By Kevin Blake
“Ahoy down there” I yelled, acting out a drama I had seen before and would see forever–over and over. Again and again.
I thought I was calling down to her from the top of a gigantic sand dune. From the peak of the tallest mountain. From the apex of the world. Only she could hear me. She would call up to me in response, “ahoy up there.” The image of her I create now, for that memory, is one from a picture I have of another time. It is the only picture of her in my possession–one I have carried with me. From home to home. Place to place. Year after year. She was undoubtedly younger on the beach–as was I. In the picture she is wearing a matching pink. Pale. Soft. Sheer. Pants, of course, I don’t think I ever saw my grandmother’s legs. Her top fit like a sweatshirt, though it was short-sleeved. It was puffy like, with some sort of white pattern embroidered in the middle–likely flowers. She has a full head of curly hair–hints of a dirty blonde tinting a grey field. Her hands are folded atop a stack of importance. At the bottom of the pile is her purse–a black leather clutch with a gold clasp. Then a little pouch that housed her Pal Mal cigarettes and lighter. The lighter facing up for easy access and to avoid an uneven surface had it been facing down. Her hands complete the stack. Smoking hand on top. A burning Pal Mal protruding from her fingers. In the photo she is still. She is stoic. No smile. She didn’t know how to smile for a photograph. In the memory she is alive. She is present. She smiles. I’m satisfied with this being all I have, because it is somehow everything she was.
The way we see is historical. Cultural. Social. The way we see is created by our experiences and over time. It is perpetually evolving. The way we recall our memory of these experiences is also a product of this same evolution–we associate memories with images. Images that are not necessarily adept at defining the memory, but rather serve as a stand in for the lost pictures of experience. When a memory is continually visited, the images become unusually vivid, as if actually visible. They become our understanding of our world and our time in it.
In Claire Sherman’s most recent exhibition at Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago, I saw this kaleidoscopic vision of the way one sees conflated with the imaginative experience of being present in one’s memory. On these canvases, Sherman seems to be at once a native of the places depicted–an observation of the self within the physical act of making a painting–and a stranger trying to find the natural world at work in her own psyche.
The main gallery is draped in predominately white canvases that wrap the room like stone monoliths–their energy–creating a circular movement in a rectangular room. For a paint enthusiast, this room is almost overwhelming. One painting would be plenty to satisfy the most robust appetites–the rest are a gratuitous banquet for the glutton. These paintings are top notch–a fine example of an artist hitting their stride–finding herself in her work.
Funeral Mountain is a real place. A real mountain. It has histories–some of which, we cannot know from any written words or photographs. The name of this range, that makes the eastern border of Death Valley at the California/Nevada boundary, is born in myth. Lumberjack folklore. Casket-headed beasts with wobbly legs that travel in herds and walk in procession is to credit for the Funeral portion of its title. In myth, there is often truth. The climate is challenging here, and no doubt, crossing death valley may have ended with many funerals in the mountains beyond. It is arid. It is hot. It is unforgiving.
This climate is felt in the main gallery. From afar, the paintings appear to be dry flat grays with the jagged edges of rocks. Powdery whites and chalky pastels. The room feels bare and stark. Naturally lit by a hot sun bearing down through a cloudless afternoon sky. It is this picture and this feeling of place, that I carry with me through the exhibition.
As I approach the first painting that is beaconing me, Rock Wall 2015, I realize how important this action is to understanding this exhibition. The in and out. The perspectival changes. The idea of making paintings versus making images. The threshold between representation and abstraction is somewhere in the middle of this room. The closer you are to these works, the closer you are to entering a smaller world of direct experience, indirectly known through the symbolic language of painting.
Rock Wall appears, from a distance, to be exactly what the title suggests, but it has a vortical flow insisting the viewer nearer. There is a lot of impact in this painting–both small and large– generously buttered onto the canvas to depict the striations and gradients of stone. Working wet paint into wet paint, Sherman achieves the deep cracks and fissures that penetrate the stone of the mountains by penetrating the wall of paint she has amassed on the surface. I get the idea that Sherman is using her photographs of these spaces she visits as a way of situating her memory of her own experience, but uses the paint to feel the place again. And again. And again. These paintings in the main room place the artist outside looking in-an alien’s approach to an unknown landscape.
