Don't let the vague title fool you. "Summer
Group Show: Line/Form" at d berman gallery is a refreshing little
jewel of an exhibition.
Really, take "Line/Form" as something of a starting point
for this show. If there's one thing Alice Leora Briggs, Jeffrey Dell,
Mary McCleary, Joseph Phillips and Shawn Smith have in common, it's
that they are all art-makers deftly employing an exquisite sense of
line and form.
And that sense of discipline and attention to basic craft and composition
is always welcome, especially when an artist can also take the work
conceptually and thematically to the next level like the quintet in
"Line/Form" all do. There's plenty of unsettling yet intriguing
Take Briggs' dark and subtly chaotic drawings. Using a centuries-old
technique called sgraffito (from the Italian word for "scratched"),
Briggs overlays white acrylic paint with black India ink. She then
uses a variety of implements (from dental tools to X-acto knives)
to painstakingly scratch out her uneasy scenarios of a contemporary
world that's been historically reshuffled or one where the collisions
between innocence and evil are front and center. Female figures from
a Renaissance painting may be inserted into a modern laboratory where
they fiddle with medical equipment. Vigilante Minutemen take a break
from their marginally legal armed patrol of the United States-Mexico
border to smile for the camera or sip coffee. Nothing is really black
and white in Briggs' world rendered in black and white.
Likewise with Phillips. His delicate gouache scenes should be required
viewing for every decision-maker concerned with our built environment.
For a couple of years now Phillips, an Austin native, has created
beautifully rendered drawings in soft hues that depict an uneasy take
on the American dream of owning land. Phillips shows us pre-fabricated
land units — chunks of beaches, mountains, even glaciers that are
freakishly commodified and ready for purchase by the super-wealthy
who want their nature private. Some come equipped with security gates
or private helipads. One grassy outdoor concert venue comes with its
already attached VIP backstage lawn. If you think our revved-up desire
to possess and control the natural world doesn't threaten access,
Smith has a slightly less dark view of the collision between nature
and modern world. His assemblages made of hundreds of little wooden
cubes built into natural objects or animals ask us to question how
our image-laden and pixilated digital world tricks us into thinking
we really know nature. In the exhibit Smith positions a couple of
his pixilated-cubed woodpeckers onto a piece of wood that leans against
the gallery wall. Look closer and you'll see these ersatz creatures
have indeed done what Mother Nature hard-wired them to do: peck wood.
But Smith's birds clearly have cubed, man-made beaks, and so they
leave behind tiny squared indentations.
Nature never looked so precisely prefabricated.
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