All photos courtesy of POVarts staff.
The ambitious but uneven group show INTO THE WOODS starts with a quote from the Brothers Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel:
“Early tomorrow morning we will take the children out into the forest to where it is the thickest. There we will light a fire for them, and give each of them one more piece of bread, and then we will go to our work and leave them alone. They will not find the way home again, and we shall be rid of them.”
This quote could be read at least two ways: one that casts the artists as the children, of whom the gallerists would gladly be rid so they can get on with their work and be left alone, and another in which the patrons are the children, coerced by the gallerists into a magical forest crafted by elfin artists, unable to find their way back home. In all art, there’s this tension between the gallerists, the artists and the patrons as they struggle to find a safe place together without one wanting to be rid of the others.
INTO THE WOODS features works by nine contemporary artists: Marco Del Re, Luc Doerflinger, Joanne Easton, Cécile Granier de Cassagnac, Velia de Iuliis, Laine Justice, Brett McCormack, Kal Spelletich and Justin Teisl – some of whom should have been excluded, which underlined the uneven nature of the show. The best works, straight from the pages of the Brothers Grimm, draw inspiration from the same fairytales and folk legends that inspired the Sondheim musical by the same title, in which there is great tension around who is good and who is doing the right thing. That same tension fills the gallery, where, as the press release states: “The international artists in this group exhibition explore dreamlike and expressive themes creating haunting landscapes, strange environments, mysterious people and creatures that are at once magical, ominous and compelling.”
Actually, that great quote is really only about the show’s best work, created by Marco Del Re and Cecile Granier de Cassagnac. The other artists do this to a much lesser degree, ending up in witch’s sausage grinder instead of being haunting, mysterious, or magical in any way. In a different group show with a different concept, I know that these artists would all be highlights in their own right, but not here. This is most obvious for Joanne Easton’s and Brett McCormack’s great work, shoved into their respective back corners. Their work would fit nicely in a show about earth art or paper crafts, but here they are overshadowed in both concept and location by the two foreign illustrative magicians.
New York based artist Brett McCormack’s intricate black and white paper sculptures of, supposedly, the predatory systems of the forest are clearly out of place. Velia de Iuliis’ hyperrealistic paintings depict insects and snakes. While stumbling technically, especially when there is so much amazing scientific illustration crossing over into the arts, her pieces are nonetheless very intriguing.
It really is the French artist Cécile Granier de Cassagnac’s – whose work decorates a vast expanse of gallery wall as well as the cover of the show card – Forêt, in watercolor on 90 by 118-inch paper, that is the star of the show. According to the press release, de Cassagnac’s “haunting representations of animalistic forms in gouache and watercolor revisit childhood nightmares, suggesting a forest filled with characters from Brothers Grimm tales.” I couldn’t agree more, which means that I agree as much as I can possibly agree.
Many artists try to recreate these creatures from childhood nightmares – so many that a whole art genre could be created just to accommodate them – but de Cassagnac’s watercolors are remarkable in that they don’t lose their artistic compulsions. They are still great works of art, works that come from deep within the proverbial forest, revealing something about what great artists do when they try to explain something about themselves and how they see the world, how they see themselves. They are truly magical pieces.
The other standout is Marco Del Re, whose wonderful primitive mixed-media paintings recall much of the greatest work of the early 20th century – especially Matisse, and perhaps Klee. Del Re masterfully mixes both his techniques and his mythology, mashing together Greek and Biblical tales into his linocuts, each of which is later individually painted by hand. The resulting pieces are museum postcard-ready – both iconic and mysterious, nymphic and satyric. There is something nostalgic, in our modern digital age, about those types of images that require the viewer to look at them on a wall, in person. It’s refreshing to see Del Re create such images with an unabashed love for that very primitive interaction just between a viewer and some marks on the wall.
Laine Justice’s far-flung paper works were both obsessively compelling and disappointing at the same time, resulting in a big hot mess, which many young artists seem to aspire towards. His “magical composite creatures,” half cute illustration and half messy impressionism, are painted on paper scrolls to create a chaotic, feverish dream that ignores any and all of the woods. Justice’s work could be the focal point of a different group show, but here it’s a poorly considered inclusion.
Joanne Easton is in the wrong show too. Technically, her work does deal with forests – or twigs and branches, more accurately. She heads out on winter days, wraps dark branches in brightly colored tape, and photographs them. It’s Land Art 101, a decent introductory class project at a small liberal arts college upstate, a worthy participant in a local land art show, but it certainly doesn’t succeed at “exploring the boundaries between the quotidian and the mystical in reference to the longevity (or lack thereof) of art itself,” as the show’s announcement, clearly reaching to find a way to justify her inclusion, describes. Still, wrapping and photography is interesting. Just not here.
