More Than Words Can Say February 19th - May 1st, 2022
Paolo Arao, Melissa Dadourian, James Casebere, Devra Fox, Leah Guadalogni, Meg Lipke, Mary Kate Maher, Alexa Stark, Kate Steciw, Kelsey Tynik, Tamara Zahaykevich
"The things of this world are not as sayable and graspable as people usually want us to think; most of what happens is unsayable, unfolding in a space no word has ever entered, and the most unsayable of all are works of art, those mysterious creatures whose life endures, alongside our own life, which is so fleeting.” — “Letters to a Young Painter”, RAINER MARIE
As Rilke reminds us, language is a merely a framework, subject to the lens of culture and construct, often inadequate at translating visual or emotional experience. Whereas art, “the most unsayable of all,” communicates conceptually, aesthetically, viscerally, outside of language. Even more so, abstract art, which is freed from the particularities of realism. The eleven artists included in this show while they may seem materially disparate are spiritually akin, united by their interest in and engagement with sculpture and a commitment to abstraction, whether theoretical or literal.
The definition of abstract art is itself, abstract. It refers to art “that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and textures.” In the time of the metaverse where reality has no boundaries, currency no materiality and avatars no anatomy, abstraction accommodates a world in which there are no clear truths. In the complex and multivalent outer world we live in, these artists are looking within, conceptually, psychologically, to create work from a point of view that seeks a more elastic reality; one where simulacra and materiality, content and form, the everyday and the transcendent can exist simultaneously.
Each of these artist’s practice is firmly rooted in process and often straddles multiple mediums, approaching sculpture from differing constructs.
Mary Kate Maher works in both collage and sculpture. Surprisingly dimensional, with fay lashes blinking pink, crimson threads cutting reliefs and curvilinear grottos of cerulean blue, her collage works evoke the subterranean shape of our prehistoric past. We see geodes glinting purple and yellow, orbs of light; the sulphurous hot springs of the Danakil Depression, the underground river of the South China Sea, the Crystal Caves of Mexico. With collaged paper, resin, dibond, aluminum, hydrocal, polyester, imitation gold leaf and acrylic paint Mary Kate’s works transport us to natural wonders. By printing and affixing gradients of cellular shape on her resin sculptures she conjures the substratum of geological forms, the pattern of unblemished landscape and the spirit of ancient mythologies. In both her collage and sculpture she finds a precarious balance, both formally and psychologically, tricking us into thinking of nature and ourselves as one.
Leah Guadagnoli’s bright fields of color on shaped parts fit together like psychedelic puzzles made from insulation board, upholstery foam and canvas. Trained as a painter, Leah’s exuberant palette, a seamless blending of tone against tone and vibrating contrasts, manifest sensations of glee, euphoria and delight. Abstract in the extreme, her hypnotic forms function as spiritual totems for our age of distraction. Drawing us into their orbit with vivid hues, Leah’s works provide a sense of well-being, an antidote for the current of anxiety running through our veins.
Meg Lipke’s work included here is a departure from her usual scale, less like a hulking torso, more like an ethereal slyph of a woman, the one that got away and left only her lips and a delicate elliptical sphere for us to ponder, empty. Made from muslin, wax, polyfil, thread and canvas stuffed, dyed, sewn and painted, Meg’s “cushion painting” process evolved from her practice as an abstract painter. Since 2014 she has abandoned the stretched frame of the canvas for a tubular shape that forms itself in voluminous limb-like assemblages that lean slant slump or hang against the wall. Its as if her one-dimensional paintings gutted themselves then glutted themselves and walked off to live indifferently in bodies of the future-verse with unrecognizable parts. Neon, earth tones, shiny, matte, bright, pastel, Meg uses the entire vocabulary of color and texture to create her dazzling sculpture-paintings. Foxy, sublime, with a luxury of vacuity, Meg creates expansive fantasies that challenge our understanding of space, the body and painting itself.
In Melissa’s geometric fabrications, structures and systems are paramount. Formally referencing architecture in their construction, with recurring grids, hanging buttresses and decorative seams, their prosaic materials disguise the integrity of their anatomy. Made from glue, paint, dye, recycled fabric, burlap, mesh, vinyl, yarn, thread, twine, wood, paint, clay and rocks the works are engineered by wit, skill and perception not schematics, theory or machismo. In her large layered installations Melissa’s patterns of geometry absorb and inundate the viewer with their resilence, energy and warmth. Passive and aggressive, hard and soft, ordered and chaotic, Melissa’s works hold space for a spectrum of physical and emotional textures; light, dark, masculine, feminine, enigmatic and apparent.
Hanging in the center of the gallery is a Kate Steciw sculpture, a photo collage pieced together with carabiners and chain links. Some pieces of the hanging puzzle are recognizable, others merely shapes of texture and color, printed on dibond with sections of photographs abstracted and re-presented via Kate’s image machine ie. Her artistic process. Steciw describes the JPEG as,“not a tool of precision but rather of subjective storytelling,” and harnesses this state of possibility and disruption into the production of her art. Kate begins with “digital junk,” photographs she has found or made. Through her editing process she fragments, manipulates, fractures, skews, stretches, crumples or stitches them back together with the tools at her disposal both digitally and materially. A photographer that morphs the flat planes of a photographic print into sculptural forms, Kate replicates how we perceive and absorb visual culture, reimagining its content in new physical and contextual formats, questioning our notions of reality and creating a more malleable approach to seeing and perceiving.
