With a material list including “graphite, reclaimed exhaust hose, soot, food matter, vegetable oil, hand ground Cochineal insects and tri-directional foil,” you know you’re dealing with a special kind of artist.
Harold Mendez is a writer and no doubt an avid reader, and an artist working across several visual media. His conceptually driven work draws from Beckett, Basquiat, Simone de Beauvior and on, and on and on. Fascinated by narrative construction, Mendez is a text-heavy artist who gives titles to his works that are both loaded and vague. The exhibition, titled “But I Sound Better Since You Cut My Throat,” incorporates diverse techniques and materials, but all evince a dark, ambiguous spirit. Eerie pinhole photographs hum with deep blacks, lens flares, sparks and shadows. A couple of large-scale, mostly monochrome mixed-media pieces hang on the walls and a chunky, prehistoric-looking sculpture sits on the floor in the main gallery. It’s the piece with the hand ground Cochineal insects.
The presence of heat is suggested through an obscured figure drawn, or rather, reductively un-drawn in soot, as the residue of flame on a human-sized glass panel and leaned against a wall. On an adjacent wall, heat is again evidenced by burnt grease residue on what looks like the foil from a reheated slice of pizza, and turns out to be from the artist’s mother’s stove. It has been delicately incorporated into a vellum and tracing-paper composition titled “And why not also in the self, the odd blocks, all lost and left.” It was created over the course of four years.
Individually, Mendez’s works are challenging, but when ingested together, and as a whole, they are stunning. Like memories, they’re elusive, fragmented, slippery and anti-climactic. There’s a spark in them but it’s hard to start a fire. His art-historical references seem to pick up starting somewhere around Duchamp and draw through the contemporary conceptualist movement into today. This show left me feeling around in the dark. Luckily, Threewalls is offering plenty of contextualization over the course of the exhibition, with a lecture by poet and author Fred Moten on March 13 and a lecture/performance by Mendez on April 10. (Kelly Reaves)
Through April 12 at Threewalls, 119 North Peoria.