In the adjacent smaller gallery, two large paintings act as the antithesis to its counterparts in the main room. These works place the artist inside looking out–emerging from womblike darknesses into a world of painted light. In, Cave and Sky 2015, an electric blue commands the space of the physical room and flattens the surface of the painting at a distance. Again, a movement toward the painting reveals more. Manic brushwork in the dark, mixed purples, and reds make the black of the cave walls. The blue covers you. The painting unfolds by enveloping you–you feel the darkness on your sides as you stand at center covered in sky. It is sublime.
The history of landscape painting is vast. The sublime in nature is an abyss of discourse concerning abstract ideas, easily congruent with most attachments. To read a bare list of names, theories, and ideas of lore is to become aware of a widely distributed and loosely tied family resemblance of contingent traits that would merely undercut this body of work. We can always find the history of constructed things, if thats where we look to define something new. To me, this work is about encountering oneself in an eidetic place–a place that exists between one’s ears, and made real by the act of painting. It is about the power of memory to fill in the holes that inevitably crater our reality. Sherman finds just enough memory to reproduce a feeling remembered. That dialogue continues over and over–from paint to place and back again.
By Kevin Blake
This is a recurring dream.
I am suspended over an in-ground pool of which I can only see a portion. The pool juts out of the bottom left corner of the frame–a rectangular frame. The edge of the pool makes an L shape–horizontally to the middle of the frame and at a right angle to the bottom boundary. The negative space is a surrounding sun-bleached concrete–an infinite wall contained only by the imaginary frame of the image. My limbs are sprawled out as if they are tied to an invisible force that keeps me from retracting. I lay idle just inches from the water, but I cannot touch. I cannot feel the textures. I cannot sense the temperature, though it appears to be warm–it appears to be late afternoon. It appears to be desert-like. Arid. Crisp. Cloudless. Stark.
The same external force that keeps me afloat, pulls me wildly in a spinning motion to an extreme height where I can see the pool in its entirety. As I reach the apex of this pull, it allows me a brief pause before dropping me and stopping me just inches before I hit the water. It leaves me there, in what feels like dangerous proximity to a glass-like surface. I have no physical control. No power. I can only wait to be pulled from idle and dropped again. As I plunge toward the pool, the water disappears, and I break through the powerless dream–returning to a powerless reality. I wake up with the feeling of being dropped that often plagues the dreams of many. That uneasiness. That bubble in the stomach. That rush to the brain.
The value of a dream is only quantifiable in the mind of the dreamer. It becomes something more than a dream only when a metaphor is established–and thereby attached–as the answer to an otherwise abstract experience. Like spinning around with a blindfold and trying to find people in the dark, the recurring dream becomes something more, when anticipatory and imaginative thinking creates an alteration of behavior, a change in consciousness, or a way to find things in the dark. It can become the blueprint for an artistic practice.
In Tom Torluemke’s latest offering at Linda Warren Projects, Blind Man’s Bluff, the artist seems to be fueled by the necessity to communicate his ideas–both to himself and to a perceived audience. Here, metaphors(capitulated by the title of the exhibition) are born in cultural experience, unadulterated thought, and dreams–they are the conduit by which this artist transmits his signals in this densely populated exhibition.
The main gallery is filled with paintings, mostly executed with acrylic paint on irregularly shaped MDF panels. This device is useful. It appears to extend his metaphor. To exemplify the oddity that is his commodity–his ideas. Torluemke’s ideas may be his bread and butter, but his ability to execute and transmute his thoughts into compelling objects, is equally evolved.
Torluemke’s metaphors come alive in works like Day Dream 2015. This decisively cut panel adopts the profile of a man–a shape that is repeated again and again to develop the edge of the painting. A surreal landscape occupies the mind. Faces form the face. Dark matter makes the shadowy abyss beyond the dream. Paint is liberally applied to these slick surfaces, making it a joy to discover the miniature paint galaxies in the depths of the work.
