June 2, 2016

“Currents in Photography” at Walter Wickiser Gallery, New York, May 26-June 21, 2016 -- Review by David Gibson





SANDRA GOTTLIEB: October Waves #23 (2013)
 This exhibition hides behind a prosaic title that only slyly serves its ultimate purpose: to present the advanced visual agendas of a crop of mature artists working in a field only vestigially related to what one commonly refers to as photography. Their cumulative inventiveness is a breath of fresh air within the overcrowded milieu of the current demimonde.  
 Sandra Gottlieb is a portrait painter of nature’s wildest manifestations—the waves that thrash upon the shore, and which form a seemingly endless landscape beyond the reaches of solid earth. Her images run the gamut from explosive to contemplative. They are unique in that they treat their subject with indifference toward anything but discoveries of serendipitous design. Her favorite hunting ground for capturing these images is 500 feet off the sand in Brighton Beach, where her telephoto lenses capture the minute and the grandiose alike, each swirl or crest a gesture unique as a snowflake. But for Gottlieb there is no need for metaphors. The ocean is self evident, a territory connected via water to every land mass and even in the air itself. It’s like taking a picture of a single gargantuan soul in motion toward its fate.  


BERT GF SHANKMAN: Beginning Hydrangea (2005)


A maniacal focus upon subject matter is so completely fused into the creative personality that it had to occur elsewhere in this exhibition. The photographs of Bert GF Shankman take as their focus the genre of flowers, though imagined as if seen at a molecular level, or from the ephemeral dimension of the pixies. All the great and intimate moments of life are available to mesmerize and bemuse us in Shankman’s photographs. He begins his images by culling them from the fold of nature and then suffuses them with elements that are already present in the original image. They are simple scenes: the first buds upon a hydrangea plant, a few white petals on each limb soon to multiply but at this stage fragile and peremptory; sunlight hitting the thick petals of a mature flower, heavy with growth they are no longer transluscent but the light reflects the deep yellowish pigmentation, alive like blood in its floral veins. The resounding flash of color is like a new dawn.      



SOL HILL: Urban Figure/ Red Shirt (2011-14)

As distant from the kind of nature we expect to see, Sol Hill’s photographs depict the environmental qualities of urban life: the buildings, streets, and people, and a secret dimension as well, in which exist invisible energies. One might assume from a straightforward viewing that his works are intentionally blurred, but what we are seeing is the diffuse atmosphere in which millions of signals are constantly passing, from one cell phone to the next, one laptop computer to the next, from system to system, everything a binary cacophony of vital energy pressed into the service of world that no longer needs the written word, or the sound of a voice, to cross time and create ritual. We are the space we take up, but we are also dimensional exceptions to the energy we make and which runs our lives.

 

KAETHE KAUFFMAN: Meditation #4: Dark and Light (2015)
 The other two artists work less in concert with the real and instead seek out a symbolic relationship to meaning, a speculative rather than a categorical order to impose upon the real. Kaethe Kauffman is initially inspired by how meditation techniques in Yoga class led her into a fascination with the body itself, its range of symbolic form, and how motion alters, even in a minute degree, depictions of the body as a symbol for universality. She has sampled certain iconic Yoga poses and collaged them to create a hieroglyphics. The form itself, such as a person sitting with long flowing garments following the rigidity of pose in concert with a meditational repose so strong it represses consciousness, takes on a symbolic intensity such as that contained in an idol or in images from art history depicting mythical figures such as the Virgin Mary, whom artists as diverse as Raphael and Picasso have depicted in their work. She plays with the universalism of the sitting form, carving into it with color, diffusing it with layers of gray and black, turning it upon its head. Yet she refrains from caricature. These are ancient forms, presenting strength through belief, but beyond words she spells out their future importance.    

NOLAN PREECE: Chemical Tiffany (2012)
 Nolan Preece is perhaps the most experimental artist in evidence, athough he discovered his genre by rummaging through forgotten methods of art history and giving new life to something called a Chemigram. Though not the inventor of this process, Preece has pioneered its use to the exclusion of all other methods, and in so doing has made it his own. It’s achieved by painting directly upon photographic paper and applying to the painted surface the traditional transformative agents of Developer and Fixer. One can vary results by adding materials from painting such as varnish, wax, or oil to the surface before submerging it, so that primary and residual chemicals combine to create an effect similar to that of a watercolor as one might find in the works of Paul Klee, Max Ernst, or Antoni Tàpies. Preece’s works are characterized by a mass of dark weblike forms that enclose or cover sections of a naturalistic scene in which shadowlike figures, forests at dusk, and the blue night sky around an incandescent full moon are the only exceptions. The painted gestures can form a mass that envelops the landscape, partially obscures it, or stands in for a copse of trees by an anonymous path. We find ourselves not in the gallery looking at a picture, but in the picture looking out.

    


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