Intricate Nature-Jonnel Couvault Review by Kathleen Brennan-Hunter

March 17, 2009

 

March 16, 2009

Jonnel Covault’s exhibition Intricate Nature at the beppu wiarda gallery is technically solid, but lacks heart. She achieves a precision with her method of repetition that is interesting to peruse, but does not successfully convey the dimensional depth inherent in the experience of being in and viewing nature.

 Each linocut in the show is black and white. Covault uses fine geometrics to reproduce the rhythms of land and air. She effectively uses the medium by carving shapes slight and sinuous as air and clouds. There is no negative space in these prints. The textures that inhabit the spaces she creates-the air, water-are alive with movement, dynamic as the places they depict. Fine detail work fills these linocuts with an unending weaving of small shapes. Swirls, triangles, circles and trapezoids define bark, sand, sky, and water. The various shapes she employs are small scale, deliberately arranged and finely constructed. Ordinary in and of themselves, in multitude and aligned they effectively convey the dynamism of the natural landscapes Covault presents. The repetition she uses illuminates inherent yet unseen patterns of the world through her eyes.

“Salmon River’s End” depicts the estuary and mixing zone where river meets sea. It is a quiet day at the beach and the ellipses Covault uses to present and define the water convey the stillness of the moment. A rocky outcrop just offshore rests in the water. No crashing waves or ocean spray disrupt the serenity. An almost life-size sandpiper perches in the lower right corner next to a patch of thistles and foxglove. In amongst the flowers is an unexpected detail: two paintbrushes (identified as numbers 2 and 5) grow as though a native element in the scene. This reference to the work of artmaking pulls the viewer out of the place. They are large relative to the ocean, trees and rocks and located in the foreground. This is an unwelcome distraction.

 The rhythm she establishes with the smallest shapes is an impressive and effective use of the linocut. “Watermarks” is a representation of large driftwood suspended in the tidal zone by the receding tide. A tangle of seaweed lies caught on a foot of the log as deposited by the ebbing water. In the foreground circles and arcs are etched into the sand by creatures that have since vanished into the sea or sand. A viewer can perceive the ridges the receding ocean left behind. The driftwood is alive with movement. Triangles, lines, ovals are composed into a symphonic rendering of the beached flotsam.

 “Ancient Redwood” presents a birds eye view of the skyward reach of the sequoia. The dead wood that often tops the oldest trees rises weathered and devoid of foliage, but this is no barren field. Sky, air, clouds, are defined in layer after layer in across the print. The atmosphere she creates with curving thin lines convey movement, ever present but beyond our visual range. While this is an intellectually and visually effective technique it fails to communicate the mystery embedded in the mist and clouds that surround the needles.

Overly cute symbols embedded images detract from of these places. The hearts and peace sign do not belong. Thoreau’s well worn “In wildness is the preservation of the world” is etched prominently across “Stout Grove.” Covault could have gotten there through her take on these places-her method and vision are compelling-but the use of these icons undermines the strength of the work.

If Intricate Nature is about illuminating the unseen dynamism of the world that surrounds us, Covault successfully presents that as an intellectual idea. However, intricacy without intimacy ultimately fails to satisfy. Multitudinous shapes and sheer volume do not equate to dimensionality and depth. Her depiction of the rhythms of the natural world are  interesting to peruse but fail to transcend the two dimensions of the print or elicit the sublimity these places should conjure.


Michael Lazarus at Elizabeth Leach: Reviewed by Laura Hughes

March 16, 2009

In the1960s, the geometric abstractions of Frank Stella split modernist formalism into two distinct camps: the notion of specific objects coined by Donald Judd, and the insistence on media-specificity by Clement Greenburg and Michael Fried. As Stella’s irregularly shaped canvases directed sudden importance to a painting’s edge, Judd identified a new emphasis on the art object as unified form while Fried recognized a heightened tension between internal pictorial logic and the outer perimeter of a painting. A remarkable combination of these contrasting viewpoints has found its way into the current hypnotic paintings of Michael Lazarus in Tend to Forget on display at Elizabeth Leach gallery.

Lazarus’ seven, sharply graphic, mainly symmetrical abstract paintings/collages radiate brilliant opticality spliced into an algebraic assembly of visual space. In several works, a considerable amount of surface is cut away from the wood panel integrating the white gallery wall within a framework of brazenly decorative color theory athleticism. Lazarus deviates from the flat rectangle support to unequivocally amalgamate imagery with literal shape. This streamlined stylization builds on previous uses of the shaped canvas by artists like Stella as dynamic fluidity of content and form.

