Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alex McLeod's Fantastical Digital Photography

McLeod, Frozen Boat

For most of Alex McLeod’s photographs of staged shoe box like dioramas, complexity and interest reside in the image’s multiple focus points, high contrast of vibrant colors, and reflective surfaces of the objects. No artist can go without comparison to artists and movements that have come before. History draws parallels, distinctions, and helps decipher what we are seeing and experiencing. It is true, there is nothing new under the sun, the human condition remains the same and everything answers to that condition. McLeod’s work is part of a decade long resurgence in surrealist themes akin to a lineage of artists that stage surreal events. 

His work draws  similarities to artists such as Gregory Crewdson and his 1990’s Natural Wonders Series and Mat Collishaw’s fantastical 2008 spinning carousel Throbbing Gristle (above). A slick, shiny, and smooth textural edginess is indicative of technological capitalism that has emerged as a signifier of contemporary pop culture. It appears in the paintings and sculptures by Jeff Koons and installations by Sylvie Fleury. McLeod is not afraid or fooled by a gimmicky deception. His dioramas are plastic and sterile self contained narrative landscapes that deliver this contemporary edge with a beautiful underlying hint of reality and imperfection indicative of the human condition. It is as if we are peering through the holes of Duchamp’s Étant donnés door and catching a glimpse of a nearly real world that we cannot quite contextualize at first glance because of the placement and visual complexity of the scene.
McLeod, Frozen Cascade

Viewers of McLeod’s work will want to visually dissect and label the various objects used to construct the image but they are constantly interrupted and distracted by the overall composition. It’s an awesome and refreshing world that allows us to take a break and stray just far enough from our everyday reality. McLeod’s work is one example of photography and digital manipulation at its best. To see more of Alex McLeod’s work visit Plus + Gallery. His work is also on view at Angell Gallery, Toronto, Ontario.
McLeod, Magic (left), Honey Town (right)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Some Ideas about Looking and Collecting Art

I can only speak from my own perspective considering the amount and variety of art that has been and is currently being shown and promoted by critics, theorists and historians. The art world is a chaotic conglomerate, a mish-mash of eclectic practices that reflects and celebrates the acceptance and diversification of many cultures, societies, and individual views and beliefs. How does anyone navigate and discern the plethora of art and information at their disposal? It begins with knowing yourself and bringing that understanding and experience of living to the art. The artwork is always in relationship to you because you are all that you can know. Locating yourself, meaning your spiritual, mental and physical position in relation to the artists, artwork, institutions and people that talk and show art is an important introspective step in looking and understanding. One of the benefits of looking and possibly collecting art is that it is a continuous educational experience. Engaging with art is a life altering process whereby views, ideas, aesthetic sensibilities, and perceptions of the world are constantly challenged. Selecting work based on personal identity and experiences is confirmation of a person’s growth through the constant changing and evaluation of their ideas and values.

One method to evaluate and understand art is to simply look at the work. The art world (meaning the events, reviews, people and spaces that surround and support the work) is a distraction. Being informed and educated about the art and artists is crucial but in the end it comes down to the art object. Most often I find myself attracted to a piece for a moment but not overly excited or convinced of its value and ingenuity to convey a relevant idea. Some work is an acquired taste. As I investigate more about the artist, other works, and their ideas I may develop a greater appreciation. For myself I find the concepts and development of their work as expressed through interviews more exciting and definitive than the actual art they produce. At some point the art may become a signifier of their ideas, enhancing my appreciation of the object. Beauty is relative and lies not only in our view of the art object but concept that underlies its production. For myself I am attracted to art that achieves a balance between thought and beauty. Some of the more successful works as accepted by the art world engages on multiple levels, evoking levels of investigation by way of ideas and visual attraction. Beauty and complexity may be subtle, almost unseen and detected by a small percentage of people, and possibly unbeknownst to the artist themselves. For the viewer this is a revelatory insight, meaning the work connects on deeper conceptual, spiritual and/or physical levels. The art confirms, absorbs or melds, and reflects the viewer’s energy back to the viewer or in this case the experiencer. It literally feels like an electrified, high energy experience whereby the work is all that the viewer sees because the engagement is so intense.

Two examples of looking at artwork with preconceived notions and expectations and having my ideas radically change after experiencing the actual work happened years ago during a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. I wanted to see Willem de Kooning’s painting Excavation, 1950. Janson’s History of Art and other books I had read championed this work as a pivotal and historical benchmark piece in DeKoonings rise to abstract expressionist stardom. The painting is his interpretation of an excavation site for the foundation of a high rise building in New York City.  I stepped into the room that the painting was located and with a quick scan could not find it. It took awhile before I realized the painting was directly in front of me, smaller than I imaged, somewhat under lit, and greyer than in the text books. There was no energy. Seeing the work in person deflated my expectations of this historical masterpiece. The painting died before my eyes. The work is important, it retains historical relevance and is a phenomenal piece for when it was painted but for me Excavation lives a better life on the glossy pages of art books with the accompanying text. In the same room I turned to my left and pow! It was a monster all black painting by Clyfford Still, 1951-52 that resonated with me. In the lower right corner he used a different sheen of black paint that set the image in motion. My eyes swept over the paintings toweled surface and eventually dropped and gravitated to this small contrasting section. It was that small difference that provided relief, a place I could go and exist the picture plane, an area of hope amidst all that powerful black paint that envelopes the viewer. That was my first exposure to Still’s work and an artist that I immediately began to learn more about. 

Up to that point, on the same day at the museum in Chicago, I had reservations about Andy Warhol. My impression was that he was a partier, lazy, a user, and self proclaimed art star. That preconceived notion of Warhol changed as I turned a corner and was memorized by his gigantic silk screen Mao, 1973. At that moment it clicked for me, I had a better understanding of who Warhol was and what he was doing. This perceptual shift about Warhol made it easier for me to cultivate an understanding and acceptance of artists like Jeff Koons, Martin Creed, and Pipilotti Rist. The Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh is amazing and has great temporary exhibitions, and don't forget to check out the Mattress Factory for unique contemporary art.

A Look at Denver’s Regional Modern Artists
In the late 90’s, at the time that I left Denver the modern art scene was limited to a hand full of cutting edge professional and co-op galleries. Some have come and gone while others like Rule, Pirate, Spark, Core, and Robischon are going strong. While living on the east coast for many years where I received an MFA from the University of Connecticut and an invaluable education about the NY art world, Denver’s modern art scene flourished exponentially. Denver as well as Fort Collins, Boulder and Colorado Springs have some exceptional museums, commercial galleries and artists. For the Apeiron Art + Design Blog I intend to highlight and promote those artists whose work and/or ideas that I find interesting, relevant, and exceptionally engaging. Look for future posts about what I consider some of Denver's and the regions better galleries and artists.