ed marion at gimme!
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.