After Vasari

writings on artists and artworks and where they exist

Category: gallery visit

Gallery visit: Sharon Butler at Pocket Utopia

by A.L. McMichael

Sharon Butler, "Blue Fences," 2013. Pigment and silica binder, staples on laundered linen tarp, 16 x 18 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia)

Sharon Butler, “Blue Fences,” 2013, Pigment and silica binder, staples on laundered linen tarp, 16 x 18 inches (photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia)

Last week I snagged an invitation to a small gathering of art appreciators at Pocket Utopia and had a chance to chat with Sharon Butler, whose solo exhibition, “Precisionist Casual,”  will be open there until February 17, 2013. Several people in our group commented on the colors Butler uses throughout the show—deep terracotta pink, muted tangerine and teal, and shades of grey painted onto linen canvases of pumice and beige. Quietly active and sophisticated, the color palette manifests itself in a series of paintings consisting of shapes that are mostly geometric. They demonstrate that the artist is, in fact “drawn to urban settings, structures, and HVAC architecture,”  as promised on the Pocket Utopia website, yet the linework maintains a handmade line quality.

Just before we dispersed, I commented on the shimmery, grey paint that appears throughout the exhibition. Butler responded that it functions like the mineral sparkle we see in sidewalks on a sunny day. It certainly does have that effect in paintings like Blue Fences and Soaked (Hurricane). But for me it was also a reference to the pipes and steel beams that make architecture a three-dimensional creation. It is as if the reflective paint could be a visual shorthand for ‘metal’ and the negative spaces that sculptural and architectural creations surround. This is further emphasized by the relationship of the canvas that is frayed and stapled to the front of the stretcher, which Paul D’Agostino calls a concatenatory teasing of materials and dimensions. Butler’s display is a gentle step away from the two-dimensional paint on canvas, but one that provides an easy mental leap to built spaces. On Sunday I read Tom Micchelli’s interview with Butler in Hyperallergic Weekend; he also comments on the metallic paint and likens her work to sculpture, noting particularly that the colors in Underpainted HVAC are remniscent of a “dusty, rough-hewn limestone slab.”

Sharon Butler, "Soaked (Hurricane)," 2013. Pigment and silica linen tarp, 18 x 24 inches. (Photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia).

Sharon Butler, “Soaked (Hurricane),” 2013, Pigment and silica linen tarp, 18 x 24 inches (Photo courtesy of the artist and Pocket Utopia)

The graphite color also conjures up mental images of pencil sketches, of motions creating quick linework, making a gestural statement on flat paper. Some days I can’t stop being a Byzantine scholar, particularly when musing about that link between color and motion. Today, this shimmery paint bridges the gap between contemporary art and medieval mosaics. Art historian Liz James has written about the medieval Byzantines’ use of gold and gems in art—the shimmer activated spaces; reflections of light made the viewer feel as if the space between him and the art was full of energy, drawing him into the image and providing a link to a mystical, heavenly realm.

What’s interesting here is that for both Micchelli and me, Butler’s use of color brought forth connotations of three-dimensionality. That ‘color psychology’ is a nebulous term (and a concept that varies wildly between cultures and individuals) in no way negates the fact that color and emotion are intertwined—we often think of color as an artist’s choice that sets a mood or sends a message. I’d like to emphasize, though, that it’s not just hues but attributes of color—opacity, depth of tone, reflectiveness, (yes, shimmer)—that engage us. Viewing art creates an energy, and the urban quietude of Butler’s canvases harnesses it in a colorful experience that is thought-provoking without resorting to kitschiness or snark.

Gallery Visit: Rick Briggs and Adam Simon at Valentine

by Paul D'Agostino


Around where an Associated Supermarket on Seneca Avenue sits cater-corner from a public school playing pitch in the hilltop heart of Ridgewood – a rather borough-resistant, historically pseudo-sovereign neighborhood I have described elsewhere as “yonder-Bushwick, nether-Queens, soft-hilled and arboreally charmed” – one alights upon a truly stunning view of the Manhattan skyline soaring up over the far end of the field, providing what must be, for those who play there, a dramatic backdrop to something as relatively mundane as baseball practice, for example, or a soccer scrimmage, or flying a kite. At the same time, this panoramic spot might only seem so momentous for visitors passing by; for locals, its mundanity might be far greater compared to the setting’s various activities it rises behind. Nonetheless, if this is not your everyday sight, it is certainly well worth a visit – even on, or perhaps especially on a most frigid winter night, when the clarity of cold seems to encourage the city’s familiar lights to shine a little bit brighter than usual, as if they too must do something to keep warm.


Apropos of locals, nestled a few blocks down the street from this vista is Valentine Gallery, directed by artist and curator Fred Valentine, where the current exhibit, a two-artist show of works by Rick Briggs and Adam Simon, might be likened to a satisfying main course for which the above treat would make a fitting appetizer or dessert.

