Domestic Terrorism 

Explosives, toxins and advertising provide fodder for art exhibits

You have to wonder if emails between Lisa Solomon and Aurora Robson, the two artists collaborating in SQFT Gallery’s current Couplets show, were discussed in any of Dick Cheney’s daily terror briefings.
You have to wonder if emails between Lisa Solomon and Aurora Robson, the two artists collaborating in SQFT Gallery’s current Couplets show, were discussed in any of Dick Cheney’s daily terror briefings. For her part of the show, Solomon, from Oakland, renders the molecular structures of dimethyl mercury (a potent neurotoxin) and nitrogen triiodide (extremely explosive) in the form of doilies. Lucky for them the current regime’s leaders are entering their dotage.

Solomon and Robson are two of the artists beginning the new year in Nashville’s galleries. The January Art Crawl featured lots of group shows, with new galleries such as Rymer and Tinney + Cannon Contemporary showing off their rosters, The Arts Company previewing new and ongoing artists they will feature this year, and Dangenart providing a forum for Off the Wall, one of Nashville’s strongest artist collectives. Among all of that, SQFT is having its swan song and will close after the January show.

For the SQFT show, Robson and Solomon produced a set of works that are complementary in style, coordinated in color and size. Solomon’s mixed-media drawings on Dura-Lar (an alternative to acetate) put intricate doily patterns (and some actual embroidered doilies) where the atoms would go in a representation of molecular structures. The pretty forms overlap, and the translucent Dura-Lar creates a floating quality. She titled them with their chemical names, some of which are recognizable, such as the gasoline additive MTBE, and some less so—for instance, carbon tetrachloride, which was used as a dry-cleaning solvent and in fire extinguishers until it was found to cause liver and kidney damage.

Robson, from Brooklyn, heads in a different direction, cutting junk mail into curved shapes and slivers that she arranges along with drawn elements in similar shapes and colors into clusters that take on well-defined aggregate forms—circles, spheres, an upside-down mushroom shape, etc. Curved shapes suggest motion, and Robson’s works go further to communicate swiftness and a monumental sweep, even though the pieces are small.

The artists decided on size and color combinations in advance and display the results in pairs, although they otherwise worked independently. Beyond size and color, Solomon and Robson share in the activity of making something lovely out of trash—toxic chemicals that populate Superfund sites, or junk mail destined for the landfill. Local songwriter Sarah Masen released an album this summer titled Woman’s Work Is Alchemy, a phrase she picked up from artist Beth Gilmore that refers to the roles women have taken for generations: making something out of nothing at home and in their work, and tending emotions, psyches and relationships within the family and outside. Robson and Solomon engage in their own version of that age-old work.

While Robson uses advertising as a source of raw materials, appropriating bits of color and text while eliminating the material’s original context, Harry Underwood (who typically goes by his first name) heads in the opposite direction, building a whole world out of the messages and the emotions advertising taps, fosters and reflects. Harry’s paintings on wood panel at Estel are populated with images lifted from the highly mediated visual world of earlier eras, such as screen idols or postwar Florida vacation brochures. He uses stencils to repeat these images in different combinations, to which he adds words—bits of dialogue, advertising pitches, partly told stories. Repetition and recycling figure even more strongly in his practice—once he creates a work, he then paints copies of it, and indicates whether a particular piece is an original or a copy.

The combinations of images and words create distinct scenes, but there is a common tone, nostalgic and mournful, shadowed by loss and emptiness, but also gleeful. Some of Harry’s core themes come together in “Darling,” a piece tightly built around themes of the advertising culture in America and the failed attempt to sell dreams. Among the key elements are pieces of text that call out fictitious and ironic brand names such as “Wishful Thoughts Cologne,” “Darling I love you I want you so bad fragrance” and “Inspire me please pictures, Nashville.” This last item indicates that Harry isn’t letting the business of art-making off the hook—as with any consumer product, people ask art to provide them a ticket to happiness. But in the background you see Zayre and Bellevue Mall, reminders that dream-selling often leads to bankruptcy.

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