Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ed marion at gimme!

Ed Marion, Chad Crumm, 2008, acrylic on canvas, 12" x 12"

Ed Marion has made a name for himself locally as a painter of portraits and landscapes. Although numerous artists have focused on the area's rural and natural environments, Marion is one of the few to focus on cityscapes. His style is gestural, but his pieces are faithful and detailed enough to strongly evoke their subjects.

Through April 30, Marion showed a recent series of portraits at Gimme! Coffee's recently renovated space on Cayuga St.. Dating from 2008, the acrylic canvases are all square. Walking into the coffee shop from the street, the viewer will notice three large pieces (30" x 30") in a row to their right and six smaller (12" x 12") lined up to their left. The subjects are all local artistic luminiares — painters and players of stringed instruments. With one exception, each focuses on an individual.

A large-format Evil City String Band features four men standing in the foreground of a chalky-green, grassy field, otherwise deserted. Their clothes are casual but calculatedly stylish. They face more or less forward, wielding their various instruments somewhat stiffly. They seem oddly detached from each other and from us. And they are detached from their (surprisingly) pastoral setting, as if Marion is unsure how to place figures convincingly within a space lacking sharp angles. Illogic of posture compounds illogic of narrative — what are these guys doing out there? The landscape and figures are both fine in themselves, but don't fit together. Canvas size seems to compound this problem, since Marion tends to use small painterly gestures to create structure and rhythm.

Trevor MacDonald also appears to be another casualty of oversize. Its the worst piece in the show by a comfortable margin. Trevor, scruffy-looking, stands in front of a a tilted American flag. His right arm holds up an electric guitar, itself sporting a starburst pattern of red and white stripes. His left hand rests on his chest in a patriotic gesture. Everything is more or less red, white and blue. There is a mismatch of styles. Marion's subtle palate and gesturalism do not easily combine with hard-edge patterning.

Evil and Trevor both sport lurid, bright orange under-painting. This technique is used more prominently and more effectively in several of the smaller canvases, where it gives life to Marion's whitish colors. (This is particularly so for the over-painted skin-tones, which tend towards the disturbingly undead-looking.)

It also appears in the strongest of the large pieces, Paul McMillan. While too many of those have struggling-to-fill-all-this-space-type backgrounds, McMillan mostly avoids that trap. It shows a profile view of the artist in his cramped-looking studio, behind brushes and bric-a-brac, wielding a fine brush with concentration. He wears glasses and what appears to be a blue t-shirt. He has a mustache and dark, shoulder-length hair.

Painter Brody Parker Burroughs is shown, from the upper chest up, standing in front of one of his own pictures. The painting within a painting makes up the whole background, which gives Brody a flattened, compressed quality. Burroughs' downturned head is imperfectly mirrored by a more sketchily rendered one behind him. Otherwise, the "backdrop" has a jazzily rendered life of its own which threatens to steal attention from the ostensible subject. Again, the orange under-painting emphasizes this; there seems to be a light emanating from Burroughs' image.

Two more portraits feature local painters. Jim DeGraff is the only one here to face us, rather than his painting or an unspecified point. He does so grinning. He wears a baseball cap and a thick, hooded shirt, both green. His painting is in the background, to the left, tilted, and cut-off. It shows the torso of a woman, wearing a loose-fitting white shirt and blue pants.

Erica Pollock — we see her head and shoulders — wears a blue shirt and looks off to her right. Although she covers perhaps half of the (real) canvas, she again seems unsubstantial compared to her background. In this case it is a busy street scene. It may initially be unclear whether she is standing in front of a painting or the (depicted) real thing. But an edge near the lower left corner indicates that she is indoors.

More musicians are the subjects of the remaining small pieces. A portrait of guitarist Sim Redmond again makes effective use of an orange under-layer. Fiddler Chad Crumm is also well-served, while guitarist Kevin Kinsella comes out somewhat too sketchy.

Spaces rather than people seem to be Ed Marion's strongest point. Some of the backgrounds here are more engaging and life-like than the protagonists that occupy them, sometimes awkwardly. Still, with the exception of the two large paintings mentioned above, each piece here has much to recommend it.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008


I've been taking a class at Cornell, on the subject of Hellenistic Philosophy. The teacher is Tad Brennan, who is great. Less so are my fellow students (mostly undergrads), who seem bored and apathetic. Anyways, if I never mention this again, at least know that it has been sucking up most of my writerly and intellectual energies. I have some other projects in mind or or coming out, however.

