Lori Waxman's "60 wrd/min art critic" reviews at Durham Arts Council | Slideshows | Indy Week

May 19, 2010 Slideshows » Arts

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Lori Waxman's "60 wrd/min art critic" reviews at Durham Arts Council 

Lori Waxman
Some people keep written journals, others compose blogs. Some write chatty emails or letters. All of these are ways of recording observations and experiences encountered daily. Robert Soulless, not his real name but all the more revelatory for having been chosen, like many visual artists maintains multiple sketchbooks. And sketchbooks, I am suggesting here, function not unlike diaries in that they stand as the subjective account of life, of events and moments and thoughts that a person wishes to remember or remark upon. So, what does Robert Soulless's life look like to him? If we take his jazzy colored marker style as an indicator, it looks a lot like the 1970s. Soulless seems to go to a lot of community meetings, music shows, bars and, especially, courtrooms, and he draws everywhere he goes. But though the sketchbooks in question are current ones, the people who appear in these places seem decidedly of an earlier era, as if Soulless were seeing them with decade-tinted glasses. Another of his sketchbooks holds completely different work, natty and precise watercolor studies of insects, complete with notes explaining how their anatomical structure functions in situations of sex or prey. Perhaps this is the diary in which Soulless metaphorizes about life, rather than recording it more directly. Perhaps not. It's not really polite to read other people's diaries anyway.
Lori Waxman
Bingo cards, recipe fragments, pages from a book on particle physics, graph paper and a woman in a black lace negligee—what’s it all got to do with one another? The woman is Denée Black, a fact deduced from the work’s title, “Self-Portrait Study.” The other bits and pieces form some of the collage backdrop to the artist’s multiple images of herself, and since the work is a self-portrait, they ought to communicate something of her personality and life. Perhaps she’s a regular at bingo night, a killer cook, a science hobbyist, a graphic designer, a sexpot? It’s admittedly hard to know if these background materials should be read for personal data or if instead they’re just there because they look good (in which case I suppose they reveal something of the artist’s formal tastes, but then so do all works of art). Another work by Black, “Mi Series #1,” presents some of the same materials, minus the picture of the artist, in a charming enough abstract composition that recalls Kurt Schwitters’s merz pictures of the 1920s. Schwitters picked his materials up off the streets and arranged them into dynamic formal compositions—no pretense there of individual scraps bearing meaning. The ambiguity here is that in one of Black’s pictures they seem to, while in another they don’t. But all materials, intentionally or not, are containers of meaning. It’s up to the artist to be sure that those meanings are, well, meaningfully used.
Lori Waxman
Our world is rich in systems of communication, from birdsong to English, from binary code to representational drawing. If we recognize that word-based languages are not the only form of data transmission, we realize just how fluent many of us actually are. Heather Gordon's recent work presents various comparisons that get at this multilingual state of things, graphing the titles of classic literature like Don Quijote and Darwin's On the Origin of the Species in binary strings, and doing likewise in a second series with the calls of various animals and insects. To these last she adds simple, elegant drawings of the creatures in question, for an additional layer of speech. A third series does this with outmoded vehicles, of what Gordon refers to smartly as "conveyance," ranging from a gramophone to an old buggy. For all this multilingualism, however, issues of translation and miscommunication constantly arise, and it is instructive to examine what exactly can be said through one system and not through another, and to whom—or what. What can we learn of a record player through word versus image versus code? Which of these systems is legible to me or you—and which to a computer? As our world proliferates digitally and virtually, this last question becomes increasingly important. Perhaps the ultimate revelation of Gordon's work, which she crafts with an extremely human kind of wit and brevity, as well as a deft and elegantly hand-worked graphic sensibility, has less to do with inter-person communication than person-machine and machine-machine transmission—and how much we need to ensure that it stays humanized.