In the smaller gallery a more intimate but more direct version of Torluemke’s metaphor adorn the walls. The drawings are made while blindfolded, with one continuous line–details are added later. What is interesting to me about these works is less the product(though I like the drawings), and more so, the idea of creating an action born in metaphor. If Torluemke feels like his artistic process is often like doing a frankenstein walk blindfolded in the dark, as a child does in Blind Man’s Bluff, then it is this thought, this metaphor, that has driven him to thoroughly explore and excavate this idea and all of its potential. As a dream only becomes understandable by way of syntactic dissection and cultural grounding, so too must a metaphor be broken down into its component parts for reassembly as something new. Something learned. Something useful to the pursuant.
There is a multiplicity in these works that contextualize the conditions under which these objects are made. I can sense an urgency. I can feel the excitement. I can see ideas mutate on the surfaces. The work seems to be in constant transition–from panel, to sculpture, to blindfolded drawing and back again. Torluemke’s process plays out like a dream as he traverses from one unexpected place to the next. There are no answers here, only snippets of dreams. Remnants of action. Links to a lineage of ideas that are constantly evolving.
By following the hunch, pursuing the dream, and unraveling the metaphor, Torluemke seems to have developed a method for finding his way in the dark.
Linda Warren Projects
327 N Aberdeen Suite 151
Gallery Y & Gallery X: Tom Torluemke, “Blind Man’s Bluff”
April 17 – June 13, 2015
Opening Reception: Friday, April 17, 2015, 6-9pm
Artist Talk: Saturday, May 16, 2015, 3-5pm
By Kevin Blake
It was dead on all accounts. Dead–curled in a forever pose on the patio chair. Silent. Breathless. Still. It was an omen. It was a sign. It was a memory. It was a haunting. It could be anything that my consciousness willed it to be.
It was a trying winter–one that tested us all. In the early days of spring, the yard came to life. The grass emerged from the hundred day’s winter frost with a new partner–the purple crab grass flower–a weed with a pretty face. The softest limbs of the old oak trees indent the soil of the ground–strewn about the yard by the winds of winter and pushed into the earth by the weight of snow and ice. All that remained, deserved this spring. This rebirth. This chance to live when survival is seemingly easier.
The paradox that its death suggests is timely. It arrives at a time of life–at a time where all things thrive and multiply. In this moment, the conditions may have made it brave. It may have disrupted its good reason that had helped it survive the winter. The conditions may have made it careless. With its belly full and its mind aloof, dying was easy.
It lay peacefully dead on my chair–the one that I had moved just slightly over so that I could be more comfortable when I was sitting on the deck a few days prior. My instincts told me to place blame. To find fault. To develop reason. To retrace its death so that I could find comfort in whatever loss I felt I had sustained through its death.
I proposed, to myself, that it had fallen from the tree–that it missed its mark on a leap of faith. There were no broken branches to suggest a failure of a known bridge to the neighboring tree and no remnants of the nest to suggest a struggle. Directly below its home in the listing limb it lay, until another force moved it.
Its position on the chair gave me pause and the impetus to take a picture. It looked comfortable. Settled. Dreaming. I felt the need to document the scene. The tree. The squirrel. The chair. The yard. I knew I had to remove it from its final resting place. I had to feel its weight on the end of a shovel–I felt it in my wrist and forearm. It became an extension of me–an alien prosthetic, if only for a moment, that forced me to consider my position.
As I walked the carcass to the front of the house where I intended to put it in the trash, I discovered another dead squirrel next to the curb–a bizarre synchronism. It too remained in a peculiar position–leaving the world in a bed of fallen leaves–a metaphor within a metaphor. Its location relative to a splash of white paint on the yellow curb made the scene appear composed–a work of art. A balanced image in every sense of the word. Diagonals. Space. Bands of color. Range in scale and marks. I could see the paint making this painting. I could see the process of its painted life beginning very much like its birth–thin, hesitant, bare, and vulnerable.
