Zzyzx at Las Cienegas Projects, Sayre Gomez and J. Patrick Walsh III
First I think are the objects, made over time and slowly becoming embedded by the artist’s actions with possibility. At this point any relationship barely registers outside the studio.
When I asked, Gomez and Walsh told me that they “have similar working methods.” Both their practices rely on internal logics, on poetic and often intuitive leaps to achieve their eloquent ends. Similar practices perhaps, but also particular to each and variously rational and wild.
“The reason that I am asking someone beside myself to complete the final act of this installation/performance comes from my interest in the removal or displacement of hierarchical relationships. I believe that through constructing parameters and certain limitations, whatever occurs inside these parameters could not produce positive or negative results, but rather a revelatory sequence of events.”
These comments Walsh included in his 2008 invitation to Joseph Grigely to participate in a performance at the Plains Project in Chicago.
Hmm. Let me begin again.
Thinking about this group (duo) exhibition is difficult for me, the twice so far that I’ve visited it feels seamless, almost as a joint production or collaboration rather than separate works brought together for a show. I admire both these artists very much, Gomez is pushing physical and conceptual abstraction much farther along the food chain than anybody else right now and Walsh is… a poet. (Which sounds like apples and orange but… people are like apples and oranges. Sometimes the particularities that I notice are incongruent from person to person. I think if you stay with me my characterizations will make sense by the close. If not, well, I can simply come back and remove all this text and you’ll know nothing of this moment of uncertainty. heh heh)
When I asked them, both Walsh and Gomez allowed that “our working methods are very close” so it made sense to do this exhibition together. They felt that their practices might inform each other and the presence of each would allow a viewer new entry into the work.
I also remind myself to see this show as a way for each artist to make a bit of a stand – “this is the work that is important right now, here is what I’ve been thinking about over the last several years,” and ultimately, “the works in this show offer you a few paths into our practices – follow along if you’re interested.”
Starting from there then,
J. Patrick Walsh III’s piece “Wheels” I feel like I’ve seen in other iterations, and I know the automobile as a presence in his work consistently. There exists video documentation of a performance – Walsh mounted wax-covered wheels to his car (could the car be a mid 1980’s Sirocco? I think so) and drove. Pretty much what you expect to happen, happens. The car moves. The wax crumbles and breaks. Walsh performed a similar action with a wax wedge and a boat (Custom Boat Drop, 2010), by lowering a sailboat onto wax blocks. The blocks were pretty well crushed. As an aside I’ll pose the question, “given the situation as described, do these represent failures?” Well, no. I do not get the sense that Walsh feels so, nor do I as a viewer. He mentioned having some hope that the car would “slide across the pavement (a fun stunt called “drifting,” at which seemingly Saudi Arabian’s rule: example one Arab drift example two, Arab drift example three, Arab drift example four (good sound on this one!), finally last one.) and of course that particular event didn’t happen, but… then it would only have been about making the drift itself, and not about the experiment. One’s journey is usually the interesting part of an artistic practice – success (in those terms) is for engineers and designers. The goals of an artist ought to be wider than simply achieving a single end, or even two or three ends.
Whatever investigations Walsh sets up and pursues, automobiles seem not too far away. For another video, this from (or documenting) one or another of the artist’s interim grad school exhibitions, Walsh begins with shots of an anechoic chamber, a wax wedge or small doorway and a tuning fork. This feels like noodling, but as the materials are familiar to his practice – are parts of Walsh’s vocabulary so to speak, it begins to sound and look like language. The film cuts directly to a performance in the gallery space at USC where Walsh rolls and twirls with his foot a steel wheel such as one finds on speedy cars. The performance looks a bit awkward – I’m getting used to this awkwardness by now and so I watch along and… I… listen. The metal wheel on the concrete floor exists as a sound performance, and it is beautiful. Walsh underlines this sound element by reading a poem part way through the ten or twelve minute film.
Along with this comprehension, I understand how close to poetry is Walsh’s use of his visual language. He’s building a grammar.
