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Between and Betwixt



Not so very long ago, it was fashionable to say that painting was dead, yet another casualty of progress, this time in the form of conceptual art. In the postmodern age, conceptual art, which had been hovering in the wings ever since Marcel Duchamp exhibited his first urinal, was sure to vanquish the messy, archaic medium of paint to the dustbins of history. But, of course, that was before the rise of conceptual painting. What is it about painting, anyway, and why is it blessed with more lives than most cats? Apparently there is magic in images. Why else would we be so fascinated by them? Although she doesn't quite come out and say so, Sandy Chism's stuff at Jonathan Ferrara seems to fall into this conceptual painting genre in the sense that her canvases demand some cerebral gymnastics to be fully appreciated. Her gallery statement suggests that they refer to the exchange of information that occurs during the life of organisms, both macro and micro, and the way matter becomes shaped and clustered in the process. In lieu of further explanation, this sounds a bit like Network Theory, the latest fashionable notion of How Things Work, based on the way diverse entities, whether they be human, animal, mineral or atomic, cluster and influence each other. Of course, Chism may not really be into Network Theory, but it's a useful reference, nonetheless.

Good Night suggests a tangled thicket of long-stemmed lilies that, on closer inspection, looks a little strange even considering their abstract style of rendering. It seems that instead of petals, pistils, stamens and the usual hyper-sexual accoutrements with which flowers notoriously beguile bees and hummingbirds into doing their bidding, these blooms appear as patterns of colored circles and squares not unlike the pixels that comprise digital images. It's actually a printed fabric that Chism incorporates symbolically into her canvases in evocative combinations of patterns.

In All Is Well they suggest the instantly sinusitis-inducing polliniferous effloresences of goldenrod that appear during hay fever season, only these seem to glow weirdly as if genetically modified with computer-geek DNA. Speaking of which, Return II suggests a twisted pretzel spiral of polka-dotted DNA, only here the polka dots, on close inspection, turn out to be ovals made from another fabric printed with fields of tiny flowers, thus fulfilling Chism's quest to explore the macro within the micro and vice versa. Initially drawing us in with gesturally sensual swatches of paint and topical intrigue, these works soon induce the potentially alarming realization that this really is a head trip after all. And the question looms large: why? To which the rasping, oracular voice of the eternal Spirit of Inquiry whispers back: why not? -- leaving us to conclude that Chism's work remains as idiosyncratic as ever.

More adventures in the micro and macro appear at Sylvia Schmidt where Michel Varisco's Blue is on view. A series of found-object sculptures employing her photographs, Blue was inspired by May Sarton's Journal of Solitude, especially her observations of how chaos and perplexity can sometimes lead to sudden encounters with "the sacred," or what have you. Utilizing small wooden boxes, as well as railroad, industrial and architectural junk, they convey something of the poetry of abandonment and transition. Specifically, her photos depict the old American Can factory just before it underwent its chrysalis from abandoned building to yuppie enclave.

Box-O-Stairs is just that, a rectangular box with a hinged lid on top propped open like a grand piano. To look inside is to peer into the vertiginous recesses of a stairwell looping back on itself like an M.C. Escher print, only here it's a photograph under glass. Various others incorporate blue-tinted views of the crumbling old factory building itself, typically embedded in glass or clear plastic resin, as part of a minimalist assemblage with a solitary antique steel retaining bracket or some other bit of industrial hardware. Rendered as small, monochromatic photos, the chaotic lines of the formerly abandoned structure display a delicacy that contrasts sharply with the actual cast steel artifacts from the site, echoing Sarton's remonstrations about the travails of the ordinary yielding unexpected epiphanies amid the chaos. And that, too, is a concept, albeit a somewhat more traditional one.

Sandy Chism's paintings, such as Return II, often explore the macro within the micro and vice versa.
  • Sandy Chism's paintings, such as Return II, often explore the macro within the micro and vice versa.

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