Commentary: “It took twenty hours …”

detail from Not Your Brand of Humor by Michelle Carla Handel

Barrick staff member D.K. Sole considers the current exhibition at VAST: Some Fine Women (running July 27th – August 24th at VAST Space Projects, 730 W. Sunset, Henderson)

“It took twenty hours to melt that lipstick, said Rachel Lachowicz at the artists’ panel on Saturday night. It burns if you overcook. Her canvas is a square bloody pond of poured red plush, like liquid upholstery, smooth but not even, the plumper higher mounds casting crimson shadows on the valleys. Abstract Expressionism is the phrase people were using, for the sake of that free pouring action and the horizonless all-over spread, but there was no sense of thrusting Ab-Ex action in the painting, no sense of the artist’s directing mind or defeated hesitation, not even Rothko’s trembling glow, only this burning slump of red presenting itself with the stubbornness of a Malevich Monochrome.

Abstract Expressionism was very male, someone pointed out, and Lachowicz has used this unmale substance.

Elsewhere she’s made a picture out of eyeshadow. And the surface does something beyond announce a rethinking of materials. It has a glimmering fur like a moth, I wanted to stick it with my nails.

Untitled Lipstick Painting is seventy-two by seventy-two inches and it needs several massive bullseyes by two different artists to stop it taking over the wall. Jaime Scholnick’s Corner Seersucker Stack is compact and vivid next to these monsters. It sparkles tightly in its corner like a baby’s glockenspiel. Containment here, discontainment on the floor nearby where Michelle Carla Handel’s mixed-media Not Your Brand of Humor is drooling the black lip off its burp. The bullseyes tussle between outthrust size and the regession of anally accurate mark-making. Two of them have circular grooves wiped into the larger circles. “Circles abound,” wrote Dawn Michelle Baud in the Las Vegas Weekly when she reviewed the show, noticing them “in righteous bas relief, in fine-spun drawings, in sequined flags.” Danielle Kelly, moderating the panel, said that the longer she walked through the gallery, “the more I began to see the things I was drawn to in everyone’s work.” In the middle of variety that’s one statement to fall back on: I was drawn to.

I went into the back room because one of the pieces from the Barrick’s collage wall was hanging there framed in wood and named Untitled (Eye-Fly), the curator and gallery owner having seen a picture of it on our Facebook page and contacted the artist, Alisha Kerlin, who had another work next to it, a pen drawing of a cholla.

And the objects on the collage were spaced in a line and not always overlapping but pulled to one another by their proximity and the frame, a mathematical calculation with no answer, false eyelashes, a picture of an antennae’d insect, a child’s sketch of an amoeba with legs. And the artist herself was presumably drawn to these things: here is the result of her willingness to be drawn. Here is the place where it stopped. And Danielle Kelly’s words suggesting a similar calculation being made in a larger roaming space. Lucio Pozzi in the first Vogel documentary talks about an artwork being created through the compacting force of unified accumulation: the Vogel collection itself.

On the wall across from Eye-Fly I found Heather Younger’s Burned Leaves and remembered her show in the Donna Beam at the end of 2012, the wet mattress and the tennis racket cover that had been laid out oddly to make the room seem unstudied, and now here was a sheet of plexiglass marked with Rosetta-stone scratches sitting over the dirty granular grey of the leaves behind, an unidentifiable (without the title) compost messing with the potential exactness of of those scratches, and the down-pressing weight of the leaf fragments like the mass of rocks in the corner at the Donna Beam show, expressive but mute, too clean to have been lifted directly from the landscape but not perfectly tidy either.

Later you discovered that the artist had washed those rocks by hand. They had been removed and chosen but only incompletely transformed. Arranged like artworks they were yet not artist-made. That sense of the earth being acted on but not contained by the artist was here too, always weirdly silent, the silence that Land Art or a Beuys piece might have — the mush of felt, the communion with a coyote. You could argue that the key element of any nature-based art is its muteness. The more independent a thing seems to be, the more its silence imposes. Structure, said the scratches: marks, language. But the leaves said nothing. The silence of Handel’s gawping monsters too: mouths open but no possibility of speech. Regressive immersion in their self-constructed silences.

The figure in Wendy Kveck’s Sketch for Princess (Red Legs) has her mouth open as well but now the mood is different, it’s easy to identify this being as a woman and these bright basic colours have been done with materials you could buy at the supermarket: paper and a felt tip pen. (“Oil” too, says the description.) The mutedness of dirt or grass can’t be explained, only anthropomorphised, while Red Legs is explicable. You’ve caught this person with her pants around her knees. No wonder she’s annoyed. A story in her.

There were other figurative pieces, there was Wendy Kveck’s Dead Girl, whipped with lively green lines, and Edith Beaucage’s smeary teenagers, thin women in fatty oils, an Adolescent with eyes like Jolly Ranchers and a thick nose (her body caught up in the paint, possessed, not free, the material of her own universe immures her) and then Barbara McCarren’s Crawler whose personality is determined by the attitude of its tree-branch legs — and the difference in her sculptures betweeen the well-defined lines of the wood and rounded flour-paste was too stark for me — the white ears of Us and Them too small for their strong pole, and I wondered why one aspect of the piece should be such an enemy of the other.

Patricia Burns was trained as a dancer and she has arranged spars and window blind slats in a small corridor like a large cupboard or wardrobe, asking you to move through this forest by tempting you with a light and a gap at the end. Near the lightbulb she has hung a photograph of a dancing woman, probably herself, flexed backwards while a black sheet obscures her arms and face. But the dance happened in another room — you can see by the brickwork — and the dancer never shared a space with these beams and blinds. There are curves in the slats and a curve in her dance but the installation is more of a static piece than a dancing one, anchored by obdurate metal diagonals and the dominant slope of a windshield like an arrow pointing down.

And I wondered if the ideas the artist has about the piece and the independent existence of the piece itself were somewhat different, and I thought about Geoffrey Hill’s comparison of a poem to Michelangelo’s Slaves — the intervention of forced worldliness between ourselves and our meanings, language in the case of poems, hard matter in the case of the marbles.

Which is what it comes to in the end, and for artists in a different way to others: the battle of matter and expressive will, or physics and spirit.”


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