Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Meditative Environmentalism and Neo-Sublime

Beau Carey's Ceph and Colorado Sarin
Beau Carey’s paintings may be simplified spaces, reducing the landscape to bands of color and open forms but this type of painting is much more complex. It’s a compositional challenge to know just how much to include leaving the artist no place for error. Everything on the canvas is an integral and essential part to conveying the image. Though Carey recently graduated with a Masters in fine art his work reflects his 10+ years of painting experience. Artists working in Carey’s genre of painting make distinct changes in their work over time. They either simplify or include more visual information as their ideas become more complex and insightful.

Some artists easily fall into the habit of being contained by the edges of their canvas. Their aesthetic choices, placement of forms and space become manipulated by the picture plane. Innovative painters tend to buck the formalistic norms. Everything in painting, from the type of paint, the type of surface, the layering and texture of the paint can all play a part in the communication of the concept. Intentionally the subject can be dead center or fall off the edge. In the end art is an illusion that alludes to something else in reality, be it an object or feeling or message. Art exists most powerfully in the mind and imagination. What is not said can be more important. Letting the viewer fill in the blanks is sometimes more potent. In some way Carey’s little spots of information about the landscape and placement of objects can be considered traditional formalistic decisions based on the picture plane. He is contained and allows the canvas edge to dictate the weight and placement of the forms but this is what makes his paintings beautiful. Beauty is partially in the image but mainly in the idea.
Turner's Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812 and The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, 1835
In an art world and information age that champions slick consumer culture, eye candy through neon illumination and cluttered surfaces, the openness of Carey’s paintings and muted colors are meditatively nostalgic. There is a sublime sense of contemplative calmness to his work. Some of the first atmospheric types of work referred to as sublime were done by the English painter Joseph Mallard Turner in mid to late 19th century. His inspiration to suspend a moment of terror and mystery for contemplation was sparked by thick London fog, soot filled skies stoked by a coal driven industrial revolution, monumentally disastrous fires, and treacherous alpine and ocean storms. Though he was a meticulous architectural draftsman Turner had another side. His images were obscured and abstracted as evinced by his scribbling and scrubbing style of drawing and painting. He attempted to capture a specific moment in time, both physically and emotionally as it unfolded. Turner’s sublime was based on nature’s powerful and violent conditions. He presented them in the form of blinding atmospheric affects, transforming danger into beauty. Over half a century of sublime romanticism is evinced in seascape works by Caspar David Friedrich and to Gustave Courbet.
Friedrich's Monk by the Sea, 1808-10 and Courbet's The Calm Sea, 1869
Carey’s sublime is a bit different, smooth, more esoteric, akin to a color field painting. Unlike Turner’s focus on nature’s destructive tendencies or the literal tactility of sky and sea by Friedrich and Courbet, Carey with airbrush strokes envelopes us in an infinite expanse of sky and land (possibly the calm before the storm). Vast amounts of lonely quiet space make some people feel insecure, vulnerable, and threatened. In a painting this solitude is palpable, controlled, nonthreatening, and eventually gleaned as beautiful. He describes his paintings as ‘spaces of potential’ drawing our attention to what we would otherwise deem boring and plain thus challenging our perception of desolation.    

He says his work is “critically aware of important issues concerning land use”. I’m not sure he successfully conveys this because what may be mismanaged land use, under utilization, or ugly is made beautiful and complimentary of the surrounding environment. What I do see is the immensity of the sky in relation to a sliver of landscape spotted with tiny buildings, a sublime revelation of how little of the Earth’s surface we occupy. It may be a disaster scenario that says we are on thin ice dependent on a fragile oxygen filled membrane for survival. Under the weight of that infinite sky it could collapse at any moment. 
Philip Govedare's Black Lake, 2011 and Excavation, 2010

Fern Shaffer and Othello Anderson, painting and performance wearing a raffia costume.
Based on what Carey is saying about his work I immediately thought of Philip Govedare’s paintings that depict aerial views of poisoned and decimated natural environments. Though Govedare’s paintings are aesthetically pleasing they quickly read as man-made disasters. Contemporary environmental concerns in art date back to the 70’s and the Eco Feminist movement. More recently Fern Shaffer performs solstice rituals that bring awareness to the denigrated plight of wetlands while her partner Othello Anderson photographs the performances. Their work is manifest in a variety of mediums that include sculpture, installation, and painting. 
Beau Carey's Lakeview and Petro
In Colorado there is a proliferation of contemporary landscape painters. To stand apart is a difficult task. Carey’s paintings have a sophisticated edge that remains consistent throughout his work. Unlike some of his peers who just paint great looking traditionally composed landscapes his work has an intellectual depth informed by social awareness. Carey says, “it is my job to engage fully with my community, allow that engagement to inform my work, and thus allow my work to spur positive action within that community.”  To inform and educate is potent introspection to being an artist. Coupled with a strong sense of formal aesthetics Carey’s paintings will only get better. Beau Carey is an artist in residence at Redline Gallery, Denver.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Porcelain Pleasure

Tsehai Johnson's Exploding Carpet, Wall Shift #1 (Green), and Pattern Control

An artist and their work are two separate entities. The artwork should communicate on its own some of what the artist feels or intends to say.  Sometimes what is more important is what is not communicated, and what the artist says may be more interesting than what they are making and vice verse.  Some of the critical discourse that surrounds Tsehai Johnson’s porcelain objects and installations categorize the work as having a feminist agenda. There is a history of female artists being pushed in the direction of social and politically based feminist art that have a different idea of what their art means to them. Part of this push begins with educators, and the institutions ability to label, categorize and elevate its own political and social agenda. It continues through the artist’s career with positive feedback by historians, critics, curators, and galleries that think that art without a social or political agenda is not good art.