Lori Waxman
What happens between the sheets is usually a private matter. The details of dreams, sex, rest, even fiction reading are rarely shared—and when they are, especially the sex and the dreaming, they tend to be represented crudely and all too literally. Maria Britton takes an alternate tack, one that is risky and magically successful. Using old floral bed sheets in place of canvas, she daubs and mushes stroke upon stroke of acrylic paint, creating dizzying, allover abstract compositions that in their most dense layering suggest intense, playful sex. Others, a bit more spare, carry repeated motifs that recall the way dreams repeat and return. Still others contain the suggestion of figuration and spatial structures, as dreams themselves do. The effect is a bit Carroll Dunham meets Philip Guston by way of Amy Sillman, and it is also entirely its own—as are the experiences each of us has between the sheets. Part of Britton’s brilliance here is in melding abstraction with something as familiar as worn sheets: the combination evocatively opens itself up to endless projection.
Lori Waxman
Once upon a time photography competed to replace painting, and in many ways it has. Today, the nature enthusiast with an artistic bent more frequently turns to a hi-end digital camera than paint and brush. Matt Tomko, who creates careful oil-on-canvas studies of flora and fauna, is an exception to this rule, and it bears considering why this might be. Why paint when a camera captures nature with so much more precision and ease? Practices like Tomko's suggest that there is a difference between seeing and looking, that a photographic reproduction might not in fact be the best way to communicate something about leaves changing color in the fall or a small bird perching delicately near the ground. By painting these scenes rather than snapping pictures of them, Tomko demonstrates the importance of close looking, of noticing the change in light and color as leaves rustle in the breeze, as a wren decides whether or not to hop off its perch. He illustrates this simply by the act of painting, where every brushstroke marks a decision made about what is and isn't important. Because of this, however, every brushstroke counts, and some of Tomko's come off as mushy or flat where he means and needs them to be magical and light. A flower pot, the twist of a branch register serenely and richly; foliage and feathers lack their natural crispness and individuality. It's a matter of technique being up to the challenge of its subject, and nature is perhaps the most challenging yet necessary of these.
Lori Waxman
Many of the figures in Melissa York's carefully worked ceramic sculptures seem to have arisen right out of Mother Earth, as if birthed directly from the clay out of which she forms them. Those that don't seem instead to have grown on their own from the trunks of trees, ridged with the delicate crust of bark. Turquoise glazes that suggest oxidization lend a subtle quality of natural aging to these works, while the intense slant and gaze of many figures' eyes gives them a wise feline aspect. With few exceptions these sculptures are female, and though the feminization of nature is by now somewhat clichéd, that familiarity renders its presentation no less moving when accomplished with grace and thoughtfulness, as York does throughout her oeuvre.
Lori Waxman
The history of art is littered with naked female forms, but before women's bodies became the human subject of choice the Ancient Greeks displayed a marked preference for the male version. Hence all those gorgeous, rippling and very naked marble men, from David to the Laocöon. What's happened to them since? On the surface our contemporary culture prefers GIRLS! GIRLS! GIRLS!, but look beyond beer ads and nudie clubs and a subtle picture of repressed homoeroticism emerges, most especially in organized sports. Even more so in the kind of athleticism pictured by Noah Rosenblatt-Farrell, an artist who also happens to be the official photographer for Carolina Fight Promotions, the largest organizer of mixed martial arts fighting in the southeast. Dr. No, as the fighters call him, takes pictures of rippling, tattooed guys as they pummel each other to unconsciousness in a cage for a paying audience. They are gorgeous and violent, and they spare one another no brutality. Some of Dr. No's pictures are boring promotional stuff, but most of them reveal the intense, pulchritudinous quality of these punishingly intertwined male bodies—showing them for the contemporary Greeks that they are. Would that our ideals were as well rounded as the Greeks', and included mental greatness alongside the physical.
