AUGUST 11, 2006: ARTS
By Amanda Douberly
"Below the Surface: A Different Order"
D Berman Gallery, through Aug. 19
Jeffrey Dell's latest prints mark a decisive break with "Running Amok," the large-scale mezzotints of Venice he showed at Flatbed Press in 2002 and at the Austin Museum of Art last year. All representational imagery has been cast aside in a new body of screenprints that delves deeply into process. Dell printed layer upon layer of acrylic paint onto sheets of cotton rag paper, then bent, scraped, and otherwise violated this support to get below the surface, as the title for his half of this joint show with Marjorie Moore makes plain. Strata of pink, red, and white paint are hidden underneath the top coat, which tends toward an institutional blue in much of the work. Dell has also broken a few rules of printmaking and allowed fingerprints, plus pushpin holes, to remain visible.
An entire wall of discrete works shows evidence of the same fold or scrape made horizontally down the middle of the paper in print after print, giving the impression of a geological timeline, as well as a sense of time's passage as each layer is built up and eroded away. This awareness of accumulation is accompanied by a feeling of loss, an aspect of printmaking that isn't always obvious – engraving or etching a mark and then scraping and burnishing the copper plate, applying a field of color only to cover it up with another. The erased mark disappears, but it has already changed the plate itself. In the case of Dell's screenprints, the hidden layers are brought back to the surface but only in fragments. This erosion effect is skillfully manufactured and satisfies more thoroughly with prolonged inspection. I am curious to see where this new direction will take Dell. Even if "Below the Surface" turns out to be transitional work, it is surely not a dead end.
Marjorie Moore treads in more familiar territory with "A Different Order." Moore shows parts of the collection of scientific and pop-culture artifacts she has amassed over the years alongside paintings and drawings inspired by these objects in an enclosed space that provokes intimacy – part wunderkammer, part attic. A sense of loss pervades this work, too, but it operates on another level: There is the loss of life endemic to road-killed frogs and taxidermied birds, as well as the passage out of childhood, marked here by a collection of discarded toys. Moore's project does not aim to embalm these artifacts in nostalgia, however, but to reinvest them with new meaning.
Aves, Aves, Aves combines bird toys,
dead birds, broken eggshells, and two canvas boxes upon which Moore
has drawn birds of various species. The grouping of found objects
and drawings adds a layer of organizational complexity to Moore's
taxonomy. In fact, in this context we might think of drawing as another
kind of ordering, a way of arranging and interpreting the world around
us. And the ordering goes further: The boxes and found objects could
be actively rearranged by an intrepid viewer. The combination works
on a conceptual level, but I have a hard time stomaching taxidermy-as-art.
Most successful are a number of smaller cubes, collectively called
the Biology Box series, which take the cabinet-of-curiosities idea
to another level. These diminutive boxes also bear carefully rendered
fauna on each surface, transforming Moore's drawings into something
like the specimens they depict.