Jeff Koons' Michael Jackson & Bubbles, and Puppy. Disney's Mad Tea Party ride 1960.

For me looking at Tsehai Johnson’s ceramics does not bring any of the baggage to mind that seems to enamor, engulf, and drive the international art world. Her objects are slick succulent and lustfully dripping pieces of eye candy. Each work is the desired transformation of an ordinary domestic everyday pattern or object into a more nonfunctional piece of pop art consumable. For this reason parallels can be drawn to Jeff Koons sculptures but with the dark abstract undertone that haunts Alice in Wonderlands tea party. 

Eva Hesse's Repetition Nineteen III, 1968
Repetitive and process installations that require multiple pieces date back to the advent of 1960’s minimal and conceptual art as evinced in the work of Eva Hesse. Minimal and conceptual art focused on the object, space and tactile quality of the object in and of itself questioning the very foundations of art. It lacked the narrative depth and context to daily life that Johnson’s work imbues. More recently artists that share similar mediums and/or content with Johnson are Betty Woodman, Shalya Marsh, and Dalia Berman.

Betty Woodman, Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit, and Balustrade Relief Vase #70-1
Shalya Marsh and Dalia Berman exhibit.

In the gallery and hopefully in someone’s home these fantastical objects have crossed over from Neverland to become part of our everyday world. Johnson’s work is grounded in representation because it looks like something that we are familiar with but not the same. They are beautiful liquidic objects frozen in time and space for our enjoyment. This may be the only intention that her work has to achieve. To look any deeper could be a detractor and disservice to the simple fact that her ceramics and their display are innovative, beautiful and perceptually challenging. 

Tsehai Johnson's Field #10, Cup 4, and Spill 4.  

Tsehai Johnson shows at Plus Gallery, Denver.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Reality and Relevance of Frank Martinez

Frank Martinez 5-10 and 5-14
Most often the first place that we see artwork that attracts our attention is on a postcard or published in a magazine. From a reproduced image we can discern only so much information about the artwork but it is this initial and intuited attraction that is very significant. We trust that the image does not lie (appear to be something that it is not) when we see the work in person and this is the responsibility and integrity of the gallery and the artist.

I first saw a Frank Martinez painting on a postcard and my gut reaction was confirmed once I saw the work at Plus+Gallery, Denver.  What attracted me to the image on the card was the geometric clarity, sophisticated transparent application of paint, and uniquely grayed down tones of color. In person these works are far more textural and complex than can be conveyed in a photograph. There is an expressive formula to his work but not overt in the traditional sense of expressionism whereby the artist gives in to the medium by splashing, throwing, running, and smearing colorful liquids. The age of this traditional form of abstract expressionism in art has become more synonymous with decorative art or sofa art. Today’s abstraction is less metaphysical and more intellectually associated and indicative of a technologically planned and manipulated global culture, containing hints and glimpses of textures relevant to the environments that we experience everyday.
Frank Martinez Untitled 5-7 and 5-6
Though Martinez's paintings have varied in style and methods over the years his work is a great example of contemporary painting that leaves more of the expression in the conceptual and planned phase of making rather than a play by play reaction to every brushstroke on the canvas. The forms, be it organic or hard edged geometric, have a distinct feel for how and what we experience in our daily lives without the trap of literally representing those experiences. His latest work is grounded close to physical reality through color and form. The fact that he uses numbers for titles (a functional method to catalog as well) adds to the realism. The work becomes a functional document with the intent to beautify, allowing the viewer to investigate without linguistic interference or a staged preconception by the artist. 
Richard Diebenkorn Untitled ocean Park 1974 and Ocean Park No27, 1970 and Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson The Soul of the Souless City
Something is not born from nothing and every artist has influences and as viewers we make our own references. After some time looking at Martinez’s paintings I started making correlations to the manipulation of space in Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series of paintings. Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson’s, late 30’s and early 40’s, city and landscape paintings have similar angles and coloration. Most striking is Charles Sheeler’s depiction of modern industrial sights and cityscapes that use dramatic angles, flat geometric shapes, and heavy gradated colors.
Charles Sheeler New England Irrelevancies, 1953, Ore Into Iron, 1953 and Church Street El, 1920
Martinez’s latest paintings titled 5-1, 5-6, 5-7 etc. are exceptional in color and the method of painting. Knowing how to aesthetically fragment and divide space on a canvas is an art form in itself. Knowing how to lead a persons view into a 2 dimensional space and how to let them leave that space is art 101and an extremely important lesson that cannot be underrated. Once mastered the artist can use it or not and an experienced viewer can detect this intention. Martinez masters this affect and it may be more prevalent because the paintings are so articulately designed like mid-century modern graphics. Even the coloring has a nostalgic presence that is so popular today. 

Frank Martinez latest show “Out / Line” runs from December 8th, 2011 through January 21st, 2012 at Plus+Gallery, Denver.