In the gallery’s main room are new works by Briggs, paintings whose generally subdued palette and variably painterly self-reflexivity read like demurred witticisms writ, with great ease of depiction, large. Take, for example – if not perhaps with all too great ease of exemplarity – Brown Roller, in which the self-awareness of creative agency is portrayed not through portraiture or canvas-bound act of creativity, but rather, and far more tellingly, through the portrayal of a lone man in an essentially empty room, his back turned to the viewer with slack and indifference as he toils away with a long-armed roller to light-brown-wash a very plain wall.

Workaday enough is the wit therein, one might say, but Briggs’ one-liner-like commentary can also be more curiously curvilinear. For here he deepens by at least a layer the portrayal of painter-cum-house-painter in the bored throes of going through motions by inverting the understood utility of the roller, its flat-tending intentionality amusingly upended in columns of oblong-stamped – indeed, and in deed, almost terrifyingly spreadsheet-like – traces of itself, exposing for a moment the formal quality of brushstroke as counter-functionality of form.

Brown Roller, by Rick Briggs. Photo courtesy the artist.

Or something like that. One can ponder this one forever – from living room to studio, from cubicle to cave with so much Plato, et al, in between. Of course, one might elect to seek out similarly winking wit elsewhere in the gallery instead, for there is plenty to take in and enjoy. Briggs’ humor elicits cracked smiles with crossed arms, not knee-slaps and guffaws, and his paintings are thereby engaging and engagingly placating.

Paintings by Rick Briggs. Photo by Tom Micchelli.

Pause, by Rick Briggs. Photo courtesy the artist.

At the same time, don’t be surprised if you’re occasionally blinded by bright flashes of yellow or red, or if a small painting of spectacles on a table draws you in, with particular intimacy, until you note the softly undulating brushstrokes follicularly incised into a swath of backdropped taupe.

Once you’re that close, once you’re that inveigled within, you might as well be wearing those glasses yourself.

Now back up. Touch chin.


Or, if you will, exit stage left, for there you will find an exquisite series of works by Adam Simon, one large painting and a suite of somewhat spare yet deeply shadowy, fundamentally transfiguring – not to mention technically transfigural, for they portray figures transferred several times over – drawings.

Simon's drawings. Photo by Tom Micchelli.

Much more ramification of than departure from his oeuvre proper, which consists mostly of paintings (the process and content of which my cohort here at After Vasari, A.L. McMichael, has already described with abundant meticulousness and grace), these new works, executed in variable strata of graphite dust, exude a lingering aura that lures and lurks. In their now crisp, now blurred lines and errant streaks, these transfers of composite images, though largely devoid of details, bring to mind early photographic images à la Daguerre. In fact, given that Simon culls his characters’ delineations from stock photography, one might even see these renderings as a collection of post-photographic fossils impressed, beneath the amber of fixatif, into paper.

Photo courtesy Adam Simon.

Or something, once more, like that. These works also beg further pondering. Yet given their number and gathered display, one needn’t move around too much to linger in the midst of their enigmatic looming, one need only stir ever so barely their still air of mystery and spectral allure. Upon close enough engagement, moreover, one might well be led to wonder, having dined on the entire exhibit, what sort of fare a phantasm like Waiter might lean forth to offer.

Waiter, by Adam Simon. Photo courtesy the artist.

Let us assume – for metaphorical convenience, if not also for presumable gastronomic propriety – that his proposed provisions relate to dessert.

And now let me step into his shoes as I offer you two further exhibitional curiosities to ponder, followed by a sweet visit-ending treat to savor.

Curiosity #1: Where Briggs’ Brown Roller might be likened to a brush-rendered apotheosis of the form of a paint roller, Simon’s works suggest temporary paint-roller apostasy. Rollers are among the primary tools Simon deploys for his paintings, that is, yet here, for his drawings, he abandons them.

Curiosity #2: Where Briggs portrays and probes quotidianity with an eye for and vein of humor, Simon explores the mundane and disrobes it to reveal an underlying stillness of whispery horror.

Adam Simon. Photo courtesy the artist.

And now that we’ve come full circle from the arguable mundanity of a skyline view to the variably captivating quotidianities on display at Valentine, I recommend you make yet another stage-left exit while still at the gallery. Into the gift shop, that is, where you will find, among a great many other artworks, a few very nice, and here very neatly relevant, skyscapes by Kerry Law. You will recognize that spire, no doubt. And once you’re familiar with that nearby panorama, you might well guess in which neighborhood the artist lives.

One of several 12"x12" skyline glimpses by Kerry Law in the gift shop at Valentine. Photo courtesy Valentine.

Take that in as dessert. And if you then head over to the spot on Seneca to behold a shimmery, perhaps dramatic sight, you might consider that vast view the digestivo rounding off your repast.

