It's always kind of a game to get to know the work of MFA candidates before graduation and think about which ones have "it." It's kind of a sick game, but I'll admit to playing it. It's exciting to see the work of someone before it takes the public stage. You don't know if the artist whose work you like will go on to a career of life-long art production or will be one of the many MFAs who gradually stop being artists and fade away from the scene. And at its crassest level, it's a gamble on whose work is going to be worth money, and whose isn't. I wish I could say I was pure enough that such thoughts never entered my head.
And what's a more perfect summer show than a bunch of MFA candidates or recent MFAs. It's not the time of year when collectors are around--they're at their vacation homes in Maine. (I'm projecting here because that's where I wish I was.) A gallery has freedom to experiment a bit if they want and show some work by artists without proven track records. David Shelton Gallery is taking advantage of the season with Under the Moon Tower, a show featuring work by University of Texas MFA grads and candidates from the classes of 2013 through 2015. Now a show like this is inherently a hit-or-miss affair, but the work I saw there really impressed me.
James Scheuren, BMX Cloudescape, 2012, archival inkjet print, 40 x 50 inches
BMX Cloudescape by James Scheuren is my favorite piece in the show and is the most mysterious one. There is a fairly flat, dusty looking landscape, devoid of vegetation or human structures, with a low horizon. It's a cloudy day. But then there are two uncanny elements. First if the vertical crease in the middle of the image. You wonder if Scheuren photographed an open book--if this is a photograph of a printed image of another photograph. Then the other element are the faint brown/black marks in the sky. The title suggests that they might be from bicycle wheels. They have that look. Maybe Scheuren printed out a large split image of a landscape, ran a BMX bicycle over it, and rephotographed it.
But these were not the thoughts going through my head when I saw it in the gallery. I wasn't even aware that it was a photograph. It feels painterly. The marks in the sky, which look so random, nonetheless suggest motion, like maybe you are seeing part of a windstorm passing over this dusty area. These lines feel like the motion lines of cartoon characters in comic books. But motion lines without the object in motion. It is the ghost of motion, and it is beautiful and uncanny.
James Scheuren, Boneless Christ (IKEA Hammock), 2013, archival inkjet print, 50 x 40 inches
Scheuren's Boneless Christ (IKEA Hammock) is a more conventional photograph, but haunting nonetheless. The faded stripes on the hammock parallel the ridges on the corrugated metal wall behind it, and the greyed-put palette speaks of old forgotten things. It's a formally beautiful photograph, and one that radiates nostalgia, but neither glowing sunny nostalgia nor nostalgie de la boue. It's a feeling of regret that I get from this piece. Both of Scheuren's pieces are so quiet and so beautiful that I'm almost suspicious of my feelings about them.
Aaron Meyers, Column, 2013, cast concrete, modified IKEA shelf, 12 x 75 x 12 inches
Aaron Myers sculpture Column was placed next to the two James Scheuren photos, and it was a good juxtaposition. They share grey and black colors and a grungy matter-of-factness. (And there is the Ikea connection--the gallery should have gotten the Swedish cheap furniture retailer to sponsor the exhibit!) If you have a piece called Column, folks are going to think of Brancusi's Endless Column. Endless Column could be made to any height and in any number of versions. The same could be said of Meyers' Column, especially when you recall the modular nature of many of Ikea's shelving units which can be expanded just as endlessly as a Brancusi.
These pieces were all in the back room of the gallery. Greys, blacks and browns dominated all the work in that room. Maybe the color scheme gave the collected work a collective sense of gravitas that pieces might not have had if seen individually. If so, that is a testament to the curation. But I think that feeling of seriousness was inherent in the work.
Georgia Carter, Timber, 2013, oil on linen, 24 x 30 inches
Georgia Carter's landscapes, such as Timber above, had this a quiet feeling of sunset (or moonrise), silhouetting pine trees against a lighter colored sky. One shows the trees reflected in a lake with an undisturbed surface. That communicates a stillness and quiet, but with these Southern forest scenes its never quiet. Crickets, birds, cicadas. etc., are serenading you, and these paintings make me think of these country sounds. You can hear the lonesome whippoorwill when you look at Carter's paintings.
Erik Shane Swanson, Polychromatic Pentaptych, 2013, enamel and acetone on panel, 19 x 75 inches
With work like Carter's, Meyers' and Scheuren's in the back gallery, you can see why Erik Shane Swanson's work was separated in the front. His bright colors would have stuck out. But even as intense as they are, Swanson's pieces exercise restraint. Only two of the panels in Plychromatic Pentaptych have bright colors, and in those two panels, the range of colors is limited (yellow, red and green in one, green and yellow in the other). This piece starts of chromatically intense on the outer panels. growing less so as the eye moves towards the center. Intriguingly, one of the panels is an recognizable (photographic?) image. It appears to be an image of a formal garden that has been run through a photocopier and folded twice.
Erik Shane Swanson, Sunset Prism, 2013, enamel on mild steel, 47.5 x 13.5 x15 inches
Sunset Prism reminded me of a piece by David Shaw, Collider, that I saw at NADA. The difference is that the shifting colors in Sunset prism are painted and fixed in place, while David Shaw's colors are created using holographic laminate and shift as you walk around the piece. I like this piece, but I confess I wished that the colors moved. I'm spoiled that way. We live in an interactive world.
There were pieces by Peter Abrami, Janaye Brown and Adriana Corral in the show as well, which all were interesting in their own way and added to the excellence of the whole exhibit. Under the Moon Tower is up through July 20.