Justin Teisl’s epoxy and acrylic paintings felt borderline kitsch, something that could be mass produced as art, each a variation on the next but all ultimately made in China by a guy who just shuffles illustrations into his glue machine, and while the technique is interesting, the art isn’t. Also scattered throughout the space are the one-trick-pony tree machines of Kal Spelletich. His whirring structures are fun to look at and fun to think about in the moment, but then they vanish from one’s thoughts the minute they are out of sight.
Lastly, there’s Luc Doerflinger’s work. It’s clearly great work, and it fits perfectly into the theme of the show, and the whole front wall of the gallery is his, but I honestly didn’t like it. I didn’t like the framing, I didn’t like the mass-hanging, I didn’t like the light bouncing on the glass covering the images, and I didn’t like the paper work’s uneven quality. I didn’t even like the low humming dread of his pieces, especially with all the bad choices of paper, framing choice, and glass that were made. I’m not even sure that watercolor is Doerflinger’s best medium to begin with. I think some excellent dry brush technique on canvas would have been much more successful. I also think he should refrain from cutting his images while framing, and then piling them all together on the wall to make them seem more important. Mr. Doerflinger just needs to do the one image right, from start to finish, each choice without compromise, his amazingly low-energy brush strokes leading the way.
All in all, INTO THE WOODS is a great show. It really is. But it’s not perfect. It has some well-deserved highs, and some misplaced lows, but it brims with ambition, and Jules Maeght Gallery has reached far and wide to find the most interesting artists it could, and since I’m probably wrong about what exactly the highs are and what exactly the lows are (though I think people will unanimously agree that it’s uneven), I think it’s a must-see show for people to go and argue about, and in the end that’s one of the great things about great shows: they have the energy to rile people up, as this show certainly does.
Jules Maeght Gallery, 149 Gough Street @ Oak, San Francisco, julesmaeghtgallery.com
October 15, 2015 – January 30, 2016
Written by POVarts West Coast Editor Chuck Frank
What living and dating in Hollywood has done to Eric White’s Art.
I think that there’s something about living in Los Angeles, as I once have, that breaks people. It hollows them out, and fills them with images that are not their own. I used to believe that everyone in LA was crazy, because everyone else was famous, and it was impossible to be sane when you walked out of your front door only to see your neighbors face giant and 30 feet up in the sky, overlooking your matchbox houses, where everyone was slowly dying instead, the palm trees, all planted for the 1932 Olympics, swaying overhead.
In his latest show, “New Works” Serge Sorokko Gallery, you can see Eric struggle with the crazy of his adopted hometown of LA – with painting made from before and after moving to Lalaland. Originally from Ann Arbor, a utopian sort of small college town, aside from the artist declared bad weather, through RISD, a series of romantic misadventures in San Francisco, because if not for anything, what else is San Francisco good for, current tech bubble aside, and finally down, as in south, to his current home in LA, where after selling one of his early pieces to LA royalty, he’s now become a court artist of sorts, lover as well.
Now what, you might ask, does this have to do with the art on the wall? Well I’m trying to posit two things to explain why his art, so bad as it is, is so good, so please bear with me. First, that LA is Crazy, and two, that Eric White has become a court artist who both documents and questions the royalty that has overwhelmed all of his senses, not unlike the great Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar.
And I believe that his ‘New Works’ show stands as a testament to all that.
“New Works’ is nothing if not Hollywood nostalgia, though he admits that it is covered in his own paranoia about what it means, and what it is trying to say, and so his work, all meticulously, and beautiful painted, gently touches upon the dreams that movie land promises, only to know that just underneath those promises is something much more sinister, something much more dangerous – a belief that the world is something that it is not. A belief in truth and justice, and what might be called the American Way, none of which is actually real.
And so Mr. White paints half naked women, lounging in their excruciating sexuality, their faces blue with some poisoning, as the giant head of Marlon Brando, or the like, hovers behind them.
Or Mr. White shows us the beautiful American housewife, as captured by the director of photography, his lens cropped and focused on her nipples pushing through her white blouse.
There’s something desperate in the eyes of the woman behind the wheel of her giant car, the words ‘No Other Dream’ floating by in another picture, but on the same road as hers. Because, as someone who has lived in Los Angeles, whether there as an actor, or a writer, or a chef, or even as a celebrity character dancing for tips on Hollywood Blvd, there is no other dream, for years and years.
