Friday, December 30, 2016

Performing Dissolution

Image X:  Emily Mullin, Untitled (2016)
Three ceramic vases and painted steel shelf, 30 x 18 x 8 inches
Image courtesy Lucien Terras. 

Exhibition review

Lucien Terras.
325 Broome Street (Lower East Side, NYC)
December 8, 2016 - January 29, 2017

Emily Mullin is a subtle polyglot.  Her works – tableaux of glazed ceramic vases that hold exotic plants, and sit on painted steel shelves – combine elements of ancient Egyptian and Sumerian clay pots, Modernist patterning, machined construction, and hand cut flora so masterfully that days after seeing them at Lucien Terras  I find their effects difficult to shake. The pieces seem simple at first, but gradually deliver an unanticipated experience where rich optics and sharp formal play usurp the primacy of their own materiality.

Featuring a single pot covered in regular, long, fingerprint-shaped patterns and a tuxedo-blue shelf, Untitled (image X) is inviting, odd, and structurally succinct. Like all the pots in the show, this one is smallish and would fit easily in two open hands. Eight fountain-like arms elaborate a facade that works together with wax resist and glaze to form a texturally dense, semi-regular visual pattern running parallel to the piece’s stage-like front edge. Flowers twist upward with violet notes that burn; a counterpoint that foregrounds and amplifies the work’s otherwise low-chromatic air.

Image Y:  Emily Mullin, Untitled (2016)
Two ceramic vessels and painted steel shelf, 30 x 24 x 8 inches
Image courtesy Lucien Terras.

Untitled (image Y) features two plump, Sumerian-style vases. Leaning unevenly, the pair activate space with anthropomorphic charm. Martian red tones and hand-painted, checkered patterns graft the vessels and shelf together, flattening the distance between the middle and background by inviting the eye’s fluid movement back and forth across the forms’ silhouettes. Fresh foliage tucked into one pot offers a vital release of rich green, and the boldness of its counterpoint further intensifies the tableau’s tight visual hold.

Untitled (image Z) would be playfully excessive, if it were not so cooly removed. The piece is challenging, and rewards consideration. Its vivid, peppermint white-and-red, tic-tac-toe scheme borders on acrid. Three short, waffle-cut pots repeat the larger grid pattern. Two of them are set parallel to the front plane, while the third is intentionally shifted, creating a play between fractured, fabricated space and actual space. Red flowers wrench the eye a bit, their round petals blotting and breaking up the tense visual matrix. 

Image Z:  Emily Mullin, Untitled (2016)
Three ceramic vessels and painted steel shelf, 30 x 26 x 8 inches
Image courtesy Lucien Terras.

These works successfully aggregate a broad set of disparate histories, substances and formal devices. Very much like the shallow space of a painting, they weave and bend a convincing optical fabric with threads coursing through a boxed front, middle and background. In each piece the fourth wall is enforced and then broken. Vectors of pattern, color, tone and line flow through everything, dissolving clay and steel into tightly compressed spatial systems. The vessels’ chunky forms and the exotic plants’ natural presence assert “real-ness”, but they don’t compete; the sets absorb them and steal the show.

Mullin’s work is keen in its casual appeal and masterful in its execution. The exhibition staggers by transforming physical elements into raw illusory events. In this way, the works are surprisingly more visual than physical, more virtual than real.

–– Michael Woody

Sunday, December 11, 2016

This is The Cake

Sarah Faux, Swells, 2016, Oil on Canvas

Exhibition Review

Mandy Lyn Ford and Sarah Faux, “Touching in the Dark”
yours mine and ours Gallery
54 Eldridge Street (Lower East Side, NYC)
October 21 – December 11, 2016

Mandy Lyn Ford and Sarah Faux have a sharp, raucous show together. Their work is smartly hung and impressive in its carnality, with strong optical and thematic elements to match. The sensory logic of both artists’ work is as compelling as any you are likely to see.

Sarah Faux’s painting falls comfortably into the sensualist lineage of Tracey Emin, Cecily Brown and Rita Ackermann, but her work isn’t as lofty or removed. Swells features a pair sexually engaged, one participant’s point of view replaceable with our own. Both hover in space and are pressed forward in the picture, engaged in awkward self-display. Their strange, imperfect, impeccably painted bodies offer an immediately accessible version of paint as naked flesh and process as hedonistic event. The pair’s greedy hands are lined in electric colors; one seeks and invites while another (the other’s) works at arousal. The piece comes on with a rich mixture of tightly packed forms and heaped-on paint, suggesting open and familiar intimacy. A fullness and specificity accords with the work’s simplicity, making it feel like an actual memory, a “this looks like someone I know” report that surprises by being both pointed and personal.

Mandy Lyn Ford, 666, 2016, oil paint, acrylic, sparkles, and canvas on wood panel

Ford’s work is, like Faux’s, exceptional in its density. While less overtly erotic, Ford’s pieces have sensual appeal like a fantastic dessert. The work’s conceptual vehicle is a loose but deliberate placement of screens in screens, and paintings on paintings. Ford unleashes the power of these self-referential meta-devices without letting it overwhelm her difficult improvisations in tactile variety: quick, easily circulable images get met with the indisputable immediacy of anthropomorphic embodiment. The work is chaotic and sometimes garish, but it speaks clearly, foregrounding the peculiar dynamics of its material world.

Mandy Lyn Ford, New Wave, 2014, Oil paint, acrylic, sparkle foam and canvas on wood panel

In New Wave, panel, paint, canvas, foam and pen come together in an amorphous object that is as likely sculpture as it is painting. Its jagged edges are paired with regular, horizontal lines etched into its face, referencing its pulpy substrate and also accentuating the full form and subtle turns of its torn, rolling surface(s). There is a strange muscularity in its minutiae and you find yourself exploring corners and crevices with deep, impressed focus – an experience that attests to the artist’s uncommon attention, risk, and hard-won reward. Ford sees to the whole and manages the tiniest bits equally.

Works like these are supported by a history of art that invites materials to perform in certain ways. Both Faux and Ford accept these rich histories, but their works move beyond easy citation. They make leaps from reflection to revelation with persistent insistence and undeniable freshness. The exhibition has gravity, and is as intelligent as it is audacious.

—Michael Woody