Lori Waxman
I want to visit the places Rachel Campbell depicts in oil on canvas. These are real places—London as seen from the South Bank, a trailer park, a simple white house on a suburban street—but something about the way Campbell depicts them renders them absolutely magical, at once true to the way they exist in real life and yet utterly dreamy and luminescent. Her London is colored a murky rainbow, filled with charmingly crooked and childishly rendered skyscrapers, barges and domes. Her trailer parks glow with turquoise and hot pink homes, flying electrical wires and the most astonishingly filigreed trees. I want so much to visit these places—and thanks to Campbell I have, as best as one possibly can. These places, at least as depicted here, do not really exist out in the world. They exist in Campbell's own experience and memory. How fortunate that she has the technical ability and generosity of spirit to have expended the effort of translating them onto painted canvas for all to see. The hope, then, is that her vision can color ours, encouraging others to see the wonders she finds out there.
Lori Waxman
The cruel irony of Stacy Lynn Waddell's dreamy, larger-than-life size drawings is that their technique is so wedded to their content. This may not seem like an irony per se, and certainly not a particularly cruel one, but here it is: Waddell burns, brands and singes paper in order to represent images of African-American history. Technique thus mimics part of the history it conveys, a history that involves a few hundred years of brutally mistreating, abusing, owning and even killing a large segment of the people living on American soil, simply for the dark color of their skin. Irony upon irony, that dark skin is most beautifully reproduced through these same non-traditional techniques. Waddell has a deft hand with the torch, and her application of fire to paper produces an effect akin to a delicate watercolor in subtle shades of brown. She uses this method to picture not only antebellum princesses but also Mississippi river boats, slave ships, foliage and birds, using them to suggest stories that, if not necessarily clear in their narration, are richly palpable in their presentation.
Lori Waxman
What is it about certain kinds of candy that tastes so much like nostalgia? Rainbow lollipops, swirly peppermints, pastel jellybeans and those mysteriously pyramidal candy corns all evoke an idealized time past, one of Main Streets and penny candy shops, of a time before Sweet'N Low and the Kraft takeover of Cadbury. Stacy Crabill's mixed media drawings hearken back unapologetically to this pretty, sugary world, picturing old-fashioned sweets with a practiced, charming sketchiness that takes them just enough steps away from advertising pictures. A twist comes by way of the fortune cookie fortunes that Crabill collages into each image and abbreviates to form their titles. Although some cookies have been known to produce surprisingly wise bits of advice, these are not those. No, in keeping with the simple pleasures promised by the depicted sweets, the sayings Crabill has chosen are unconditionally clichéd, of the it-is-better-to-have-a-hen-tomorrow-than-an-egg-today variety. And so it goes with nostalgia: everything looks tastier and simpler seen through its saccharine glaze.
Lori Waxman
Once upon a time there was a land where all the buildings, from the smallest houses to the tallest skyscrapers, had fine steel legs on which to walk. But these structures, being built out of concrete, were so heavy that they needed the help of the wind, harnessed through long copper sails, to move from one site to another. Howl's Moving Castle was a close relative, Calder's Circus a distant one. Tim Burton was known to visit on occasion. The benevolent ruler of this land, from whom all the structural inhabitants were descended, was named Collin Blackmore. Had he been born in another era on distant shores, he might have been just another young man who tinkered with scrap metal and putty in his garage. But fortunately this banal earthly reality was not so, and King Blackmore lived out his days, and the days of his edifice-subjects, under the graceful, crafty light of a truly charmed constructor spirit. And the buildings were happy, the skies delighted to blow them this way and that, the ground pleased to feel their footsteps on its back.
