Friday, March 13, 2009

Tomory Dodge @ Acme

A week or two ago I was giving a tour of the permanent collection show up now at MOCA to a group of students from University High School. I was on my way into the blissed-out Marc Rothko room, when their attention was captured by the Jackson Pollock hanging nearby. At first, they were highly skeptical of this as painting….it didn’t seem to them to have any order or intention; they saw it as a canvas full of chaos and accidental spills, not much more. I remember one of the students asking something like, “Did he mean to do this?”

After a few more minutes of thinking, talking, and looking from different angles, the students began to cotton onto Pollock’s methods. They realized that the liquidness of the paint and all-over composition meant that he’s painted from above, with no real top or bottom to his picture. They began to find a visual order in the drips and splotches, noting that as the colors wove in and out, under and over each other, they could follow the artist at work

I had what I think was similar experience this afternoon in the Tomory Dodge show up through tomorrow at Acme. I tend to always want to look at paintings up close to figure out how they are made (I think when I go look at painting shows I am subconsciously searching for direction or instruction or a trick to steal for my own work). But up close, at least at first, the large canvasses were inscrutable. I couldn’t make out intention from accident from serendipity. I also couldn’t get a handle on the space; because of the flat black backgrounds in most of the works, I thought I should feel like I was looking into deep space. However, up close, the thickly applied multi hued paint slicks flattened out and just remained what they were—monster brushstrokes and knife scrapes.

As I walked back and forth, to and fro in front of the large paintings, trying to get a read on what I was looking at, I came across a small (about 14” square) jewel of a painting titled Curtain in the second room. Dodge’s red and blue brushstrokes gelled for me at this more intimate scale. I was reminded of some of the Monet water lilies I used to go look at in the Art Institute of Chicago; object and reflection merging and separating, flowing freely between figure and ground. Curtain was like a tutorial for looking at the larger pictures, which from a distance, became great tangles of stars, rainbows, and Light Sabers in the night sky. A second anomaly, and perhaps my favorite painting of the bunch, was Kicker, a huge painting installed opposite Curtain. This one had a bright pink, salmon, and blue background, with bright and neon vertical stripes running down its face. In this painting I get the same sense of the physical painter at work that the students sensed with the Pollock; huge giant’s brushes being lifted up with both hands, high overhead, on tip toes, dragged down to the bottom to rest in a yoga squat. Over and over.

Tomory Dodge, After Forever at Acme ends tomorrow, March 14. So shake a tail feather if you want to see it.

I’ve been gallery gazing on several different occasions in different locations over the past couple of weeks. It seems that what I read in dispatches from other art communities (New York, Houston, etc.) is holding true here—bad times brings out the better art. Whoop!

(Image is Curtain by Tomory Dodge, 2008)

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