My intuition told me to build this narrative. To find a purpose or lesson in this trauma–in this coincidental ether I am allowing to be the center of my attention. What became glaringly apparent was that I was looking for a profane image from which I would base my thoughts–from which I would create an abstraction worth excavating.
To create anything that conjures abstract thinking is to allow oneself to take their eyes off the ball. To swing at something in the periphery. To focus ones attention away from the center of the mandala is to drift into the unconscious consciously. This is where the waves of casuistry begin to carry you to a composition of your own design. This is where the world resembles a place painted by yourself for yourself.
When you close your eyes, and open them behind the lids, you will not see nothing. You see light. Patterns emerge. If you focus your eyes on one pattern, the others will dissipate and the image you have created takes motion. It will attempt to flee your field of vision and the only thing that will wrangle it back to center, is your focus–your undivided attention to it. This exercise is both a testable experiment and an apt metaphor for the attention we pay to the seemingly pivotal moments in our lives that are, in reality, a portion of something infinite and perpetually moving in and out of focus. Though our individual roles may be finite, we all carry potential–potentials realized through pursuits chosen.
The Latin phrase, omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis–all things change and we change in them–seems useful here to describe our relationship to the incidentals concurrent with our pursuit of what we consider primary objectives. I certainly wasn’t looking for dead squirrels. I am not a photographer. I was drawn into this essay by allowing myself to be–by knowing it would be somehow useful. I took the photos last spring, because I wanted to recognize anomalies of my experience. I wanted to chase a pattern that caught my eye. I wanted to recognize a possibility. I wanted to identify myself in the visual world and reveal myself to myself.
By Kevin Blake
Suddenly, and with little warning, the sun came out. After months of winter grey, the yellows pierced the clouds, warming surfaces in its reach. I was lost in a hardwood puddle of twilight orange on the gleaming floors at Corbett vs Dempsey when it came to me. The sunset squeezed through the blinds and the small rectangular allowance at the base of the window, drawing highlights of its manufactured geometry across the deck of the gallery. It was, as Agnes Martin describes, a “moment of perfection.” To her, a moment of perfection occurs at the moment of recognizing its existence. Perfection does not happen in the eyes. We do not stumble upon it. It happens in the mind–its always there–waiting for you to recognize it.
In this moment, it was apparent to me that somehow light is perfect. It is a blanket in the cold. A guide in the dark. A beacon in the void. We attempt to reflect, refract, and reproduce light to our affection. It is a shared physical reality, only partially explainable with measurement. More importantly, light is a force of nature that we have created metaphors, myths, and legends for, in an attempt to describe its unnameable qualities–its attributes that make it inherently perfect. Much like the light, the echo claims similar traits. It is a phenomena of our tangible universe that, beyond its quantifications and practical applications, we are left with the residue of myth–an intangible substance that occupies real space in our minds.
In her most recent exhibition at Corbett vs. Dempsey, Jackie Saccoccio delivers “Echo”–a series of abstract portraits whose titles steep them in populated discourses, that are merely auxiliaries in arriving at a singular and psychological entanglement between the artist, the viewer, and the work.
When I try to imagine my last experience of an echo, the place I imagine is not likely to be the actual place of observation. Instead, I reproduce a space in my mind in which I know an echo would exist. A canyon. A vast expanse. Mountains. Water. It is idealized. It is perfect. I recall the dynamic quality of the experience–I remember how special of an anomaly an echo is, and I repeat an indistinct noise over and over to hear myself projecting into the infinite space where echoes occur. A similar facade monopolizes my mind when I think of a portrait. The image I concoct is one built from history–a resonance of the renaissance. I expect the form to be central and I expect it to be human. I expect the figure to be the display, as well as the model from which an idea is propagated.
While the infrastructure of renaissance portraiture may exist in Saccoccio’s paintings, the centralized figure remains only as the most distant resounding of an echo. As the portraits recede into the deep spaces Saccoccio creates through perspectival maneuvers and layers of controlled spills, new possibilities emerge.
