TEXT BY MICHAELA MULLIN | VIEW IMAGES
Benjamin Gardner’s “The Revenant Series” reminds us that even in all things new, there is a history from which it cannot be separated. These six older works, assembled together (also available separately), are themselves composed of multiple panels, each component of the new “Frankenstein-like” wall piece, itself made of parts. Gardner works colors with softer connotation, such as pinks and yellows and blues, with the stark black that backgrounds and often shows through the compositional landscape. Also, the dimensional pieces of this assemblage keep tone with the images of eye, hand, and body contour as a means of reaching out, of return.
Gardner’s acrylic works on paper, “Holy Mountain,” “Cosmic Rift,” and “Radiant Multiverse,” in contrast to the panel and mixed media works he is so well known for, are, overall, lighter—literally and visually. This can also be attributed to more line precision and order of color. These works draw you in with their symmetry, and the repetition that builds is a crescendo of concept. In the case of “Holy Mountain,” a figurative cave or structure is built, which has an undeniable pull to enter, or more accurately, climb with the eye. And the eye, here too, is the very germane attraction. In what could be referential to the Alejandro Jodorowsky film of the same name, the ascent that we seek, and the one we actually embark upon, in times of overreaching greed, may not be one and the same.
The rhythm of Gardner’s new work—the patterning and almost-but-not-quite mirroring, and then the complete break within the frame of form and content and palette, such as with “Backyard Esoterica,” might even conjure the trumpet sounds of Don Cherry. With these works, Gardner has painted a new soundtrack for his viewers.
In ecstatic complement to Gardner’s pieces, Chuck Hipsher’s large paintings are like contained sprawls and intentional spills of startling color. And their texture, if one views closely, belies how digital, and stunningly so, they might appear. “Roots” is multi-paneled, creating boundary, which Hipsher’s paint and abstract subject cross. The mixed-media traverses each panel—one in black and white, one in blue and white, one a bold plashing of green and magenta and yellow on black. The connectors are the lines of black—from under to above to over—such as roots in growth. This piece feels like an homage to Bokubi, or the beauty of ink (black and white), all the way to modern day printing, or the beauty of CMYK.
In “Genome,” however, the surface space is much less clean and spare; the fullness of the paint—the strokes and the many culminations of each—make color block overlaid with splash next to a mix-master of paint paths and mechanical movement. From hand strike to head strike. Hipsher has a way of choosing colors in the way a poet’s diction may lead to a poem’s form—and in those choices is embedded a history of art or writing, or both. Though this work’s title speaks to something unseen, per se, the work itself speaks to all the things that make up what we can see—and here, the colors of Philip Guston jump out; and Guston’s line, a single thing, in Hipsher’s care, gets activated in extreme.
His mixed media work, “Sprung,” brings to mind newly-controversial artist Dana Schutz’s bold palette. And his acrylic on canvas, “Zettabyte,” is Hipsher being self-referential and referencing mass usage at the same time. What would a zettabyte (ZB) look like? Here it is.
But what about something so small—what does that look like? New Forms, a series of images by Noah Doely, show just what digitizing the natural world to great and microscopic effect might beautifully render. Doely writes, “Each image in this series consists of a single photograph of a butterfly wing that I digitally fragmented and rebuilt through a gradual process of pattern formation. This generated new variations of the existing forms, thereby creating a metamorphosis of the image itself. Through magnification, the image and the subject are broken down to their constituent parts (butterfly scales and pixels) each consisting of a single pigment of color. Through this process the original forms and the reconstructed versions of them become interwoven, producing extended patterns that exist in varying degrees of chaos and order.”
These six works, then, are like close up portraits of solutions in the Lorenz attractor, mapping probability, possibility, potential in/evitabilities, based on an initial point or condition (Chaos Theory). Doely, in this practice of science and art has created new conditions for the experience of viewing the minute in order to see a larger picture. “Untitled #3,” especially, delights and confounds with its more seemingly random fragment pattern, the pixels constituting what appear to be the most amazing and absurd stellar constellations in a very, very clear night sky.
But the still is merely a moment of the moving. And Doug and Eileen Leunig capture both with their photo and video works, exhibited for Focus on Five. In their seasonal digital photos, “Spring,” “Summer,” “Winter”, and “Fall,” the effect of movement, of the way the eye perceives objects, is stilled in that moment just before or just after focus. This intense and dreamy “blurring” takes things in nature that may be considered discrete, and makes everything seem to connect.
The Leunigs’ “Dancing Landscapes” and “Water Portraits” video collection both mesmerize and surprise. The shifting and smooth transitions give the experience of the viewer moving, as well, in “Dancing Landscapes.” The color changes are locational, seasonal, conceptual, and compositions morph parts into wholes and vice versa.
“Water Portraits” offers a more complex transformative narrative and sequencing. The transitions are as smooth but the resulting images are less like and more hydrationally other. Water looks like bamboo looks like cellular structures look like sinewy muscles look like asters looking astral. The Leunigs’ create images here that present water in its three states, but not necessarily exactly as liquid, solid, or gas, but approximating these visually, and playing with the shape and size of each state, which scientifically can or cannot change. In these videos, limitations seem nonexistent. (view video samples here)
If the Leunigs’ work might offer a viewer movement, as if from the window of a passing vehicle, then James Ochs references popular culture, and in doing so, includes portraits of two of America’s favorite road trippers, the iconic fictional iconoclasts, Thelma and Louise. More than buddy flick, more than chick flick, this movie, through its leading women, is an investigation of domestic abuse and the daily abuses women suffer and are at risk of from male predators. James Ochs’ portraits are complex, somewhat violent, yet somehow tender (and cut-up, in the case of “Thelma”) depictions.
Ochs paints and collages women with a hand that represents, respects, and revers. But above all, he creates with an honoring of the subjects’ own stories. Thelma and Louise are just two of these works; you will find Edie (Sedgwick, of Andy Warhol It Girl fame), as well as Alice B (of Gertrude Stein fame). “Utamaro,” a nod to the Japanese woodblock artist, Kitagawa Utamaro, of the 1790s, is a mixed-media-on-paper work that horizontally centers a woman, but leaves much space above her head—this space in deep burgundy patches of cloud and mountain. In the subject’s position and the layering of the collaged media, Ochs gives this a depth not found in Japanese paintings of the 18th century. Yet, there is still a noticeable lack of Western perspective in this landscape, in keeping with the art historical genre.
Flattening, elevating, mixing, assembling, piecing together—all of this can be found in Focus on Five. All methods of creating are a salvaging, a saving, and/or the telling of a story, old and new. Art is forethinking; putting us in mind of the Promethean nature of creation and humanity. Make time to see this thought-provoking exhibit before it closes on May 25th.
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