Tuesday, March 29, 2011

There will be Bise

by Dean Liscum

Michael Bise's show "Blood Poison" at Moody Gallery is similar to his previous shows. It's all about Bise and his relationships: the good, the bad, the ugly, but never the indifferent. Bise continues to make painstakingly detailed graphite drawings from scenes of his life. The overall theme of his oeuvre consists of his personal traumas and dysfunctions writ large but in minuscule detail. Fortunately for him, his very personal experiences translate into universal narratives that everyone but the Brady Bunch can relate to. In "Blood Poison," he gives us suicide, animal abuse, grade-school alienation, along with his reliably ambiguous and unsettling portraiture, and that old time religion.

But Bise's subjects don't give his work gravitas. The details do. In Husband, a child on a changing table stares at the viewer while a crease in the sheet on which he's lying progresses across his diaper and into a torso-long scar. Children is your standard 70's elementary school class picture replete with the usual suspects: the bully, the outcast, the class clown, the popular one. Bise embellishes it with perfectly round, empty circles that obscure some children's faces and obliterate others.

Typically, his pieces with religious themes don't record his religious experience so much as they document acts of inculcation that he and others have endured. Heather's Baptism is a perfect example of this. When you first view the work from across the room, it looks like two white figures against a black background. It looks disappointingly simple. I figured Bise had run out of time and slapped a coat of ink or gauche around the preacher and his baptizee. Up close, I was delighted to see that not only was the entire area penciled in, the water's currents undulate across the body of water, precisely and rhythmically. That level of detail is quintessential Bise.

Family is always fuel for Bise. For me, his most powerful and subtle piece in this show is Mom and Dad.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-G0eXzpyvKmg/TZFH0nivwJI/AAAAAAAAVEs/GW76TqdfT10/s1600/Blood+Poisoning+by+Michael+Bise.jpgMichael Bise, Mom and Dad, graphite on paper, 2011

Details overwhelm this piece from the defiance in his parents' stares to their emotional distance despite their physical contact. You can extrapolate an entire existence evident from the the mantle piece menagerie, the white-washed Jesus, and the competing patterns on the couch, afghan, throw-pillows, and shawl. If that's not enough, use the pose of Mom's hand to conduct a quick Rorschach test.

Then there's Uncle Corky. Never to be out-done, he's a close second. Suicide rendered so subtly I almost missed it, yet so immediately, I couldn't possibly.

Michael Bise, Uncle Corky, graphite on paper, 2011

Holly's Backdrop is more ambiguous Bise, which never leaves you fumbling towards ecstacy. The Puppy Song will either end up on a Marilyn Manson CD cover or a P.E.T.A. poster or both.

In this series, Bise uses empty circles to obscure faces or details. He employs the technique inconsistently, and it's not always clear if these "white spots" are metaphorical absences or just flash spots faithfully reproduced from a photograph that he may be modeling the work after. Nothing wrong with ambiguity, but for me, these effects lack the power of  the subtle distortions in his earlier series: Holy Ghost!, Birthday, and Windows. In those, the way in which he foreshortened and warped the background to draw the viewer in, to subtly emphasize the subject, to re-center the work and restructure it's geometry heightened their emotional impact.  To me, that is Bise.

I'm not sure what personal issues lie at the root of Bise's creativity. I hope he works through all of them...but not too soon, because I've still got a lot of work of my own and his art resonates with it.

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