Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mixing It Up at Goldesberry Gallery

Robert Boyd

Summer is the season for group shows in galleries, usually taken from inventory. In the case of Goldesberry Gallery, their summer group show, Mix, consists of work by current residents at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Like most such group shows, there isn't any thematic unity--but humor was a thread that wound through much of the work shown.

Nathan Dube, (from left to right) Splatter Pin #03 (Kapow!), Splatter Pin #01 (Splat!), Splatter Pin #012 (Bazinga!), 2011, silver, enamel on copper, plastic tubing and bulbs

For example, these pins by Nathan Dube are not only pieces of jewelry, but are designed the spritz unsuspecting admirers who look too close. Everything about the Splatter Pins suggests arrested development. They are expensive toys for the man who won't grow up--a widespread American malady. The images recall comic books of the most juvenile sort--they are the "sound effects" one might find in a superhero fight scene. But added on top of this fairly harmless (indeed clever) bit of nostalgia is the nasty joke-shop squirter. The bulb is filled with water (or maybe if you're the Joker, hydrofluoric acid) and squirted on anyone unlucky enough to take a close look at the pin. They're funny, but I think Dube is also making a bit of a point about men who won't grow up or get lost in nostalgia for adolescent pleasures.

Rachelle Vasquez installation

Rachel Vasquez displayed a wall of crocheted animal skins, displayed as if they were trophies. But according to her website, all of these are deceased pets of hers--gerbils, a lizard, a goldfish, a dog, and mice (I think). She names each one and gives its date of birth and death.

Rachelle Vasquez, Dottie, yarn

Her pets seem to have a high mortality rate, and there is something morbid about displaying them this way. (After all, she could memorialize them as living pets instead of the skins of dead animals.) But the effect is more funny than creepy. 

Rachelle Vasquez, Slash, yarn

When you first see them, before you learn that they were Vasquez's pets, they look like the trophies of an unusually unambitious hunter. A hunter of very small game.  Indeed, a hunter too tenderhearted to actually skin his prey (perhaps too tenderhearted to even kill it)--so our hunter crochets the skins instead.

Viewers will recall Elaine Bradford's knit animal-head trophies, where she creates colorful "skins" around taxidermy molds. It's a bit surprising that there are two artists working in this vein anywhere, much less two in the same city. But the work of Vasquez is different enough from that of Bradford that I don't think you can say she is copying Bradford. But at the same time, one can't deny the similarities. If one more area artist shows up doing work in this vein, we'll have to conclude that it's a new school.

John Zimmerman, Stratified Tire, 2012, glazed ceramic, 24" x 24" x9"

Vasquez's animals look like they may have had an encounter with John Zimmerman's Stratified Tire. Zimmerman takes two common manufactured objects and sculpts them in ceramic. They have heavily textured, irregular surfaces, very unlike the objects they depict. As Zimmerman says, they are "stratified"--literally the textures refer to to strata of rock in the Earth. The ideas of strata and of geologic time are part of Zimmerman's work--he wants to link the brand new to the ancient. He calls this approach "Big History." Whether you are on board with linking a traffic cone with the Big Bang, the result is visually engaging--it turns these mundane things into expressive handmade objects. They become ironically hero-ized in the process.

John Zimmerman, Stratified Cone, 2012, glazed ceramic, 24" x 19" x19"

Melissa Walter, Untitled (teal and black), 2012, masonite, cement, acrylic paint, charcoal, graphite, beeswax

Not all the pieces in the  exhibit are humorous. Melissa Walter's wall pieces are straightforwardly abstract. They are liminal pieces, existing between painting and sculpture. The two oblong parts are familiar in bizarre ways--I am reminded on one hand of Robert Motherwell's oblong shapes in many of his paintings and on the other of steaks. The fact that the oblongs are biomorphic reliefs makes me also think of Jean Arp. But combining that with the geometric blue and black painting on the surface is something I haven't seen before, at least not like this. Like the zips in a Barnett Newman, these lines are painted with a straight edge or tape, but also  with a rough painted edge. The lines are meant to look like they were created by hand. Walker's pieces are small--when I say they look like steaks, they are pretty close to the size of steaks. Despite the relationship they have with abstract expressionism, they feel exquisite--a word I would not associate with abstract expressionism.


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