January 23, 2014, 3:35pm
Record collectors are only ever concerned with what track is on the a-side. Not many will pay attention to, or often even know, what exists on the flip of their 45s. An exhibition of Zoe Nelson’s (NAP #95, #107) newest paintings, currently on view at Western Exhibitions, questions the very nature of a “good side.” My go-to reference for Nelson’s work has always been its lyrical qualities – though this exhibition references the history of that trope in painting as much as it does an x-y coordinate system. What better way to reference the spatial placement of the work than through its Cartesian properties? For Nelson, the grid is treated not as a pretext, but as a challenge. Paintings extend off the wall, appearing to fill the visual gap of the wall space left behind it – the sound or harmony within the work, if the exhibition has such an affect, directly plays off their relation to the viewer, as if the exhibition itself is a changing composition, shifting space ever so slightly as the viewer navigates around it.
While Nelson’s past paintings were entirely evocative of Supprematist abstractions, the new work exists more dimensionally, in the round. Favoring a democratization of space – or we could just as easily say the flipside – the “front” or the “back” of her paintings seem to not exist, or be discernable. There is an equality to the treatment of the painting’s entire surface area as an object that speaks to retelling of dated mid-century patterns and ideologies; a history of steadfast modernism unhinged from its context. In line with its audile perspective, the emphatic physical presence of the work maintains a discordant tension – at once occupying space, as it attempts to flatten it. – Stephanie Cristello, Chicago Contributor
January 13, 2014, 8:40pm
Generosity is rarely immediately questioned when viewing an exhibition for the first time. It is often a given in the work, in many ways expected, though it is not to be underestimated. In his current exhibition on view at Shane Campbell, Parallel Processing, local painter Paul Cowan stages a void – a scarceness of information and material that favors a sparse collection of work, mainly a flush series of monochromes with minimal demarcations. In a very pop delineation of surface reflection, the canvases represent windows. They do not look within, or reflect anything other than their own emphatic presence. - Stephanie Cristello, Chicago Contributor
December 26, 2013, 10:40am
How do we prescribe shape to flatness? For the earth, it was a ship. For painting, it was once the illusion of space opening up though the canvas into other worlds, other imaginaries. The preoccupation of rendering the dimensional out of the un-dimensional is one that the conception of pre-modern painting has struggled with from the start. This revolt, against flatness, is more deeply a fascination that centuries of artists and thinkers have since worked to undo. The rejection of depth has historically been the revolutionary voice in overthrowing “truths” in art – the denial of space representing the ultimate mutiny against illusionistic and pictorial ideologies, “changing the system against a utopian promise.” The full potentials of this upheaval are realized in a current exhibition of Paul Sietsema’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
In a stunning survey of paintings, drawings, and films, Sietsema recreates the photographic vernacular in its most spectacular trompe l’oeil representations; never capturing the thing itself, but instead the lens that looks onto the tactile object. Sietsema’s images often reference his own process, imitating the material inherent within the making itself – the folds, wrinkles, and markings of wear on a piece of paper painstakingly rendered on the surface of an ink drawing, the sun stained quality of a Technicolor photograph replicated in washes of de-saturated hues. The stamp of time that occupies Sietsema’s historical, and often archival, encyclopedic subjects is reworked, recontextualized, and eradicated from history – replaced instead by a commonly constructed memory of romantic subjects – sailboats at sea, pages torn out of books, postmarked parcels and traces of transcontinental travel, the paint brush on the canvas itself – a fragile texture that floats on its viewers own image of nostalgia, while opposing any facile or comfortable recognition. Like a film that erases itself as it plays, Sietsema locates a moment between the vanished and the never present – a revolutionary relationship to flatness that can only be imagined as emulating the very first moment the ship fell off the horizon. –Stephanie Cristello, Chicago Contributor
Paul Sietsema | Folded Corner, 2012. © Paul Sietsema. Photo: Ron Amstutz, courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York.
