Robert Guinan, “At the Double Door,” 2008
“To Live by Night” invites comparison between two very different visions of night: the acrylic-on-canvas paintings of Robert Guinan, and the charcoal-on-paper drawings of Mary Livoni.
Guinan is a great action painter—not the action of an arm wielding a brush, but the narrative action of his subjects, depicted with strong, dynamic contour lines. The subject, often a nightclub entertainer or habitué, goes directly onto the canvas, but the thin paint and dusty colors suggest that we’re looking at memories rather than at the actual scene. What’s remarkable is that these memories feel so alive, even though some of them must date back to the artist’s youth. Flashes of bright color bring the feelings into the present, while the grayish backgrounds push them back into the past. Though sketchy, the surrounding pictorial space feels complex and real. The artist, having found some moments in his life to be intriguing, now lives comfortably with his memories of them. Read the rest of this entry »
Jan Toorop, “A Mysterious Hand Leads to Another Path,” 1893. Promised gift of Celia and David Hilliard.
“If Girtin had lived, I would have starved,” declared J.M.W. Turner, one of the iconic painters of the nineteenth century. But who was Girtin? One of his watercolors can be found in the collection of David and Celia Hilliard, longtime Chicago collectors and Art Institute supporters, now on display in the Prints and Drawings gallery at the museum. Read the rest of this entry »
“Bachelor Machine,” 2013
Has Elijah Burgher been initiated into some kind of sex-magic cult? Details of the ceremonies are scant, but they appear to involve one or two trim, naked young men interacting with large geometric symbols attached to the walls or floor.
Burgher’s exhibition is something like an anthropological exhibit at the Field Museum. It includes several original artifacts: the large-scale, ceiling-hung magic symbols that may once have been used in cultic rituals, as well as highly detailed color pencil depictions of those rituals in preparation or execution. These drawings have been made with descriptive objectivity and conventional pictorial skills akin to nineteenth-century artist/explorers. There’s a distant coolness and rationality about these drawings that is sometimes incongruent with the subject, as the handsome young dudes seem about to calmly participate in a medical procedure at a health clinic. Read the rest of this entry »
Bill Traylor (1854-1949) may be the most accidental of accidental artists. Born into slavery on the Traylor plantation of Alabama, at the age of eighty-five he was homeless in Montgomery, spending his days on the street, making drawings with found materials. Eventually, some artists, dealers and folklorists found him, and posthumously he became an iconic figure in American outsider art. I’m not sure that the pieces now being shown at Carl Hammer Gallery, who first brought his work to Chicago thirty years ago, would have established that reputation. They’re mostly simple, quick sketches of one or two figures, less complex than his multi-figure narratives. Read the rest of this entry »
In a multimedia exhibition of both two- and three-dimensional works, the one most important to William Pope.L’s “Forlesen” is actually the fourth; time, in all its idiosyncrasies, brutalities and inevitabilities, lays at the exhibition’s heart.
“There’s nothing that necessarily ties the episodes together except time,” said Pope.L in regard to Gene Wolfe, the science fiction author who wrote the novella “Forlesen” (1974), and from that one observation the seemingly disparate pieces of Pope.L’s exhibition take on a (somewhat) coherent form.
Pope.L’s decision to purposefully not re-read the story prior to beginning his work—therefore relying upon the residue of memory—firmly grounds “Forlesen” in the fourth dimension at its conception. Perhaps most important, if least obvious, is the foundational aspect allotted to the passage of time, and the obfuscation that ensues.
