hochman’s “Human Urbanism” consists of seven poster-sized, black-and-white images in and around Warsaw and Krakow, some double-exposed in a way that recalls an early Godard dissolve. Frohbose’s “Picturing a Place: A Portrait of Old Rocky Mount,” presents a 3x6 grid of small color images of commercial and residential spaces that prompt thoughts about architecture and eastern North Carolinian decay.

Frohbose’s images lack affect, as if the camera took the pictures more than she did. Subjects are, for the most part, shot head-on and centered. But Frohbose, who finished a BFA at UNC-Chapel Hill last year, has a knack for showing the shimmering detail, even when it doesn’t really shimmer. The U-Brush ‘Em car wash, seen at night, shows sincerity in its neon. A train car’s foreground blur allows the neighborhood behind it to be in focus. A lengthy handwritten magic-marker text across the siding next to a house’s front door begins: “Most peoples [sic] don’t say what’s really on their minds until it’s too late to realize that it’s all over.” The crucifix on the front of a storefront church combines with the plate glass windows below to present a Bauhaus façade.

There’s an edge with photographs like these. Any tack but Frohbose’s flatness can seem patronizing or manipulative, as the story of decay is the story of individual and societal failure. Aestheticizing that is the worst kind of faith. But Frohbose’s light touch lets the images be what they are, without literal or conceptual frames. She lets the viewer construct narratives or statements within the image grid rather than making connections between proximate photographs apparent.

The artist’s hand is evident, however, in Hochman’s images. Moodily darkened or artfully double-exposed through darkroom technique, these photographs find the same middle ground that Frohbose’s do between lyricism and analysis. Hochman’s studies in psychology and behavioral economics inform his compositions with a softened constructivism.

Guy Hochmans Urban Alienation # 5
  • Courtesy of Carrack Modern Art
  • Guy Hochman's "Urban Alienation # 5"
In a shadowy interior of an arcade, the back wall recedes vertiginously. Human figures standing in line at a window reduce to grainy, expressionistic ghosts. In another image, a man smoking on a factory or warehouse floor is angularly superimposed over another man walking through a park. The two figures’ postures link them interactively, bringing out the park’s urban claustrophobia and the interior’s industrial vastness.

Hochman’s images give the sense that he has more to say about them than Frohbose might about hers. He’s making compositional choices and manipulating the photographic medium in ways that she is not. But he’s nonetheless constructing a humanism in these images, as people struggle to live within the architectures that they create for themselves.

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