In Square in the Hole, the artist leaves little trace to the portrait. While a figure might be unearthed from the light wash of brown ground hovering in the depths of the painting, my eyes are drawn into the green jet streams blasting into the corner at top right, and the more subtle version of itself that brings the eye in the opposite direction on the other side of the painting. Those finishing moves–executed with some sort of straight edge or squeegee, are the major forces in this piece. These lines do more of the heavy lifting than any other part of the painting. They are the conceptual foundation of the title–directing the eyes to the round hole that the title suggests the square painting is trying to fit into, as well as a hint into the density of these works as a whole.
To me, Square in the Hole, was the blueprint for the exhibition. It alluded to the role of the titles within the physical and conceptual spaces manifesting on the canvases. What I initially saw as a physical engagement with the various properties of paint–getting lost in tracing each step in the process and spinning them around in my mind as I followed the trajectory of the curated spills–I could now understand as a guided experience. The artist knew where I would go with my eyes and my mind, and the painting is designed this way. The titles simply gave me the necessary nudge into this read of the work.
To me, these paintings are simultaneous self-portraits–as maker, viewer and sitter. I could see the artist stepping in and out of these roles to make aesthetic decisions–wrestling with these large objects in the studio while grappling with a psychological understanding of what an abstract image is and how it functions within a world of language systems that play vital roles in projecting this knowledge.
The more time I spent with this work, the more my experience felt like a dialogue, rather than an individually perceived moment. I felt as if I was being told–through the images–that the way I think about and process an image is echoing throughout the paintings as a precondition of the language systems that govern our perceptions.
I left the exhibition thinking about the residue of myth–the power of language. I left thinking that my experiences of physical space and thus, images, are just as crucially dictated by language as they are by the primary areas of physics–the areas that would explain, with language and diagrams to boot, how an echo works.
If the echo is a metaphor for the psychology of understanding language systems–it is a perfect one. The further you track it, the more distant it becomes.
By Kevin Blake
I’m watching a fly float over the clouds in the water’s mirror of the sky. It skitters, flutters and floats–leaving behind a turbulent wake that appears in my imagination as an erratic line, proofing the fly’s movements through space. The trace loops through the three dimensions of the surface. As I approach the water, the lines shorten in the distance,(we know the rules of perspective)and the view becomes topographical. Im now standing over the water–looking down to see the fly. Time is illustrated in the dissipating image of the oldest movements. As the fly plunges closer to the eye, its jet wash hurls swinging vortices in fattened, pressure soaked movements. I see the speed of the fly quicken as its impression gains purpose. The history of the fly becomes an image–a propeller–under which an amorphous yellow, seeps through like a memory of its former self, struggling to evolve. The water’s mirror seizes this propeller at the concrescence of meaning. The lines become the language of the apparatus. The metaphor dissolves. My fly disappears. It is just a painting again–Christopher Smith’s painting, Untitled IM32 in the north gallery at Riverside Art Center.
I pull away from the painting in the intimate room in which it is hung–weaving, in a backwards motion, through a crowded opening at this cultural oasis in the obscurity of urban sprawl currently demanding (through persistent quality offerings) our attention and travel. In RAC’s latest offering, All In, curator Karen Azarnia has selected a group of painters who display a range of approaches to abstraction. From the cannon that binds them to the execution that separates them, these artists convey their painterly chops while maintaining a singularity whose description is, admittedly, just my reflection in the water. My ideas. Their images. I try to link them here–I try to create metaphors from visual cues to create meaning. I create meaning to locate my interaction with these images within my own experiential dictionary. I am both limited and liberated by the extents of my exposure.
Creeping into my frame at stage left in my back pedal, are two small paintings by Magalie Guerin. At first glance, I glean my expectations from her work. I calculate immediately that what I am looking at, and about to engage further, is figurative abstraction. I see the anatomical forms that I have come to know and believe I understand of her work. However, I also believe in looking further. I believe in experience as the means of dissolving boundaries built from previous experiences, and I pivot to an about face with the work, intent on discovery.