Less esoteric are the works that deal with decay; the sloughing of ketchup (foodstuff that once reminded Pope.L of hardship and fame, but is now a romantic reminiscence) and joint compound scales from “Curtain” present the viewer with an empirical example of time’s ravages, as do the black helium balloons of “Ellipsis.” Aloft when fresh, they inevitably hang from the rafters like narcoleptic ravens, or lay shriveled upon the ground like dreams deferred. Even the room-dominating sculpture “Quarter Shape (penis)” can be seen as an allegory for atrophy; what do men fear losing most as caducity approaches? Combine the phallus with the withered balloons, and a nightmarish image akin to Updike’s Ben Turnbull takes shape. Read the rest of this entry »
“Writhing Waters XIV,”
india ink, watercolor and acrylic on paper, 2013
Like the English poet John Masefield, Jason Brammer has heeded the call of sea. The Chicago artist’s new solo exhibition, “Into the Deep,” explores the hidden mysteries down below in works inspired by nautical maps, navigational instruments and medieval bestiaries. The show, opening on Friday, June 7, at AdventureLand Gallery, features ink and watercolor drawings in addition to some distinctive Brammeresque mixed-media works that seamlessly meld hand-painted imagery with antique parts, salvaged wood and found objects. Read the rest of this entry »
Kaoru Arima likes to straddle the lines between control and surrender, formal and casual, revelatory and obscure, mindless and calculating, and, of course, art and non-art. What better place to show the results than in this tiny second-floor apartment gallery in Pilsen. It’s as randomly located as Arima’s own gallery in Inuyama, Japan (curiously named the Art Drug Center). The gallery’s white walls feel like the small areas of white paint splashed onto Japanese newspapers on which Kaoru executed the twenty-eight cartoonish line drawings in the collection of the Walker Art Center. Read the rest of this entry »
Unless it’s referencing popular graphics, postmodern drawing often retreats from the aesthetic page and collapses into a maze of detail. Technical illustration does the same thing, accompanied by text suggesting that analytical study will result in a greater understanding of some organic or mechanical function. Xiaowei Chen’s ink drawings resemble biological specimens, but they are more about life as an incomprehensible mess, as a high-school freshman might contemplate the innards of a dissected frog stretched out on a cold white laboratory counter. There may be something Read the rest of this entry »
Gun violence in America, as interwoven with life as race, religion, politics and economics, can easily function as a through-line between each, predicated by crashes, elections, divisive beliefs and social dissonance. Whether gun violence itself is increasing or our awareness of it simply expanding, it’s an issue impossible to wrap one’s arms around and equally impossible to ignore. Mississippi native Russ White—no stranger to firearms—has exhibited primarily sculpture since 2004, and confronts violence and fear with three distinct bodies of new drawings and paintings, each using a delicacy and precision that parallels the quality of his previous work.
“Thug Life” presents White’s alternate take on the Advanced Silhouette SP 83-A shooting-range target, aka “the Thug,” drawn originally by two NY police lieutenants in the mid-1960s and still widely used. This barrel-chested tough is remade, by White, in various daily tasks, from carrying groceries and shaving to holding a baby, his expression always menacing. Humanized by these brief comedic glimpses into his world, however, the villain suddenly commands sympathy and appears as less of a “bad guy” than an everyman, calling into question how little might separate us from the criminal. Read the rest of this entry »
Lesley Dill. “A Word Made Flesh…Throat,” 1994. Gift of Stanley Freehling.
In conjunction with the newly opened “Picasso and Chicago” exhibit, the Art Institute’s Prints and Drawings department assembled “The Artist and the Poet”—a survey of twentieth-century collaborations and influences, though the connection is rather tenuous, as none of Picasso’s work is included within.
A poet, art critic and curator, Frank O’Hara is the most famous “poet among painters.” The curators devote ample space to his spirited collaborations, including over a half-dozen lithographs with Larry Rivers and an extraordinary print with Jasper Johns. From this last lithograph, titled “Skin with O’Hara Poem,” emerges the smeared image of a man’s face and hands pressed against glass. O’Hara’s poem, unusually gloomy, appears in faded typewriter text in the upper right corner. The ghost-like quality of the print is intensified by the fact that, of six planned prints, this was the only one realized before O’Hara’s early death in 1966. Read the rest of this entry »