Even Donald Sutherland knows that the city is full of Body Snatchers, their invasion successful, though surprising to him, not communist in any way, but driven entirely by their lust of money and sex as an offering to their power. ‘Hey kid, it’s not a big deal, this is how the city works, sex is just like a handshake here, now bend over and let me introduce myself.’
Nowhere in Mr. White’s ‘New Works’ are things as they appear.
As he write:
“Because I promised”
“After what you did last night the sooner …”
In the final assessment, Hollywood idolatry is no different from the multi-faced, multi-eyed Ganesh, long-trunked, long-dicked, with a perfectly toned yoga body, baby Chairman in one hand, and plastic blue elephant toy in another. Whether it’s the latest tie-in toys, or the pro-USA propaganda of the recently released ‘The Martian’, Hollywood both master and slave to both.
In that way, Eric White’s work is brilliant, gorgeous, and technically stunning, as it both revels and reveals in the City of Lights that currently has its sweet pale fingers wrapped around his arm, from one red carpet to another, as one of the lucky, one of the favored, as he says himself, there is ‘No Other Dream’.
And having rejected this idea myself, through struggling daily to keep it at bay, in a world saturated with winners taking all, I hate what his work has to say, and I hate that he’s spending his time looking into this. In a perfect world, Eric White would be painting his amazing paintings about something else, and not about Los Angeles, not about movies, and not about their special kind of craziness. Though I can’t say that I know what that other thing would be. But I do know that Mr. White has to resist the siren call of temptation, and try to find it, the world deserves a better White.
Eric White “New Works” on view September 18 – October 18, 2015 at the Serge Sorokko Gallery.
Serge Sorokko Gallery 55 Geary St., San Fransisco. 415.421.7770
Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank
Taking cues from the 9-5 (or is it 8-6 or longer?) sleep/shower/shave/work/weekend/repeat life, Mark Benson’s solo show, “How was your weekend?” at San Francisco’s Ever Gold Gallery starts with the most common of conversations held in jobs the world over, each and every Monday morning, shining a light on the mundane and repetitive in contemporary work culture.
“So? How was your weekend?”
Benson takes almost-found objects and obsessively recreates them through sculptures and paintings, elevating the sacred weekend activities, placing them on the pedestal of art within the holy walls of the gallery – a show of respect and honor for those times of magic and wonder that people share each and every Monday morning together.
“My weekend? My weekend was awesome. How was your weekend?”
Stuck in time and removed of the backyard, or the beaches, according to the gallery release, “a pall hangs over these moments alluding to them as dead and gone forever, or for at least another business week.”
Much like a poor man’s Damien Hirst, Mark Benson’s work uses transformed, reinterpreted everyday objects to bring to life a variety of contemporary social issues and emotions, from anxiety around productivity to the fear of failure.
“My weekend? We went to the beach. It was awesome”
The question is, does Mr. Benson succeed? In a poor man’s way, yes. Not only does a pall hang over the work, its weekend participants dead and gone, but a mundane repetitiveness hums through the space, from the flapping sweatpant jeans to the perpetually circling beach ball. The show becomes a museum to weekends past, from an ancient time when weekends were a thing. See the beach ball – it goes round and round. Watch the fat pants – they go flap, flap, flap. Everything almost celebrates its own boringness. Even Mr. Benson, who was present, seemed bored by the work, of the gallery, of the visitors, and most of all of that damned question, asked every damn Monday:
“How was your weekend?”
How was his weekend? His weekend was terrible – he fought with his girl, her cat scratched his face, no one bought his art, his friend forgot to include him when they decided to go to the Beauty Bar, on and on and on. How was his weekend? His weekend was shit.
But is any of that in the art? Is Mark Benson in the art? Is there heart in the art? No. It’s all too cynical. There is too much about other people and their stuff, and their stories – those dead vanished people and their awesome weekends.
Those magical moments lost.
Does that mean it’s bad art? No.
Art too can be lonely, mundane, boring, cynical and repetitive. Even good art can be. I guess we are just going to have to keep an eye on this Mark Benson to see how good his gets.
P.S. Give the guy some money to go a little bit bigger. Benson’s work might even find some swagger as a result.
Mark Benson received his MFA from California College of the Arts in 2011. He currently lives in Oakland, CA.
Ever Gold Gallery, 441 O’Farrell St., San Francisco. 415-796-3676. evergoldgallery.com
Written by POVarts West Coast Editor: Chuck Frank
Jacqueline Humphries’ new large-scale paintings, recently on view at Greene Naftali’s new ground floor space, are an exploration of what we might call screen noise abstracted into paintings that I don’t want to stop looking at.
