The new show – “Four Into One” – opened yesterday featuring new works by Bruce Monroe, Michael Francis, Bernardo Cantu and John Alexander Taylor. The word “Into” means nothing other than the physical space of 500X, as the four artists are of different mediums and styles.
Mr. Taylor has created a body of work on Penny Whistle Park in digital prints. While the boosted granularity, especially when magnified, is perhaps inborn nature of early film photography, the artist took advantage of it with further processes to mix saturated colors with B&W. As the result, each looks seemingly cheesy and naïve; but as a whole, there is an undeniable under-tone of nostalgia. Nothing is sadder than commemorating the physicality of childhood happiness through old photos. The indoor amusement park became a nursery a few years ago, but Mr. Taylor has focused on the faded colorful past itself. By not adding a current snapshot of the park in the show, he saved the group of prints from being a visual connotation of urban decay.
Bernardo Cantu set up a space for fun and experiments. One could read much deeper than necessary on the beach balls suspended in the air by a set of three industrial fans. The gimmicks work only if one disarms his inner guard on the difference between low and high art and instead enjoys the art in the form of being. But, on that breezy night, kids took the cues better: They ran around and danced with balls’ irregular rhythms. Were such an installation much larger in scale, perhaps in a public plaza with enhanced refinement, they would have a tantalizing effect of joyful beauty, crushing any doubt about what it is.
Michael Francis’ new oil paintings keep exploring his interests in finding the abstract qualities within representational images. Primarily, or sometimes solely relying on the arrangement of lines – dabbed, mottled or articulated – he has further reduced his previously restricted color palette to nearly monochrome, only varying in tonality. In these images, forms and shapes are often discovered much like they are in pure abstract works.
If “Interior Growth” is a natural extension of his survey –“Destroyed Cities” – a series of ink paintings on vellum, then “Farmhouse” seems to shed light on his current subtle modulation in controlling line qualities within the abstract domain. The brushstrokes in those earlier works were amassed to such a great intensity that they seemed to collapse under their own weight, only to decease to exist in the representational sphere. In “Farmhouse,” however, there is such openness in the negative space. Mainly on the left side, thus asymmetric, the white space instills an instant tranquility to the rest of the image – as if, as chaotic and unpredictable as nature can be in reclaiming the forgotten land, the artist captures a transient moment when nature and human consciousness are both at repose.
Unlike others, “Nourishment” is a painting of gray on gray, yet with a sensual delicacy that remotely recalls Chinese Gonbi style. Together with the freely expressive lines and integral negative space, these new works by Mr. Francis, in my opinion, are developing a new set of vocabulary based on a synthetic combination of oriental succinctness and controlled abandonment in western modern art.
The show stopper is from Bruce Monroe. The single figurative sculpture, made of fiberglass and plastics (for the intricate hands and fingers part only), is unequivocally standing alone in its own space. The biomorphic shapes of holes are inspired from his doctor’s metaphor on human vulnerability – The safety net of a human body can only sustain so long before it gives in to the incessant attacks of virus. In creating such a work, he, like the virus, attacked a mannequin by cutting the designed labyrinth into the body — a constructing process out of deconstruction.
Mr. Monroe would like to ultimately use his own body as the model to cast the figure, but he concurred that the cost of a customized mannequin could be prohibitive. Even with a ready-to-use alpha-body-type male mannequin, such a process, laborious and occasionally noisy, takes approximately three months to complete. The current one is, in fact, the second he ever produced. (The first has found its home in Florida.)
During the conversation with the artist regarding technical difficulty, it occurred to me that judging from the work’s challenges and complexity, it is only a matter of time before the artist has to pause to think how many more he could ever produce without exhausting himself in either the drudgery of physical labor or dwindling variation in mannequin’s poses.
Yet, that makes the current one more valuable. He stands tall and proud. (The industry standard for male model’s height is six feet two.) Under the spot light, a beautiful shadow is cast, in which paths and holes reconcile into varied degrees of gray. The fiberglass, in pure black without reflective sheen, is a marvelous choice for the subject. It engenders the body with many layers of duality — solidity vs. feather lightness, athleticism vs. fragility and fear against nobility.
It is also intriguing to read into the artist’s statement, regarding the personal and social impact of HIV/AIDS. The vulnerability of our own body and mind can be too much to bear, until it recedes into a metaphysical presence of an anonymous body, on which the first person and third person perspective are lost in our own thoughts.
“Four Into One” is shown at 500X gallery till Nov 25, 2012.