Sunday, December 16, 2007

In the Details

I went by Marcia Wood Gallery to see the two new solo shows by David Ambrose and Monica Cook. While the subject matter and materials of each artist are completely different, the works are linked by an incredible, almost obsessive, attention to detail.

"Victorian Ventilation" 2006 Watercolor on piered paper

Over all David Amobrose's show "Tropical Gothic" was a bit too repetitive and decorative for my taste. But his treatment of the paper, by dying it, then working the surface over with thousands of small colorful squiggles of watercolor paint and thousands of precise pin-holes creates a really interesting texture resembling fabric, with colors and patterns ebbing in and out.

One of Ambrose's paintings had also been included in the "Luxe, Calme, et Volupte" show curated by Joanne Matterra at the Marcia Wood Gallery in July. (See previous post here).

"Advancing Architecture in Umbria" 2007 Watercolor on pierced paper

This was definitely my favorite piece in the show. Ambrose painstakingly punctures the paper enough to remove large shapes, giving it a nice dimensionality and making the use of paper more interesting. I hope he continues pushing this process in his work to come.

See all of the small, precise lines? The surfaces are worked over meticulously.

"To See" 2007 oil on canvas

The other half of the gallery was showing Monica Cook's "A Different Kind of Order."

"Untitled (With Honey) 2007 oil on canvas

These paintings are a labor of love though it seems Cook's skill as a painter is more on show than the subject matter of the painting. Each painting obsessively and perfectly depicts the textures of the body and different, gooey, sticky, glistening, edible substances coating the skin. The paintings toy with the senses and heighten the feeling of touch though sight.

There is a short interview with Cook in Creative Loafing here. I guess some people mistake these works as portraits, which Cook says they are not because portraits are "used to "portray" someone, to represent the likeness of someone. The paintings that I do usually look like the model, but that is not the objective of the painting. The model is used as a vessel or a vehicle to house an idea or an emotion that is not necessarily connected specifically with that person, more universal."
This makes sense, for me the paintings do not read as portraits, the model's bodies and their actions are staged by Cook, using them as symbols or illustrations for another meaning. It is interesting that Cook uses the word "vessel" when talking about the models because she is far more interested in the physicality or exterior of the model than anything else.

"Untitled (With Bag) 2007 oil on canvas

What gets me are the cream backgrounds like studio backdrops, the compositions, the cropping, everything is done as a photograph would be executed. The paintings are almost trying to perfect painting to the point of making it disappear. For me, I don't see the point. There is a definite performance quality to the work and Cook is using a camera to document the moment and use as the source image for the painting. Why not get a large format camera and actually photograph these models as the finished work? What function is paint playing in these works?

The detail in the water droplets and foggy surface of the plastic bag are amazing. And the veins under the translucent skin are really emphasized.

"Untitled (With Pumpkin) 2007 oil on canvas (Perhaps it should be called, "Sleepy Hollow; a Feminist Take"? or "How Did I Find Myself in this Mess?)

My "why not show photographs?" argument could be rebutted with Cook's quote: "I find myself heightening the details on and in the flesh, which enhances the mortal presence of the sitter and creates a tension between the psychological complexity of the person and their raw humanness."

And she has a point there. The paintings, more than anything, are about the body. If these paintings are any sort of a portrait, its a portrait of the skin, for which Cook obviously labors over and does "heighten". I believe these results can be equally accomplished with the right camera and the right model, but for Cook, it seems like this study and sort of eroticism of the skin and fleshy textures through paint is really the driving force behind her work.

But again, as with the decision to crop a few toes out of the frame, it is apparent Cook is taking her compositional cues from photographs, or is perhaps intentionally pushing her paintings to the point of being mistaken for photographs... for some reason.

Both shows are up at Marcia Wood Gallery until Jan 14th 2008.

No comments: