Chris Vance 2017 REFLEX
Text by Michaela Mullin | view images
The year needs a full-powered kickoff, with something positively stunning to illuminate the beautiful, and temporarily codify the chaos. Good art transports, and though remaining current, in personal, social and artistic realms is always important, the thing that happens when we stand in front of a moving piece of art is that it works to remove us, so that we can see history off its timeline. Call it time travel if you will, offering the momentary, where thoughts come and go, get lost and found, and interlock, creating a molecular view, which then opens up to a grand expanse.
This first exhibit of 2017, Reflex, on view through Saturday, April 15th, shows Chris Vance fresh and focused, delivering new works that pinpoint, float, discard and conjoin previous styles. Also on view are works by Mary Jones, Peter Shellenberger, Jolynn Reigeluth, Dallas Guffey, Richard Kelley, and Wendell Arneson. This show is curated to create a space of reflexivity and rumination, and in doing so, surveys local and historical truths. It is an essay that emerges a possible thesis: making America again.
Chris Vance offers new works full of shape, shifting, and speed-enhanced color. “Working Part Time at the Five and Dime,” a geometric clustering in neon colors on black, gives off a ‘50s Formica/space vibe, despite its 1984 reference. This large-scale mixed media on panel work is a study in perspectives, and the constellating of independent lines and sharp angles gets beautifully subsumed into the larger complex. Don’t miss the small envelope in the upper left corner—an email icon…or a note to conjure Presley’s “Return to Sender”? “College Choices Led to This” and “Future #1 – #6” offer a different palette on blond background, but are as dimensionally complicated and thick with rays in more earthly tones.
“Tape Deck” and “New Moon” somehow manage to visually present the way sound might look—the former as vibrating frequencies, the latter as a growing or receding octave. These play with the square as pixel, filling up space like liquid molecules rising. Or like confetti raining down gently. Each panel has a concentration of these dots at the base or top of the frame, settling or dissipating. “New Moon” has an almost black ground, reminiscent of charring; and its sky is a burnt orange expanse with black smoky lines barely visible beneath the fiesta colors.
“Tagged” and “Dreamer” have more saturated color and harken graffiti works, their large loops conveying motion and intriguing disorder. In these two pieces, the horizontal dust devils are supremely contained by the cut out nature of these works inside the frame.
Vance’s familiar characters are here, seeming giddy and ornery as ever, such as in “Spit Ball,” but the newness comes in how they are presented, inhabiting differently designed space. This slight move away from the child-like creatures we’ve grown to love also is indicative of a moving away from what once was a more-bulbously populated arena. These works are still spiraling and looking for curvature, but Vance has found that the straight line also closes to create cluster and cubes, and that much can be found in the corners.
If Vance’s works seem delightfully and necessarily off the grid, select works from Mary Jones’ “14th” series, as well as “Bad Boyfriend” and “Bookish” (mixed media collages on panel works), put us back on it, just so. Jones’ playfully serious pieces utilize what appears to be aerial views of streets, and turns them frontal. The grids then get used as a sort of shelving, to support her buildings, figures, and vehicles. In its gentle sensory disorientation, there’s an Escherian feeling, but less mathematical. These works, based on time Jones spent walking and documenting an eight-mile stretch of 14th street in Des Moines, explores the socio-economic and low pedestrian trafficability of such a sonically booming highway through the city. The noise level, however, seems to be the only thing flourishing, as Jones points out, noting the area’s “ramshackle motels and struggling businesses,” an ongoing struggle with blight since Interstates 80 and 35 began construction in the late 1950s.
Jones’ subjects inhabit the compartments her “maps” make, in a brilliant overlay of then and now. This form of “containment culture” in her collage works creates a déjà vu. Despite the knowledge that the figures and their clothing are based on today’s residents, the fashion, too, conjures a sartorial nostalgia—the patterning on dresses, skirt styles, and caps (due perhaps, in part, to the possible nature of procurement through thrift stores, as well as the reflexive nature of fashion trends). Jones’ people-watching has been parlayed into a dynamic series of artworks, which tell stories about how we populate our space, and how relations, narrow and wide, get put on shelves, moved around, boxed or vaulted, decayed—so that the narrative we tell is always so inevitably partial. These are stories of neighborhoods and neighbors, released into a public touched by planning and zoning that may or may no longer be working.
