Artist Blog

THE Magazine, Santa Fe, New Mexico. February-March 2013. p. 44.



group show (through February) at James
Kelly Contemporary is a selection by director
James Kelly of works from several of the
gallery's artists. Perhaps the recent holidays
have something to do with the quiet, low-key
appeal of the show. Its ensemble cast of
distinct artists, all gathered under one roof,
invites the seasonal theme of all the kids
come home for the holidays. Their assembly
reveals an underlying family resemblance
shared in common. This affinity might speak
to Kelly's own aesthetic or, at the least, to
some aspect central to his collection strategy.
Whatever the source, Art of Renewal's display
of manifold devices and desires occurs within
a tacit harmony of effect.

And what is that tacit harmony? Not a
clue. And if I knew I wouldn't tell. Art of
Renewal makes no concession to any viewer
expectations of being told what they're
looking at, much less how it should affect
them. You're on your own in there. And
being on your own, you take in each piece
on its own terms and then respond to it on

Left to yourself, you start to find -- or
make -- connections. One link seems to be
the artists' shared belief in the capacity of
"historical" art styles to reinvent themselves.
The figuration and handling of Jack Balas's
easel-range oils on canvas are reminiscent of
the work of David Salle or Eric Fischl during
the Neo-Expressionist return of painting to the
internecine terrain of the Postmodern 1980s.
Yet the eclectic tact of Balas eschews the
Postmodern polemic to pursue an authentic
painterly style and highly personal narrative.
Bill Jacobson's pigment prints deploy the
documentary bent of Postmodern photography
in his Place series, in which the concept of place
is grasped as installation space (#125), actual
space (#425), and state of mind (#554). The
irony at work in David Taylor's archival inkjet
prints affirms the medium's objectivity while
rejecting its Postmodern detachment. Border
Monument No. 198 features an obelisk atop a
rocky outcrop surveying a vast lunar landscape
of silent desert -- a mute memorial to oblivion.
In The New River (with border fence), Calexico, a
full moon in the deep blue night sky is usurped
by the glare of the lights high above the chain
link fence of the border station that keeps
vigilant watch against a menacing flood of
migrant labor. The abstract skeins of Wes Mills'
graphite-and-pigment arabesques and of Matt
Magee's oil-on-litho grids evoke the harmonic
dissonance of some avant-garde concerto.
So does the fantasia on Euclidean solids in Pard
Morrison's enamel-on-acrylic Mutation series,
scored with intense primary colors.
The most subtle formal device at work
in the show's serendipity--likely intuitive,
at times unintended--is arguably the most
effective: a reciprocal scheme that rises to
the level of visual trope's ornament without
detracting from any work's structure. I
refer to a pervasive bisymmetry achieved
through recourse to reverse, converse or
complementary forms or formal handling,
especially in the mirror-image compositions.
Bruce Nauman's Partial Truth series
is represented by two prints. In one, an
etching, the dark Roman-type letters of the
"Partial Truth" title are hatched against a
white ground; in the other, the title letters are
rendered as white embossed letters raised in
low relief above the paper's surface. Susan
York's diptych Daily Practice: Day 26, Drawing
and Sphere pairs a solid graphite drawing of
a six-and-a-half-inch diameter sphere with
an "actual" six-and-a-half-inch sphere made
of solid graphite and set on a painted wood
shelf. Nic Nicosia's Untitled Figure #8 is a
white paper clay figure with arms akimbo.
This sculpture is flanked by so thinking busy,
an archival inkjet print on paper depicting the
same sculpture. And in the print the lighting
has thrown into shadow all the interior areas
of the figure and its vertically stacked multiple
heads while highlighting the outer contours of
the form -- the mirror-image of Untitled Figure,
where the interior forms of the clay sculpture
are highlighted while the contours of its body
and heads are in shadow. In Jacobson's Place
series, with its vertical board/slab/rectangle
as the underlying grid motif, the black stele of
#425 linking the horizontally stacked bands
of sky, distant shore, water, and coastal zone
reverts to the grey-white rectangle of #554
locking together all the geometric elements of
the grid composition. And bilateral contrast is
attained within a single work in James Drake's
charcoal-on-paper Black Bird/White Mirror.
The trait that is common to all the artists
selected for the show is their command of
an inherent structure and narrative potential
that both enable and sustain a viewer's
vicarious experience of their works. Perhaps
that's the essence of the art of renewal.
Richard Tobin

Art of Renewal
James Kelly Contemporary
550 south Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, NM