Thursday, October 10, 2013

Another Brick in the Wall

Robert Boyd

There are two things one can say about Melissa Thorne and her new show at Devin Borden Gallery, A Wall Around a Window. Thorne is fond of flat, man-made patterns. And she paints with fairly thin, watery layers of paint.

Aaron Parazette and Geoff Hippensteil standing in from of a slightly trompe-l'oeil brick wall by Melissa Thorne

I could really stop right there and end the review. Everything else I write will be either an elaboration on those two things or some biographical information. Like how she teaches art at U.C. Riverside, or is a member of the electronic band Fol Chen. I could mention that she has been showing her work in Houston since at least 2002. And how I bought an LP by Thorne in 2010 even though I don't have a record player.

more bricks

I could also mention how her work reminds me a bit of Francesca Fuchs in the handling of paint, even though their subject matter is quite different.

acrylic on canvas, 2013, 40 x 23 inches

When I saw this painting with its three colorful woodgrain patterns, it made me think of the 80s. You could see the Memphis Group using these patterns as laminate in one of their colorful pieces of furniture, or Fiorucci printing them on a pair of skin-tight pants. But the visible brush-strokes keeps it from having the kind of slickness we associate with 80s new wave graphics. Thorne takes things that seem inherently "designy" and mutates them into something that feels handmade and slightly humble.

acrylic on canvas, 2013, 40 x 23 inches

So this painting, which looks like a faithful rendering of some atrocious 70s linoleum floorcovering becomes rather loveable. Unexpectedly. That's what I liked about this exhibit. I didn't really expect to love these things. The subject matter practically demands that you feel vague disgust. But that's not what happens. In this way, she reminds me a bit of Tom Sachs, who also makes his subjects seem kind of loveable by making them look slightly homely and handmade. It's not a faux-naïf approach--these aren't childlike versions of something else. That would seem contrived. But Thorne (and Sachs, for the matter) reintroduce a certain human touch to subjects that we don't think of that way, like linoleum or the space program.

printed fabric piece and stool piece

Now when I suggest visual origins for Thornes pieces, I'm just guessing. For example, I was curious about the grid and stool above and asked gallerist Devin Borden about them. He wrote, "The pattern is printed with giant screens.  The forms were inspired both by the window patterns in the gallery space (at the west side of the building which are original to the historic Isabella Court retail spaces) and computer graphics glitch on the Olana website (a historic home near the Hudson River belonging to Frederic Church)." Who would have ever guessed this? (I couldn't find the computer graphic glitch on the Olana website, anyway.) But that dark blue fabric and bright yellow stool just look so right together.

acrylic on canvas, 2013, 40 x 23 inches

Thorne's work is colorful, funny and appealing. I wouldn't have expected being charmed by paintings of fake, plastic bricks, woodgrain and stone floors, but I was.


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