Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walton Ford: new work, Nov12-Dec 23

Paul Kasmin Gallery, 293 10th ave

I think Walton Ford is a pretty interesting artist. This is the second show of his I've seen at the Kasmin Gallery, and the work may not be for everyone, but it's definitely memorable. Ford makes large highly detailed watercolor and ink paintings on paper. There are only 6 works in the show, but because of their size and their nuanced intricacy any more would be overkill. I hesitate a little in calling them paintings, because they clearly reference natural history and wildlife illustrations, like those of John James Audubon. He even uses the same kind of captions describing the animals and events in the margins around the images used in those wildlife illustrations, complete with (I assume) fictional dates. Ford's art is, however much more violent and nightmarish in subject matter than the work he's referencing. He appears to be trying to expand this tradition of painting to include human fears and fantasies of the natural world.

What is most immediately engaging about the work is the contrast between Ford's meticulous, virtuosic rendering, and the horrific and absurdist nature of the things being rendered. As a painter I can't help but be drawn to how Ford has mastered a certain genre of cool scientific illustration, and distorted it in such a way that he can apply it to this fantastically disturbing world where animals are tearing each other and in some cases humans apart. In "The Island" a huge pile of wolf like thylacines sink into the ocean, while devouring dozens of sheep. In another image two bengal tigers attack a lion in what turns into a bloody massacre. In some cases the animals appear prepared to commit suicide. A guerilla stands at the foot of a dead hunter holding his twisted rifle at its own head. Is it trying to blow its brains out, or just playing with a new toy? A baboon looks prepared to hang itself next to a rather stylish outdoor breakfast table. Or, is it auto erotic asphyxiation? As best I can tell, the content of Ford's work is the relationship between human culture and animal nature. Or maybe it's the other way around.

Mary Ryan Gallery, 527 West 26st Josh Dorman: new paintings, Dec 3-Jan 23

Josh Dorman paints what I think can best be described as mixed media collage paintings. His paintings are done on antique maps that have been affixed to wooden panels. These maps are mostly obscured by the paint and other collage elements, but can still be identified as such. Those other elements are clippings of illustrations from a wide variety of sources, and consists of contrasting images of nature and industry coexisting in a wildly chaotic, Bosch-like universe. Dorman delicately interweaves the hand painted, and cut and glued images in a way where it's frequently hard to tell which is which.

There's one wall that contains about six unframed pencil drawings. These, while depicting some seemingly horrific events have a lighter, more spontaneous and doodle-like quality. They're consistent with the paintings, but are in some ways more successful. Maybe it's because they're more conventional in terms of materials, which makes the images more direct. Maybe it's because they're free of the wooden supports, which seems to me a little too heavy for Dorman's light handed treatment of the paper and paint.

While the relationship between the people, animals, buildings, machines, etc. that inhabit Dorman's paintings is very intriguing, the images are not really narrative driven. What I mean is that I don't feel the need to figure out the specific relationships of these elements, so much as to appreciate how they interact as a whole. That may be because the images work so well on an abstract level. It's the elegance in depiction of the images that also keeps them from seeming either labored or folksy. They seem to be both apocalyptic in nature and have a paper doll playfulness. Something of a cross between Pieter Bruegel and Terry Gilliam. But, what I find really interesting about his work is Dorman's ability to take so many intimate, fragmented images that function on a one to one level, and successfully tie them into a unified whole. It's a neat trick, and I'm not quite sure how he does it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

New Years 2010 Survival Guide/ part 2

When I think of the holidays, of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, I think of Rockefeller Center with its Christmas tree, and of shopping. I think of family, and of children. I think of ice skating and the holiday spectaculars. This holiday here are a
few things that I recommend when in Midtown.

1. Seeing the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center
3. Seeing the city from the Top of the Rock
4. Shopping at the NBA Store and the Apple Store
5. Seeing a broadway show, like Billy Elliot, In the Heights, South Pacific, or Wicked. More shows can bought at TKTS
6. Seeing the Christmas Spectaculars like The Radio City Rockettes, Wintuk, or a Christmas Carol
7. Then there are always the staples like Blue Men, Stomp, and Fueza Bruta. These are just a few of the things that I recommend.