Wednesday, March 12, 2008

annual photography

This year's "Annual Juried Photography Show" is the State of the Art Gallery's 19th. Like last year's, it provides a fine opportunity to survey the range of regional work (with some from beyond, too).

Joleen Mahoney Roe's architectural montage Sorroe is impressive but perhaps too slick. The thin, panoramic piece incorporates several separate views, which are variously repeated and staggered. On both sides is the same interior wall covered in graffiti script. In the middle are outdoor scenes; beams are all-over as are color painted totem-pillars and garishly colored Mother Marys. Otherwise, the middle is largely sepia-toned. Much of Sorroe's surface is soaked in a layer of digital effects - sometimes thin but thick and colorful around borders.

Carrie Chalmers' Red Rug. Niagara Falls, Canada is, in contrast, quietly poetic. Seen in three-quarters view from a concrete driveway is the back of a nondescript white house. The sky is cloudy and there is a thin layer of snow. Behind a tree is a porch; over one of the railings is the rug, the only patch of strong color. Two diagonal phone lines above the house act like picture corners (e.g. the little plastic ones) as do more subtle snow lines below. Jessica Evett-Miller also rings poetry out of similar color-contrasts. In Strata I and II, a knit red blanket draped softens barren, rocky landscapes.

Both Phil Koons' Cayuga Lake: Red Wall 27 and Myron Walker's Entrada (both digital) evoke early 20th-century modern painting. Cayuga appears to be a homage to the Synthetic Cubism of Picasso and Georges Braque, which is characterized by shallow perspective, angular fragmentation, and the juxtaposition of textures and signs enabled by collage. Picasso's 1912 Still Life with Chair Caning introduced collage into mainstream Western art. The cane (fake, printed on oilcloth), is alluded to in the Koons by three rectangular sections of wooden lattice. Also reminiscent of Still Life - and its brothers - is Cayuga's use of fragmented text. A "no parking any time" sign is in the foreground, tilting off the left edge. Only a "G," an "E," and a suggestive arrow are readable. (Compare with the similarly positioned French fragment " J O U" of the Picasso.)

Other similarities between the two works exist, but they are not quite versions. Cayuga is a rectangle rather than an oval and is dominated by red, green and blue along with the grays and browns of the older piece. In the background is a red building, perhaps a barn, and above a strip of bright sky. Cluttering the space in between is junk, mostly: pipes, a telephone pole, the lattices, a cinder-block, another arrowed sign.

Entrada is divided into two rectangular sections resembling the pages of an open book. The left shows a flat, solid wall, painted pink and covered in blobby white writing: the title ("entrance" in Spanish) and a schedule. Piercing this script is a yellow arrow gesturing right. The right is more dimensional; it shows the bottom of a pink stairway curving up leftwards. Above is a dirty mustard yellow wall painted with another arrow, dark red. The two pointers seem to echo each other but the right one is shorter and isn't flat, curving with the stairs. Paul Klee (a contemporary of Picasso) often used arrows in a similar way: both as strong graphic elements and as narrative cues, enticing the viewer to enter the work. Like Cayuga, the piece combines abstraction with a playful evocation of vernacular - albeit a more exotic one.

The over-scaled full-body portraits of Jessica Brown and Michael McCarthy show contrasting aesthetics. Brown's Polaroid self-portrait All the Lingerie I Own comes as a column of three framed pieces. These are subtitled separately (A, B, C) but are not experienced separately. As the title suggests, there is a wealth of fetishistic detail. McCarthy's void-like cyanotype Silhouette is white on dark warm blue, with ghostly blurring around the edges. Limbs are variously blurred and attenuated. The piece is a photogram, made without a camera by impressing objects directly on light sensitive paper. The paper is roughly textured and the piece has a painterly quality.

There are numerous botanical close-ups in National. Too often, these lean towards either the predictably competent (Linda's Lilly by Joshua Harden) or the unconvincingly experimental (the repetitive, mandala-like geometry of Daniel McPheeters' Succulents). Corrine Stern's Ornamental Cabbage, which is paired with, and echoes, her close-up Elephant's Eye is an exception. Both ink-jet prints are framed in glass, without any other backing. Cabbage is a reddish-purple ball surrounded by ghostly whitish leaves while the Eye is encircled by heavy folds of skin in cool grey and pale pink. Both have rich textures; the former's scattering of leaf-holes and dewdrops is particularly compelling.

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