A bit of Fernet Branca as vista, for instance. Rather bracing like the chill of night. Or if you want to try one of my favorites, have some Cynar, Ramazzotti or Averna in a lowball tumbler filled to the brim with crushed ice.

But now full circle has forayed into fully changed topic.

Which is for me, to wit, absolutely mundane.

Or something like that.


vista 3

The exhibit of artworks by Rick Briggs & Adam Simon will remain on view at Valentine through 5 February 2012. For more information and visiting hours, see the gallery’s website.

Gallery Visit: Zane Wilson at Centotto

by A.L. McMichael

The following essay is a piece written in response to the opening of Zane Wilson’s solo show at Centotto in February 2011. It originally ran as part of a blog entry entitled, “Wall-kicking: Contemporary Art and the Middle Ages.”

Selected works from Zane Wilson's Portrolio X Appunti at Centotto (clockwise from top left): Untitled (Anchor); Drawing for Ground Quiver; Untitled (Box, Noose, Nails); Untitled (Rubber Tree).

Selected works from Zane Wilson's Portfolio x Appunti at Centotto (clockwise from top left): Untitled (Anchor); Drawing for Ground Quiver; Untitled (Box, Noose, Nails); Untitled (Rubber Tree).

Five Responses to Zane Wilson’s Portfolio x Appunti at Centotto

by A.L. McMichael

On Friday, January 21, Bushwick’s Centotto gallery, recognized for its curatorial emphasis on dialogue and text, inaugurated a new exhibition format into its rotation. This format, called Portfolio x Appunti, is one in which an artist’s work is “mediated by a five-tiered framework of specific visual and written appunti, or ‘notes.’” Brooklyn artist Zane Wilson is the first to be featured in this configuration. The exhibition formula offers a structure in which the artist can experiment with specific tiers of information on a worksheet: the pieces on exhibit; five lines of text about concepts and contexts; five more on materials and processes; five lists (of inspiration or sources); and five studio shots. In light of the five-themed structure, I offer commentary on five elements of the sculptural exhibition.

1. Tactility. The show’s most striking object, a large wood and latex anchor, has the texture and color of skin. There’s an icky and mesmerizing feel to the latex coating many of the surfaces in the exhibition. More than a few viewers felt an uncontrollable need to touch the art, to interact with it, to see each piece from multiple angles. How many people couldn’t help fondling the tip of that anchor tantalizing them from above? How disconcerting is it to touch what looks like wood grain and feel rubber? This art demands action as much as vision. Everyday objects from tools to fingers are imbued with a lively tangibility.

2. Materials. There are combinations of materials that really shouldn’t really make sense coming together to form cohesive objects. The materials themselves make these objects into more than what they represent. Materials that carry social connotations—wood (life, nature), rubber (protection, sexuality, waterproofness)—make a viewer linger.

3. Objects. The chosen objects carry social connotations, shown in ways that are contrary to their roles in the ‘real’ world. The anchor, a weight, hangs above our heads by a rope, an element that can keep you anchored or pull you to safety. It can also be wound into a noose. A unicorn horn, a symbol of purity (or the loss of it) is made from a drill bit. Is it mounted to the wall or piercing its wooden base? These are not a collection of ‘real’ objects and not mere re-creations. They’re references to objects made with a layer of inherent meaning conveyed via the chosen materials.

4. Playfulness. (And its very sharp edge). There’s liveliness and joviality in a chunky latex saw that couldn’t cut down trees or in arrows that droop over their ground quiver. There’s a chuckle in fingers emerging from records on the wall or in the play on words when you realize Wilson has made a literal rubber tree. These serve as an unspoken dialogue between artist and viewer. The witticisms have shadows lurking in their corners, however. The vitality of the drill bit horn is crowned with a hot pink noose. The color laughs in the face of morbidity. The floppy arrows are incapacitated weapons. Nearby a hanging faux bois box holds hand-carved nails large enough to crucify or drive a railroad stake, but there’s nothing inside to be pierced. Is the measure of darkness or cheerfulness in these juxtapositions a reflection of the artist or of the viewer?

5. Words. Or lack of them, on the part of the artist. He shares many of his influences and inspirations in the five written appunti. However, he offered very little in terms of interpretative commentary on individual pieces during his artist talk. He lets the work speak for itself, leaving it open-ended. Part of me wants to howl until he explains every object, and the other part delights in filling in those gaps for myself. He gives hints in the titles; a pink rubber hammer for someone “all thumbs in love” plays on words and alludes to human fragility. The objects and their symbolism to the artist are an example of the personal made public, silently reminding us that there’s a soul behind these creations, but we’re only allowed a glimpse at it. Aspects of this show are reminiscent of the artist’s past work—which included images of genitalia or cartoons, for instance—but the references have evolved in their emphasis of the body and nature and manmade objects interacting to convey a sense of humanity throughout the show.

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