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.