The psychedelically vivid geometric configurations contain pulsating, rhythmical combinations of tribal patterns, collaged photos of natural marvels and urban banality, skull emblems, and the bipolar expressions of theatrical masks. Many of these works incorporate mirrors into the cut-away areas, integrating the viewer’s own image into the pictorial space.

Menacing skulls, masks and snakes situated in these severely divided compositions suggest a psychotic fragmentation of self; unstable and threatening within a bizarrely vivid funhouse of color patterning. The skulls exude a creepy deadpan ambivalence as though they were staring out from a bottle of poison. The masks chuckle to intimidate, refusing to let you in on the joke. Sinuous snakes wrap around one another deviously knowing they possess strength in numbers. This enigmatic imagery suggests an underlying narrative, yet remains aloofly coded inside the arresting visual dynamics.

In “Nobodies Business” (2008), a skull formed from sliced up photos of penguins, icebergs, and burning trees becomes the center of a pinwheel-like pattern of warm and cool hues. The commanding whirl of color creates a disorienting, vertiginous effect as the eye funnels into the middle of the skull’s face where the pattern layers into a black and white contrast of hysterically rolling eyes.

“Keep Dropping Through” (2008) is a combination of two panels joined together to fit into the corner. This unexpected construction runs the risk of becoming a gimmicky trick, yet manages to intervene with the architecture successfully. This is in part due to an incisive skewing of spatial perspective with tapered wedges of white paint applied at the top and bottom of the panel to create a white-on-white effect with the wall. The shadows cast just below the panel continue the subtle demarcation between physical and illusionary space: a triumphant control over context as the painting structures its intersection with the surrounding environment.

“Push Pull” (2009) is a witty integration of collaged elements and paint, as photos of door handle signs reading “push” and “pull” assimilate into the seams of spatial tension between the rectangular border and the looming silhouette of a skull. Lazarus’ use of this reference is exceedingly clever. It suggests at once the psychological dualities between attraction and repulsion of his cheerful coloration and dark imagery, and the perceptual play of the figure/ground relationship inherent in formal considerations. Yet this particular piece lacks the gripping mental commotion and intensely shaped visual space found in many of the other works.

The weakest piece in this exhibition is “Moon” (2008-09), in which Lazarus’ usually winning combination of vertically-oriented linear and circular radiations fails to create a compelling visual punch. An interesting, slightly asymmetrical duality between the two laughing masks and a centrally placed mirror can’t save the humdrum overall design.

With a leisurely courting of the third dimension extending outward from the pictorial space, these works deftly navigate formal conventions of shape and form into oddball visual and metaphorical motifs. Lazarus manages to seamlessly combine painting and collage into a punchy vocabulary of eclectic imagery. Both lively and cool, these works dazzle the eye as they lure you into the dark.


Intricate Nature–Jonnel Couvault review by Kathleen Brennan-Hunter

March 16, 2009

Jonnel Covault’s show “Intricate Nature” at the beppu wiarda gallery is a pleasant experience. Technically accomplished and wrought with excruciating exaction her depiction of the rhythms of the natural world are visually satisfying and interesting to peruse.

Each linocut in the show is black and white. She uses fine geometrics to reproduce the rhythms of land and air. Couvault effectively uses the medium by carving shapes slight and sinuous as air and clouds. The various shapes she employs are small scale, deliberately arranged and finely constructed. Ordinary in and of themselves, in multitude and aligned they effectively convey the dynamism of the natural landscapes Covault presents. The repetition she uses throughout this series of prints is an effective technique for conveying inherent yet unseen patterns of the world as she sees it.

“Salmon River’s End” features the estuary and mixing zone where river meets sea. An almost life size sandpiper sits in the foreground next to a patch of thistles and foxglove which dominate across the horizon.

It is a quiet day at the beach and the ellipses she uses to present and define the water convey the stillness of the moment. A rocky outcrop just offshore rests in the water. No crashing waves or ocean spray disrupt the serenity. Two paintbrushes (numbers 2 and 5) seem to grow in amongst the flowers.

She does not leave any negative space in these prints. The textures that inhabit the spaces she creates-the air, water are alive with movement, dynamic as the places they depict. Fine detail work is required to fill these linocuts with an unending weaving of small shapes. Swirls, triangles, circles and trapezoids define bark, sand, sky, and water.

