Tagged: Abstract Expressionism

Astral Projector: Mallory Page at the Lounge Gallery

Mallory Page

Astral I

mixed media on wood

36″ x 48″

Mallory Page

Astral II

mixed media on wood

36″ x 48″

Mallory Page

Astral III

mixed media on wood

48″ x 72″

Mallory Page

Calm Conscious

mixed media on wood

48″ x 60″

Mallory Page

Cirrusly II

mixed media on canvas, framed

24″ x 30″

Mallory Page

Cirrusly III

mixed media on canvas, framed

23″ x 30″

Mallory Page

Cirrusly IV

mixed media on canvas, framed

24″ x 30″

Mallory Page

Clarity of Spirit

mixed media on wood

48″ x 60″

Mallory Page

Half and Half

mixed media on wood

36″ x 48″

Mallory Page

Head in the Clouds

mixed media on canvas, framed

30″ x 40″

Mallory Page

Moon Movement

mixed media on canvas, framed

30″ x 40″

by Reggie Michael Rodrigue

Pure, abstract expressionism is a rare and elusive breed in South Louisiana’s contemporary art scene. In fact, I could count the number of contemporary abstract expressionists I know practicing in the state on two hands.

Personally, I believe that something about the style inherently flies against the face of the overarching Catholic tastes of the populace: South Louisianians crave iconography.   We generally like to recognize or at least be able to relate to what we see.  This response aligns itself with our culture, which operates as a bulwark against the sometimes treacherous, violent or seemingly chaotic forces of nature that surround us (ie, swamps, hurricanes, and floods.)

The truth is that abstract expressionism is a little too amorphous, philosophical, bipolar and close to nature for most palettes here. It is amorphous because it doesn’t claim to represent anything beyond personal expression. It’s philosophical because it investigates and exposes ideas of existence, knowledge and conduct in a language, albeit visual. Abstract Expressionism is bipolar because it asserts the primacy of surface over pictorial depth while it essentially aims to show the deepest and most primal structures of the human mind (Platonic ideals and relationships) in a thin skein of paint. It operates in paradox. Lastly, it is close to nature because like everything of nature, it is what it is. It is most adamantly not a facsimile of something else as in representational or figurative art. This is the ultimate power of Abstract Expressionism. It may allude to other things, but it never fully descends into trying to reconstruct them visually. It is a pure art of being and potential. This is due to the influence of Surrealism with its emphasis on spontaneous and automatic creation stemming from subconscious drives.

Lafayette/New Orleans artist Mallory Page is a prime example of a contemporary Louisiana artist trying to breathe new life into the aging aesthetic of Abstract Expressionism. Her work operates between the two separate schools of the style: Color Field Painting and Gestural Abstraction.  Color Field Painting descends from the line of Modernist experimentation with color that started with the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists through the Fauves to the work of Joseph Albers and Hans Hoffmann. It is concerned with presenting a unified and cohesive field of flat color – an image of monolithic, yet sensual expression. Gestural abstraction descends from the emphasis on line, expressive distortion and psychological import in the work of Van Gogh and the Northern European Expressionists, through the work of  Picasso to the work of the Surrealists. It is concerned with presenting the artwork as an arena of action, physical expression and existential struggle.

In Page’s work we find a fusion of Color Field Painting and Gestural Abstraction. Free-form swaths and drips of stained color meld with expressive scrawls of pencil, ink and pastel to form a visual language that acts as a summation of and a re-entry into the history Abstract Expressionism. Her work takes off where such abstractionists as Helen Frankenthaler and Cy Twombly left the style.  In Page’s work, one can find a meeting point between tranquility and angst. In most of her works, the tranquility of Frankenthaler dominates. Yet, it is Page’s  minimal use of the erratic scrawl of Twombly that brings these works to life and activates them, making them more than limpid pools of dreamy color.

