PSYCHEDELIC INKBLOT SPIDERWEB Ellis's 'Apparition.'
“Swell,” the new group exhibition at GRIN (60 Valley St, Providence, through March 1) is a sort of choose-your-own-adventure. It leads off like a regular gallery show — paintings, sculptures, videos, and installations around the room. Then there’s much more artwork filling flat file cabinet drawers, for a total of 36 artists on view. The result is a sampler or Rosetta Stone of gallerists Corey Oberlander and Lindsey Stapleton’s interests — delicate drawings, deadpan photos of everyday stuff, exquisitely crafted prints, brief jittery videos, lovely sensations.
Katrina Ellis’s past works have included installations that look like critters hiding under afghans and fabric and lace pieces that look like mutant jewelry-doilies. Here Apparition (If I’d Realized It Would Be So Fleeting) is three bands of die-cut turquoise and green fabric held together by pins, plus some yarn and buttons to span part of the room. It creates a charming droopy pattern, like psychedelic inkblot spiderweb of chopped-up men’s ties.
Sculptor Matthew King and video artist Clark McLean Graham collaborate on Totem I. A large thin wood box is painted with a big black lightning bolt. On each side are two tall matching pressboard boxes that serve as frames for a pair of screens. They show short, Vine-like repeating, videos of a horse — or two horses? — the head on the left, and the rear at right. I’m not sure what it’s about — a horse cut in two by a lightning bolt? But what I note is that the horse is always off the ground, not leaping, not landing. It seems to almost fly.
Erik Davis-Heim’s painting Are You Here is an abstraction that suggests warped and scuffed concrete panels. Heather Leigh McPherson’s painting Yokel Mask depicts a big, abstracted, lopsided cartoon head with a stubbly chin. It’s a decent rendition of a popular current style that you might find in paintings by New York artists Dana Schutz, Nicole Eisenman, and Summer Wheat.
WHITE GLOVES REQUIRED The flat files.
Then put on white gloves and rummage through the flat files. Rachel Hart’s Nude In Nylon series shows a person from behind, head and arms wrapped inside tight red nylon, and a person wearing a bra and bikini briefs/loincloth that seem to repeat the same pleated fabric form. The photos become a sort of performance/sculpture as she plays with fabrics — how they wrap and bind and squeeze flesh — and the careful cropping of bodies turns the images abstract by confounding our ability to recognize what’s what. There’s more to explore in this idea.
Ian Deleon takes a cheeky look at US-Cuban relations. A pair of Polaroid photos seem to be selfies that Fidel Castro shot. Across a portrait of Ronald Reagan, Deleon has scrawled “Somos 2.99 colonia gracias a la momia” (perhaps translated as “We’re a 2.99 colony thanks to mummy”). A marker drawing on a Spanish-language newspaper reads “Celebrating Over 50 years of US-Cuban Relations” below caricatures of Castro and Uncle Sam with their pants down measuring their dicks.
Andrew Collins’s oil and acrylic painting Temple, Portal, Totem II is a glossy black abstraction with matte black chevrons on the corners. It recalls Frank Stella’s early abstract stripe paintings from the 1950s, but it’s more hard-edged, shiny, juicy. Other abstractions include Leah Piepgras’s psychedelic inkblot Wanting (Pleasure) Pillow Cases and Jon Verney’s splashy, abstract black-and-white prints that resemble the cosmos or nuclear blasts.
Emily Sorlien exhibits digital images of dead, plucked roosters suspended like puppets in front of reproductions of old master landscapes. The effect is both silly and piercing — like Renaissance paintings of Christian martyrs. Claudia Cron offers antiqued, nostalgic photos of old, empty carnival rides and attractions.
There is an abundance of lovely style here — polished and impeccably displayed. A lot of it seems like the beginning of things, ideas emerging. And, well, there’s nothing wrong, exactly, but perhaps everybody’s a little too well-behaved? I find myself craving some messy misstep, a sort of frisson or friction or spark.
Follow Greg Cook on Twitter @AestheticResear.