In Border Crossing, with seven artists each presenting a substantial body of work, there was indeed a lot to study. And happily, David Richard Gallery’s new and versatile space managed to accommodate all the diversity of visions. There was painting by Michele Bubacco and Paul Huxley; ceramic sculpture by Monte Coleman and Erik Gellert; mixed-media wall pieces by Chris Collins; and sculpture by Jack Slentz and Tim Cox, the latter also represented by a suite of paintings on aluminum. The entire exhibition cast a wide net over various materials, procedural methods, styles, and intentions—from the sexy and robust pieces in steel and rubber by Slentz, to the hard-edged abstractions by Huxley, to the mysterious scenarios that Bubacco painted with vigorous brushstrokes and accented with appropriated details from old master reproductions collaged onto the surface of the canvases.
In Bubacco’s paintings, the artist was motivated by a love of ambiguous pictorial spaces and the raw energy of strong painterly gestures rendered in a limited palette. He gravitates to black, white, gray, and brown with occasional areas of coral and yellow. It’s as if Bubacco’s work was infused with the spirit of Titian and Rembrandt, for example, reborn in the age of Postmodernism where, for an artist, or even a viewer, nothing is certain and risk is everywhere, and there is no right way to understand an artist’s vision. In Still Life with Two Bottles and a Wrong Painting That Says Hallo, the genres of portraiture, still life, and abstract painting ironically call to each other from the picture plane, as if each visual construct was part of a theatrical work intent on breaking the fourth wall. The word theatrical applies to all of Bubacco’s paintings, where emotions are deliberately forced and gestures are depicted broadly for increased dramatic effect. This is particularly true of the moody work Il Rigore (Discipline) with its severely bentbackward female dancer dissolving into a vaporous cloud of gray paint.
Drama of a different, more tongue-in-cheek variety is found in Slentz’s steel and rubber inner tube sculptures that, with one exception, hang on the wall and subvert easy interpretations. While some of his work suggests sexual bondage, as in Chastity Belt, Snow Chain, Manacle, Highway Man, and Brace, these pieces sidestep their transgressive allusions and take their place as examples of fascinating and unexpected structural negotiations. In this series, cold steel bands contrast well with the sensuous curves and circular shapes that they constrain, and all the work is punctuated by old fashioned looking heavy-duty locks. Slentz’s work can be read in many ways but it possesses an inventive formal language all its own.
Gellert made five freestanding ceramic sculptures, each one nominally square in shape. What distinguishes this work is the way it was fabricated—forms made from who knows how many small rolled coils of clay that have been carefully pressed together into thick slabs so the texture of the coils wasn’t obliterated but left to exist as the main element of the work. It’s as if the artist had molded thousands of strands of spaghetti into single surfaces that were never entirely flat. On one level, the work suggests the lines on topo maps gone awry, folding in on themselves in undulating waves and inclinations. If Gellert’s pieces are the most obsessive-compulsive work in Border Crossing, the paintings and sculptures of Cox are the most inscrutable and spare. His small cast-aluminum pieces are based on industrial forms like dumpsters, and in his paintings he refers to utilitarian objects life a forklift, circuit cincher, snow blower, or trolley. Yet, to objects that are immensely prosaic by nature, Cox has given a deadpan but alluring shift of focus so that the original form becomes an enigmatic modernist cipher. If the work by Cox has an impenetrable air, Collins’s wall pieces broadcast a bit of razzle-dazzle with their rugged fragments of plywood textures accentuated with copper leaf. Collins essentially transformed discarded junk into work that took on other connotations in the context of a pristine art gallery. Other works in clay in this show were the skulls and bowls of Coleman, who managed to make strong but humorous statements on a very small scale.
Dominating the main gallery, the paintings of Huxley played with geometry, color, and subtle spatial illusions. Each painting set out to investigate the implied architectonic relationships of ellipses, squares, circles, and rectangles as they precariously balanced on and next to each other, achieving various states of equilibrium on the picture plane. All the work in Border Crossing is emblematic of individual investigations realized by personal gestures and decisions. In these diverse bodies of work, a flair for the theatrical met techne and eros and divulged something about art in the twenty-first century, where art’s history is something to be toyed with and explored anew.