Structural concerns aside, block glass windows are the unsung hero of many Chicago buildings—so much of this city’s architecture relies on them. Block glass windows feel equally at home in historic row houses and ultramodern condos. They solve a problem as complex and nuanced as balancing the need for natural light with the preservation of inhabitants’ privacy, and they do it with the crudeness of children’s blocks stacked on top of each other. The visibility of things is softened behind them; only the big picture can be seen. They are remarkable in their ability to transmit light, but not images.
Curtis Anthony Bozif’s “In the Mist of a Great Fall” at Oliva Gallery is an exhibition of paintings exploring the luminescence of vapor and atmosphere. Inspired by Niagara Falls and the prismatic effects of mist surrounding it, Bozif’s paintings are created from tiny droplets of color applied with a flick of bristles on his brush. Bozif demonstrates remarkable sophistication in his use of this straightforward technique. The optical mixture of many different specks of color creates depth in a way that is reminiscent of grain or noise.
The paintings have a striking effect: smooth, colorful gradients stretching across their surface give way to sharply textured speckles of color as one gets close enough to see their detail. As the viewer walks around the gallery, the paintings seem to shift in value and color from light reflecting off their slightly pearlescent paint. The paintings feel insubstantial and transient from a distance, but concrete and granular up close. They feel oddly three-dimensional—I spent a substantial amount of time looking at the raw canvas edges found on most of them, which become especially noteworthy in comparison to one painting finished with bright teal edges. Their large scale is worth mentioning as well. Almost every painting in the series measures at least five feet across in its largest dimension, enveloping viewers in gentle fields of shifting color as they move closer to them.
While they mimic the flatness and lack of representational shape found in modern paintings, it would feel disingenuous to call Bozif’s paintings non-objective. “In the Mist of a Great Fall” feels directly rooted in careful observation. The thing being observed is simply in flux, shifting and changing according to atmospheric and geologic forces. In his artist statement for the show, Bozif expresses a desire to disrupt our understanding of landscapes as something static, especially within the context of anthropogenic climate crises. The “Niagara” series is another entry in Bozif’s catalog of abstractions informed by the Great Lakes and their environments. His airy, shimmering paintings are imbued with a deep reverence for these bodies of water and their critical importance to the region around them. The paintings are difficult to pin down; upon looking too closely, their ethereal quality dissolves like waves receding from a shoreline. Bozif’s mists are both enormous and precarious, leaving audiences with only the big picture instead of collapsing into a single observed state. Like the block glass windows in the gallery that houses them for this exhibition, the paintings of “In the Mist of a Great Fall” are both transparent and indistinct. Bozif’s sensitive appreciation of mist, water, and sand shows through their iridescent surface, but the mystery of those same subjects is preserved through their abstraction.
“In the Mist of a Great Fall” by Curtis Anthony Bozif is on view at Oliva Gallery, 3816 West Armitage, through October 7.
Frank Geiser is a visual artist and arts writer based in the south suburbs of Chicago. He is a professor of Visual Communication and Design at Purdue University Northwest.