by Jim Welke
UNBOUND: WSU MFA 2 Thesis Exhibition–Wayne State University–Detroit thru 7-Mar with work by: Laurie D’Alessandro, Kyle Dill, Ani Garabedian, and Hiroko Lancour
“Unbound” forms the theme for this master’s thesis show. Despite that thread running through, the personality and outlook of each artist indisputably surfaces — bound as it were to their masterful work. As you might expect from students about to receive a master of fine arts degree, they delivered with meticulous attention to detail. In the gallery, you can almost sense how taught such a high stake show must stretch out the nerves of the artist — the intensity therein warms you on entering.
Laurie D’Alessandro offers works with a distilled, ethereal, denatured quality. She teases the essential elements from everyday things, leaving behind a vaporous residue of the original object almost like holographic projections of their souls.
Brother’s Shirt and White Shirt Deconstructed demonstrate this effect with startling clarity. The originals are there, but not there and you find yourself wondering what “there” really means.
With a frottage triptych, Pine on Mulberry #2, Ms. D’Alessandro once again dissolves the source object to reveal its textural essence, its interface to our vision. The tree evaporates, but the impression of it persists.
In Polar Ice Cap, Ms. D’Alessandro plays with time as well as content. Using diaphanous silk, she represents phases of Arctic ice cap melting (either seasonally, or through years of irreversible global warming, the likelier explanation). This work departs from her previous pieces by visualizing for us something usually out of reach and out of mind (but not inconsequential). By abstracting the ice to ghostly overlays, she brings our focus to altered dimensions of the ice as time progresses through layered cloth. With inconceivably precise execution and eloquent selection of subject matter, Ms. D’Alessandro brings her viewer in touch with her unique vision of things we know of, but through familiarity (or possibly willful omission in the case of the ice) we no longer really see. She puts us back in the head of a child, seeing a world with layer upon layer of complexity revealed incrementally.
Kyle Dill also repositions everyday flotsam and jetsam to emphasize the elemental form that comprises it. Most of the works he presents refer to the ubiquitous packaging (specifically, cardboard boxes) we encounter like cocoons enveloping our consumer purchases. This packaging isolates and presents an obstacle to the thing we desire within — like gulls fishing for crabs we snatch up the package and burrow through the carapace for the meat inside, heedless of the exterior. But, Mr. Dill tosses out the precious insides, and hands us back the shell, re-worked and re-formulated so that we encounter it as a substantial creation in its own right. That’s not a trivial accomplishment considering our saturation in this stuff that represents nothing but friction in our existence. We want so much to ignore it, to dispatch it, to be done with it once and for all. But there it is, Mr. Dill seems to say. Look at it. Appreciate it. Even admire it.
Starting with Waffle Box, Mr. Dill takes us through a progression from the effectively two-dimensional source material, flat and unfolded, to the nearly realized but still nascent Easy Vender, to the monumental and complete Lift to Open where he converts an entire wall into concealing refuse. With these works, and numerous others throughout the show, Mr. Dill brings both skill and vision to bear, and takes us on a journey inside the box… so to speak.
Tsunami, by Hiroko Lancour, signals what seems to be a persistent theme in her work — perception, or possibly misperception. She seems to toy with visual as well as emotional cues to force us to re-see the subjects of her work. Tsunami gives us an elegant linen print enlivened with delicate geometric patterns. But at the center of each swirl we find a date printed: 3.11.2011 — the day the tsunami hit northeastern Japan with devastating effects. Enjoy the pretty, but memorialize this day. Nothing comes without a price she seems to say.
With Curved but Straight: Seeing With Detached Retinas 1, Ms. Lancour gives us a view of uniform, equidistant squares that should form a graph-paper grid of geometric perfection — but don’t. The contrasting colors and outlines put the grid in topsy-turvy motion to induce an unnerving vertigo in the viewer. This picture, like all good op art, takes control of your optical sensory hardware — eyes and brain — and dissolves what you thought were immutable, Euclidean constants.
Chance Operations: Enso, according to an explanatory video that accompanies the work, takes its inspiration from John Cage and his use of chance (via the I Ching) to formulate music. Here, Ms. Lancour used dice to fix the color and orientation of her symbols. This work feels a bit less visceral and immediate than Ms. Lancour’s other work in the show. The adjacent charts and tables detach the viewer further from the visual impressions inherent in the prints. Still, this work offers a useful window into the sometimes arbitrary process of art making and for that, if no other reason, it is worth a close look. But there is another reason to look: the images offer Ellsworth Kelly-like simplicity of form and color, and possess esthetic quality that stands firm with no prior knowledge of the process. So take them both ways: process and picture; intellectual and emotional. (Gerhard Richter made interesting use of chance too, in his color chart paintings — the element of chance in art recurs.)
Ani Garabedian works with paint, or in her mixed-media work: colored pencil, oil pastel, graphite and charcoal. All of her work shows a kinetic quality, mindful of time flickering by; of light perpetually evolving and transforming the scene at hand. In her painting, usually figurative, her markings come soft and quick, with not a lot of thick layers to force a sense of depth. For depth she relies on light and shade, in seeming motion as you gaze into her work. Stripes feels like a good example of where she captures the intensity and fragility of the moment like a snapshot. Here and there thinned paint runs down the canvas, compelled by gravity to do its own thing — in the moment — unbound as the show theme suggests.
The Beginning of a New Beginning (Hubbard Lake) evidences this seemingly rapid, documentary style further. In this work, fragmentary outlines hover adjacent to the subjects and imagery intersects; figures blur into the background. Light seems to move and shift. All this suggests haste in execution, but these works do not convey impatience so much as a meditation on the evanescent nature of our existence.
In Catamaran and Feed and other mixed-media works where paint and pencil merge, Ms. Garabedian further accentuates kineticism over realism and spatial accuracy. The figures in both these works focus on the business at hand. They do not pose for the artist. In fact, they seem indifferent to the artist; indifferent to portraiture vanity. These pictures exude liveliness, an unmoored vibrancy that leads the viewer to believe these scenes do change from one moment to the next. Blink your eye and you see the next frame on an endless reel. That reflects a masterful winnowing of detail and application of marks only where essential. One wonders with anticipation where Ms. Garabedian will take this already acutely evolved style.
In fact, one wonders where every artist in this show will take their crisply defined style. They went all out and embraced risk as a friend. The risk-taking paid off, it seems. Cheers and congratulations to the artists in both the MFA1 & MFA2 shows. Cheers too, for the instructors who find the right mix of support and objective criticism to keep their students on track, yet fearless. Right on!
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