TEXT BY MICHAELA MULLIN | VIEW IMAGES
Karen Strohbeen & Bill Luchsinger + Sculpture includes new works by the renowned Iowa couple, as well as pieces by Justin Beller, Dallas Guffey, jd hansen, Daniel Perry, Jesse Small, Tom Stancliffe, Jessica Teckemeyer, Bart Vargas, and Jay Vigon. It is an exhibition of multiple dimensions and trifurcation—luminous digital landscapes, joyous abstract patterns, and varied sculptural works.
Bill Luchsinger’s new digital works on canvas call you into them. Take his two still lifes, “White Iris” and “Purple Iris,” for instance—they remind us how much the eye wants to home in on the details of a tableau. That the objects are arranged and depicted in just such a way as to invite, with an added Respondez, s’il vous plait. It is impossible to decline. One work is created of whites, of a bouquet less full, petals less dense, and it beckons the eye to get in between the stems and to see through to the background until one is following shadows and discerning canvas, reminded only then of its representation. In “Purple Iris,” however, the bunch is tight, stems virtually lost to the blooms. This work is reminiscent of VanGogh’s “Blue Irises,” but Luchsinger’s is more vibrant, alive, maintaining the yellow of the background as possible iris centers, and Luchsinger’s green pitcher works to break the fore and backgrounds, also holding any real shadow, leaving the pitcher itself to cast none and almost float.
The new landscapes of Luchsinger are so infused with white/light one might mistake them for backlit media on a light box. The natural sunlight is captured—focused, diffused—here, with a faithful interpretation of each natural surrounding and its overhead solar source. “Woodland Path” is stark, pristine in how it almost woods in the viewer—the forest difficult to see for the trees. “Gold and Green” uses the titular colors to create a honey-lensed scene, with a subtle serpentining composition. And the lower blue sky in “Pink Light” graduates into a rose gloaming above and beyond the trees, each half of the canvas becoming respectively grounded or set free. “Waterway” gives an open, vast scape, touched by cloud shadow. The illusion of depth here is greater, because compositional distance is greater, the focus ultimately presenting as mist.
Karen Strohbeen inscribes new margins in her works, over and over. “Fields of Flowers” offers clear division—three bands, distinctly different—samplings, or cuttings if you will, of directional flowers, placed in rows. But a lack of this clear and spacious organization is exactly what makes her “2018 Pattern Sets” such luxuriant swaths and swatches of color and line, grids cut and adhered digitally—quilted. They are patchwork images made to graph; graphs turned askew, overlapped, turning to paper plaiding of new hue and patterning.
Her “Standing Animals” series is striking for the white space that Strohbeen does not fill—each work holding just one animal— with nothing too bright or too busy. Each animal stands alone, but as a herd/colony/school/et al. of prints, the multi-species grouping wows in its uprightness, and in the room each animal is given to stand. The simplicity of the individual works is wonderfully complicated by Strohbeen’s placement of the singular creatures on their paper—so that together, there is no hint of hierarchy of species in this heterogeneous crew.
In contrast to the minimal “Standing Animals” series, Strohbeen’s “Party Cat” is a glorious delirium, merging many of her signature styles. The feline at center stage of this stunning chaos feels gestural, bringing to mind a Jazz Age portrait of scatting, music and movement.
In a brilliant follow up to last year’s baby-Trump ceramics, Bart Vargas continues to engage in serious commentary via somewhat comedic means. His subjects, this time, are motley. Vargas takes popular culture and socio-political concerns, wedding them in clay, firing and glazing, as they are often wedded in mind and media. “Stormtrooper Jebus” and “Wonder Jebus,” for example, exploit the multiplicity of meaning that resides in the image of the “real” Jesus, though here turned into the animated fictional character many might know from The Simpsons. Vargas’ Jebus, however, is made in the image of the commonly recognized Son of God, not as the title might suggest, kin to Homer. Turned to “action figure” by way of Stormtrooper (read Star Wars, not WWI) and Wonder Woman super-hero suiting—even gender is conflated here—Jesus is rendered as both antagonist and savior.
Action figures might move at the joints, or they might not. They may be of soft plastic, or perhaps produced of harder stuff. But Vargas’ figures cannot be played with, they are no mere toys, and they are easily breakable. The colors are not pure, but look darkened, and they bleed. And the eyes here tell stories. In “Stormtrooper Peewee,” the figure has no pupils—whites-only in a blue man, blue suit. “SpongeBob Smashpants” presents as a WWE player, fiction upon fiction, with something real lodged in between. And that’s why this series is so smart—the idea of what is “real” and what is fictional gets blurred in send ups as smashups. But fixed somewhere within each anti/hero, is the exploration of modern-day mythologies, baked in extreme climates.
Jesse Small’s new hanging “Space Canoe,” in painted steel, is sober, streamlined and subtler than much of Small’s larger-scale installations or small ceramics. This all-white matte sculpture, perforated with honeycomb patterning, in varying thicknesses of holes, floats above our heads, letting air leak through it—into it, and out of it—creating an imagined portage, light and graceful.
Hexagonal cell shapes are something employed by Daniel Perry, as well, in his sculptural wall works, “Coil” and “Nested,” but to much different effect. Perry’s are conceptual works, appearing as precise executions of finely laid plans. Through these, he challenges the viewer to become inquisitive about environment—bees of course come to mind—though one can expand on these thoughts, and see the work might become a contemplation of other endangered things and collapsed colonies.
These mixed-media pieces, with natural and stained wood bases, endeavor to make us think through each component —to weigh in our minds the shape and color and placement of each element of the whole. Blue pieces abut paneled sections, which sit near more organically-realized forms. Habitats affect one another.
The title for Perry’s “Catch and Release” evokes fish, but upon closer look at each small detail of the sculpture, a Byzantine process may suddenly emerge to elicit a sense of bureaucratic complexity, such as with the immigration practices of the same name.
Contraption is a word most often used with its negative connation intended. But Perry’s sculptures feel like contraptions by a creative engineer who somehow subverts this slight by making the odd and nonfunctional into something strange and beautifully impractical on the surface. But beneath the surface, there is a purpose—that of telling a story about relevance. One might then discover that complicated pathways and turns can bear, or bare, resolution if we follow them.
View works from this exhibit on MobergShop.com