Friday, November 25, 2005

The Investigations of Chris Page

New Work from the Stream Series
Chris Page

September 22-October 23, 2005

Haddad Lascano Gallery
Great Barrington Massachusetts

The work of artist Chris Page is a testament to a long-term investigation into the dynamism and significance of streams in terms of our capacity to know. His devotion to this subject is evidence of his tenacity and faith that this subject contains the mysteries of our cognition worth uncovering.

Page faces a number of artistic challenges in trying to capture such a dynamic process as the rushing stream. One technical irony of Page’s project is that he is working with a less fluid medium (paint) on a static plane to capture the dynamism of the stream. His imagery is initially perplexing in that the speed and sharpness of stream movements do not appear in his work. Rather his images are soft, cloudlike, and slow. This representation appears inappropriate, however the works are not realist pieces, they are about the “nature” of the stream and this is where Page makes his artistic contribution. To accomplish this Page employs three distinct techniques.

The first is a consciously mimetic process, as Page renders his work like a palimpsest. He works a surface, and then scrapes it away to render another interpretation, not unlike how water, in its inexorable flow, can express itself in an infinite number of ways as it covers the same surface in a streambed. This literal imitation of the repetition of sedimentation pays dividends for Page as the surfaces are richly textured and appear aged.

A second process Page employs, at times, to represent this dynamism is to break the boundaries of a single canvas to create triptychs. Page uses the triptychs in two ways. He represents the flow of the “same” water at three different points in time---future, present and past as the water approaches, arrives, and passes a point of observation of the stream. He also generates triptychs for the same area of a stream to show the endless flux of the circumscribed patch. Each method employed by these triptychs shows the changes in the shape and speed of his subject as it contacts different contours of the streambed at different moments in time. These pieces successfully demonstrate the time-and-space-bound limitations of our cognition; the identify of the stream remains elusive.

Finally, the third and most significant process is a kind of automatism. Page, like shamans, Zen painters and Chinese nature poets, seeks to identify with the spirit of the water and in so doing, to then allow his body to channel that feeling to express itself on canvas. It is similar to the automatism of some abstract expressionists, but the difference is Page is not seeking to summon his own subjectivity; rather he attempts to become the object of his contemplation. In this way he is, if your will, an abstract impressionist articulating the “subjectivity” of a phenomenon, not himself. He aims to be possessed by the spirit of the stream so as to authentically render its movement and energy when creating its representation.

The work is compelling as Page’s subject is an ancient source of absorption. Most famously, the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus used the stream as the exemplar for the endless flux among all phenomena. Page is fascinated with what the stream “is” in kind of Kantian way and admits that the frustration of grasping and representing the stream as an “essence” reveals to him the compulsion of the mind to try to freeze phenomena, to capture it conceptually and perceptually.
Page ignores the inherent resistance to representation by his subject. This frustration of cognition is a wound that Page repeatedly tries to heal in his work. His stubborn process is a simulacrum of a trauma of loss, of our inability to truly connect to and know the world---yet our endless compulsion to try. This hearkens to the Buddhist notion of dukkha, or the fundamental “unsatisfactoriness” with our relation to the world: our deeper needs long for something that phenomena cannot offer. Page speaks to that otherness; his work is a ritual that heroically attempts to redeem the world and himself. From a romantic perspective, Page renders his work in the voice of an unrequited lover. His work is not futile as it has the power to bring us to the depth of his investigations as he puts into relief our longing for union with the world. This is the paradox and impossibility with which he grapples: representing in his painting something inherently ungraspable and by so doing pointing to our need for profound resolution. The soft dynamism of the Page’s composite paint strokes presents the viewer with his struggle and successfully invites us to explore and contemplate this conundrum and mystery of experience and knowing.

In his most recent work, Page pushes further to attempt to apprehend the stream. These canvases by Page depart from his effort to map the stream in its mercurial form. New work has us descending into the stream. The viewer feels small, within the stream, witnessing its energy as if approaching the molecular or atomic level. The shape of light in the stream is almost DNA-like in form. The colors in these works still have an uncanny fidelity to what we sense as natural or earthy and organic. These new paintings approach epiphany and portend future investigations of note by this artist.

J.M.M. Wilson, III, Ph.D.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Collecting Ourselves

Family Resemblances

Sally Curcio

April 3 – April 28, 2005

Hampden Gallery
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Some people collect for investment. Some collect for pleasure. Some folks do it to learn about history. And some people "save things" because it helps them to fill a gaping hole, calm fears, erase insecurity. For them, collecting provides order in their lives and a bulwark against the chaos and terror of anuncertain world. It serves as a protectant against the destruction of everything they've ever loved.” --Judith Katz-Schwartz

"Clinging is the origin of this entire mass of suffering & stress.”--Buddha

I can think of no better expression to characterize these similarities than ‘family resemblances’…” --Ludwig Wittgenstein

Sally Curcio’s new body of work, “Family Resemblances,” explores collections of everyday objects through assemblages. “Family Resemblances” refers to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory that words cannot be unequivocally defined by clear and specific characteristics, but rather through usage and a “train of associations” (or “family resemblances”) that emerges historically. His theory indicated there is no solid meaning, or essences. Wittgenstein left us with an uncomfortable uncertainty. Curcio explores our need, in the face of this uncertainty, to categorize and collect in an attempt to stabilize meaning.

This body of work, as with her past work, presents three defining features. First, as in past shows, a wide variety of media is used to express her chosen topic. Second, the work is a gestalt: each piece informs the other pieces. And finally, Curcio takes a potentially dark theme and reverses it into lightness with the pure visual pleasure of her constructions.

In “Family Resemblances,” Curcio uses an array of materials: gumballs, dominoes, false eyelashes, toy guns, lottery tickets, game pieces, bottle caps, underwear, arms from dolls, and watercolor paint squares.

Curcio shapes these objects into assemblages that evoke our fascination with categorizing and collecting objects, and our bent to be connoisseurs: each work obliges us to compare, contrast, rank, and critique a collection. Curcio’s collections comically summons this impulse into action. The works offers, in a self-consciously naïve way, the self-satisfaction of collecting a “complete” set of objects, and the need for recognition in publicly displaying this triumph. Curcio teaches us that the process of collecting, organizing, and display is a ritual that attempts to create an oasis of certainty, order, and self-identity.

Each of Curcio’s pieces deliberately confronts us with an alien obsessive attention to precision and order suggesting an unconscious urgency. This translates positively into visually satisfying art that evokes the simplicity and “cleanness” of minimalism, the freshness of op art, and the innocence of folk art. The shapes are simple and satisfying, the colors are bright, the work beautifully neat, and the materials surprisingly familiar, albeit re-contextualized. With these attractive simulated collections the artist has gathered a gallery of artifacts that speaks to our perpetual drive to somehow, in some way, take control and make sense of things.

J.M.M. Wilson III, Ph.D.