The rhythm she establishes with the smallest shapes is an impressive and effective use of the linocut. “Watermarks” is a representation of large driftwood suspended in the tidal zone by the receding tide. A tangle of seaweed lies caught on a foot of the log as deposited by the ebbing water. In the foreground circles and arcs are etched into the sand by creatures that have since vanished into the sea or sand. A viewer can perceive the ridges the receding ocean left behind. The driftwood is alive with movement. Triangles, lines, ovals are composed into a symphonic rendering of the beached flotsam.

“Ancient Redwood” presents a birds eye view of the skyward reach of the sequoia. The dead wood that often tops the oldest trees rises weathered and devoid of foliage, but this is no barren field. Sky, air, clouds, shift layer after layer in dynamic fullness. The atmosphere she creates with curving thin lines convey the movement ever present but  beyond our visual range.

Cute elements distract from the work. Embedded images of paintbrushes, words, a peace sign, and hearts are small but detract from the rhythms and mystery of these places. They communicate her point of view, but the prints would be stronger without them.

Neither risky nor illuminating, but nonetheless engaging this show is a fine diversion for a rainy day.


Al Roosten – Revised Critique – Rachel Greben

March 16, 2009

George Saunders’ “Al Roosten,” published in the February 9, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, is like reading the inner thoughts of Joe the Plumber. Al Roosten is the working class “hero” of this short story, one of the “twin pillars of the local business community” in his own mind, yet falling short of the mark in just about every aspect of his life. Saunders pays attention to language and thought processes to give the reader a sense of Roosten’s world. This ride on our hero’s train of thought touches upon the American thirst for greatness and the realities that can render this concept absurd.

 

We meet Al in the midst of a community anti-drug fundraiser, “LaffKidsOffCrack,” He and other costumed “local celebrities” (chamber of commerce members) parade down the runway to raise money for this charity auction. “Are we fighting drugs here today or what?” shouts the emcee. “Yes we are! Do us businesspeople approve of drugs for our kids? No way, we don’t we’re very much against that!” This earnest spectacle and its everyday-brand absurdity becomes part of a procession of humiliations or “escalating ass-fries” defining Roosten’s life. The uncomfortable and compelling thing about this man’s humiliation is its normalcy.

 

First to walk is Larry Donfrey, a successful realtor who is the object of Roosten’s affection, as well as his jealousy and contempt. Donfrey is a legitimate pillar of community: good body, beautiful wife, successful business, two handsome children and a mansion on a hill. Roosten’s reality is the dazzling antithesis: he is overweight with bad teeth, unmarried, and lives with his divorced sister and her three maladjusted sons, “hulking versions of the same odd Germanic roundhead, their bangs cut straight across.” His business, Bygone Daze, is a failing mess of a second hand shop.

 

Roosten’s experience on the catwalk begins with the dream of legitimacy within the community and ends in an unspecified embarrassment. “Don’t worry about it, Ed,” Donfrey says backstage, “No biggie. Give it a week, nobody will even remember it.” Neither Roosten nor the reader is sure what Donfrey is talking about, but Roosten embarks on a mental tirade, ignited by Donfrey calling him Ed. He retreats to the dressing room, where he kicks Donfrey’s keys and wallet underneath a nearby riser.

 

Making his escape from the gym, Roosten is surprised by a surge of guilt and sadness. He daydreams about helping Donfrey and the close friendship that would ensue, but this fantasy melts into a puddle of shame. He approaches self-truth but retreats to self-help jargon. “That was crap. That was negative. You had to let the healing begin. You had to forgive yourself. Everyone knew that. You had to love yourself. What was positive?” This perpetual conflict of thoughts and emotions leaves Roosten disoriented and paralyzed.

 

Here is an American who learns from birth that greatness is within his reach, but nothing in his world is great. His cultural heritage has been commercialized. He is urged to “Make it Better!” and “Be positive!” but when these entreaties have failed, what is left?  What is positive? The “very vibrant JiffyLube?” He is conditioned to seek answers from external sources — self-help jargon and fantasies that pattern happy-ending tv drama – but is left feeling empty and humiliated, with fantasies as violent as his others were grand. Roosten’s initial gesture towards community is completely overshadowed by his perceived social failure. 

 

Al Roosten is not an overtly sympathetic or even likeable character. He is on shaky ground in all aspects of his life, and his failures can be linked with personal weaknesses, as well as external conditions. This is why he is so normal. Saunders is unceremonious in his presentation of Roosten’s dilemma, which crosses borders of money, sex and politics, but is very American. He employs humor and language to depict a pressure than shapes us all, and outlines how these pressures can thwart us from our will to help ourselves and each other. In doing so, he gently asks us to consider an alternative.


