Strange, New Islands by Bluhm and Griffith
For SOIL's latest show, Islands, Seattle artists Susanna Bluhm (NAP #53, 67, 91) and Cable Griffith are creating mystical terra firma. Strange, new islands, populated with references to Guston, early video games, and feminism, are all tied together with a unified of palette of blues, greens and grays. Where Griffith is tight and controlled, Bluhm is loose and expansive. I'm quite sure at night, the two shows whisper across the gallery to each other, “You complete me.” - Joey Veltkamp, Seattle Contributor
Using her photographs of Croatian islands merged with neighborhood traffic islands as a starting point, Susanna Bluhm adds her own personal vocabulary of tongues (signifying a zest for life, a love of pleasure), loops and scribbles, graffitti, and rhombuses. In the real world, yellow diamonds are a warning but in these paintings, they read as enigmatic mirages, perhaps a trick of the light.
The energetic rhythm on Bluhm's islands is driven by the electronic beats of Le Tigre, who the artist had on heavy rotation while making this series. The catchy lyrics are re-purposed as song titles injecting each painting with a feminist spirit. “They call it way too rowdy we call it finally free.” (pulled from JD Samson's Viz, an anthem celebrating freedom from labels) turns the island into a afternoon dance party of genderless self-expression. This nebulousness parallels Bluhm's own landscapes which live in between representation and abstraction.
Susanna Bluhm | They Call it Way Too Rowdy, We Call It Finally Free, 2011, acrylic and oil on canvas, 95” x 72”
Susanna Bluhm | They Call it Coolness and We Call It Visibility, 2011, acrylic and oil on canvas, 31” x 50”
The paintings are lush--full of overgrown vegetation and blooms, just at their juiciest. Some pieces practically overwhelm with their sheer size, impasto surfaces and serene blues. Two of the largest works (nearly 6' x 8' and 6' x 9') feel like picture windows temporarily transporting the viewer out of the gallery space.
Cable Griffith's work has become an investigation in form. By reducing mark-making to its most basic elements; a curve, a line, a circle; he has created a visual vocabulary that allows him to build intricate compositions. Employing a vivid palette and a pared down language, Griffith is able to create a surprising amount of depth. Perhaps due to the reductive nature of the work coupled with the color scheme, at times, they feel influenced by video games. It's easier to see in works like Hufaidh and Magh Meall where the sudden an appearance of an 8bit gorilla wouldn't be entirely surprising. This influence isn't accidental; Griffith's father was an early adman for the pioneering gaming system Atari. The ever-present simplified graphics of the early video games sparked a curiosity in the artist; how can you represent complex visual images with limited means of expression?
Where games have progressed from 8bit to 64bit, Griffith has reverted to the basics by throwing out the academic rules of painting and following his intuition. As he explains it, “These are the paintings I had to make, not necessarily the ones I wanted to make.” Whereas previous work had an organic chaos (the scale was indeterminate so the work felt cellular), the Islands series is more of a controlled/mannered chaos (like the chaos of a large city) and distinctly digital. For example, to represent light, Griffith uses a series of color blocks gradations, breaking up the information just like a computer would; his basic forms (line, circle, curve) standing in for 1s and Os.
Yet despite all this digital influence, it retains an organic feel. It's supernatural, a hyper-reality rendered in electric blues and bright pinks and greens. The indistinct forms (vaguely Persian) also resemble cities and this architecture, coupled with Griffith's device of using mythological names, gives this work a ancient feel, as if these islands have existed for thousands of years and are slowly sinking into the sea.
Time is running out to see Islands! Its final day on exhibit at Soil is October 1st, 2011.
Joey Veltkamp is an artist/writer living in Seattle where he runs the local art blog, best of.