November 17, 2013, 6:23pm
The image of the female nude is arguably the closest thing the subject of painting has to a readymade. The recent exhibition on view in the West Wing at Corbett vs. Dempsey by Jonathan Gardner, Nudes, consists of just three paintings installed in the corner of the main space, otherwise occupied by an exhibition of Konrad Klapheck’s charcoal drawings. The images recall twentieth century favorites – namely Picabia, with hints of Magritte and Balthus, currently featured in a similarly titled exhibition Cats and Girls, on view at the Met. In each of the three images, Gardner sets up simple parameters that allow for an immediate read, but not a simple one. In an off-the-cuff throwback to an antiquated genre, it appears that the approach of artist as stylist, or rather painter as the painter of styles, presents surprisingly interesting challenge for Gardner. Of course the depiction is nothing new – we’ve seen a million of paintings on the subject – but these three hold strong. Undiluted by any satirical content, the paintings are direct, yet comic and complex; for this reason they are different. Walking a fine line between representation of a subject, and representation of a style, the three tableaus are not quite sexualized enough to be perverse, nor awkward enough to be sympathetic. Instead, the nudes represent a removed and distant caricature of painterly female representation of the teens and twenties, in particular – though sans personality, and without any symbolic content; purposefully emptied of any recognizable trait that would tie them to that context. Nude or otherwise, the figures are somehow ontological – in the sense that despite their seemingly forward appearance, they are a material that serves themselves. Just as the physicality of paint serves the formalist, the image of the girl Gardner paints is the subject of that painting. – Stephanie Cristello, Chicago Contributor
Jonathan Gardner | Nude with Lemons, 2013. Oil on linen. 40 x 46 inches. Image courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey.
October 02, 2013, 8:30am
Not all paintings that pare down form and color in an indexical manner are immediately about language – though that is often the initial read. The urge to codify work that has the aesthetics of being a signifier to an unnamed symbol is as much a grasp to make meaning from where form lacks, as it does ignore what the potential of unnamed form can represent. In his current exhibition, Notes, at devening projects + editions, Alain Biltereyst displays a series of small paintings that not only question what it means to deny language, but also how purely formal exercises hinge on the spatial, and tactile qualities of an installation, beyond the painting itself. – Stephanie Cristello, Chicago Contributor
Alain Biltereyst | Notes, installation view at devening projects + editions, September 2013
August 07, 2013, 9:00am
Is the myth of paradise all that compelling? The resort paradise, the motel bliss, dreams of tropical shores and youthful ocean air – are these the same dated visions of vacationing we still cling to, or has anything supplanted their modern aspirations? Do we really delight in a shallow image of shared retreat locations, or long to buy our piece of time from out of a brochure or agency – just another one of many touristic occupants? The theme of the temporary vacation and all its shortcomings has garnered quite a lot of attention by contemporary artists over the past few years. An exhibition by this very namesake, Timeshares, currently on view at LVL3, pictures three artists preoccupations with the idealism the term represents – if not the effects that summer tends to have on more “relaxed” thematic group shows, as well. Paintings and objects by Josh Reames (NAP #89, #95), Calvin Ross Carl, and Maria Walker prod at this artificial fabrication of time as it relates to art and practice; while some pieces directly picture seascapes, palm trees, and other brochure-ready visual ephemera, others take the spirit of vacation as a material cue – works that deal with pattern, perhaps belonging to a swimsuit, a lawn chair, or mosaic brickwork, and detritus wrapped in colored fabrics, the idea of something less refined simply wrapped into a higher context, masking themselves as paintings. – Stephanie Cristello, Chicago Contributor
Calvin Ross Carl and Josh Reames, “Mañana,” 2013. Sand, 136” x 54”
August 05, 2013, 10:00am
In between the literal and the representational lies an oscillating, reverberating state of experience. When this is applied to painting, that experience is one of working through the visual tumult or engaging with your senses and letting your eyes play the part. What is it to just “see”, to meet a work on its terms and trust in its parts? Samantha Bittman (NAP #87 & #101)offers work that addresses this question while building paintings that visually vibrate. In her work, Bittman employs the process of weaving; interlocking material to create a surface, an image and a sense of optical splendor. Bittman’s recent two person show at Thomas Robertello Gallery in Chicago presented new work. We had a conversation about it. - Arthur Peña, Dallas Contributor
Samantha Bittman | Longest Distance, 2011, 15" x 12", acrylic on hand-woven textile