Page’s current body of work at the Lounge Gallery in Downtown Lafayette makes excellent use of various shades of the color blue with all of its associations with the sky, clouds, water, space, twilight, spirituality, majesty, inner-vision, dreams, tranquility, and melancholy.  Most of the work in the exhibition takes its turn showing a different face of the color blue.  In a work such as Cirrusly IV, Page imbues her canvas with the feeling of a brightly lit day with scattered clouds through her use of cerulean while Moon Movement elicits a much more nocturnal and somnambulant sensibility with its midnight blues.  Page’s Astral Series takes things even further, giving the viewer a sense fathomless voids haunting undefined space where blue descends into black.  One of the most intriguing paintings on view is Head in the Clouds. Typically the phrase is associated with a state of light and dreamy distraction, and there are certainly parts of this painting that correspond in kind. However, Page has allowed storm clouds to gather in this work as well in the form of two fields of blue-black which leak down the canvas. An incongruous scrawl in vermilion in the lower-right hand corner of the painting acts as a counterpoint to it all.

Page’s exhibition is a feast for the eyes, and it exudes a great deal of taste. This is also my only caveat. When artists choose to dive into a historical style and reintroduce the style to contemporary discourse, the hazard of not pushing the style far enough always looms on the horizon. All too often, the style of the past often becomes today’s decoration. Page’s work comes close to this edge.  However, if one cares to look closely, there is enough intelligence, innovation and fine-tuned sensibility at work here to keep the work from falling over the edge.  From this precipice, Page reaches across a gulf of time and cultural history that encompasses the past 70 years, wresting a moment of American exceptionalism into our present hour of questioning and despair. Despite the the fact that American culture was reaching an apotheosis at the time that the Abstract Expressionists were creating the art that would put the nation on the world’s cultural map, they were dealing with a tremendous amount of existential baggage following the two World Wars that scarred the first half of the 20th century.  Their inner-turmoil and anxiety mirrors ours. Perhaps this is why many artists across America and other artists beyond have returned to Abstract Expressionism in the past decade to pick-up where the elder statesmen of the movement left off.

If Page and her cohort are inclined to astral projecting at all, I hope they’re willing to continue to take us with them into a future of promise and progress, rather than just a tour of recurring angst and by-gone glory.

The exhibition “Astral” is on view in the Lounge Gallery, 402. S. Buchanan St., Lafayette, LA 70501 until May 31, 2012. One can view the exhibition during May’s Artwalk and by appointment. Contact galerist Jeffery McCollough at (917) 282-1880 for a private viewing.

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Going Down, Dutch?

Artist Dutch Kepler's "Double Dip"

written by Reggie Michael Rodrigue

On November 21, 1980, an unnatural disaster took place in South Louisiana.  It took place in a small and scenic body of water called Lake Peigneur near the Gulf Coast.  A crew on a Texaco oil drilling rig on Lake Peigneur was drilling down to a depth of 1,230 feet.  Suddenly, the drill seized up and, in their attempts to free it, the crew turned an 11 ft deep fresh water lake into a 1,230 ft deep salt water lake.  They had accidentally drilled into a salt mine.  The shocker is that the crew and Texaco were aware of the mine.  At the time, it was still being mined.  Upon loosening the drill, the crew created a hole between the lake and the salt mine.  The water from the lake began leaking into the mine.  As the water continued to leak, it began to dissolve the salt and weaken the structure of the mine.  This lead to collapse.  A sink hole was created, which in turn, created a whirlpool in the lake which sucked every structure in the lake (Lake Peigneur was dotted with rigs) and much of the surrounding land into the whole.  There was a canal which connected the Lake to The Gulf of Mexico.  Up until that day, water always flowed from the lake to the gulf.  The sink hole/whirlpool created by the errant drill reversed the flow of the canal, pulling salt water from the Gulf of Mexico into Lake Peigneur.   Miraculously, all the men on site at Lake Peigneur that day survived, including the Texaco drilling crew and all the miners in the salt mine.

I relate the story to you in order to raise a point:  Man is an thoughtlessly aggressive son of a bitch.  The story of Lake Peigneur is proof.  Man just takes, takes, takes until disaster strikes.

Much of the work currently  on view at Gallery 549 in Downtown Lafayette, LA concerns the aggressive hubris of man.  The work is from artist Dutch Kepler.  He has created a suite of paintings which fuse a mystical narrative about man’s drives and his exploitation of nature with the aesthetic concerns of Abstract Expressionism shot through the lens of a Pop sensibility.

