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The Neon Forest Is My Home


 Sari Carel
Sari Carel "Rider" (2003), oil on canvas. Courtesy *sixtyseven gallery.

The title of this amusing if not slight group show at *sixtyseven refers to thematic use of nature in the works of twelve emerging artists. The often funny and playful works aren’t based on observation but on imagination. The thematic use of flora and fauna is merely a point of departure for the artists to explore a range of ideas.

While Ben Grasso’s series of thickly painted landscapes are fairly traditional, the rest of the works distance themselves from the genre. Even in Grasso’s paintings the landscape itself isn’t really the subject. In two canvases, Grasso exaggerates and builds up stretches of brown earth into a sculptural relief. The smear becomes the central character in two of the paintings, with its materiality shattering the illusion of depth and space. The physicality of the paint adds a scatological dimension to the otherwise staid landscapes.

Francesca DiMattio’s "Bird Wreck" (2003) offers a stylistically familiar abstraction of a bird in a forest. DiMattio applies dark tones of paint in thick, lush strokes that explosively render the subject. DiMattio’s style and subject matter seem problematically derivative of Dana Schutz, although her painting seems far more serious and devoid of the comic figuration that marks Schutz’s work.

Sari Carel and Jeana Baumgardner offer up paintings that are more idiosyncratic in their exploration of space and narrative. Carel’s "Rider" (2003) is a strange proposition, as several horses inhabit a fractured space that flattens out perspective. Two of the animals don’t quite fit the landscape that itself is masked with areas of striped color. The pastel hued mountains and horses are contrasted with the hard-edged bars of color. Nothing about the painting makes any conventional sense, but the blank expressions of the animals express a kind of sadness that is affecting. Baumgardner’s paintings "The Expedition" and "The Event" operate in a similarly discontinuous space where the illusion of depth is flattened out by shapes and patterns that hover in the foreground. In the former, an arctic landscape of pale blues hovers behind a graffiti covered cube and an A-shaped form patterned with bricks. The narrative elements in the work don’t quite add up to anything making the paintings seem formal and stiff. What works successfully for Carel, a strange internal logic, doesn’t quite work as successfully in Baumgardner’s paintings.

Existing more as drawing than painting, Anke Sievers’s and Liam Everett’s works on paper are less concerned with formal values than cryptic and ironic narratives. Sievers works in acrylic in four feathery, elemental landscapes. The pictures evoke a self-conscious naiveté that frames the religious texts hovering above the natural "world." The centered compositions of the elements, fire, rock, air, and water are stubbornly present giving them a certainty that defies their scale and immateriality. Everett doesn’t strive to evoke anything so metaphysical as God, but his simple ink and pencil drawings on paper are surreal collisions between nature and technology. In the first untitled drawing, a one-armed ape stands defiantly on the wing of a prop plane and in the second a Lamborghini springs from the ear of a doe. The drawings display a wry humor with thorough comedic irony.

Chris Caccamise is a stand out with his enamel-coated toy-like paper sculptures. Beyond the immediate cheeriness of the objects, his subjects hint at the conflict between nature and progress. A bright yellow backhoe, "Excavator" (2003) sits amidst rainbows, clouds, and mountains. Caccamise easily has the most playful work in the show, but it is tempered by a sense of loss. His "Tall Grave" (2003) and "Night Tree" (2003) add a feeling of mortality to the toy-like world. Yuh-Shioh Wong, Craig Hein, and Saturo Eguchi also present sculptures that are less substantial versions of Caccamise’s gamesmanship.

While not totally out of place, eteam presents the lone photograph in the exhibit. In "Doddy & Crystal—an Effort to Stimulate Their Partnership, Grizedale, England" (2003) a woman in an ugly baseball mask seems to be urging a pair of sheep to mate. The absurdity of the scenario seems to express a deeper anxiety about scientific progress giving the fluffy show a hint of criticality. It’s not eteam’s medium that differentiates them, but the conceptual process and performance that the photograph begins to reveal. The show may have been better without it, simply to keep the emphasis on the simplicity and playfulness of the rest of the art.


William Powhida


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2004

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