The objects at Las Cienegas include a large portal made from Walsh’s oft used layers of colored candle wax, you can see it above. Wax is really a lovely material! No wonder Jasper Johns resuscitated encaustic as a material for paintings. In Walsh’s hands wax takes my mind from religious and spiritualist uses of candles to the quotidian use of candles at table or in the bath. Hmm. Waxing a car… In this sculpture, as in Wheels, Walsh has allowed the newsprint that lines his molds to bleed into the the wax, it is embedded within – just below the surface in fact, and stands out as information that is almost, but not quite graspable.
Furthermore – doorways are potent symbols. Recall a few years ago when every writer tried to describe every artistic practice as “liminal?” It turns out that liminality is more rare than not. (Liminal was second only to “nomadic.” Ooh, get me some more of that.)
Walsh’s automobile sunshades with Steven King’s glasses and eyes hang near the ceiling, glaring like a confrontational surveillance video presence or like an angry god.
A video installation showing the artist cutting away the foam from the ceiling of his car feels at first also a bit noodley. The music is interesting and keeps me watching, I begin to notice reflections from the sun streaming in the sunroof and then the sun catches the shiny knife blade and Walsh is quite taken with the effect, and continues his play with the knife. White-out glaring reflections and sparks of sunlight begin to fall around the interior of his car. The camera, and Walsh, and the viewer each observe the car’s interior – in reflections, on the tv screen, in the artist’s case in person. (And then who knows how a camera observes things or what they see.) These glances and scrutinies are affectless without feeling cold, there may be consideration happening but chances are I am doing it, or at least my consideration is the only one that I can know.
Both Walsh and Gomez are interesting colorists. In this video we see the amazing blue of the LA sky, a nice flat, dirty white on the car ceiling, dirty dark yellow of the foam, the silvery knife blade, skin tones of the artist’s arm, flat red in the undercarriage exposed where foam is pulled away and a dark blue on a t-shirt. These are all clear and defined and bounce around in my head long after I walked away, as does the Arab music playing.
(I just hit publish instead of save draft. You can read while I continue my writing, I’ll update the post as I go. 1:38 pm Saturday)
At the risk of taking you through territory we’ve explored together in the past, because not everyone takes in every post, I’ll remind you that I first became aware of Sayre Gomez’s work through a show he curated at the Eagle Rock Art Center in January, 2010. “Current Trends in Modern Painting” included work by Robert Becraft, Julia Dzwonkoski and Kye Potter, Mark Hagen, Nathan Hylden, Brian Kennon, Becca Mann, Carter Mull, Alex Olson, Guan Rong, Mateo Tannat, Miller Updegraff, Kaari Upson, and Lisa Williamson most of which was not painting. Because of this show I tracked Gomez down and visited his studio.
I saw cool things and kept paying attention. At Fourteen30 in May of 2010 Gomez showed, “Self Expression,” which included drawings, paintings, sculpture with sound and a light installation. I refer you to my above comments about color and ask that you check out the images after the link. In “Self Expression” Sayre Gomez made drawings and paintings with his typical absolute and perfect hand and then flooded the work with colored light. In the words that first come to mind, this is “so fucking wrong!” And, as it happens, so fucking good. It is a cavalier and sexy gesture to render a thing perfectly and then flood it with hot, colored light that distracts from all the glory of the hand.
The subjects of Gomez’s drawings and paintings in this new show at Las Cienegas tend toward imagery drawn from various image blogs and internet sources. On Tumblr sites images are traded already detached from any originary meaning – Tumblr people grab images for looks, not for content. (Although this brings up the question what constitutes meaning in an image, and what is content. I think Sayre is making this question into physical objects for “Zzyzx.”)
Having thus several removes from any meaning Sayre’s paintings become about the relationships that develop among them as objects. I want to say “in purely formal terms,” except I don’t mean it. I think the paintings (and sculptures, about which more later) raise questions about and offer insights to the ways we exist as humans in the early 21st century. I will put forth that much as modernist abstraction questioned and described the world in the post war 1950’s, and fluxus and conceptualism operated in the 1960’s, and minimalism and so on; and each new era discarded the recent past because… the world had changed and those questions were no longer pertinent. If one accepts this (without necessarily accepting any progressive theories of modernism and art history) then what Sayre Gomez is making right now acts in much the same way for our own time.