Scanning the paintings, I consider my entry. I consider having entered my reflection in the water by movement through it–I see the ripples as causation rater than effect–as they distance, the image clears. My eyes are directed to a deep space in the upper left corner of the painting Untitled (hat–red room) 2014. In this portion of the image there is, in fact, the painted description of a human profile topped with a hat in front of a red backdrop. The angled lines tunneling to it, suggest the architecture of the title as well as the essence of the total. Herein, I find the strategy for extrapolating from the learned historicity of painted space as a means of creating new visual syntax.
I see Guerin’s visual clues to Matisse’s red studio and to a number of his blue paintings wherein, Matisse forces the viewer to consider color fields as space, utilizing line only sparingly to describe perspective and scale. I see the clues she leaves behind about the figure and its relationship to space. I visualize the discourse Guerin alludes to when I discover what I think she has done with it. Out of the deep corner in the red room, the figure emerges. The painting is made of the figure. It is repeated over and over again. The figure is the space. The space is the figure. The repetition is utilitarian while maintaining enough ambiguity to force the viewer to work for the strategy.
The painting that commands this room looms large over my left shoulder as I circle around to it. John Phillips’ Untitled 2014, is a slick veteran painting that showcases the artist’s unflinching commitment to abstraction. It looks like bubble gum and cotton candy–the colors of nurseries and lawn storks. It is atmospheric while sharp. It is rigid and loose. It equally distributes the wealth throughout the gridded structure that maintains its form. Here the metaphors escape me and I’m left to decipher an analytic code–a code writ large in the history of abstract painting. The oval form that Phillips deploys isn’t a reference to his massive record collection. They aren’t planetary. They aren’t a representation of anything. They are a serviceable geometric form that Phillips has utilized throughout his career to organize space.
My eyes make contact with the edges of the painting, where Phillips seems to be particularly deft. He encapsulates the expanse by maintaining his boundaries, pushing objects into a deeper field. The bars breaking up the painting horizontally, pulsate in and out of space. This undulating motion is dictated by where a bar meets an oval. The ovals assume the surface level and thus, control the space. Through a manipulation of perceived space that is his own, Phillips stamps another canvas with his potent investigations.
As I segue to the south gallery, I meet Melody Saraniti’s work in a narrow walkway between galleries. The path and the crowd draw me into close proximity with the work, forcing an intimate encounter with the materials. It is through this piece, that my own thematic emerges.
I see Saraniti’s dialogue. I can See what she means. We use this expression often, whether looking at an image or not: “I can see what you mean.” It conveys the sense of dialogue. I became fixated on this idea, and how it resonated throughout the exhibition. In Hexylene 2015, Saraniti draws from the well of modernist vernacular to assume the position of the viewer. She amplifies this vocabulary by making three dimensional models of painting moves, such as the drip, the smudge, or the straight from the tube application. Within this framework, she views her own process and materials.
A similar trajectory can be found in the contributions from Diana Gabriel and Alexander Herzog, wherein painting grammar and language systems guide the viewer through their work. In Herzog’s piece, Graft 1 2015, I was convinced that I was reading text in the cascading block forms in the foreground of the painting. I could see what he meant. I could see the connections he was making to visual language and the syntactical arrangement of painting gestures. Herzog seems to commit to the lexicon of language itself–to breed this existing familiarity within the act of seeing.
The behemoth of the show, Scott Stacks, Untitled 2013, is on its own plane–working with perspective one ardent line at a time. His persistence appears honest and painstakingly carried out. The matrix of lines projects a techno-narrative slant wherein I find yet another form of language manifested in paint.
At the exit, I take one last glance. I return to what I see. In this exhibition, I see more than seven different styles of abstract painting. I see the history of abstraction and the nature of its survival over time. I am reminded of a Bruce Lee quote: “Notice that the stiffest tree is the most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” The parameters that have bound various historical art movements were also the factors in their inevitable deconstruction. Abstraction has survived time because it mutates in the eye of the receiver. It becomes them. It becomes their reflection in the water.