Friday, August 14, 2009

Light Through Tattered Curtains at Heartbreak Hotel

[“The Straight & the Narrow,” Erik den Breejen (2009), acrylic on canvas. “E.S.A.D. Monster,” Russell Tyler (2009), oil on canvas. “Old Glory’s Wake (Part 1),” Michael Scoggins (2008), marker on paper. “The End,” Danial Nord (2008), DVD disk installation.]

Despite the extreme latitude of the medium, style, and approach of works in “Heartbreak Hotel,” this summer group show at Freight + Volume including 21 artists offers a galvanizing conversation on whether—despite solidity of identity—“together we are alone, alone we are together.” In this reverb and progression, implicit sadness resounds in this show’s metaphorical array. So many “walk a lonely street.” Ultimately, “Heartbreak Hotel” asks about regeneration and renewal. How appropriate, as we continue to deal with the fallout of the credit crisis, crazies at health care forums, draining effects of fighting two wars simultaneously, revelations of torture, continuing bailouts of corporate giants, and unacceptable levels of unemployment, underemployment, and general despair. None of this has been good for artists or the art market. In this show, Freight + Volume has provided a refuge for these artists—guests as well as gallery regulars—to participate in this rich dialogue across media. Importantly, they’ve been given an opportunity to regroup, rethink, and recreate their identities in a kind of “half-way house.”

Michael Scoggins' work—with its crushing, wrinkling, tearing, and folding paper—viscerally conjoins the physical and visual in a frenzy of various dimension perspectives. Rendered on large sheets of paper, Scoggins evokes the viewer’s various experiences in a way that can be seen as poignant, providing an avenue—whether naïve or not— to candidly express primal emotions. Indeed, nothing is sacred in terms of what can become fodder for Scoggins, yet this wry, shameless quality brings the viewer deeper into his work. In his straight-shooting manner, Scoggins deftly and inimitably sums up the tenor of this ensemble in “You Make Me Sick.” More subtly, Peter Hutchinson’s Wallflowers present an opportunity for the viewer to survey loneliness’ intersection with humor that so comes forward in “Heartbreak Hotel.” Importantly, Hutchinson’s use of text fortifies his work while allowing a reflection on the beauty of the unappreciated more than feelings of the rejected.

With color conveying mood and playing with our fascinations, Andrew Guenther’s ironic take on room service is a cunning trompe l’oeil. His illusion of perception and resultant suggestion returns over and over to evolution of various kinds—including culture, life, and ourselves—with or without spiritual underpinnings. While Guenther’s adornments and electric palette commence minus inhibitions, elemental individuality comes forward in a way that gels with the viewer’s clichés and fascinations. His nonsensuous mimicry incorporates color to capture moods, render worlds, and share the viewer’s very space.

In motives and ways that can touch on Guenther’s, Eric White’s equally cunning work has the effect of a lure and hook—giving way to prank and whimsy. White’s proportional distortion evokes surprise, juxtaposition, and non sequitur in a way that summons surrealism’s spontaneity and mannerism’s restrained naturalism. Heavily influenced by the work of psychic and trance medium Jane Roberts (1929-1984) and her channeled personality Seth, White devours alternate realities such as dream state and metaphysics. His technique and themes come together in complex, multidimensional, and refined worlds that tempt the viewer inside despite the peril. While White’s preferred medium is oil on canvas, his work and approaches to figuration absorb the photographic process in ways subtle and not so. Regardless, his brush painstakingly and competently mines scenarios calling forth issues of societal malaise (and their being overcome) at the heart of this show.

The subconscious looms large in Erik den Breejen’s work. Additionally, his colorful acrylic canvases carry on as self-explorative journals that tackle underbelly issues of abuse and decay. Tangled associations are plotted by Jonathan Hartshorn with drawings, photos, and objects (both found and created). Hartshorn’s collage-like installations seem complete in their intricate and tautological constructions of repetition and attempts at clarity. At once introverted and biographical, Hartshorn’s every component is significant and relational. Meanwhile, the installations of Danial Nord confront our society’s absurd mass production of waste and its eventual fate. Nord displays this absurd and destructive existence. His critical perspective forces the viewer beyond a role of silent onlooker to accept complicity in a choking economic ideology that makes our lives comfortable while it kills us. Thus, viewers of his work can longer escape questioning their own actions. His video work frames the other side of collapse and adversity. “The End” is most certainly a beginning. In his work’s repetition and anticipation, Nord’s sampling techniques inform us that, for some institutions, the end can’t come soon enough.

The work of Tabitha Vevers—both sharp and cutting—depicts scenes and narratives at face value, rather than fabricating or interpreting them. Concrete and tangible, Vevers’ technique and work absorb the spiritual grounding of Mexican devotional paintings while attempting to correct the gender-level imbalance of power. Circumstance and experience come together with a grounded internal process moving toward an integrated whole as opposed to a pastiche. No matter the action or construct, Fanny Allié’s work explores narratives through role-play, reenactment, and reflection. Equilibrium is examined at the same time she questions identity. Mystery and introspection help focus her work (and her viewers’ response toward them) on relationships toward the body, “family,” and outside world.

The intensity, energy, and seductiveness of Lucas Moran’s work—while on the rambunctious side—vacillates being issuing decay’s clarion call offering the viewer a glimpse of the city’s physical and psychological landscape. Meanwhile, Peik Larsen uses light, color, and relationships to reveal both a gesture’s physicality and its resultant energy—at the same time embracing imperfection on a number of levels.

Finally, Kadar Brock—one of my favorite artists (along with his fellow BUIA artist Matt Jones)—conflates minimalism and abstract expressionism in oil, acrylic, and spray paint on canvas. Personal psychological, physical, and spiritual realms associated with philosophy come alive in his primal work and push his dense and tactile abstract paintings to the limit. Brock’s work simply doesn’t allow the viewer to just observe: Rather these canvases compel one to take a journey.

Smartly, this gallery sees this current art world “correction”—mirroring events across all levels of a society that have been so adversely affected and traumatized by eight years of the Cheney/Rumsfeld regime—as an opportune time to create a healthier forward path. As described in the show’s press release: “When we fly too close to the sun, a plunge back to reality is inevitable. Yet maturity tells us that heartbreak is necessary and edifying, that scrapes come with lessons, and from those lessons new perspectives arrive to recharge the mind, body, and soul.” Freight + Volume is dedicated to showcasing the work of emerging and established artists, and in particular work that is innovative and not afraid to take risks. While Freight + Volume is especially interested in narrative and text-based material, its predominant criteria is the quality of the work, regardless of technique, content, or style. One finds here dynamic, visceral, and provocative work in all media and dealing with a range of subject matter. Remarkably, in “Heartbreak Hotel,” the gallery has remained true to that mission.

Heartbreak Hotel
Through September 12
@ Freight + Volume
542 West 24th Street, NYC 10011

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