Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nick Kersulis at Devin Borden

Robert Boyd


Nicholas Kersulis, Within Without the Space of a Corner (He Spent Days Wandering with Headphones on, Lest He Forget His Heritage), 2010-2013, Oil on jute on panel; framed c-print mounted on aluminum Artist’s photograph of a guardrail on a country road with anarchy symbol graffiti. 78 x 73” painting, overall,  24 ¼ x 16 ¼” photograph

The last time I saw work by Nicholas Kersulis, he had painted rocks with gesso--coat after coat--until the gesso was about as thick as the rock itself.  At the time, I thought of them as examples of a process. A very obsessive process. A process that in a way reflected actual geological processes of laying down layer after layer of sediment until sandstone or shale is created.

Nicholas Kersulis, Within Without the Space of a Corner (He Spent Days Wandering with Headphones on, Lest He Forget His Heritage) detail, 2010-2013, Oil on jute on panel; framed c-print mounted on aluminum Artist’s photograph of a guardrail on a country road with anarchy symbol graffiti. 78 x 73” painting, overall 24 ¼ x 16 ¼” photograph

And I saw some of the same obsessive layering in this show. In the painting above (which I'll call Headphones for short), he paints an outer square around an inner square, alternating black and white. As a consequence of this repetitive action, the corners (where the brushstrokes overlap) become especially built up with alternating layers of black and white. They turn this series of five horizontally stacked paintings into a sculptural group, projecting into the viewer's space.

But this exhibit, Within Without the Space of a Corner at Devin Borden Gallery, made me look back on those gessoed rocks differently. Because this show is all about paired things. Things that go with another thing, that are almost twinned (but never perfectly so); things that are unequal or imperfect reflections of another thing. And those gessoed rocks fit into this--Kersulis essentially created a second rock out of gesso for each of his original rocks.


Nicholas Kersulis, Within Without the Space of a Corner (After death, but before burial), 2013, Oil on jute on panel; framed c-print mounted on aluminum Appropriated image of Anita Pallenberg and Brian Jones with the same haircut, posed with hands mirroring each other’s within the frame. 76 x 72” painting, overall, 24 ¼ x 16 ¼” photograph

So each piece in the show is a pair--painting(s) on one side and photo on the other. The pairs are not alike (in medium, in scale) and are further differentiated by physical separation--some are separated by doorways, as with Headphones and After death.  Others are separated by being on different walls in corners.


Nicholas Kersulis, Within Without the Space of a Corner (After death, but before burial) detail, 2013, Oil on jute on panel; framed c-print mounted on aluminum Appropriated image of Anita Pallenberg and Brian Jones with the same haircut, posed with hands mirroring each other’s within the frame. 76 x 72” painting, overall, 24 ¼ x 16 ¼” photograph

The imperfect pairing is reinforced in some of the photos. In After death, we have a photographic image on one side and a series of words on the other. Both can be read as representing the same thing, Anita Pallenberg and Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones. Pallenberg, a model, was Jones' girlfriend for a few years in the 60s. She left him in 1967 because he was physically abusive and became Kieth Richards' companion for over a decade. Jones was found dead in his pool in 1969. Some of the words seem to refer to Jones, who could be "cruel and difficult," had a crush on "Fran├žoise Hardy," was known to be "artistically unsatisfied," and was a Pisces.

In the photo, Pallenberg and Jones are posed in a mirror image of one another. Their hands are in similar positions, their bangs are cut long, their eyes deeply shadowed. They are mirrors are exact but opposite, as are they by virtue of being male and female who, in this image at least, resemble one another closely.

This mirroring occurs in the painted part of After Death as well. The two-square paintings at the top and bottom each feature a red side and a blue side, but they are switched. The four-square paintings are predominately one color each, red above and blue below. And each square in the middle section is equally red and blue.


Nicholas Kersulis, Within Without the Space of a Corner (Be Here I), 2013, Oil on canvas; framed c-print mounted on aluminum Warm grey and cool grey paintings paired with a color photograph diptych, a section of the image desaturated. 76 x 72” painting, overall 24 ¼ x 16 ¼” photograph

The notion of an imperfect mirroring is quite literally carried out in Here Be I. The painted panels repeat the basic square arrangements of the other pieces, but instead of being two highly contrasting colors, they are uniform grey. The viewer can still make out the squares from the brushstrokes, however.

Nicholas Kersulis, Within Without the Space of a Corner (Be Here I) detail, 2013, Oil on canvas; framed c-print mounted on aluminum Warm grey and cool grey paintings paired with a color photograph diptych, a section of the image desaturated. 76 x 72” painting, overall, 24 ¼ x 16 ¼” photograph

The photograph is a photo of the central painted panel from After death, laying on a flat surface with a mirror propped up beside it. Kersulis has digitally manipulated the photo to desaturate the image of the painting so that it looks completely grey. But he has left the reflection of the painting along. This creates an amusing optical illusion, that a grey painting is being reflected in bright colors. And it is yet another imperfect pairing. Like Anita and Brian, the painting and its reflection are very similar but not identical.

All the other pieces in this show, save one, are built around this kind of pairing. They all have five stacked paintings on one side and a photo of some sort on the other side. Some of the paintings are heavily impastoed and painted on jute, some are painted on canvas in thinned, liquid layers. They all start at the top with two squares, then four, then six, then four and then two at the bottom. The photos are all the same size.


Nicholas Kersulis, Within Without the Space of a Corner (Not There—Here), 2013, Two black mirror panels installed equidistant from a corner, edition of 3, 78 X 35 X ¾” each

Not There--Here makes the mirroring aspect of the work most explicit. Two black mirrors are in a corner, reflecting different parts of the room and each other to an extent. Unlike all the other pairs in the show, these are identical.

All this pairing and twinning and mirroring suggests that these ideas are important to Kersulis. I assume that "pairing" has some particular resonance for him. But I'm not privy to that. Notions of pairs, twins, dyads, mirror images, etc., have an infinity of meanings and cultural associations. For me, I tend to think of literature (stories like "The Other" by Jorge Luis Borges and Gemini by Michel Tournier and The Cloven Viscount by Italo Calvino) or mythology (Castor and Pollux, Romulus and Remus). You may have your own associations for pairing, twinning or mirroring. And a stroll through Within Without the Space of a Corner may draw forth those associations in you.

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