Lori Waxman
Is there a more loaded American symbol than the confederate flag? I suppose the greenback gives it a run for its money, bad pun intended, but the sheer indispensability of money will always trump any concerns with its history or the current state of American, i.e. world, capitalism. Not so the former flag of the southern United States, whose usefulness today seems more or less limited to 1) an unapologetic nostalgia for the way things used to be, and 2) a criticism of the way things used to be. "The way things used to be" in this case refers to a history of slavery, segregation and racist violence directed toward African Americans. What artist Dave Alsobrooks has done in a series of four collage canvases based on the design of the flag is, oddly enough, to acknowledge both of these possibilities. One white and one black canvas each convey a nostalgic picture of, respectively, conservative white and black family values. On their own, these stand as strikingly uncritical visions of a divided south. Displayed alongside a second pair of pictures, however, the tone changes. Here is the awful history of it all, classic red and blue for Civil War era challenges, yellow for Civil Rights era ones. Taken apart, a limited, almost clichéd history of the south presents itself. But taken together, a complex version emerges.
Lori Waxman
Ah, the wonders of the Sharpie. Such a simple instrument, yet so many possibilities, especially in the hands of Dipika Kohli. A graphic designer by training, Kohli has a witty, abbreviated sensibility perfectly in tune with her medium of choice. With it she silhouettes the world, at least the world as seen from one's own front door, both facing in and facing out. Rooftops, papers on a desk, the corner of an apartment, an array of objects, a spoken phrase, a bunch of flowers—all find bold and punchy expression through Kohli's simple black marker line drawings. What takes these catchy pictures further than mere amiableness are the kinds of subtle twists most apparent in Kohli's zines, where she displays a wry sense of her own field and life. Made primarily from cut-up glossy magazine pages, these collage books are both funny and critical, diaristic and transparent. One even shows marker lines atop found images, revealing the source and process of her own style. How this all translates into hired work for her graphic design clients I have no idea, but I suspect it translates just fine—in our world of irony upon irony, self-reflexivity and critical consumerism can now be used to sell everything from iPods to iGO car shares.
Lori Waxman
Abstract art is all too rarely witty. Fortunately many, if not all, of Howard Schroeder's meticulously turned wood sculptures partake of this quality. Locating it takes some work, however. This is wit so subtle I nearly missed it myself—so distracted was I by the more polished, overt aspects of pieces like "Kosmos" and "Symphony #2: The Red Tape," with their sinuous twists and turns deftly carved from single blocks of dense, richly colored wood. These are sculptures in the round and then some, and it's the "then some" where part of their surprise is located, for what Schroeder has done is set these pieces on bases whose shape matches the sculptures' silhouettes seen from above. On guard, viewer who thinks sculpture in the round involves only a lateral perspective! On guard, viewer who stops there, for there is more wit to find! Schroeder also has a droll way with titles, naming one winningly peculiar work "Enchanted Something." And finally, there is a last somewhat ironic twist, perhaps unintended by the artist himself, devoted as he clearly is to abstraction. Namely that his most charming work is not an abstract but a figural shape, albeit a highly stylized one, a pelican reduced down to a double curve, with two-toned wood smartly distinguishing wing from body and a negative space standing in for the bird's long beak.
Lori Waxman
Faces are supposed to be a window to the soul, or at least that's how the cliché goes. But the visage, especially as represented by an artist, can be less a view onto the sitter's soul than the artist's. Such is the case with the long-running series of glass collages created by Louis St. Lewis, in which faces stare lustily out from behind their smoky enclosures, layered with glitter and paint, pretty patterned paper and found images. Who are these beautiful people? Impossible to say, even though their origin is photographic. Made up with Warholian lipstick and eyeshadow, male and female alike, their aspect is wanton and provocatively bisexual. Backed by maps of Paris, Lillet ads, a Van Gogh self-portrait, Japanese and Arabic script, their tone is trendy but dated. It's almost as if St. Lewis, who describes his art practice as "drinking champagne and moving with the creative flow," has made himself a set of fantasy friends to go on partying with circa the late eighties. And why not? Seems like a swell, swish place to lose oneself, unapologetically and with glee. Except wasn't that the era that ended in a Wall Street crash, cocaine busts and a whole lot of STDs?
