Tag Archives: Abstract art

Ebru Ercan’s Paintings at Sight + Sound Gallery

Ebru Ercan’s abstract paintings at the Sight + Sound Gallery play with readily available shapes and colors. We see swirls and rectangles, and familiar shades of blue, green, and red. In separate works the abstracts evoke landscapes or the human form or the cosmos. Some pieces suggest spatial depth while some only the canvas’s surface.

Ebru Ercan’s “Summer Solace,” 30” x 30”, acrylic and resin.

Ebru Ercan’s “Summer Solace,” 30” x 30”, acrylic and resin.

Although these elements of shape and color may be viewed as predictable, Ercan’s attitude of avid exploration is palpable, as the beat of each painting, or its “energy,” to use an overtaxed word, creates the possibility of encountering the unfamiliar. A longer viewing time allows the familiar elements to become unfamiliar again. Ercan’s willingness to take familiar elements as a point of departure encourages the viewer to do the same.

The images on this page showing Ercan’s work are woefully inadequate as reproductions of the paintings themselves. One element that cannot be seen here is the thick, shiny resin surface of the paintings. In “The Safe Haven,” Ercan presents a simultaneously inviting and foreboding landscape, a dimly lit swamp worth getting lost in. But you have to be in the room with the painting’s gleaming surface in order to feel the wetness of its apparent refuge.

Ercan’s “The Safe Haven,” 36” x 60”, acrylic and resin on canvas.

Ercan’s “The Safe Haven,” 36” x 60”, acrylic and resin on canvas.

We saw this type of glossy surface on paintings earlier this year at Pryor Fine Art on Miami Circle. The pictures weren’t entirely abstract but were modern in the sense of: experimenting with disjointed images; combinations of realist and abstract images; experimentation with what is complete and what is not; exploration of ideas.

The question interests us: What is that thick veneer saying to the viewer?

Our first impulse was to believe that that veneer is meant to convey a higher artistic value, which then translates to a higher monetary value. Applying a glaze to an object can signify an additional layer of labor and attention by the artist or craftsman, though it does not require long training or deep reflection or a particular vision to apply such a veneer to a painting.

Another impulse is to feel the shiny surface as a direct symbol of wetness. We noted above that the veneer on Ercan’s painting, “The Safe Haven,” leant the swampy image a sensation of wetness. But Ercan applied the same veneer to all of the paintings on display, and wetness surely is not a theme appropriate to all of the paintings.

It also occurred to us to wonder whether the thick glaze suggests an insecurity with the abstract nature of the images. We live in a time and a place where the anti-intellectual forces of government and business have regrettable credibility when they point to abstract art and say it is of little value because “my child could have done that.”

We wonder whether thick glazes on paintings are somehow a response to that anti-intellectual hostility. The glaze is meant to be, or unconsciously serves as, a shield asserting a layer of value that few children (or politicians) could accomplish.

Fortunately, here at Atlanta Art Blog, we are protected against the local anti-intellectual forces by a thick veneer of faith in the creators.

Sight + Sound Gallery occupies a small space at Studioplex in the Old Fourth Ward. The Gallery also retails high-end audio equipment.

Sight + Sound Gallery occupies a small space at Studioplex in the Old Fourth Ward. The Gallery also retails high-end audio equipment.

Ebru Ercan’s “Enchantment” is on display at Sight + Sound Gallery through September 6, 2013. Atlanta Art Blog thanks Caitlin Zelinsky of Sight + Sound for her thoughtful remarks on Ercan’s paintings during our visit.

Lyndon House Arts Center’s “Big” stuff, plus art of Ossabaw Island

We promise not to stray from the capitol very often. That was our promise when we launched the Atlanta Art Blog. But the fact is, the term Atlanta covers a multitude of suburbs.

On June 15, we opened our eyes in Athens (no one calls it a suburb), where the Lyndon House Arts Center hosted an opening reception for an exhibition of work by a handful of artists with southern connections: Duane Paxson, Scott Stephens, Judy Majoe-Girardin and Briana Palmer. This show is apparently entitled “BIG,” which refers to the larger scale of the works.

"Memorial to a Slug," by Duane Paxson

“Memorial to a Slug,” by Duane Paxson

We viewed the work on display in the Center’s Atrium gallery a bit after the lunch hour. The Atrium insisted that its own personality be heeded, dressed in the splashy orange glow of the mid-day sun as it poured through the glass ceiling and electrified the brownish orange wood floor of the gallery.

Perhaps all of that tinted sunlight was appropriate for the artists’ biological references: Briana Palmer’s work referenced cell biology, Paxson insects and slugs, and Majoe-Girardin and Stephens the arboreal realm. Paxson’s large sculptures hung from the ceiling and managed to command both awe and a childlike curiosity.

