Friday, October 05, 2007

space opera

Alan Singer has had a long and distinguished career as an artist. His work has encompassed everything from botanical illustration and graphic design to fine art in a range of abstract and realistic styles. In addition, he has been active as a curator and art writer. He teaches at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Singer has shown his work extensively in New York State, as well as around the country. Last year, he took place in Mostly Abstract, an impressive group print exhibit at Ithaca's Ink Shop.

Cosmology, his current solo show, is on view at Syracuse's Joan Lukas Rothenberg Gallery. The small space is part of the Redhouse, a lively multi-arts center also featuring music, theatre and cinema programs.

The aptly titled exhibit is dominated by modestly sized works on paper showing a Surrealist influence. Odd conglomerations of three-dimensional geometric forms, an anti-naturalistic use of illusionism and persepctive, the human body in fragments: all of these are familiar and well-worn tropes. The extent to which these pieces dodge cliché is a valuable measure of their success.

Surrealism was also notable for its use of novel and hybrid techniques. Such strategies as collage, frottage (rubbing paper over a textured surface), the mixing of mediums and styles, and the use of random procedures were used to provide suprise. Likewise, Singer's paper pieces combine digital printing (often applied through a transfer process rather than directly) with hand-painted watercolor. This approach makes for a lively variety of textures—everything from painterly clouds and smears to pixellated fuzz to flat, uniflected tone and smooth color gradiants. At their best, these painted prints offer an engaging fusion of the analog and the digital.

In addition to being a particularly striking and well-balanced composition, Parade Grounds contains many of Singer's signature motifs. The print is panoramic (28 inches tall and 35.5 wide), giving the sense of a landscape or stage set. The background is made up of hazy horizontal bands of violet, cyan, green, yellow, warm off-white, and pink. A vague horizon can be detected about two-thirds of the way down. Floating in the foreground are a pair of geometrically patterned heads (each with two faces, facing left and right), a tilted pink fence, various other grids and lattices, a pair of pink horn-like shapes, and a blue-gray polyhedron. These 3D forms seem largely untethered to the landscape behind. Tying the whole giddy assemblage together is thickly painted striped ribbon, colored in bold pinks and reds, as well as in colors matching the background. The flat, meandering strip leads the viewer around. (In the loosely similar Isle of Light, a matching ribbon is echoed by more literal roadway—a looping black band with dotted yellow lines running through the middle.)

The smaller, nearly square Hydroacoustic is particularly busy, yet lucid. Indeed, it does suggest sound in water. The thick yellow-greenish tint of the background does not much obscure a cluster of foreground forms gravitating toward the middle. Three curving, empty musical staves (in blue, red, and red-brown) attempt to nail the whole mess down, loosely forming an upside down T. Incongrously, a pair of orange flames burn in the middle. The background is multilayered. Dark, dull greenish stripes obscure a suble grid of rounded rectangles. The latter are either empty or filled in; the resulting pattern resembles an answer sheet for a multiple choice standardized test. (This design reappears elsewhere in the show, with variations, as do the staves.)

For better or for worse, both Beach Comber and 66th Horizon have the feeling of video games. They have deep, perspectival spaces that ask the viewer to enter and explore. The terrain in each is lumpy and similarly textured with a pattern of bent, broken dark stripes. Bizarre abstract objects invite interaction.

At least a couple pieces go overboard with their surrealist (or science fiction) imagery and/or style. Sculpture Court features a pair of realistically rendered tripod mounted satellite dishes (complete with shadows). They appear to be kissing each other. The piece also has an overly lo-fi, digital feel; the painted areas are not well integrated. Into the Crucible has—among too many other things—a globe studded with bulbous eyeballs. Even with the best pieces in the show, this aspect of his work is present and may not be to everyone's taste.

Also in the show are four oil on linen paintings, two of them large diptychs the size and scale of a human couple. The Ghost of Charles Burchfield has a unique vocabulary of flat, broken pale pink stripes over a warm blue background. Hazy white lights shine out from the middle. The other three cover more familiar territory. While transferring his cosmic motifs to a larger scale seems to make sense, Singer's paintings suffer from relatively uninteresting surfaces.

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