One of art’s special properties is its capacity for suggestion. Materials such as charcoal, earthen pigment, and binder, can be spread on pulped or sliced tree and then that embodied expression can be understood or felt with real (though not positivistic) meaning. This is nothing short of incredible. Further compounding that incredibility is the possibility for aesthetically varied expressions to fittingly evoke the same felt reality. This is the magic trick that curators participate in— finding a common thread among the works and arranging them skillfully among one another such that their conceptual weight is communally amplified. Miguel Carter-Fisher takes the role of such a curatorial magician to present Eric Schindler Gallery’s group exhibition, Please Don’t Wake Me, featuring himself as well as fellow artists Luis Colan, Skylar Hughes, and Walter Schrank.
The works comprising the show are quite diverse, firstly in media—the show is a collection of drawings, paintings, and monoprints—but the true diversity comes mainly through each artist’s execution of the works. Hushed and contemplative figurative works and landscapes from Carter-Fisher; bombastic and thickly impastoed oil paintings from Schrank; dark and mysterious monoprint landscapes from Colan; and quietly effulgent, dappled quasi-landscapes from Hughes. Each of these artists’ hand produces such distinct flavors that they’re almost puzzling together, but like a gumbo they reward the one who partakes, especially when couched atop the conceptual grounding for the show.
In his curatorial statement for the show Carter-Fisher says, “The drawings, paintings, and prints are diverse in style but share a common root in the space between the ethereal and the tangible. These personal works are like pieces of faded dreams and give lasting form to the interiority of the self.” With that lens, one can see how the work coheres. The interior of a human being is a complex place, containing a diverse range of attitudes yielding manifold expressions. That plethora of possible human attitudes and resultant expressions is put on display through this collected body of work.
What fascinates me is that the “lasting form” that Carter-Fisher refers to are the works themselves. That which comprises the human interior is indelibly—though not exclusively—formed by our comings and goings within the embodied world we live in. Tacit reality necessarily affects us and becomes fodder for the interior. The human interior then in turn necessarily becomes embodied through physical action, thus forming new embodied expressions, new fodder to become interiorized once again. The life of the mind and heart are lived out actively in a cyclical dance, and here the magic trick of artistic suggestion steps in once again through these very physical forms, giving metaphoric participation to this dance.
It seems that the artists understood this reality on some unspoken level given how intensely physical these works are. Carter-Fisher mentioned to me while I was viewing the work that part of the dream-like state he referenced had to do with each artist shutting off their harrying internal dialog and simply making the work. That being said, at first blush, when one thinks of a dream-like mental state, one could imagine the corresponding artistic expression to be a window with an impossibly smooth surface, with that which is viewed never being able to penetrate the glass. That mental image simply does not reflect the aforementioned dance however, nor is it reflected by these works. Rather than being crystal smooth, the majority of these works are pocked, raised, and variously textured; replete with irregularities both physical and implied that practically invite touch.
One of Carter-Fisher’s paintings, Nico Day One, is a portrait of his infant son nestled within a frame made of thickly built-up palette scrapings. The baby is snuggling, swaddled in a blanket, and the thickness of the scraped frame creates a pressing effect from the outside of the picture plane, intensifying the feeling of comforted security. The realistic rendering of his sleeping son’s face places him in the same physical space as the highly textured frame, as if pointing to the fact that this baby is another miraculous thing that the artist has made— this little person is the fruit of the artist’s continued care and labor. The frame and the image within sing a harmonious song of fatherly care and affection.
My favorite of Skylar Huges’ exhibited work, Dawn, is a bright and softly colored copse of trees through which the plunging, pink sky can be seen. Sitting atop the main panel of the work is a half circle of thickly built up lilac paint flecked with gold-ish accents. The rendering of the trees in pastels makes them feel almost like they’d dissolve at your touch, but they are built up of sure enough brush strokes that the foggy-pink sky between the branches seems to fall back into space. The lilac semi-circle meanwhile pushes forward, serving as a differently dimensioned extension of the sky in the main panel. It brings to mind a heavenly space, one that’s more intensely physical than our earthly one.
One of the back walls within the gallery was dominated by one of Walter Schrank’s works, Pytchagoras, and certainly demands viewing. The oblong, horizontal layout is built up of thick, boldly colored oil paint which he uses to imply a number of distinct objects and spaces within the picture plane. Multiple of these objects—a heavy orange form and a bright blue shield-like shape—are cantilevered, sitting perched on the ends of thin supporting structures. Further, In the lower right corner of the painting there are multiple boxy forms sitting on the bottom edge of the canvas. All of this cantilevering would be horribly off balance if they weren’t balanced by a foregrounded, chunky box of orange and gray paint strokes sitting above an orange T. Meanwhile there is a black-ish gray form flying from the center toward the left side of the painting. All of the balance being performed and the movement within the piece couple well with the use of color to make for a very energetic final work.
Lastly, Luis Colan’s works, Arbolado XVII and Sigue el Camino, are breathtaking. I’ll speak of them collectively here because they both use the same harmonizing qualities. The artist builds up these drawings with countless pen-strokes which has a cumulative effect in two ways. Firstly, he manages to produce a deep range of value that makes the treetops depicted in the images believable protrude away from the shadows and into our real space. Secondly, the use of individual pen-strokes in order to render each blade of grass and leaf, reminiscent of etchings, gives a fuzzy, whispering feel to the drawings, almost as if you can hear the wind rustling through them. The red pen pushes the works even further, providing a particular emotional intensity to the pieces— it really is as if the trees are advancing toward you rather than standing statically.
All of these expressions will work their way into the interior of anyone viewing them, altering the way that they see ordinary everyday spaces and objects, so potent are their execution. Please Don’t Wake Me is available for viewing at Eric Schindler Gallery until March 18th.