Symptoms of Structure is a group show currently on exhibit at grayDUCK Gallery through July 15th. Becky Joye, Rebecca Rothfus, and Jason Webb interpret the modern landscape through two-dimensional mixed media that include drawing, gouache, stitching, collage, and acrylic paint.
Becky Joye’s works on paper come from her current body of work, Amusement, which draws from “the over-looked man-made landscape” of Ferris Wheels, radio towers, and even a “Big Tex” fireworks stand. She uses acrylic paint and pencil on black paper, elaborating on her structures with colored thread stitched directly into the paper. Her Ferris Wheels are whimsical and expressive abstractions of “real” Ferris Wheels. These delightful machines capture all of the movement and color of the spinning ride. The effect is an ebullient attraction that suggests the childhood anticipation of the carnival.
I am torn between Big Tex and Tip Top for my favorite in Joye’s Amusement works. Like her Ferris Wheels, they both hold such a sense of movement. Tip Top is terrifyingly unstable, and I like the tension of the hard, vertical stand coupled with the peril of that spinning top. Big Tex recalls every car trip across Texas and the mystery of those quiet, boarded-up stands that see business only a few weeks out of the year. You never see fireworks and firework stands together, of course (but wouldn’t that be a sight, to just launch the whole lot?), and only in Joye’s work can we see these two temporary spectacles simultaneously active.
In graphite and gouache, Rebecca Rothfus renders cell phone towers, structures that she finds “compelling and beautiful, but …also…blights on the landscape.” Indeed, they are fine objects. They are elegant and spindly, and as they are most often viewed from a distance, we can admire their form without the distractions of wear and tear that one might notice at closer range. They also assert an off-limits authority. These are monuments to modern communication, and we are its ravenous consumers. Yet, we are irrelevant bystanders to the towers’ erection. They are so alien to the landscape, these beautiful and terrible structures, and now I cannot stop looking at them!
These monuments rise up amid lightly-toned geometric circles and rays, but there is little compositional distinction between the abstract and realistic planes, and the greater sense of space is fractured and flattened. I immediately thought of Kandinsky and Malevich. There is the unmistakable sense of Progress (with a capital P) of that era, too. However, this fetishism for the Triumph of Technology is not delivered without reservation. Rothfus explicitly states her objective to “idealize the cell towers” (visually); yet, they “serve as a negative reminder of our dependence on technology and overdevelopment of land.” At the far right end of Rothfus’ space is a collection of newer works in collage. The cell tower theme continues, but in monochromatic paper. Here, the composition is fully flattened, and the effect is breathtaking. Cell towers and rays come together almost as marketing logos, as the monument becomes icon. I am excited to see how her work continues to progress.
Unlike Joye and Rothfuss, Jason Webb does not capture the monuments in our landscape. Instead, he paints scenes of dereliction in urban environments. He photographs interior and exterior spaces that bear all of the evidence of human presence (furniture in disrepair, scattered toys, graffiti), but without the agents of its use (or destruction). Webb paints from these photographs, and with striking technical virtuosity, he “elevate[s] the subject matter” beyond its sordid circumstances.
Webb’s paintings are realistically rendered, and he displays fine draughtsmanship. His line and form are crisply articulated. I was surprised to discover that his medium is acrylic, as he handles the paint like watercolor, with thin washes that lend a subtlety to these shabby environments. Eye-popping, garish tones would be too abrasive, too expected, even.
He states that he is “attracted to the dense, busy aesthetic of these environments.” Such dilapidation is engaging for its foreignness to most of us. We might witness such spaces on occasion, but few of us have spent much time in such environments. What is more interesting to me about Webb’s selected spaces is the disquieting intimacy of them. Somebody used the garish yellow bathroom in Best Medicine, and its owner trimmed the space with cactus wallpaper. In Hide Lock Take, the bedding by the highway is likely someone’s sleeping place. These were and are people’s possessions; they chose them, just as Webb chooses his compositions.
In addition to the fully elaborated environments, Webb also paints a series of Discard Piles, in which he isolates piles of refuse, abstracting them from their surroundings. Chairs, mattresses, benches, and children’s toys are collected in piles or more organized stacks. They are disparate objects, related only by their proximity to one another. However, by detaching them from their surroundings, Webb unifies them. He sets them against the flat white of the paper, and I am suddenly reminded of studio portrait photography.
The artists’ landscapes in Symptoms of Structure are visions of manufactured objects and structures, remains of a human society nowhere in sight, but everywhere in evidence. Refreshingly absent, however, is the post-apocalyptic tone that is currently so redolent in art and pop-culture. Instead, there pervades a sense of affection towards these curious objects that pepper our world, or at the very least, a bittersweet tenderness for these beacons on the horizon of an industrialized landscape.
Symptoms of Structure runs at grayDUCK Gallery June 15 – July 15, 2012