The press release explains the artist’s desire to recreate the “spatial and temporal logic of a world increasingly dominated by screens” and the paintings certainly communicate that. Their din, though, is not an unbearable over-saturation or constant movement that has the effect of numbing the eyes and mind. When I entered the gallery, I did not feel overwhelmed or put upon, the way I do when I sit down in a taxi and a screen starts making noise and movements in my direction. The paintings here provide a relatively quiet and pleasant greeting with a mix of graphic black and whites, blues, purples, greens, and pinks. A glow pervades the works and her signature silver underpainting reads otherworldly like the din of light of a computer screen in a darkened room.
:::, 2014, Oil on linen, 100×111 inches
As I looked more closely at the individual works, I got a strong sense of humming in the background or foreground of each work. In fact, there is no clear distinction between foreground and background in the works; rather they are generously and densely layered with swaths of paint and repeated patterns of ready-made marks, without a sequential need for which came first or which should be given visual primacy. The layers are distilled enough to identify the different images, colors and patterns, but none are really preferenced in the paintings. Some, like Ω, are more like static or white noise – layers melting into layers without any elements popping out, while 🙂 comes close to noise that cannot be distinguished – a highly abstract sea of marks.
Ω, 2015, Oil on linen, 100×111 inches
: ), 2015, Oil on linen, 114×127 inches
Others, like Xx, are more discreetly layered and swaths of paint can be delineated from printed patterns of emoticons. Overall, there is a non-preciousness to the images. Humphries does not cling to any particular emoticon as prized or special. Each is just a mark contributing to the overall visual song. They are all readily available and seemingly everywhere.
The result for me was a beautiful dreamlike state of uncertainty and suspension from grounding either in real space or alternative, digital space. Disjointing my sense of location though not aesthetics (I very much enjoyed looking at these), Humphries gives us a line to walk between the binary digital/analog divide. She communicates the dislocation between real, flat and digital spaces, and our near constant surround by one or all simultaneously, and rewards the viewers aesthetically in a way I have yet to see digital work do.
While these paintings represent a departure from her provisional painting style, the departure does not strike me as conceptually radical. In earlier works, the unfinished nature of the painting was conveyed primarily through brushwork. These paintings too can be read as unfinished or, at least, to be continued. While the painting, printing, and stenciling are on the whole decisive and confident, the message may well be that these are not complete in the same way that what passes in front of us on a screen is never really complete. The paintings become captured moments in the midst of non-stop action that is life.
Xx, 2014, Oil on linen, 100×111 inches
508 W 26th St, New York, NY 10001
Written by Katherine Keltner, Contributing Writer to POVarts
The August summer show at Cooper Cole Gallery, stripes down to the core of humanness: the body. In it, seven artists grapple with the notion of what makes us up, in term of our figure, form, material, and content. It’s an interesting concept, and fits in with this gallery’s cutting edge approach to showing contemporary art. “As a Body” is curated by Kari Cwynar and features work by Mira Dancy, Olivia Dunbar, Allison Katz, Lauren Luloff, Jenine Marsh, Jody Rogac and Camilla Wills.
The overall installation of the show ranges from text-based work in a collaged scroll, to conceptual mixed media photography and video art, to conventional portrait painting and photography with a twist. There is also a sculptural installation that sweeps across the entirety of the gallery space by visually punctuation the walls with swipes, and twists of air-dried clay that has then been glazed to produce an effect that is intriguing while also, a little disconcerting. A friend who came along to see the show thought it looked a little like poo streaks around the walls, I didn’t disagree. The two standout pieces that dominated the show were Mira Dancy’s “Psychic Pillow Charm” and Lauren Luloff’s “Purple Alex”. I would have almost been satisfied just seeing those to works set at angles against opposite corners as they were shown, in a dialogue between nude female forms and naked male both painted in gestural stains on fabric or canvas. The feminine triangle of Dancy’s “Psychic Pillow Charm” references a small amulet/pendant, but holds its own through scale and thickness with a surprising and refreshing authority. Her brushwork is ballsy and present. In the opposite corner of the room, Luloff’s larger-than-life nude male figure is soften, made more feminine and rendered translucent by the strong life coming through the front window of the gallery. The work’s patchwork of stitched fabric supports the loosely rendered modern guy, with his scruffy facial hair, and scrawny limbs he feels like he could be any dude, unveiled in this Matissian way. Besides being stunning works, these two pieces also remind us that the viewer is no longer defined exclusively through the male gaze. Thank God.
“As a Body” through September 6th at Cooper Cole Gallery, 1161 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Canada.
written by POVarts East Coast Editor: Kit Franco