Elliot Erwit’s Madrid, reviewed by Heath Nieddu (Draft 2)

March 15, 2009

 

All men are dogs. Elliot Erwit’s 1995 photograph “Madrid” illustrates that our animal nature can take charge even while we try to prove we’re house-broken, and how we can be so myopic while we’re sniffing around that we fail to recognize our treasure when we’ve found it.

Erwit took “Madrid” inside the famous Prado museum, and the black and white image is of two oil paintings that hang closely together there. The image doesn’t speak to the character of the city, or the museum, as much as it does to an ironic human condition.

The two oil paintings by Goya are together because the placing allows the viewer to learn about Goya’s abilities via the scientific method; holding control variables constant but changing one isolated variable to highlight the effect of its change. The paintings are large, about 5’x7′, framed in heavily ornate wood, and take up the focus of a whole wall. These nearly identical renderings show a gypsy woman reclining. Her head is to the right with her arms raised and her hands clasped behind her head of inky hair, which falls in curls around her rosy cheeks, forced round by a smile. She is lying on two overstuffed Egyptian cotton pillows. The light is softly radiating off the model and shining directly on her from above. This ivory light is focused on the model, leaving the room where she lays dark in the corners, and shoving her into the foreground. The variable that is changed is her clothing. In the painting on the right the model is nude, and on the painting on the left the model is clothed.

In “Madrid” these paintings hang in the background. They sit on a white wall, about twenty feet back, at the end of a room floored with onyx and pewter marble laid in square designs. The full majesty of the Prado’s aristocratic vibe is pulsating around the room. The paintings are behind a heavy velvet rope held by brass stands.

“Madrid” tells its own story in the mid-ground, where there is an audience viewing the two paintings and turning their backs to the camera. In front of one painting there are seven men, of various ages, from different walks of life standing in assorted ways and grouped around one of the paintings. Can you guess which of the two paintings these art patrons are so concerned with? That’s right, the nude on the right. Some are standing upright, with arms crossed and in poses to suggest they were concentrating on cracking the Enigma code. Another man is standing slack, with slumped shoulders, as if in a mystifying daydream. Some of their shoes are polished and pointing straight, another is wearing a trench coat and a pair of white sneakers, his stance wide. One’s hair is short, the other of a medium length and positioned with care, and yet another with the hair of Albert Einstein. There are no women standing with them.

But there is one woman standing in the room, by herself, far to the left. She is standing in front of the clothed Maja, savoring it all. She is finely dressed and it’s obvious she paid special attention to her hair that morning. Her feet are evenly placed at shoulder distance, and both of her arms are behind her back, hands clasped. She is standing proudly in lone appreciation of the clothed “Maja,” as if to say, “We’re in this together.”

 The men, all women-less and herded together, are so busy chasing the shadow of a woman they can’t touch, that they fail to take the time to attend to the single woman standing beside them. And for the lone woman’s sake, she pays them no mind, but is looking for her comfort elsewhere, convincing herself Goya loved this gypsy.


Michael Lazarus “Tend to Forget” at Elizabeth Leach – Laura Hughes [DRAFT]

March 10, 2009

Amidst the material restructuring of reductivist modern art in the 1960s, the geometric abstractions of Frank Stella became a crux for a confrontation between Donald Judd’s notion of specific objects and the media-specific formalism advocated by Clement Greenburg and Michael Fried. Stella’s irregularly shaped canvases brought sudden importance to the painting’s edge: Judd identified this as a new emphasis on the art object as unified form, while Fried insisted this fulfilled a heightened tension between a painting’s conventional pictorial concerns and the outer shape of its surface. A remarkable combination of these contrasting viewpoints has found its way into the current hypnotic paintings of Michael Lazarus on display at Elizabeth Leach gallery.

Lazarus’ seven, small-scale, mainly symmetrical compositions radiate brilliant opticality spliced into an algebraic assembly of space, sometimes with a considerable amount of surface cut away from the original shape of the rectangular panel. This embraces the stark, white gallery wall into a framework of brazenly decorative color theory athleticism. The outer perimeter exists as a sharp delineation between literal shape and depicted image, yet amalgamates with the clean-edged graphic imagery it contains.

The psychedelically vivid geometric configurations contain pulsating, rhythmical combinations of tribal patterns, collaged photos of natural marvels and urban banality, and the bipolar expressions of theatrical masks. Many of the works incorporate mirrors into the cut-out areas, integrating the viewer’s own image into the pictorial space.