Alexa Stark, an artist that creates both garments and sculpture, uses the same materials and processes as many of the fine artists in the show, but her pieces are functional, thereby could be construed as design rather than art. Alexa’s iron sculptures, dynamic rusted shapes on which many of her garments hang, lean and protrude from the wall, dangerous hooks with feet and teeth - in direct contrast to the pliable folds of her knitted and sewn garments. With dresses titled, “She Died” and “Always Tired,” Alexa conjures the ethos of the insulated times of our recent past spent skulking indoors in old clothes and afternoons stretched out. Deeply committed to a sustainable practice, Alexa sources material not unlike Melissa or Paolo, material with a history. Eileen Fischer fabrics, vintage denim, her grandmother’s button collection and found yarn are repurposed with an intention primarily motivated by her political beliefs. With her recycled materials, Alexa has unintentionally given her works the spirit of their origins.
Whether intentionally or not, Alexa’s functional artworks exhibit the same material transcendence as the fine art we see in the space. The body is lavishly immersed rather than referenced in her pieces, made to be an integral part of the sculptural elements themselves. And when the body is absent, Alexa’s dynamic rusted shapes, iron skeletons, remind us what it is to held; modestly, extravagantly, thoughtfully.
Though known as a photographer, James Casebere thinks in sculpture first, creating the object before the photograph. Not unlike an architect, Casebere builds maquettes in his studio, then lights and photographs these miniatures to astounding effect. His subject is architectural in nature, but his photographs are not a documentation, rather he constructs and photographs architecture as a way to explore the symbolic, psychological, and emotional dimensions of architectural space. In looking at a James Casebere photograph, while it may posture as reality, we’re looking at an abstracted version. To this end, the image can occupy our imaginations in a more speculative way, as reverie, available for us to project our own narratives onto the work.
Similar to Casebere’s process, Tamara Zahaykevich builds her work slowly using styrofoam, acrylic paint, watercolor, ink, and discarded materials. She often cuts, glues or tapes foam board to make a structure for the work then fills in the body of the piece, finally painting or shellacking the surface. Her work sits squarely between sculpture and painting. The constructions at first can seem makeshift in appearance with seams and lines exposed, belying it’s deliberate production. Tamara’s painting too, at times rudimentary in appearance, can be extraordinarily detailed and remarkably skillful. But the sculptures themselves defie category, and ask us to consider their value, art made from modest means in exquisite form.
Geometric abstraction for Paolo Arao is a political act. His preoccupation with abstraction is part of an exploration of his identity as a queer Filipino-American man. With his textile works he asks us to consider the possibility of queerness as a visual language. By embracing the imperfections of each found fabric - a boot print, a tear, a splotch of paint - he embraces his own and our embedded histories, that which we attempt to conceal, our vulnerabilities, shame. Arao’s fabric collages are sometimes stretched like a painting, sometimes hung as a flag or quilt on the wall. The openness of abstraction for Arao is a haven, a source and way of expressing the inexpressible. His vibrant works feel both inherited and futuristic, intimate and alien - articulating the unseen, boundless sides of ourselves.
In the meticulous lines of Devra Fox’s graphite drawings, Fox manages to articulate the profusion of conflicting emotions human beings embody simultaneously at any given moment; empathy and dread, absolution and retribution, transformation and inertia, expansion and contraction. In these intimate works on paper, Fox’s creatural forms (part plant, part human, part domestic furniture) whimper and moan, slink and stretch, reach, retract and drip into and over each other. The animated surreality of these strange beings invokes empathy, nurturing, kindness. Like the plants trees and rocks and us, no organism is invulnerable. Abstraction for Fox is sentiment, connection, the web of relationships that links us all, found in the strands of attachment we form with each other, objects and the living breathing world around us.
The small framed mixed media paintings and collages of Kelsey Tynik’s could at first glance seem to be the scribbles of a child. Which is exactly what Kelsey is after in her practice. With titles of works such as, “I’d Love To,” and “Shoop de Doop,” Tynik describes her pieces as,"having gusto and authority, being wacky, sweet, powerful and tender, not unlike an interesting game.” With her emotive sketchbooks and the cutting, carving, glueing and sewing of her larger sculptures she invites an element of play in all she creates. Tynik allows her inner child to live, thrive and interact with the world from a place of wonder, encouraging the viewer too, to actively engage with the present moment with a child-like joy.
The eleven artists included here are creating a new sculptural language between abstraction and image, sculpture and painting, photography and architecture, emotion and thought, body and surface, performance and objecthood. They are committed to not only a “spiritual freedom” but an aesthetic one. With a formal volatility and a shared commitment to process, the works focus on the imperfect, quotidien, and enduring object. Rather than tell a story, the works are to be experienced. All artists forging new grooves in technology, craft, process and production, they embrace the pursuit of conveying the unsayable, reaching towards the material in an increasingly immaterial world.