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Gewgaw: Merriam Webster defines the word as "a showy trifle." Photographer Krysta Einspanier likes to use the word as a synonym for bric-a-brac—her definition being "little things people collect that serve no purpose.

Krysta Einspanier and David McConnell in two Raleigh art exhibitions 

Glorious high camp and masterful abstract expressionism find residence in new art spaces

Photographs by Krysta Einspanier
Through Dec. 30
Cherry Modern Design, 400 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh
Info: 754-8595, www.cherrymodern.com

click to enlarge "Cat Family" (2006) by Krysta Einspanier. Inkjet print. 36 x 50 in. - PHOTO BY KRYSTA EINSPANIER
  • Photo by Krysta Einspanier
  • "Cat Family" (2006) by Krysta Einspanier. Inkjet print. 36 x 50 in.

Gewgaw: Merriam Webster defines the word as "a showy trifle." Photographer Krysta Einspanier likes to use the word as a synonym for bric-a-brac—her definition being "little things people collect that serve no purpose." And she should know—the word on the street is that her Durham home is packed with various sorts of strange and wonderful artifacts from the absurdity of what was 20th century pop culture. For Einspanier, gewgaw is a way of life, and we're lucky to get a chance to experience her full-on kitsch assault at Cherry Modern Design's first exhibit of visual art.

While Einspanier's photographs immediately capture the eye with their hyper-saturated colors, it's the sardonic and often disturbing treatment of her subject matter that lingers with a thoughtful viewer. It's easy to tell that Einspanier adores the gewgaw that she has carefully composed in these large inkjet prints, but we're also allowed in on the joke: This stuff is fucking weird. Take, for example, "Cat Family" (2006), where we find stuffed cat dolls arranged into a pose of kitty co-dependency. Unsettling, colors and textures swirl about the cats' misshapen faces invoking echoes of feline incest. It's not a scene that would necessarily be endearing if spread across one's bed sheet.

It's easy to get the sense that Einspanier has a story to accompany each photograph. At the show's opening she noted that the figurine in the humorous "Mr. Clean" (2006) was procured by mailing in cleaning solvent proofs-of-purchase. Einspanier says she was surprised by the action figure's anatomical accuracy. Her teasing photographic treatment accentuates Clean's package, calling to mind representations of Stalin and a certain flight-decked Texan who shall remain nameless.

Einspanier's photography works. There's color galore, and not too much filler—the only danger is possible irony overload. But you can handle it. Get to Cherry Modern Design for your eye-candy fix.


Exhibition One
Through Dec. 15
Bickett Gallery at Hudson, 319 Fayetteville St., downtown Raleigh
Info: 836-5358, www.bickettgallery.com

Exhibition One, the latest offering from multimedia artist and composer David McConnell, neatly fills Bickett Gallery's new exhibition hall in downtown Raleigh's Hudson Building. Noting the lobby's high ceilings, Bickett Gallery founder/curator Molly Miller says the space is well suited for McConnell's large abstract expressionist canvases. The room does work well for the paintings, but the audio component of the installation is apt to have competition from the attendant security guard's portable radio—which might be fitting considering that McConnell's recording, "Battle of the Bands" (2006), pits two renditions of Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 2 against each other in battling stereo.

click to enlarge "Jazz Club Downtown" (2006) by David McConnell. Oil on canvas. 72 x 72 in. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BICKETT GALLERY

McConnell is a self-taught artist who uses multiple mediums to express "dark and conflicted emotions" that he cannot with language, or as he puts it in his artist's statement, "with ... any other sense available to my person." His multimedia paintings display a supreme command of composition, living and breathing with an energetic and idiosyncratic use of the abstract form.

In a telephone call from Asheville, where he resides when not in Raleigh, McConnell discussed his working process, saying that he waits until after he's finished painting to frame a canvas. This allows him to work with more versatility, being able to bundle up the medium under his arm if necessary. He likens the framing and stretching stage to "cropping a photograph"—the process by which he cements the final composition. Besides allowing more access to the medium's surface area, McConnell notes another advantage of keeping a canvas unstretched: It can serve as a blanket if you're sleeping in a space without heat.

McConnell explains that his visual and audio works often develop in tandem. When listening to "Battle of the Bands" while viewing "The Intoxicated Lovers" (2006), the relationship between the dueling Rachs and sparsely painted canvas takes on a titillating charge. This reviewer was reminded of a conversation with another painter about how it is possible to become so worked-up during the creative act that it is sometimes necessary to stop and seek immediate sexual release. McConnell says he hasn't had the same experience, but he doesn't deny the works' sexuality. Standing alone in the Bickett Gallery at Hudson, one wonders if the brain's right hemisphere—the region which purportedly controls music and visual creativity—can also stimulate sexual desire when processing abstract forms.

Regarding Exhibition One's audio-visual carnality, you should get your kicks now—Miller says McConnell's works have been curated into a major museum exhibit that will travel throughout Europe. His paintings will probably not be shown in the Triangle again until at least 2009.

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