"Behind the Dunes," by June Ball

“Behind the Dunes,” by June Ball

One can almost escape the Atrium’s orange light in the upstairs gallery, where the Ossabaw Artists’ Collective displayed extensive and perhaps repetitive portrayals of skeletal beach trees, driftwood, herons, and saltmarsh moonrises. Notable works included certain oils by June Ball in which a sky’s freedom is so vividly re-created, and works by Paula Eubanks in multiple media that see Ossabaw as not just an island landscape but a place that holds a human history that is worth the struggle.

“BIG” works are on display at Lyndon House Arts Center through September 27, 2013, as is “Ossabaw Island: Holy Ground.”

Duncan Johnson’s Wood Paintings at Marcia Wood Gallery

Duncan Johnson’s works on display at the Marcia Wood Gallery put me in that certain mood when walking out into the woods, for no other reason than to be among plants and animals, and noticing that I hope to find some treasure there, some little lost cache of jewels, or a gold coin, or a letter from Walt Whitman. All of the things in the woods are jewels in themselves–if you know something about them. When it comes to gold coins, though, you don’t have to know anything. It’s gold and you’ve hit paydirt.

In that act of finding, there’s also the beauty of a story. “I was just walking along in the woods enjoying the trees and plants, and I saw this glint of light on the ground.”

Johnson’s works are composed of wood that he has reclaimed, not from the woods, but from landfills and construction sites. He forms the found wood into rectangular strips and assembles them into flat collages. He adds straight pencil lines and nails. If you look at photographs of the works, they look like patchworks of varying rectangles that either have painted surfaces or the natural wood surface.

Bend, by Duncan Johnson, 2012, 24 x 21

Bend, by Duncan Johnson, 2012, 24 x 21

At first they seem impenetrable, like a color field. The opportunity for play comes when you look at the work in person and see the variations in grain patterns, the paint in its varying styles and states of decay, the natural wood punctuated by knot holes and nail holes and perhaps gunshot holes. Portions of the works, with their colorful stripes, sometimes resemble flags.

The wood that provides the material for these pieces is of course three-dimensional, but Johnson has made these pieces flat like paintings. On the other hand, the pieces are three-dimensional in one important way: beneath the knot holes and nail holes the viewer sees the darkness of space rather than the material to which the wood strips are attached. As I wandered visually among the knot holes and bullet holes, the faded colors, the flecking, I imagined I could peer into those holes and see something behind or under the surfaces. What would I see? Surely it would be some of my fellow human beings, having some sort of drama, or making something.

Colorcode, by Duncan Johnson, 2012, 48 x 60

Colorcode, by Duncan Johnson, 2012, 48 x 60

This brought to mind Leo Steinberg’s theory that some of the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns reflected a desire to use the picture plane differently. Instead of using the picture plane to serve as a kind of window onto another world, it would serve as a work bench that can hold any conceivable object and explore any operational process. Steinberg called this the “flatbed picture plane.” The work bench analogy is critical. In referring to Rauschenberg’s “Bed” of 1955, in which the artist had applied paint to his own bed and then hung it on a wall, Steinberg says, “The horizontality of the bed relates to ‘making’ as the vertical of the Renaissance picture plane related to seeing.”

Johnson’s work plays out this theory. In the colored rectangles and rusted holes where bolts and nails once fastened together the pieces of a house or an office floor, it is possible to peer into the making of human wooden structures. This includes the ideas that guide those acts of making: Johnson’s superimposed geometrical lines and shiny nail heads suggest a reference to design drawings, the process of preparing to build, to occupy and to “civilize.”

Firetower, by Duncan Johnson, 2013, 18 x 16

Firetower, by Duncan Johnson, 2013, 18 x 16

What is also present that is not manmade is the wear and tear of time that is visible on these flat surfaces. What time does, what time works upon objects, is intensely present in the beautiful breaking down of old maroons and yellows, the tiny bloating of ambient moisture in natural wood, and the holes that form where the wood is weak.

I am glad I wandered into the woods and discovered Duncan Johnson’s work. It has the capacity to suggest both an exploration of the manmade and also an exploration of what is not.

Duncan Johnson’s work is at Marcia Wood Gallery through May 25, 2013.

Vernon Robinson Sr. Paintings at U*Space

Let There Be (detail), Vernon Robinson Sr., 2010, 18x48, Acrylic on Canvas on Board

Let There Be (detail), Vernon Robinson Sr., 2010, 18×48, Acrylic on Canvas on Board

The closest I have gotten to a drug trip lately was visiting Walgreen’s after dark to get some antibiotics and a Russell Stover carmel.

I read somewhere that Vernon Robinson Sr.’s art takes viewers “on a life affirming Afro-surrealistic mind trip!” I might be too distant from those references to agree, but I found Robinson’s art more down to earth than that.

Some of Robinson’s paintings from 2006 to 2012 are collected in “How I See What I Saw,” displayed in one of U*Space’s colorful galleries.

The paintings in acrylic feature a love of swooping patterns, colors that remind the viewer of tropical fish, and portraits of eyes that seem to have visited other worlds. Yes, the fact that those eyes may have traveled could lead a person to think “mind trip.” Still, I don’t believe these are images that Robinson dreamed or hallucinated, or intended as a supplement to intoxication.

