Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Building on a Cliff: Matt Connors, Arturo Herrera & Merlin James

[“Tiergarten/Monuments” (2008), Arturo Herrera. Collage, mixed media on paper. “DBCWMCIII” (2009), Matt Connors. Oil on canvas. “To come” (2009), James Merlin. Acrylic on Plexiglas, wood, & metal.]

Creating bodies of work that are—at once—familiar and unsettling, Matt Connors, Arturo Herrera, and Merlin James move between painting, sculpture, and points between. On view at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. through January 23, 2010, the three artists included in “Building on a Cliff” largely work in areas of drawing and painting, while additionally creating hybrid works blurring the definitions of specific art practices such as painting-sculpture, photography installation.

In Connors’ dialogue with post-war abstraction and Modernist painting styles, his palette, line quality, and paint application most clearly enunciate. His works transcend the self-referential, while attempting to incorporate film, music, and poetry. Irrationality, desire, and anecdotal experience fuse into Connors’ installations and extend the tenuous abstraction of his work into the architecture of the exhibition space. Indeed, abstraction and representation fluctuate radically in Connors’ work. This while Connors negotiates back and forth from embracing and rejecting Clement Greenberg’s tenet, which holds that painting is irreducible only to be obfuscated by pictorial representation. Installations by Matt Connors, despite disparate yet coexisting priorities of media, the artist’s work nonetheless lauds Modernism. While working in one medium, the artist’s final results evoke yet another.

Arturo Herrera creates steel sculptures based on delicate ink drawings, large wall works from small found photo images, and collage works that fluctuate between the recognizable and the abstract. Herrera’s fluency in a range of media allows him to evoke memory as he taps into the collective unconscious: This is true regardless of whether he works collage, work on paper, sculpture, relief, wall painting, or photography. In Herrera’s synthesis of characters, shapes, and obscured images memory and recollection are palpable. The artist’s techniques of fragmentation, splicing, and recontextualization—while compelling in their own right—culminate in a rather subversive quality. As with Connors’ work, viewers experience visceral ambivalence between the figurative and abstract as well as a seamlessness with regards to media. All this while the artist straddles various genres and styles! In Herrera’s hands, assemblage can come off as a primal expression of Abstract Expressionism. Provocative, the artist combs various niches of our cultural such as cartoons, coloring books, and fairy tales in his sometimes dark explorations.

New paintings by Merlin James often reveal their physical structure and may even include small sculptural details. For over two decades, the painting of Merlin James has evolved across myriad genres such as portraiture, seascapes, landscapes, still life, erotic works, and interior scenes. Meanwhile, his styles have managed to accommodate the range from smooth studies through impasto. Paint’s materiality, in fact, comes forward loudly in his explorations—in which any number of ingredients find their way into his cauldron. While sometimes embracing a certain cryptic quality, James’ work vacillates on degrees of representation as well as between tradition and innovation. As critic Roberta Smith has written about James: “His paintings blur abstract and representational; they hint at photographs, but also evoke Modernist masters. They revisit traditional subject matter like landscape and still life, but can also attend quite explicitly to sex. Always, they are hyperconscious of physical means.”

Matt Connors lives and works in Los Angeles; Arturo Herrera (while born in Caracas, Venezuela) lives and works in Berlin; and Merlin James lives and works in Glasgow. Connors’ work has appeared at CANADA (New York), The Breeder (Athens), and LutgenMiejar (Berlin). The recipient of such awards as a DAAD Fellowship, Herrera’s work has been exhibited in such venues as Centre d’Art Contemporain (Geneva), Dia Center for the Arts, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, and the Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art. Meanwhile, James’ work has been shown in such venues as Kerlin Gallery (Dublin), Vitamin Arte Contemporanea (Turin), the New York Studio School, Kunsthalle (Manheim), Andrew Mummery Gallery (London), and Galerie Les filles du Calvaire (Brussels).

Building on a Cliff: Matt Connors, Arturo Herrera & Merlin James
Through January 23, 2010
@ Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
530 West 22nd Street, NYC 10011

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