Indianapolis-based artist Jolynn Reigeluth, originally from Des Moines, exhibits mixed media works on paper, as well as etchings with collage and coloring.
These compositions are fantastic and active, aggravated and gentle. Reigeluth
is influenced by The Hairy Who group of the Chicago Imagists, from the 1960s; Robert Arneson; R. Crumb; Phillip Guston; and Fleischer Studios cartoons (Betty Boop and Felix the Cat), to name a few. She also cites “dirty blues” as a large inspiration, and often pulls lines from songs for titles, because she thinks early 20th century blues and jazz, especially that of musicians and singers like Lil’ Johnson, “somehow sounds like [her] work.” The piano and horns, combined with such a strong and humorous female voice, does, in fact, sound out from her paper works. One such work that does this is, “He’s Got Good Hot Dog,” the title pulled from Lil’ Johnson’s lines Come on Baby/ let’s have some fun / put your hot dog in my bun. It’s a gluttonous party, where the subject, a head connected to a foot by way of clown collar, clearly invokes an Arneson sculpture. The ghoulish nose and mouth are open wide for the titular wiener, which is held by a detached arm coming out of a cereal box branded “Harry O’s.” Reigeluth admits an “affinity for the absurd,” and claims she uses scatological and adolescent humor because she likes how kids embrace such things, and that it’s “delightfully gritty and incredibly honest.”
Reigeluth also considers these works, in some way, introspective self-portraits. They are works of dis-figuration, where the visage is primary, and the large-headed creatures often exist in gravity-defying landscapes, looking ready for play (tongue and ass out for a raspberry and a fart in “Make Your Hair Grow”), or for a party (with his atomic party hat in “He’s Got Good Hot Dogs”), or topless in skirt and wings (in “A Gentleman and a Scholar”).
The array of comic strips collaged into the scenes as well as used to create borders for the mixed media works dispatch the viewer to another era, one where Mr. Potato head might have been found for the first time inside a cereal box; one where Kilroy might have been graffitied, peeking over the wall in thick black lines, like the ones Reigeluth employs. Hers are bold and vigilant, creating comedic tableau. With her images, she gives us the jokes we need to keep laughing, and presents them with jazz-like scat, because she prefers laughter to tears. As her favorite writer, Kurt Vonnegut, wrote, “Laughs are exactly as honorable as tears” (Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage).
New to Moberg is photographer Peter Shellenberger, whose work takes us deep into the heart of the mid-20th century, with six (of a series of 9) striking and haunting autoradiographs: “Native American,” “Little Man,” “Horse,” “Gun,” “Flamingo,” and “Ballet Dancer.” Shellenberger chose his objects for this series carefully, using plastics from an era that brought us the atom bomb; small toys which were “surprises” for children; single figurines that could withstand the weight of being symbol for such atrocities as genocide and gun violence, while still being able to give us something light and joyful, like a dancer, and kitschy, like a flamingo. “Little Man” stands out in the series, as the small off-center figure, who steps forward, reaching toward the membrane of his cell, as if he is unaware of, or confused by, his confinement.
Of a glowing lavender color, these radiant discs—like bubbles holding single subjects—are objects turned micro-story. What we’re viewing are not images made from light rays—as with photo—but images made with exposure, in the dark, to uranium—the very energy that makes the rays of the sun. This element radiates as if it wants to get rid of itself. As Shellenberger says, “this is not a normal operating system with photography.” To make these, he uses a 4×5 sheet of film; puts an object—in the case of these six works, early-plastic Cracker Jack toys—atop the film; puts a small “red” Fiestaware bowl (which has uranium oxide in its glaze) over the toy; and places all of this in the bottom of a light-tight box. After a decided-upon 45 days (strictly due to aesthetic results), a dark image in this lustrous disc appears on the film, from which he enlarges and prints. These resultant, brilliant and isolated images can be likened to silhouette portraiture, or the nuclear shadows in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a result of thermal radiation, after the US dropped atomic bombs in 1945. These shadows in Japan are permanent and will forever haunt our history, just as Shellenberger’s images, born of radiation, stay with us in mind, interrogating thoughts about how something as destructive as uranium can produce something we are viewing in a gallery, while we sip wine.