Robinson’s boldest works collect brilliant patterns like a quilter collects patches of fabric and shapes them into harmonious collages. In “Let There Be,” “Ain’t Nothing But the Blues,” and “The King is Coming II,” the compositions contain exuberant and daring combinations of swatches. They also ultimately observe symmetry across the plain of the canvas. Unlike a product of intoxication, these works represent controlled exploration. They are like an improvised solo, set against the repeating harmonic pattern of a blues.

Unlike the blues, most of Robinson’s paintings contain little that is dark or quiet or slow in tempo. His tone is generally bold, bright and steady. When the image includes those eyes mentioned before, they provide even more assurance of a guiding vision along the way. There will be no groping in the dark.

A series of small paintings, two-and-a-half by three-and-a-half inches, seems to be a departure from forms described by the music paintings, if I may call them that. These small paintings are from 2012. They look like a collection of brilliantly hued clouds, shifting, coalescing, but rarely hardening into anything like liquids or solids. Though the colors are bright, and though the canvases are diminutive, these works point toward a dimmer place that Robinson may be searching.

They may represent a less controlled exploration than symmetry allows. We look forward to Robinson’s future discoveries.

“How I See What I Saw,” Solo Exhibition of Vernon Robinson Sr. at U*Space Gallery on Edgewood Avenue through Feb 24, 2013.

Update: The U*Space gallery closed, according to an e-mail from owner Terence Jackson on December 2, 2013.

Susan Cofer’s “Draw Near,” an exhibit of drawings at the High Museum

In Susan Cofer’s drawings one finds a range of composition from mild and gentle to bold and troubled. They range from figurative to abstract and their approach to their subject matter leaves a curious viewer with plenty of room to wonder–about creation, sin, beauty and the fragility of life.

Most of Cofer’s drawings in this survey since about the mid-1980’s are composed of vertical pencil strokes carefully applied to reveal both imaginary and realistic detail. In an interview on the High.org website, Cofer said that her preference for vertical strokes comes from her feeling that they are easier than horizontal strokes, allowing a meditative process. Perhaps similar to the chanting of a mantra, the repetition of a standard stroke may induce a mood of calm. I’m not sure I agree that a vertical stroke is, in general, easier than a horizontal stroke. Still, as with a meditative mood, it may be that the vertical stroke encourages a movement of diving downward; meeting the surface of a thing and then going beneath that surface; going deep.

Some of the drawings display natural landscapes that are mostly devoid of evidence of a human presence. The view tends to be from a great distance. A view from the middle distance is rare. The vertical strokes suggest motion, perhaps the vibration of the earth, a motion-pattern apparently knowable through observation, though the knowledge gained is not explicitly set out here. Most of the other drawings take their small subjects in close-up view. From the mid-1980’s forward we see so many drawings that take as their subject: a seed, a fruit’s flesh, an embryo of uncertain species, womb-like abstractions, some phallic shapes. Perhaps the artist’s meditation on a landscape leads to meditation on one small element of that landscape. This may lead to a problem: Diving below the surface for answers, we frequently find . . . more surfaces.

In my view the pivotal series of drawings here is the set of 16 drawings that focuses on the story of Eve’s time in Eden. Again we see the fruit, the womb-like images, and a snake. The drawings’ titles remind us of the natural setting of a wooded paradise, mostly devoid of people; of the innocence of exploration, of questions borne of curiosity. In one drawing there appears a small, dark, beastly face-shape. We know that sin is present, the danger of fatal punishment, and sinister purpose.

After viewing the Eve drawings I sensed that Cofer’s art wants to make a path toward the secrets of creation. The images of embryos and vessels and reproductive organs and early stages of biological development seem to be crucial as subjects because of their apparent proximity to creation. The artist is passionately curious, wants to “Draw Near,” as the exhibit is called. And yet there is hesitation in the work. Cofer’s colors are very mild, and perhaps even vague until the mid-1990’s, when we begin to see purer greens, violets, and reds. Is that a hesitating shyness, or is there an ethical concern about curiosity here? Perhaps the artist imagines that Eve was punished for being curious, and if so, couldn’t the artist be punished for the same offense?

This is only my speculation about Cofer’s drawings. Still, it seems to me that the limitations and dangers of curiosity are very relevant to our time. Intellectual inquiries are frequently dismissed as pretentious or even dangerous to creativity and productivity. On the other end of the scale, science is testing the limits of ethics with its study and use of reproductive technology.

For me, Cofer’s work stimulates questions about whether curiosity is always innocent, among many other compelling themes.

Susan Cofer’s “Draw Near” was on view at the High Museum through February 10, 2013.

Resource: To view the interview with Cofer currently (early February 2013) on the High Museum’s website, http://www.high.org, visit http://youtu.be/sAM7wgw951s .