Lori Waxman
Abstraction rarely comes from nowhere. On the contrary, one form of the verb "to abstract" is transitive: we abstract something from something else. This is true of the best philosophical theories as well as the best abstract art, from Kandinsky to Mondrian and beyond. A parallel act is part of art's reception, when we look at abstract work and try to find recognizable forms. Such is the case with Rachel Goodwin's work, which may or may not derive from real-world observation but certainly connotes it in the viewer's eyes, at least this viewer's. Red ovals edged with white are so many painted toenails or so many veiled women—sideways that is. A branchy silver shape is a partial skeleton or a multi-pronged insect. These are some of the simpler compositions in her body of colorful cutouts, and they are also some of the strongest. Other more complicated pieces suffer from confusing the mind and the eye as they try to sort out just what is going on between shapes and colors and printed paper. That said, it's instructive to view experimentation like Goodwin's, to watch as an artist sorts out an abstract language all her own, testing which combinations and densities register and which don't.
Lori Waxman
Kosher kitchens aside, most of us eat everything off the same plates, be it steak and potatoes or a tuna sandwich. But what if that first dish were served on tableware that spoke of long grass prairies and loamy farmer's fields. And what if the second appeared on a platter whose glaze recalled limpid pools of tropical water, edged with delicate blue shells and bubbling, seaweed-tinged shallows. Okay, so maybe this is a bit more than your typical tuna sandwich deserves, made from canned stuff, more canned stuff and some bagged white bread. The platter, which is the work of potter Tanya Casteel, more rightly demands to be topped with hand-sliced, house-cured wild salmon of the deepest, richest pink. All of her work, in fact, is so insistent, speaking through a language of form, color and liquidity of the beauty of ocean life. (That first piece of tableware, the one made for steak, was just a rhetorical device. Sorry, meat lovers.) And all of Casteel's wares are absolutely functional, made for dishwasher, microwave and, most importantly, the serving of food. Alas, in the face of the recent BP oil spill and the general devastation of the world's fisheries, many of these pieces feel more elegiac than anything else. They ask to be filled with the bounty of the sea, but I worry that they will remain empty, objects for memorial display rather than festive use.
Lori Waxman
Kamouraska is a town on the shores of the Saint Lawrence River in Quebec. I know this because a) I'm from Montreal, which is also in Quebec, and b) I googled it. Kamouraska is also the title of a brushy abstract painting by Vickie Mitchell, who was educated in Montreal and returns to the region regularly. I'd hazard a guess and say that she has been to Kamouraska and composed this diptych inspired by what she saw and experienced there. The picture itself, like most though not all of her work, does not give this connection up so easily. It sketchily combines patches of burnt orange, periwinkle blue, bright turquoise, deep purple, forest green and more to form an impressionistic space that suggests a complex natural landscape, but mostly if you already know the title reference. Without it, the painting presents an intricately worked surface wide open to all kinds of readings. Mitchell is in good territory here, so to speak, one trod most memorably by British painter Howard Hodgkin, whose celebrated oeuvre presents a lifetime of place and people memories through richly worked abstractions, painted right to the tips of their frames. And though Hodgkin, among others, has been there before, it's a big world out there waiting to have all of its corners experienced and represented. Fortunately, Mitchell paints with an illuminating intensity that rewards imaginative looking and says much of her own vision outward.
Lori Waxman
Sometimes distortions provide the truest representations. After all translation, as Ruth Hadlow has written, is an unstable process, one that can't help but introduce alterations to the original, whatever it may be. The Hadlow reference comes courtesy textile artist Vita Plume, and it is her viscerally moving tapestries that prompt my thinking about the paradoxical nature of distortion. Even a first glance at these dense, intricate works reveals how a stretched and pulled visage can communicate emotions and actions more intensely than a realistically rendered one. This manifests in a piece that evokes contemplative looking, but it is most evident in a work titled "Rage," where the face of a man has been dyed and woven such that his orange and brown striped skin is also that of an angry tiger, his teeth and lips that of its bared fangs. Closer examination reveals something even stranger, as tightly woven threads seem themselves to possess this intense emotionality, rather than to merely represent it. Further inspection would be too brutal, too risky, with a work so redolent of an emotion like rage.