Kepler’s current works are somewhat of a revelation.  While much of his work in the past has involved a running engagement with the natural world in the form of depictions of animals and landscapes in a loose, Pop style, Kepler’s new work is deeper and more resonant.  Kepler loosened his tether to mimesis, and in the process created works as bold and aggressive as his current content.   Gone are the easy readings that go along with recognizable depictions.  They have been replaced by a challenge to not only read symbols, but also gestures.

The predominant symbol in most of these works is the arrow.   It is a symbol of both conscious and unconscious drives.  It is a symbol of phallic aggression, obsessive need or want, and penetration.  The arrow is the spear, as well:  the symbol of war and the hunt.  It is also, a symbol of virility.  In this sense, the arrow becomes the serpent and is made use of in some works that are a bit more illustrative and narrative in structure.   Other animals pop up as well.  In a limpid painting titled “Septopus,” a depiction of an octupus with only seven tentacles hovers on the bottom of its canvas.  With its usual eight legs, the octopus is regarded as a symbol of the perfection of the unconscious, transcending beyond the limits of the personal or the individual.   A seven-tentacled octopus seems somewhat less than perfection.   The painting exudes an air of dreamy narcissism.  Gazing into the watery work and, specifically, the “eyes” of the octopus, sets off a subtle recognition of self, similar to looking into a reflecting pool.  Other animals that make their way into Kepler’s works on exhibit are two strikingly contemporary and impressive depictions of two Louisiana denizens: a crab and a crawfish, both up in arms and in defensive postures.   The crawfish is all wispy gesture, and reads as both an icon and a phantasm.  The crab presents a much more graphic face made up of camouflage, rising up from swirling “blades of grass.”  The cosmic symbol of the crab is often associated with self-preservation, sensitivity and emotionality.

Moving past the symbols, what is most striking about much of his current work is the insistent, gestural profusion taking place on it.  The energy and brashness of the work manifest from a plethora of  marks that convey speed and forcefulness.   Zips, blobs, streaks, smears, scumbles, scrapings, drips and washes scream the urgent nature of Kepler’s expression.   Colored marks jump, pounce and ricochet across the canvas with deKooning-like self assurance and exuberance or Guston-like brutality.  The brightness and graphic punch of the works tie in with Kepler’s other profession:  Kepler was a former professor of graphic design at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette.  Content, symbol, color and gesture collide and become the unified subject of the work.  It is all pure, primal instinct and take, take, take.  Arrows bear down on the meta-landscape like the thunderbolts of the Greek god Zeus or the drilling element that forced the disaster at Lake Peigneur.  Man’s need to exploit nature is laid bare in a painting like “Double Dip,” which is pictured above.  Ecological disaster becomes a wonky, science experiment in one painting.  The image on it reminded me of pictures of factory run-off being pumped into bodies of water.  Some of the paintings, take on a more cosmic and mystical bent.  These are generally the ones in which the arrow becomes the serpent, and man’s drives take on a more ideal aspect.  In these works, gesture generally becomes subordinate to symbol.

All in all, the works Kepler exhibits in the show allude to a compendium of ideas about man’s place in the world that is both transcendental and hellish.  It is cosmic and motionless with eternity in some works.  In others, it is fragmented and frenetic with palimpsests of instinctual drives, unconscious motives and desire that rear their heads in the river of time and materiality.   It is up to the viewer to make something of it all –  to maybe form an opinion about what kind of place he or she occupies in the world – to wonder about whether one treads lightly on the world like the serpent or bears down on it like the drill.  However, one thing is certain: with this body of work, Kepler has tread across a hallowed threshold, the one that separates mere artists from the masterful ones in full control of their titanic expression.  That is a move up, rather than down.

The solo exhibition “Dutch Kepler” is on view at Gallery 549, 549 Jefferson St., Lafayette, LA 70501 through the month of October until the week of  2nd Saturday Artwalk in November.  To arrange a viewing, call 1.337.593.0796