“Ebb Tide” with Heather Brown, David Gilbert and Wyatt Kahn
Drifter it is called. Does it look like someone trying to salvage a broken geometry by pushing in shims to prop up polygons? The surface is dirty and smudged on this object, or on these objects. I begin now to wonder how they are adhered, the shims, the parts? How do they hold together, these canvas planes? Old fashion rabbit skin glue is used not as a prep (I think), but a finish, perhaps on the surface of the canvas. (I see now, as I write, that rust is also an ingredient in this painting. I wish I’d read more closely the checklist when I was in the gallery. A lesson I keep learning: read the material offered and also question myself most when I am complacent in my certainties, as I was certain at Ebb Tide that by seeing I could be sure of what was present.)
In the second room I find Frame Work, also by Wyatt Kahn. Is this title a verb? As in to ‘frame’ work? Does it refer to artwork that becomes also a framing device for another surface, making the framed surface art? There are three framed voids in this object (which is made from medium density fiberboard wrapped in clean canvas, I learn). The bottom-most of these areas of wall that are revealed (showcased?) is a cleft between two large planes; it is wider at the base where it is open, the frame is completed by the artist’s addition of three slender canvas-wrapped shard shapes that line the two long vertical sides and the open bottom. The top of this space creates itself from an original, pre-frame plane.
This matter of wrapping panels in canvas of course has art historical references – the ‘support’ (in this case canvas) becomes frame and subject, while the stretcher bars become substance, and the ultimate ‘support’ (here a wall) is invited into the space of art. Perhaps Wyatt Kahn is exploring the French Supports/Surfaces movement and finding a way forward from there.
This work is formal, but not tidy. Canvas has weight and mass, it thickens at corners and it bunches and deforms Wyatt’s otherwise crisp points of wood. This is nice; it reminds me that a person is at work, stapling and gluing, making choices.
Beyond these few observations, my thinking stumbles. I find that I understand art best over time, through repeated experiences with an artist’s work and conversations around that work – with the artist, when possible.
My first thought, looking at Heather Brown’s Memory Palace, was an easy one: they look like bricks, with memories. Then I thought about other painters I know whose paintings layer and build over time and then exhibit the layering in the completed work, and how one can respond by rejecting what one sees on the canvas and cover it up or scratch it off to begin again, and one might find something – a mark or effect of paint – that isolates itself and insists on its continued presence whether one wishes it to or not. Any strategy for dealing with the material on the canvas remains evident: as texture, for there might be a rise where paint is still thick, or a rough brush stroke may bump up a thinner overcoat, a shadow might remain where formerly a line was present. (Given X-Ray and other newer technologies, and their application to painting forensics, I wonder if the past is present for eternity?) This is one kind of memory in a painting that Heather Brown uses to good effect.
A second type of memory comes into play looking across the four grouped canvases that make up Memory Palace. My eyes take this painting in as a group, of course, but then as individuals. I look at the second painting from the left – its simple structure and erasure/whitewashing fascinate me: not only can I psychologize this effect, but also I appreciate that some of the darker lines avoid the paler ones – thus setting up alternate patterns – and some meet and cover them; I feel certain there exists a logic to explain this, but I cannot imagine how. My eye moves to the left and I find an area that looks violently rubbed out: pale smudged color remains, and lines, but mostly I am aware of an action that I cannot see because it happened in the past – or in my imagination.
The way she is grouping paintings interests me, too. (See on the far right, in the largest one, how the central area of whiter infill repeats a similar color from the painting on the left? Nice. And the yellowy color filling around this lighter white buzzes against it and almost hurts my eyes.)
I saw a similar group of paintings by Brown this Friday at Weekend – this piece included two larger canvases – one black and one white – and propped on top of each was a small painting, oh, with a greyish shape at center and colors around. The surfaces of the black and white paintings were created by – once again – covering over some other design, they were heavily textured and in places seemed glazed, even while they dazzled their soft colors caressed my eyes – this gentle craziness is also the effect of the painting(s) at Ebb Tide.
(At the next work, the author thinks of a letter he’ll never send…)
“Dear David,” (begins this note),
“If I may say so, Threeway Mirror is startlingly good. I have seen it before, in parts, and its particulars appear in several of your works. I recall looking while at the opening reception, and now I realize that since that day weeks ago I have searched for something to fill the gap seeing your photograph left in my consciousness. Thank you for making it.”
There appears to be a sculpture made of gathered, knotted cloth that is saturated and crusted with paint. It hangs and drapes over a box (is this true?) and on this box is painted the suggestion of an ocean or sky scene, all romantic, rough whites and blues.
In the background, pinned to a foamcore panel distressed with green paint I find a double of the first friend; this new character might be rendered on fragile lightweight paper, it curls so with its painted covering. This paper object is not flat, but in its paperhood it looks flat, it should be flat, and of course as part of a photograph – like the first sculpture – all I see is a flat, 2D image.
Could it be a bedstead that is poking in from the right? I see a pair of shorts – you have worn these, I believe. They are empty and you are not there, are you? I’m smiling even as I recognize that also not present are the other two who are implied in this Threeway of yours, save for the reminder that is your title and the barest corner I see, near the top, of a dripping red heart. Just a suggestion, this heart is.
I like that you are embodied in your work, David. I appreciate that you mix up this cheerful, gemütlichkeit notion of self with mind-altering games of doubling, mirroring and repetition. If an object can appear in several dimensions at once, then it will. If by taking a picture to capture the mad scene in your studio you confuse the events and befuddle your own intent, then it seems that you will.
Now I find yet a third sculptural doppelganger standing quietly out of the way on a table; aah, but it also appears to hang (as do the other two – its brothers), from a rope that leads my eye upward and out of the frame. This new sculpture looks to be made of thin plastic shopping bags, it is a white so thin that it might be disarranged with just a breath. (Even before the photograph, I hold my own breath, David.)
Photographic space is so shallow…yet here I find such depth, and also here I feel so deeply that my eyes fill. Your name, David Gilbert, is written and seems almost to hold a balloon, a clear and pale sphere with a grey triangle and a green bow. Is this instead a kite? For it, too, is flat. Is it a portrait? It has eyes – pink eyes – and the triangle could be a smile. A stick – your stick David, haha – crosses my field of vision at the lower left, it is gooped with white matter like spackle. Hmm, is this only present to lead me off course, to remind me that what I see has presence in another room somewhere and that already a disarrangement has begun?
In the work of Wyatt Kahn, Heather Brown and David Gilbert, the word “accretion”comes to my mind. Kahn assembles his paintings from objects of one type or manufacture but of many (and almost two-dimensional) angular shapes, Heather Brown’s paintings are themselves groups of two and more canvases, and on each a cellular patterning is represented through color, line and texture. Sometimes these representations are covered over in white or black paint and this brings observable time into the work. David Gilbert makes photographs of his studio, in which he will gather an assembly of characters – odd, perverse sculptures made from old clothes, paintings, ceramic ware from tag sales, and bits of old furniture. From these, and with his camera, he creates almost-narratives that include commentary from the Flatland of photography and dimension and time-bending structuralist twists.
As I mentioned, Heather Brown currently has work in a show at Weekend, and will open a solo exhibition at Carter & Citizen. Hot Paint at Weekend closes with a party on July 1 and Carter & Citizen opens on June 30, also with a party.
Ebb Tide is one of a series of exhibitions to be presented by Kurt Mueller. His project-based studio, Rockoon, is new to Los Angeles. You will find this exhibition (through June 30) at 1523 North La Brea Avenue, Suite 205, the telephone number is 213-300-3546.