At Grizzly Grizzly through July 27, 2013
By Kerry Bickford
Love’s Industrial Park collects the work of five artists—Sarah Gamble, Clare Grill, Laura Frantz, Linnea Paskow and Elisa Soliven—whose work is emphatically tactile, reveling in the blending of paint or the dripping of wax. Beyond these surface similarities, the works vary in their use of tactility to diverse effect: when each artist shows her hand, makes her process and materials visibly evident and accessible, what does it bring to the piece?
Linnea Paskow embraces the contradictions that painterly works can raise. Her three pieces are compact and loaded with paint, the colors dripping, blending and rising into peaks. But behind (or within) all that paint are hazy but instantly recognizable motifs: a man with a hat, a UFO, a single, slippery brushstroke. It could not be clearer that we are looking at paint and canvas, but that isn’t all we see. Her titles accentuate the disconnect and encourage it: in Faith (spaceship like form at night-reds and greens) the paint is disorderly and present—it blurs together in a haze of opalescence, red rings drip into a field of black and blue—but we still think spaceship, all evidence be damned. Our mind goes beyond what our eyes see, much as when we practice faith.
Paskow observes that all of the works in the exhibition share a tendency towards “dream work of the unconscious.” Much like the push and pull she creates through figuration, tactile art not only uses its materiality to depict something else, but evokes a dreamscape and pushes us back into our own minds. This might be most evident in Clare Grill’s painting The Wiser, where rune-like purple shapes exist in a hazy stream of blended white and pink, above an oval of blue-black that sits at the painting’s bottom like a pit. The waxy, sticky texture of the symbols differentiates them from their surroundings, but hazily; the paint blurs at nearly every edge, and deciphering the piece recalls the struggle to remember a word. According to the exhibit’s accompanying text, Grill’s work is preoccupied with memory, and her use of paint captures the foggy, sometimes incomprehensible way thoughts can form.
The embrace of material transformation is a focal point in several pieces, as seen in Elisa Soliven’s sculpture Portrait of Georgia. Soliven works with found objects, and they are all visible and recognizable—shattered eggshells, hardened wax, and chicken wire combine to form a towering, bulbous form. Yet even when identifiable, the materials are endowed with new identities and qualities as part of a larger piece; the once-fragile, shattered eggshell takes on the qualities of hardened scales, and, when glimpsed from under layers of wax, a patch of twined chicken wire becomes graceful and delicate. The parts are both instantly knowable and fundamentally changed. Similarly, in her painting Blackwatch Laura Franz layers and mixes endless colors—blacks, browns, green, oranges—into a dark, subtle abstraction. Each evident, visible stroke feeds a dense, black center of the painting, a rich sum of its parts that, at first glance, seems deceptively simple. Each color feeds a larger whole in a subtle, transformative fashion.
Still, Sarah Gamble’s Untitled subtly undermines the idea of artistic materials as joyous elements of creation. Here, texture is utilized to link paint with feelings of fear and disorientation. Two pairs of anxious blue eyes hover over a gray field, as strokes of sticky, yellow-green paint converge around them, obscuring half of one terrified pupil. The clear, tangible brushstrokes become a source of anxiety and dread.
The qualities these works share are not always evident on the surface, and some pieces complement each other more than others: the transition from Soliven’s pastel colors to Frantz’s subtle layers of black, navy, and gray, or from Gamble’s crimson painting Untitled to Grill’s sparse piece Husks, can seem discordant. Together, however, the works feed a rich dialogue about what tactile painting and sculpture can accomplish, and how. Paradoxically, material artwork can be a means of compelling an audience to look and think beyond the surface. Questions of technique are so quickly answered that we are encouraged to approach a work on different terms: to instead consider its emotional or psychological tenor, or question how the work recontextualizes its materials, or grapple with what is says about art and creation. The strength of Love’s Industrial Park is that all of the works in the exhibition take advantage of how tactility can be employed to convey sophisticated psychological states. What each artist does manually enhances what she performs mentally, playing with the lines between what we see and what we perceive.