In Nobodies Business (2008), a skull formed from sliced up photos of penguins, icebergs, and burning trees becomes the centre of a pinwheel-like counter-clockwise rotating pattern of warm and cool hues. The commanding whirl of color creates a disorienting, nearly vertigo effect as the eye funnels into the midst of the skull’s face, in which the pattern layers into a stark black and white contrast of hysterically rolling eyes.

Keep Dropping Through (2008) is the only piece configured of two panels perpendicularly attached to affix into the corner. This unexpected construction runs the risk of becoming a gimmicky trick, yet manages to intervene with the architecture successfully. This is partly due to a clever skewing of spatial perspective with tapered wedges of white paint near the top and bottom edges creating a white-on-white effect with the wall, incorporating the shadows cast by the panel, and consequently the entire room, into the painting’s domain. This is perhaps Lazarus’ greatest accomplishment in comparing physical reality and illusionary space.

The weakest piece in this exhibition is Moon (2008-09) in which Lazarus’ usually winning combination of vertically-oriented linear and circular radiations fail to create a compelling visual punch as in the other works. An interesting slightly-off symmetrical duality between the two laughing mask faces and centrally placed mirror can’t save the compliance of the color relationships with the awkward composition.

[more interpretation and conclusion still to come…]


ariel wood

March 10, 2009

 

Christine Clarke ’22 Gauge’ Nines Gallery

 

Christine Clarke has been tending a room festooned with rows of her wirey sculpture, like a garden.  Reeds of of wire come sprouting out of the walls like hair follicles.  They are arched over and adorned with smaller pieces faceted together to make an elongated chain.  Hanging from the perpendicular reeds.  These chains adhere to cylindrical pods and gourds that dangle from staggered lengths.  They somewhat resemble fishing poles with little squash shaped ornaments on the ends.  Thousands of them garnish and trim the along the four walls. They are suspended just high enough to keel down below and glance up at the canopy of rippling lines.  The lighting cast a disarray of shadowy whiskers and bulbous vessels onto the floor.

Each assorted shape reoccurring throughout the work gives a sense of repetition. Christine refers to this kind of repition seen in our daily lives such as breathing and blinking.  She speaks of her desire to create something methodically with tenor; each piece will have been handled for hours glanced over by the viewer’s eyes fleetingly. 

Her work seems a reinvention of conceptual sculpture and craft. Craft is making. Without making there is no art. Like most other forms of art, sculpture demands a certain set of skills. It demands the artist have the ability to compose, manipulate elements and respond to scale.  The most important part of sculpture is the artist’s ability to execute an aesthetic idea that is both conceptual and visual, through specialized technique.  It is this particular ability that allows the viewer little to distinguish between craftsmanship and fine art.  Christine Clarke has this ability and her work performs a rare and interesting act.  It holds the viewers gaze and allows the mind to be in a state of free play, representation of the imagination, which induces thought. Harmony between the faculties will cause you a sensation of delight and awe.

Christine Clarke work presents a paradox to the viewer, they are highly thought out, meticulous, laborious and repetitive, yet ephemeral and spontaneous in both their impact and the way, which they are made. Looking at them entails two different kind of experience; the first of theses is an intuitive immersion amongst a drapery display of delicate structure.  The second is a deliberation of line and intelligence as these pieces are the result of Clarke’s powerful use of elevation and bold form.

The room in of itself, the arena in which Clarke works, is very instrumental.  Its compositional limits and divisions put emphasis on the idea that the space itself is the area for thought and action.  Her work turns on an incessant exploration of scope and material resistances. Clarke seems less concerned with the expressive nature of these materials, but with their inherent energy, an energy that conveys suspension and reserve.

Highly conceptual art is no beautiful.  The sensuous experience comes to an end. Free play cannot occur.  Christine Clarke installation is thought provoking with a definite end but it isn’t apparent.  This is a relevant direction taking place in the art world.

Clarke’s work forswears easy cynicism of contemporary craftsmanship and conceptual sculpting. Creating instead a body of work, which represents a passionate commitment to craft itself and to the very specific set of visual poetic value it upholds.  In a time when the art world has turned its back on this kind of craftsmanship, Clarke embraces it, in a gratifying return to the idea simply of creating, hoping beauty will be the result.  Heavy emphasis on verbalizing a concept has become obsolete. Fundamentals are essential to give context and provide framework.  Her work is poised and poses as a silent meditative partner giving beauty a voice and physical presence.