Through Aug. 6 at
Fugitive Art Center
440 Houston St. 256-7067
The current show at the Fugitive Art Center pulls together three sets of work in which technique calls attention to itself, although the media and tone diverge widely: Jonathan Jacquet's mournful oil paintings and wood sculptures, Joseph Burwell's process-oriented drawings, and Emily Holt's gleeful pop-up books and sculptures.
Jacquet's work has the most dramatic impact. It consists of nine paintings grouped together on the far walls of the gallery and two figures sculpted out of wood and covered with sewn leather skins. The figurative paintings are done in oil, and most have the highly refined glossy finish of old master works and a dark palette that in an old painting might come from age as much as pigment. The first images you see capture the aftermath of dismemberment and disfigurement: a woman with the scars from a single mastectomy, another woman in a three-quarters pose with ashen skin and one arm cut off above the wrist, and an oil sketch of Judith after she has beheaded Holofernes. (In this story from the Old Testament Apocrypha, a Hebrew woman invites the attentions of the Assyrian general who has besieged her city, waits for him to get drunk at a banquet, then cuts off his head, which throws the Assyrians into disarray and saves her city.) One small canvas consists of a still life of disembodied organs, and in another a man with thick folds of skin on his neck stares straight forward.
These canvases are grouped together, along with a contrasting painting with a white ground and a few sketched lines that diagram a room, indicating the placement of "Jamie's Ashes" and "Aiko's ashes." To the side and deeper into the gallery hang two more paintings of women: one encircled by a halo of small flames, another clasping her hands at her chest and looking at a heart floating in front of her like a religious vision. Both of these also have the dark colors and well-finished surface of much older paintings.
Jacquet's paintings remind me of John Currin, with their evocation of old master styles and classical references. The woman with the amputated arm holds an apple, an attribute of Venus. The reference for this work may be the story of the king Pygmalion, who fell in love with a statue of Venus, which the goddess then brought to life in response to his pleas. The gray color of the woman's skin approaches the color of stone, although the modeling seems more like flesh, which suggests the moment of transition from stone to flesh.
Two sculptures make up the final element of Jacquet's exhibit. One figure, covered in white leather patches with slits for eyes, sits on the floor, one arm held up by a cord and tied to a column. Jacquet positioned this figure so it faces the paintings, like a prisoner forced to look at these images. The other figure hangs from the wall and off by itself. Leather skin covers only part of the body, leaving a wooden skeleton partially exposed, and a wooden prosthesis takes the place of one leg. These sculptures put across a sense of great pain.
Jacquet attributes all of these pieces to a single work, "From Within and Around the Burning Ring of Fire, A Circus Tale." I couldn't make out the narrative, and frankly didn't worry about it too much. Everything about the work is solemn and mournful, even the passages that evoke visions and the process of art coming to life. It seems that art awakes into a painful but dignified world expressed by the images' extreme calmness and subdued colors.
Joseph Burwell's drawings couldn't look more different. They have a lot of white space and bright colors, and the tracing paper he draws on adds to their lightness. He combines the crudest possible pencil or crayon sketches of indiscernible figures and seemingly random marks with tightly executed decorative patterns and carefully traced lines and spirals. The smudges of erasure play a big role, and on a few works you can see where marks have been scraped away. These drawings record the results of extremely different acts occurring in the same space. The sloppy figures might have been done with his weak hand, like some "drawing from the right side of the brain" exercise, and these contrast with repeated patterns (flames, grass blades, an overlapping scalloped pattern) that require great hand control or a stencil.
The drawings also point out one of the most basic constraints within which drawing occurs: paper size. In "Serpentine," a stream-like figure starts on a rectangular piece of paper but spills out onto an extension that continues the color farther down the wall. Near this piece, a cluster of drawings of varying sizes and shapes contains many elements that get incorporated into the larger works.
Burwell's pieces have a pleasant, open quality. More importantly, they bring us closer to the artist's own intense involvement with materials, colors and acts of making and unmaking marks.
Nashvillian Emily Holt has filled the Fugitive's hallway space with pop-up books, sculptures and a diorama that relate to an apocalyptic story she has spun about spiders taking over a city. The pop-up books are ingenious, especially one that includes several tricks of the pop-up trade: a wheel to spin past a window, doors to open and a strip that moves through a series of windows. Holt takes it further and puts images inside the binding, which is constructed with an accordion design so that you can stretch it out and see an image in between the pages and on the reverse when you flip the book over.
The other striking pieces in her show are a set of conical sculptures made from tea bags. Bird skulls cap two of them, and butterfly and dragonfly wings stick out from the other two. The teabags have a great color left by the tea acting as a brown dye that seeps through the material unevenly to make complex gradations in color. The material looks brittle and old, like a discarded insect shell.
In addition to these elements, the exhibit includes a series of two-dimensional abstract drawings highlighted with embroidery, and a diorama of a city scene that uses string to outline buildings against a clean white wall and places a set of paper buildings in front of a rougher stone wall that has been covered in string spider webs. The entire installation has the feel of a gothic children's book by Edward Gorey, or a Tim Burton movie. The cleverest detail might be the string spider webs on the stone wall in the hallway. Look closer, and you'll realize that, not surprisingly, actual spiders long ago made nests in the crevices of the stones. I hope Holt's work doesn't give them ideas.
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