Lori Waxman
Drawing does not always happen with pencil on paper. Some artists draw with fire, others with rotary drills. C'Omega Barnes draws with scissors, sharp little manicure scissors. Instead of applying image to paper, she finds her images in the paper itself, deftly slicing through rainbows of thick stock until there emerges a floral still life, an elegant figure or even an elaborate narrative scene. It's a technique she has learned and perfected entirely on her own, a folk art of one with unexpected expressive possibilities. Even her more basic compositions surprise when seen up close: a teal vase ripples with tiny cuts that suggest elaborate glazing and reflected light, while those on a woman's head connote an elegant up-do of curls and waves. But though these simple pictures are crafty and accomplished, it is in her complex pictures where Barnes's art does something exciting on more than just a technical level. Here bits and pieces of paper are used to create believable spaces in which people can live— woman and child outside a clapboard house, situated on a lane lighted with street lamps and lined with fences and hanging laundry; a class reunion in a hall with former classmates so detailed as to be recognizable to one another. It's this kind of accessible storytelling that folk art has always excelled at, more so than depicting singular subjects—one hopes it is the direction in which Barnes will further her own practice, too.
Lori Waxman
Every morning I wake up and pad to the kitchen, grind the espresso beans, brew my coffee and then stand at the cabinet pondering the first question of the day: what cup do I feel like? Some kitchens are stocked with a single set of matching dishes and there are no such choices to make. Not so mine. Not so Dianne Freund's, potter of cups and bowls of the lightest touch. A cupboard full of her usable stoneware and porcelain offers objects for many moods, determinable both by touch and sight. Need comfort and contemplation? Choose a handle-free mug to be held with both hands, hands whose fingers fit gently into structural grooves. Need serenity? Take a white-on-white patterned cup, its inside glazed an elegantly graduated jade. Need some cheer? How about the one sketched with kiddie drawings of birds and bees or lollipop trees? Rough, smooth, polished or primal, Freund makes wares with all of these qualities, fit for all of their users' corresponding moods. The trick, then, is to be sensitive enough to how one feels, and to therefore to be able to choose the right container for nourishment.
Lori Waxman
In Michelangelo Antonioniâ's 1966 film Blow-Up, a man obsesses about a small event accidentally captured in a photograph he took. He blows it up over and over again in the darkroom, hoping to learn the truth of what happened then. Instead he finds out about fragmentation, and how fascinating details can become when enlarged beyond their original scope. I describe this cinematic classic as a lead-up to Ed Larson's abstract paintings because they feel to me as if each and every one of them is the blown-up fragment of an entirely other, unknown work. Some even seem as if they might be fragments from different parts of the same work. This should not be taken to mean, however, that the paintings feel incomplete; on the contrary, they are marvelously if paradoxically whole. What do they look like? Each is inscribed with thick cursive black lines that divide the canvas up into sections Larson fills with wallpaper patterns and pleasingly odd color combinations. The artist explains that these works are inspired by katagami, the stencils used to dye kimonos. I'm more familiar with Japanese woodblock prints, and they remind me of these too, or rather of tiny parts of them writ large. It's as if Larson has taken the idea of attention to detail as a working method in and of itself, finding details—whether in other works, as my imagination has it, or in artistic experimentation, as is more likely the case—that can stand on their own as the whole.