I’ve talked with a number of artists lately who use images in much the same way that painters use brushstrokes, colors, textures, etc. Images are being used as words in a greater language where they are not entirely disconnected from the image’s own history nor entirely separate from context into which they are thrust by the artist. Both and neither. This is what reminds me of good, old fashioned abstract painting. In conversation with a friend yesterday (painter Matt Chambers) he, Chambers, brought out the notion that “artists who make ‘abstractions’ today are quoting from a language that is not their own, the words belong to a different time when the people needed and so made them.” This prompted me to ask whether he thought images, as in internet stuff – the white noise of representations – might be acting as words in the language being created today.
“The Charismatic Object” pretty much calls itself what it is. How hard is that? A wooden table with square legs, kinda typical for in front of a couch, part of the base for an office chair upside-down on top of the table. Both are flocked an irresistible hyper-fluorescent yellow – so far I’m along for the ride, if a bit uncertain as to our destination and doubtful that Gomez can pull it off – the artist hung a yellow nylon cord from one of the chair legs. The yellows just almost not quite are the same. Most of the sculpture is dry looking and matte finish, the cord is shiny nylon, the combination buzzes and flickers in and out of focus. The hang, the drape of the cord is… delicate and wonderful and much more than artifice could muster under similar conditions.
The sound sculpture, “Rupture (What Happens When Everything’s a Mirror)” is a finish fetish-y object with way too much bass, like a lowrider my friends in Phoenix used to drive around the suburbs of Scottsdale, torturing the middle classes with booming, relentless, affectless and implacable attitude. (There would be piles of the stuff, littering the roadway before and behind them. Nice.) The car culture world and its past connection to the LA art community comes again to my mind.
I wonder how Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees would have been different if Irwin had grown up blasting bass and drifting?
Going now, at least for today. 3:30 pm Saturday, July 9, 2011
Post Script on Sunday, July whatever it is, at 8 am: if you read this post on Saturday night and are revisiting you’ll find several minor corrections of grammar and awkward word choice.
No bigee there.
Importantly you will also find identified the friend who I quoted about abstract painting. I hesitate to insert names when I am talking about off the record conversations. The last thing I want to do is to creep someone out by publishing their name or words in my own context. Having said that, and since Chambers has an exhibition coming up (his first showing in Los Angeles since Angstrom in 2007) with Alexander Wolff at Steve Turner Gallery – and because he writes interestingly in the press release for the show – I want to lift the veil, as it were, and acknowledge a truth about Notes and about me. As much as I look, everything I learn hinges on something a friend tells me. Talking about art with people in open conversation is by far the most important part of any experience with a work of art.
Without discourse we are looking into a vacuum.
So – I am lucky to have opportunities to speak with the masters. (Thank good luck and my own persistence.) My recent conversations with Matt Chambers have energized my thinking and encourage me to push off some deep end into – who knows what. I’ll find out as I write.
In fascinating ways Chambers’ intelligent, quiet and funny observations have informed several of the most recent posts. To very good effect I will say – the writing on Notes is… getting pretty damn good. Yay. Thanks for your good talk, Matt!
Having made my declaration affirming the necessity of conversation to our understanding, I plan to push ahead with more writing about talking, and I am hopeful that you will use the comment option to join in. We really do need a forum of some sort here in the city. Let’s see if we can get five or six going at once – real-time and virtual. I’ll begin with a series of posts relating to the helpful, occasionally problematic, and very worthwhile series of panel discussions organized by Jill Newman, Rebecca Morris and Mari Eastman and then take it from there. Then I’ll see you on July 31 at Mandrake for the final of their series.
Join in! And enjoy.
I encourage you to visit Steve Turner this Thursday, July 14 at 6 pm for “fragilee Hors devors,” with work by Matt Chambers and Alexander Wolff. (Bring or wear something French, or adopt an accent. Try Guerlain, it suits you. Bastille Day should be honored somehow. Storm something!)