TEXT BY MICHAELA MULLIN | VIEW IMAGES
Wonderlands are made of all sorts of composites: ribbons, greenery, snow, berries, bells. But wonderlands are also composed of the satirical, sardonic, sublime, serene, cacophonic, and simply-stated playful harmonics. The Winter Group show at Moberg Gallery this year is all about a full wreath of the latter. Miami-based photographer and graphic designer, Santlov, and Chicago-based photographer, trashhand, exhibit new works that make and have fun, and also inspire awe. They are joined by a crew of amazing artists: Andrew Abbott, Wendell Arneson, Johanne Brouillette, Goizane Esain, Gwen Gunter, Thomas C. Jackson, Anita Jung, Annick Ibsen, Conn Ryder, SWOON, Jeffrey Thompson, Lucas Underwood, Chris Vance, Aaron Wilson & Tim Dooley, and Jason Woodside.
Santlov makes us rethink our heroes and our villains—and gently forces us to recognize how often one is the other, therefore doing double duty. It reinforces, of course, the complexity of humans that we use action figures, fictional characters, filmic icons to layer meaning, to remove it from self by placing it where we can really see it (but also dismiss it)—externally, in the world. Take, for instance, “iPhone Home,” which shows E.T. looking down at his mobile phone in order to “reach” his family of aliens. This is not unlike old and new generations of humans, who no longer look up and out, or much at all into the distance, because everyone is a few screen-touches away, and everything is, seemingly, right at the fingertip. Or take “Bills, bills, bills”: A storm trooper pinches between his eyes with a headache coming on—he has the same problems as everyone else—debt and paperwork, as well as finding time to keep up with the demands of The Man—in this case Vader (who was also once a would-be hero, Anakin). Santlov’s satire revels in taking iconoclasts gone icon, and then breaking the myth again: Woody and Buzz from Toy Story become Warhol and Basquiat from their famous “boxing match” poster; Van Gogh’s tragic end, perhaps foreshadowed (at least in retrospect, thanks to Don McClean) in his painting, “Starry Night,” gets levitated by a Pixar/Disney character, who himself has a sad story of losing his beloved wife. Santlov mixes the use of sky to connect these two disparate stories and mediums, and to make of it a hybrid reflection. One can write whole narratives to these small tableaus; this is the thrill of using familiar characters – meanings are both given and made astoundingly anew.
trashhand makes striking vivid large-scale photos; the five on display here are done as dye sublimation on aluminum. The sheen of these excites the color and contrasts that already live in the frames he creates. From the metro station with caves, to the streaking lights of passing traffic, from the tunnel vision of an architectural shaft to the human subject at the market, trashhand sets out to be inside a culture or structure (even when shooting exteriors). He wants to gently envelop, and in turn evince, a feeling about the place, space, person; to share what he sees, but also what he is feeling while taking the shot: “I color correct my images to reflect the emotions I felt when I was there in that moment or emotions I want the viewer to have while standing in front of my images. Showcasing reality is truly important to me as a photographer, I believe this world is beautiful without any type of heavy manipulation.” His body of work, even in this small sampling, indicates the wanderer that yields such innovative sight, and he says he feels like a nomad. He also likes the risk often involved, such as the surreptitious nature of getting into (and out of) a dilapidated building unseen: “It’s pushed me to be not just a great photographer, but a great explorer.”
There are always delicate and emotional surprises in the work— large or small, on paper or architecture—of Brooklyn-based artist SWOON. “Allison the Lace Maker” (silkscreen, gouache, and handmade paper) and “Grandpa EV 5/12” (cut paper on found object) are very different, but the way they evoke a sense of connection is similar and can be sensed in all her work. “Allison the Lace Maker,” has its working subject just off center, standing above what appears as perhaps a Day of the Dead piece. Her torso floats, and the rest of her gets lost in pattern—actually disappears. Her attention is lovingly placed at the pinnacle of her handwork. While “Allison” is quietly active, “Grandpa EV 5/12” is a still portrait in white, the man’s suit jacket made, in part, of maps, cut outs of smaller figures, and fingers—joints and nails and all. These small intricacies help build the larger profile, telling a story of the accretive nature of growing older, long life, and remembrance.
Gwen Gunter’s “Everyone Else Does Too” is a graphical opto-pop of color, not quite blocked, but just ordered enough to balance itself with the viewer. Her shapes dance as figures, or silhouettes of figures. The roundness is offset by the black lines, which both go over and through and under, thereby almost connecting each segment of the composition. The geometry becomes a thread that misses and marks. In its tautness, it reminds us that it not only leads but demarcates, and that at its best angle, makes a portrait of the line.
Aaron Wilson & Tim Dooley have on exhibit a small installation of visual and interactive sound work. “Feedback Loop” incorporates a two-sided table with mid-century chairs. At these stations are a digital delay, flanger, drone, and distortion pedal. The splits of pathways, the feedback loops, all the sounds that are not noise, but signal something specific (whether it’s understood or not) offer the sonic foreground to the screenprint on mixed media. The screenrpint breaks down the components of the station in associative and referential ways, while also visually “mixing” the “sounds”—a map of the synaesthetic experiences the installation offers up to the viewer and simultaneous listener.
Goizane Esain’s “Western Gateways” pluralizes the Des Moines downtown area known as the Western Gateway, by offering slivers of views, from different perspectives. Esain presents myriad gateways into the landscape that holds so much art and architecture: a cantilevered corner of the Renzo Piano building, a pumpkin slice of the Yayoi Kusama variety, two zooms of Jaume Plensa’s “Nomade,” and more, and more, more. These large vertical panels, dye sublimation of aluminum, create a different trip through and around the sculpture park. Not surreal but fragmented in glorious redirection and siting.
The title of Thomas C. Jackson’s “Midway Boogie-woogie”, plays with the iconic painting title of Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie Woogie.” But Jackson does not do minimal here; he intends for the visual surprise that is this large oil painting, filled with fairgoers and carney games and vendors, a crowd to the edges of the canvas. And like Mondrian’s “Composition” paintings, Jackson uses black and white to contextualize the color, and color to contextualize the black and white, all paramount to his visual communication. Jackson is less theoretical, his paintings most certainly representational, and his work is always an offering of fullness that makes the eye search in delight.
Jeffrey Thompson’s oil on linen paintings, mounted to wood, make comfort in the dark. His “Orchids” is/are crisp whites, petals climbing softly on spikes. The greens are greyed, giving the softening light that allows the dimensional nature of each crease in Thompson’s magnificent petalage to open out to us, to compel us to lean in. “Sunflowers” is even more shaded, the yellow brightness of the titular flower becoming the blossoming punctum. Sitting amongst stargazers and gerberas in pinks and purples, the inflorescence, or head, is perfectly placed to bare its brown disk flowers, and its ray flowers to illume the composition.
Johanne Brouillette “Joie de Vivre III” becomes pleasantly sharp as I am drawn into it; its markings and collage work are more dash than slash, more semicolon than comma. The paint strokes, in dark blues and browns, are not so much clustered as pulled together—the palette is intensely clear and bold, even when colors merge, blend, impose upon one another.
Andrew Abbott “Red Hook Stu’s Workshop” is one of three new works in the show. This busy mise-en-scène is not crowded, but full by means of generous consideration of its small yet capacious surface space. Abbott’s superbly strange worlds are not often placed clearly “inside” a structure, but this painting has the fantastic effect of an imaginarium, curated just so.
And that is the best way to describe the Winter Group Show 2019: a wonderland and imaginarium, curated just so. Don’t miss out—the exhibition is on view until January 6.