Lori Waxman
How to capture the magic of a snowy winter's night in the country, the dark still air fresh with falling flakes? Or the elegance of the moon reflecting on a deep watery lake? Or even the shallow glitter and silly glam of a young starlet tap-tap-tapping away on stage? Plastic beads and bits of fabric and a couple lengths of ribbon might not seem at all adequate to such tasks, but Janis Parker has proved them so. In a unique practice that might best be described as fiber assemblage, Parker thoughtfully scraps together such unassuming materials as fake eyelashes, plastic palettes, crochet doilies and random pieces of jewelry to movingly embody the kinds of situations described above. Alright, so a sassy little starlet isn't exactly moving, but Parker's depiction of her is hilarious, all shining lights and chickadee body; even the corners of her frame are touched up with gold and silver paint, as if stage lights. The winter's night and the reflecting moon, classical subjects of so many a poem and painting, receive welcome new treatment here, appropriately sensitive and intelligent. No crocheted snowflake could ever be exactly like any other; that it also recalls Amerindian dreamcatchers is perfect for a truly wondrous night. The reflected moon, meanwhile, is depicted with a handful of plastic beads, an image seen in water that, because fragmented, must be ebbing. Plastic beads have rarely held such elegance.
Lori Waxman
A couple of fishing boats are docked along the side of a waterway, their elaborate rigging tucked up. A quiet Italian street buzzes gently with café chatter, while a young couple walk by, hand in hand. These images, which appear in the paintings of Jose Jiminez—are they real or imagined? Did Jimenez observe them or make them up? Part of what makes it so hard to tell is that these pictures idealize their subjects. The fishing boats glow golden in the early morning light, the laneway sings with fresh flowers and pastel walls, the couple are faceless anybodies. It's all so perfect and pretty and harmless as to seem closer to an idea of a place that any real place itself. Perhaps that's why the charming little street, in particular, more closely recalls the fake Venice built in Las Vegas than the one slowly sinking in an Italian lagoon. That said, there are moments of real charm here, in the impressionistic separation of colors reflected in the waters surrounding the boats, and in the ships' rigging, painted so simply, with single strokes of bright rainbow paint that come nowhere close to being realistic. That's the trick with images that idealize reality: the more imaginative, the better.
Lori Waxman
Donkeys, a pony, rusting farm implements and a boy in a tank top and shorts—these are the subjects that appear one by one in the photographs of Kellie M. Hamilton. The donkeys and pony munch and trot in a dreamy, pastoral black-and-white haze. The oxidizing nuts, bolts and wheels sit in all their gorgeous browns, oranges and turquoises, crowded into close-ups that make of them more pattern and decoration than still life. The young man gazes knowingly down at the photographer, one knee bent, arms tucked back, shoulders up, a look of sweet and slightly unsure toughness on his face. Three different styles in one body of work—what to make of that? That it is like life, and that the life represented in this series of photographs is the one lived by the photographer herself, who is obviously not just a photographer but also very much a mother, farmer and animal husbandman. Hamilton may or may not have set out to create a body of work that depicts the beauty she finds in her own day-to-day existence, but that is the inevitable outcome when one picks up a camera and tries to fit its picture-making functions into an already full life. Best would be to take that strength into account when displaying the work, presenting it a dense salon-style hanging so that the contrasts and comparisons of a life richly lived can all be seen together, as they vitalize and complement one another.
Lori Waxman
Tattoos make of the skin a storytelling medium, but rare is the body that devotes its entire corpus, head to toe, to tell tales of this and that, here and there. The American writer Ray Bradbury wrote a book based on this premise in 1951, but apart from that, the device is woefully underused. Not so in the work of Mary Ann Anderson. The artist creates strange figures with long noses and weak chins, animal parts and small pointy feet, but notable mostly for the wild patterns and textures that cover them from top to bottom. Achieved via graphite rubbing, these paper people have bodies that speak of veins and fence posts, wrinkles and vines, city grids and fossilized insects. Small figures prance and stand on long scrolls, acknowledging their Chinese ancestry. Would that Anderson took more advantage of the scroll form to arrange some suggestion of narrative and space among her creatures. Other large-scale cutout figures are suspended from the ceiling, two-sided and twisting in the breeze, their flatness uncanny, their hanging a bit too close to death for comfort. But death is a lurking presence here that must be acknowledged. The figures are ghosts, not unlike the sickly ghosts that haunt certain Chinese scrolls. Bereft of eyes and ears and mouths, they are marked by patterns that tell their stories for them, a form of communication not very human indeed.
