Everyday Painting, Fantastic Worlds
By Greg Lindquist
The inherent contradiction intertwining painting’s physical quality and illusionistic space has historically been fertile ground for the medium. Whether bridging the verbal and nonverbal, tactile and virtual, painting also offers an absorbing and empathetic involvement. MICA’s LeRoy E. Hoffberger School of Painting MFA ’14 artists, while interfacing the history of painting from Modernism and beyond, are simultaneously engaged with the world around them, from the deeply felt experience of paint to perceptual issues of seeing and image mediating technologies. Simply stated, these thoughtful and sensitive artists are complicating the everyday through painting.
Though responding through modernist languages, many are clearly thinking in contemporary modes. Justin Hoekstra’s abraded panels, which are self-described as attempts to beat back the gestural quality of Abstract Expressionism, are just as steeped in the culture of his working class upbringing. Creating paintings made from flawed paints bought at deep discounts and in turn sold to the wealthy collector class, Hoekstra boasts a subversive, post-Occupy Wall Street-like act. Although sharing a primary palette of Piet Mondrian’s lattices, Ryan Nord Kitchen’s landscapes intertwine both a synthetic and organic depiction of natural schema. Kitchen’s paintings are just as informed by the oblique spatial projection of the Japanese landscape tradition as the interfaces of virtual environments. Alana Bergstrom’s abstractions address memory as a bodily experience through a sensitive application of color and texture. As a member of the US military once deployed in Afghanistan, Bergstrom draws from extreme situations, translating emotional experience into visual terms.
Departing from the idealist reduction of Modernists such as de Stijl, Jacob Rhoads examines the boundaries of visual structure and chaos produced via intimately scaled abstractions. Although his process is analogous to the layering in Photoshop, Rhoads employs the unhurried pace of painting. While Janet Olney’s paintings appear directly gestural, through the use of Adobe Illustrator and architectural stencils, she translates calligraphic gestures. In search of her ideal Edenic space, she hybridizes mark making driven by her body’s movement and mediated by mass printing technology. Katherine Gagnon’s deeply felt abstractions suggest wistful relations with seasons and elements of nature, such as tree stumps and tulips. Gagnon creates paintings with slippage between objects and their naming; color similarly evokes empathetic emotion not recognition of imagery. Aaron Richmond’s paintings deconstruct the formal language and format of buildings. Rather than a formal exercise, Richmond devises a vernacular blueprint of architectural fragments.
A remarkable aspect of this group of artists is the cross pollination of ideas and styles, cutting across a large swath of realism and non-representation. Even realist paintings viewed up close become abstract as their imagery incoheres into material. The illusionism diminishes, yielding a foreign, abstracted identity. This is precisely the case in the underlying string grids embedded in Caleb Kortokrax’s dim realist interiors. They resemble a series of computer screen pixels, evoking the wounded subjectivity of digital images and the interfaces in which they are experienced.Jaime Misenheimer’s paintings evoke by both abstract sensation and figurative narrative the faint aura of memory. Her paintings remind that memory is not simply the aggregation of imperfect snapshots now accumulated by social media, but also the warmth of feeling encoded by experience. Jon Marshalik’s paintings from 1990’s pop/fringe culture (from such cartoons as Beavis and Butthead and The Simpsons) are translated by cutting up, reassembling as dioramas and recasting as paintings. In this painterly transformation, Marshalik makes the everyday fantastic. Boram Lee’s paintings draw iconic connections between humans and nature, creating unique symbols, imagery and spaces. While not wishing to direct attention to her Korean cultural heritage, she synthesizes various conventions of depicting space gathered from Chinese landscape painting, early Nintendo video games and American Color Field abstraction. Brendan Kerwin’s slumbering figures are painted from casual smartphone snapshots. Yet as a default subject, these figures lead Kerwin into formal issues of painting, the mediated images that represent individuals in social networking, and contemplation of his own relationship to others. Tracey Parker’s intimate yet intensely psychological figures are informed by the Sims life simulation games, dollhouse models and clay sculpted figurines. In these paintings, the viewer becomes the voyeur, examining the conflicting roles of nurture and control in familial, romantic and other institutional relationships.
A sophisticated, savvy use of color is a common bond for these artists. This strong use of hue and its interconnected conversations has been an exigent concern threading the selection of these paintings. While the richly developed political, philosophical, social and aesthetic positions emerge with context, the most immediately striking thing one might see is how far these artists have pushed the most basic properties of painting. In this simple, everyday engagement with the medium, they have transcended the commonplace and delved into fantastic visions of their worlds.