I have written a mostly positive review of Ed Marion's current show of portrait paintings at Gimme! Coffee. It was supposed to appear in this week's paper but it will appear next week instead.

About the show: each portrait depicts a local musician or painter. One features my pal Brody Parker Burroughs', a fine painter in his own right. You can see the whole show on Marion's blog-like website. The work looks much better in person, however.

The exhibit is up at Gimme! recently renovated space on Cayuga St., downtown. (For non-local readers: G! is a locally-based chain with branches also in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Their coffee tastes good.) The new space has a higher ceiling, and crystalline hanging Art Deco light fixtures, which remind me of Frantisek Kupka. Although you wouldn't know it from this show, Marion is Ithaca's coffee-shop pornographer laureate, painting storefronts and interiors like those discussed here. His best work is is his cityscapes, which depict both Ithaca and his native NYC.

For the following week, I am working on a piece about "Ramayana in the Arts of India and Southeast Asia," up at the Johnson Museum. The work in the show is great; unfortunately, the installation seems a bit awkward. The combination of miniature paintings and larger pieces
particularly a group of exuberantly-colored animal hide puppets in weird in the small-scale underground space. A big display of puppets is lit from below with fluorescent lighting. This makes sense in terms of conservation (there is also indirect halogen lighting from above), but it makes the pieces look cold and unnatural. A scattering of sculptural pieces feel like afterthoughts. I'll have to revisit the show in order to figure out exactly how I feel about all this.

I also have to do some more background reading, which I like to do when I review historical shows. My background in art history is not as strong as I like, so this makes a valuable education for me.

I'm going to be motoring out to Boston next weekend and I'm hoping to see some good things there.

Some more bits and pieces:

* I had the pleasure of attending, last September 28, a concert lead by keyboardist David Borden. Borden is the founder of the pioneering local synthesizer-minimalist ensemble Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company (circa 1969!) and it was under that rubric that he played. The actual group of players, however, was new. So was their gear: laptops and digital keyboards rather than cool, cumbersome Moogs.

You can read about Borden, Robert Moog, and the role of the Ithaca area (Trumansburg, specifically) in the early development of the synthesizer in Trevor Pinch's book Analog Days. The book is an engagingly written popular history, poorly disguised as an academic science-studies text.

The accompanying projected video
a groovy black and white montage of dancers is the work of Noni Korf Vidal and her husband Franck Vidal. Noni is the daughter of Kumi Korf. The video was remixed live during the performance.

Via Ithaca Experimental, some YouTube excerpts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

* "Daumier, Caricaturist" by the artist's American friend, Henry James.

* My Times collegue BP interviews graphic novelist Alison Bechdel and reviews her autobiographical book, Fun Home.

* The program for Ithaca's upcoming Gallery Night on May 2nd. Looks like some interesting shows will be opening up. I will be out of town, but I 'll see the shows when I get back, of course. "Strange Worlds," is new at the Main Street and looks promising as well.

* Next Wednesday, the New York Foundation for the Arts will hold a series of brief talks by the following local artists: Sara Ahearn, Marna Bell, Karen Brummund, Charity Ray Burger, Lynn E. Dates, Jane Dennis, Andrew Gillis, Ed Marion, Daniel McPheeters, Barbara Page, Erica Pollock, and Allen C. Smith.
The event takes place at the Tompkins County Public Library from six to eight in the evening. I look forward to actually meeting some of these people for the first time, including Ed.

* Raymond Tallis criticizes neuroaesthetics. I'm not really familiar with this branch of art-theorizing, so I probably should keep quiet. But the story he tells that of a gap between the generalized explanations of science and the rich concreteness of our interactions with artworks is a plausible one. (via, although I believe I saw it linked to elsewhere earlier)

* More art and science: "Synchrotron proves Europeans were not the first painters to use oils." (via 3 Quarks Daily)

* Matt Nash of Big Red & Shiny on the recent rash of gallery-closings and movings in Boston. More recently, via BRS' blog: news that Malden Mass' Artspace@16 is soon to close as well. Artspace has been the work of artist (and fellow Museum School alumnus) Sand T. The gallery is notable for being run out of her suburban garage. There will be a closing reception on Saturday, May 3, from two to five in the afternoon. I hope to be there.

* Pitchfork reviews a reissue of OMD's eighties classic Dazzle Ships, a favorite album of mine. See the video for "Genetic Engineering".