Shellenberger has been perfecting his autoradiography since 2004, patiently testing and refining. The autoradiographs are also patient—patient artworks, elegiac in their object/subject captivity and yet celebratory in their ability to have happened, and to captivate the viewer. In their unexpected witnessing, they annunciate a horror of history in a visual language that seems undeniably frightening and fascinating. And in this, each piece enunciates some beautiful truth about how human handling is what is always at play when life is at stake.
Carl Sagan said, “I know that science and technology are not just cornucopias pouring good deeds out into the world.” These autoradiographs are a few things in that mixed bounty to hold up. Uranium prospecting had a rush in the 1950s, but Shellenberger gives uranium new prospects in the new millennium. One of his influences, Kurt Vonnegut, wrote a prescient letter to the future for Time Magazine in 1988. One of Vonnegut’s directives was, “Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your problems.” Shellenberger heeds this in continuing to create.
Also on view are two large-scale prints from Polaroids by Shellenberger. In these, he isn’t concerned with lighting the shot, but rather, “putting the light into the picture in a problematic way.” Using extremely large flash bulbs, he inserts the light into the frame, as focal point of the photo. Roland Barthes punctum, or disturbance, has never burned so bright. In “10,000 Lumens,” for instance, the room in the print is filled with a large radiating orb, under which you can see, upon closer inspection, the feet of the holder of the bulb. This, oddly, feels reminiscent of Lucas Samaras’ experimental self-portrait Polaroids, but in the self’s stead as subject, is light itself.
Richard Kelley’s new mixed media pieces are small storyboard-like works with a dark humorous bent. This “Tree Man” series takes the outsider, the man in a hollowed-out tree trunk (with a built in window for seeing/peeping), and places him in strange danger (“If Fish Could Fly”), as well as voyeuristic positions (“Tree Man at the Beach” and “Tree Man Inches Closer”)—an outside that can’t get in. This armor/costume/disorder, made of bark, physically manifests a sense of separation. Kelley approaches this lonesome interiority by drawing jagged objects and elements, and keeping the companion animals and humans (here, cats and women) round. And by using vibrant colors that can not entirely show their vibrancy due to inherent qualities of their medium or light application, Kelley gives us storming, raging, and exuberant scenes made more delicate and poignant by this holding back.
Dallas Guffey has two works on display. The three-dimensional “Firescape” comprises a small house, its interior lit with LED lighting, with a fire escape attached. This emergency exit renders shadows that create a cross hatching of lines. Opposite this escape, a scrap of skyscape is placed, partitioning the cumulative affect of clouds, and mashing the suburban with the urban. Guffey’s woodcut, “Blind Waters,” presents a deconstructed house, its interior hosting pieces of water. As a 3-D diagram, this residence, void of people, provides a glimpse at an inside that is leaking out, though neat and clean in its graphicality.
The four abstracts, mixed media on canvas, by Wendell Arneson, inject a dose of gorgeous quietude into the gallery. Arneson is “interested in work that resides both in the objective and non-objective worlds…provokes questions…[and where] the juxtaposition of images reference time, place, community, memory, journey, and hope.” “Travelers,” for instance, is a layering of materials constructing stanzas where crude and refined markings, ghostly figures, sharp angles and dots reside. This investigation of an interior made visible haunts in its segmented nature. The faces, mask-like, are faint lines over a patch of white that covers what’s beneath, and drips off the frame. The positioning of these visages brings to mind studies for Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, though they are more blank, even more gender-neutral and open. “Tablets,” like certain of Sigmar Polke works that employ what appear as moiré pattern, does well in its ability to use coverage as exposure, and interference as means to points of interest. By creating multiple levels of media and meaning within the work, the viewer is compelled to look deeper, literally, into the canvas, as well as into themselves.
This show is futuristic in that it explores the past and the present as a means to understand what might come next. It is rapturous, in that it arrests, and also continues to look hopefully ahead. With urgency, it looks at slow decay, and while grappling with things that can’t be undone, it grasps for what that fact inevitability calls to action.
It is said art is a reflection of the world around us; it is also said that the artist assists in producing the culture in which we exist. Reflex brings these together, working to show this very loop, and to expose/create an entanglement of ardor and intellect—Being that makes its mark.
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