Transit Troubles and Trompe L’Oeil in Chelsea

I’m not sure exactly which neurons in my brain were firing when I decided to get off of the F train yesterday at 23rd Street.  I might have learned the answer, though, had I been able to continue to my target destination, the “Brain: The Inside Story” exhibition at the Museum of Natural History.  However, after waiting for about fifteen minutes while the train was stalled and then learning that “there was an unauthorized person on the tracks” and that the police were investigating while the MTA was shutting down power on the tracks, I decided yesterday would not be the day to see the brain matter.

Instead, I headed over to Chelsea to catch a few shows during regular hours and have some dinner before attending a few openings.  (For dinner, I’ve now had two excellent meals at Ovest on 27th St, whose warm pizza oven helped to thaw me out and whose ragu tasted like my Thanksgiving brisket on top of pillowy gnocchi…)

Starting on 27th Street, I visited Sundaram Tagore Gallery for the works of Ricardo Mazal.  Three distinct styles of paintings, making up a trilogy exploring Tibetan burial rituals, are shown.  One set of paintings are drawn from “prayer flags” that the artist finds on a mountain; these have prominent white backgrounds and strokes flowing around the canvas with triangular shapes representing the flags.  Another set is grid-based with blocks of color abstracted from the rectangular boxes of pigments the artist found in Tibetan markets.  The final set are large, mostly black-and-white abstractions of Mount Kailash.  At first I didn’t see how these were linked to the author’s digital photography source material, but then the gallery consultant showed me photos and the similarity is remarkable, especially given the means the artist used to make the paintings: a Gerhard Richter-esque drawing of a blade across the canvas with varying amounts of pressure to create that distinct “pulled” look.

The first of four opening receptions I made it to was the Keith Tyson “52 Variables” show at Pace.  The show consists of 52 mixed media works on aluminum panels with nifty white frames, all lined up on newly painted green walls.  Each is based on the back of an actual playing card obtained by the artist and the intent is to hint at ideas like randomness (how did these images get chosen?) and how imagery like the backs of playing cards can capture the zeitgeist of the time (e.g., a Twitter playing card).  Some objects looked to be paintings, others screen-prints, and others perhaps were inkjets embellished with some paint.

Next, with some friends I ran into on 25th St, I headed over to Walter Wickiser Gallery where fellow central New Jersey artist Thomas Kelly has a painting in an eclectic group show.  Kelly’s painting, “A Night to Remember”, in his familiar style, is as always fun with vibrant colors and a scene that calls out for narrative (and in this case fairly literal) interpretation.

A Night To Remember, Thomas Kelly, acrylic on canvas, 30x24

Over at Kim Foster Gallery there’s a group show, “Anonymous”, featuring several artists I’ve mentioned on this blog before, including Christian Faur and Sherry Karver.  Faur makes very cool looking pixelated portraits by stacking thousands of custom-made crayons into grids.  Karver creates hybrid painting/photograph/digital works with super-smooth finishes; the scenes feature “anonymous” people going about their days in crowded surroundings.  Several of the people in each image are superimposed with text, in this case third person descriptions that provide some (fictional) identity by revealing bits of information (e.g., one woman is identified, among many other things, as an Oklahoman coming from a long line of ping-pong players (Karver’s text is better than my memory of it!)).

Finally, I headed upstairs a couple of flights (more technological transportation glitches as the elevator wasn’t working!) for the amazing show of Patrick Hughes at Flowers Gallery.  I mentioned Hughes in my last blog post as I saw one of his “reverspectives” at a gallery in Los Angeles.  At Flowers, I got a chance to see about a dozen of them all at once and they will completely blow you away, a tour de force of trompe l’oeil.  Each work is painted onto a three dimensional support that protrudes out from the wall in pyramidal and similar shapes.  The images painted onto the supports are painted just so… just so that they fool the eye into thinking that what is nearest you physically is actually furthest away in the image.  What this does is cause your brain to generate a model in your head such that as you move left or right, the perspective on the painting changes perfectly and it appears that the painting is moving along with you in stunning ways.  (Lots of information about how this works is provided at the Hughes website.) In this show, many of the paitnings are full of loving references to the art world, with one depicting Matisse cutouts; another focused on Pop Art; another full of mini Rothkos and Mondrians.  I had a chance to talk with Hughes for just a moment and it was nice to get to meet him, albeit briefly, as I’ve enjoyed his paintings ever since I stopped short when I saw my first one at an art fair five or six years ago.

(One last transit trouble on the way home as the NJ Turnpike extension was under construction and I got stuck in standing waves of taillights stemming from multiple lane merges and rubber necking.  If only the neurons in my brain had fired differently and I had taken a different route, as I was considering, back to the Turnpike proper…)

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