Lori Waxman
A friend of mine considers pigeons rats of the sky, but I have always found this to be a decidedly ungenerous attitude. Columba livia, as the common pigeon is formally called, deserves respect for adapting so well to the urban environment. The bird's not so bad looking either. Matthew Zigler seems to take a similar position on this common creature, and he has devoted his current painting practice to memorializing it and its contemporary habitat. A pair of birds etched into scrap metal has potential in its surprising silver lines on rusted plates, but this series remains unresolved, the drawings themselves not rendered convincingly enough. Dead birds meticulously painted onto fragments of safety glass feel just right, so fragile and touching. A series of small wood panels present tender, brushy oils of individual birds, exacting enough to provide information yet not so overdone as to feel educational. Zigler sources found materials, and installs some of his finished work, in an abandoned local mill, where one suspects the painted creatures can only rest temporarily, being less weatherproof than the feather-and-blood ones. Who gets to see them there? Other birds, perhaps. Zigler photographs these installations and also suggests them in elaborate painted compositions, but these re-presentations are of less interest than the installations themselves. But why paint such common creatures at all? Perhaps to help us pay more attention to that which hops and flies past us everyday, as we ignore or shoo or insult it away. My friend, the pigeon hater, could certainly stand to contemplate some.
Lori Waxman
All the things in our world exist surrounded by all the other things. They gain and lose and change their meaning accordingly. Perhaps the most salient example of this is language, as individual words work together in phrases and sentences in order to communicate. A word on its own means very little, but a word surrounded by other words can mean almost anything. Amy White seems to be getting at this structuralist understanding in her “Text/Objects/Painting” installations, which string together videos, paintings, found objects, bottled studio water and framed text fragments. Some of these items are able to speak on their own—an oil on wood painting like “Joseph.001.B” says much with its exposed knots and grain, its swirls and blotches of grey and white paint—while others are not—smoked-up bidi cigarettes and unmodified balls of store-bought twine remain mute. It all works very much like language, where some words are banal and adaptable, made to be placed in between more expressive ones. Hence the twine and butts which are necessary in order to pull together two compelling abstract paintings with a banal riverscape and bits of writing. Like language too, at least in some of its most poetic and abbreviated forms, those banal little words, brought together, sometimes turn into something unexpected. Here twine and bidis do this: how else to notice that the latter, unlike any other cigarette out there, are held together with little pink strings?
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Lori Waxman
Some people keep written journals, others compose blogs. Some write chatty emails or letters. All of these are ways of recording observations and experiences encountered daily. Robert Soulless, not his real name but all the more revelatory for having been chosen, like many visual artists maintains multiple sketchbooks. And sketchbooks, I am suggesting here, function not unlike diaries in that they stand as the subjective account of life, of events and moments and thoughts that a person wishes to remember or remark upon. So, what does Robert Soulless's life look like to him? If we take his jazzy colored marker style as an indicator, it looks a lot like the 1970s. Soulless seems to go to a lot of community meetings, music shows, bars and, especially, courtrooms, and he draws everywhere he goes. But though the sketchbooks in question are current ones, the people who appear in these places seem decidedly of an earlier era, as if Soulless were seeing them with decade-tinted glasses. Another of his sketchbooks holds completely different work, natty and precise watercolor studies of insects, complete with notes explaining how their anatomical structure functions in situations of sex or prey. Perhaps this is the diary in which Soulless metaphorizes about life, rather than recording it more directly. Perhaps not. It's not really polite to read other people's diaries anyway.
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