First Friday, June 7
In June the RVA gallery scene tends to mellow out. Students are out of town, and there are fewer openings on First Friday itself. Nevertheless, interesting shows are still to be found. Here are a few I took note of last night.
Eric Schindler Gallery, Line and Color: Paintings of People
New work by Agnes Grochulska
At Eric Schindler gallery there is a one-person exhibition of paintings by Agnes Grochulska, who I wrote about briefly in April. This time Grochulska is showing a whole body of work, thirty-six pictures in all. Most of these are portraits of people she knows, many of them artists themselves. In this regard, but also in terms of paint handling and color, these canvases are somewhat reminiscent of Alice Neel. Agnes is direct with the paint, putting down specific shapes of grey, pink and orange, along with looping lines of black, green and blue.
She is unapologetic about any ridges, striations or accretions that may form. Her energetic hand animates these characters: they are edgy, expressive and graphic rather than photographic - and yet she manages to use those same edgy marks to convey the flesh, facial expression, and underlying bone structure of her sitters. Simply put, she knows how to both sculpt and evoke freely with paint.
Pattern also plays a big role in these paintings, laid down directly in areas around the figures. Oftentimes the original layer of the paint shows though between those black stripes and lines. In the end though, it’s the figures that enliven these skilled, soulful pictures.
The show comes down after June 14th . Catch it while you can.
Gave Klocen: Sarah Gayle Carter
After a few minutes of looking at Sarah Gayle Carter’s paintings I was reminded of a paragraph written by Fairfield Porter about the paintings of Morandi. He compared that artist’s cups, bowls and limited palette to the declension of Latin verbs. The verb has a single root, but there are a series of variations in ending which gain meaning as they parse themselves out from the stem. It’s not that these paintings remind me directly of either Latin verbs or the subdued work of Morandi. Rather, the structural concept of a limited number of elements – subsequently repeated in various ways - is something at the heart of Carter’s bright, crisp landscape paintings.
Each of these pictures is made up of segments. Lush but highly controlled paint is spread over a thin underpainting of warm rust color. The segments make up the landscape but also stack on top of each other vertically on the picture plane. There are four distinct kinds of texture repeated: flat planes of paint, subtle gradations of tone, small, sporadic negative shapes created by leaving bits of underpainting, and finally broken, sometimes loaded marks left by palette knife. Each of these kinds of texture is generally separated into its own region, creating a simple pictorial logic.
There is a kind of satisfaction in observing how these various areas are demarcated so cleanly, often divided by those thin bits of rust color, even as the paint is applied in flowing, buttery pools and streams. It’s also satisfying to see these same basic elements played out in a whole variety of different ways, ways that speak of the basic visual structure of the rural Virginian landscape. (Albeit with somewhat more whimsical color.)
Glave Kocen is running this show from June 7th to the 29th.
Kevin Sabo: Choose your Fighter at The Well Art Gallery
Down across the river on Hull street I caught an exhibition of the paintings of Kevin Sabo at The Well Art Gallery. The show is called Choose Your Fighter, a title which stems from the world of video games, and Japanese fighting games in particular. According to Sabo, there is also an element of queer identity going on here, hailing back to the tradition of both gay imagery and Kevin’s childhood recollections of choosing video game characters with somewhat more feminine characteristics than his boyhood friend’s. One can see illusions to traditional Japanese woodblock printing as well. In terms of their format, however, these paintings are conceived along the lines of collectables, or as Kevin mentioned to me, Pokémon cards. Many of the people in these paintings feel jammed into the rigid rectangle, created by a border within the border, as though that border had a physical presence.
One of the more fascinating elements of these pictures is the way in which the figures are drawn. Most of them are delineated with incisive lines of black paint, laid down with no prior planning, and no reworking. The figures end up quirky, both in terms of their anatomy and their relationship to the edge of the picture plane. Elbows, toes, shoulders and ears are ad-libbed and jammed onto the canvas, following their own rules. One figure sits strangely in a martini glass; another seems to be stretching (perhaps in preparation for an on-screen fight) while being attacked by a house cat. Sometimes there is a confusion played out between figure and ground: certain characters are sketched in with watery, liquid paint, and then their silhouette is clarified as the artist lays in the background afterward. Thus there is a visual tension between the figure coming forward, but also falling back behind the new, physically overlapping layer.
. This only reinforces the over-all themes of play and convention-breaking that are woven into these pieces. While Kevin admits he enjoys breaking traditional painting conventions, he shows a keen knowledge of them as well.
1708, Infrapolitics, Alan Ruiz
There is a very thought-provoking show over at 1708, reviewed in depth by Rachel Hutcheson here. https://www.lucidrva.com/alan-ruiz-infrapolitics-at-1708
The artist is the New York based Alan Ruiz. The show is called “Infrapolitics,” and it deals with revealing the infrastructures that make life as we know it possible, but which we usually take for granted. Slices of window-and-windowpane protrude from the wall near the front of the gallery. The spans between the bits of pane indicate where the seams of standard (four-foot) drywall would occur, unseen and under the surface. Vents appear in the floor of the gallery, revealing another layer of the building to the inquisitive viewer. Electricity usually used in the office of the gallery has been re-routed via electrical conduit to lights in the viewing space. The lights and the conduit form a sculptural piece reminding us of the hidden systems required to give us light.
But something more is happening here. Like the slices of windowpane, the electrical conduit takes on a certain form because of certain codes, which are made up by the politics of infrastructure, or Infrapolitics. And as the shape and route of those conduits are determined by certain codes, the codes themselves are bent and directed by certain interests, or, once again: like those wires and conduits, they can be bent and determined by hidden systems.
Two rather small photos take the point home. They are pictures taken by the city during the construction of I 95 in 1972. The route taken avoided certain areas and leveled portions of other neighborhoods, sometimes dividing those neighborhoods in two. For the most part those leveled and divided areas were less privileged ones. The exhibition can be seen as a reflection on the justice of how we decide which communities must sacrifice, and which communities ought to benefit when we do public works.
While this is a very conceptual show, the visual element of the metaphor is physically well crafted and imaginative. It runs through June 29th.
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Miles Hall is a painter and art educator. He has taught Drawing, Painting, Color Theory, and Modern Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University. He has an MFA in Studio Art and an MA in Modern and Contemporary Art History Theory and Criticism.