What do we see when we look at something? Do we see the thing itself, or do we see the light that the thing reflects? If you said the latter, then you get the Mr. Wizard Memorial Award for serious technological retentiveness. But painters have always known that. Artists such as Vermeer or Frederic Church are famous for their dazzling recreations of natural light, while others such as Ivan Albright and Noel Rockmore practiced their own, rather dark, luminosity.
Luminosity of another sort appears in Daniel Finnigan's Recent Paintings at the Waiting Room. Finnigan is an emerging artist, part of our randomly creative local bohemian subculture. An emerging artist is one whose efforts, be they intriguing or enigmatic, have not yet garnered full-scale art-world recognition, and Finnigan is a classic of the genre. No one knows what he is up to except that it has to do with light -- and women -- in eerie combinations. The Combined Strength of Water is emblematic, a pair of typically attenuated Finnigan ladies like sea serpents cavorting in a murky aquamarine atmosphere.
With veiled features, improbable limbs that arise like question marks from nowhere, and elongated torsos that slither off into curvilinear oblivion, they affect a certain intimacy. Around their salmon-colored bodies swirl slithery tendrils encircling them like Celtic script in illuminated manuscripts, an effect not unlike those serpentine Virgil Finlay illustrations from vintage science fiction. Most of the others focus on a solitary female figure and are often more static and less resolved, though sometimes replete with a filigree of extruded body parts, a typical goth touch that synchs neatly with Finnigan's H. P. Lovecraft sensibilities.
In The Eve of Returns, a pensive femme lounges amid some tangled tendrils like jungle creepers. She has blood-red hair and bloodlessly white flesh, and the tangled tendrils are all blue and red like arteries and veins. Most of the others are also spectral looking -- are they ghosts, vampires or what? Finnigan says, "I work from Nouma -- holistic form and radiance," which suggest an intuitive sense of light, yet here the light is coolly ethereal. Finnigan's strong suit is his uniquely stylized vision, like a door to another world, but these canvasses are often tentative, offering partial impressions of what might lie on the other side.
More painterly radiance appears at the Newcomb Art Gallery, where New York artists Jacqueline Humphries' and Tony Oursler's video installation, Sleepwalk, haunts the back chambers. Here Oursler's video sequences of Humphries' paintings-in-progress appear on panels like billboards displaying extreme close-ups of paint gliding from brush to canvas in slow-motion swatches and swirls of fat, juicy brush strokes. Occasionally, there are staccato jabs, and it all takes place in a vast but minimal video space, in near-hypnotic repetition. The effect is sensually contemplative, the sort of thing that some might consider "meditative," and it almost is. Yet it also has the immediacy of fashion-show backdrops, or visuals attending trance or space-music performances. A nearby panel features the smoking World Trade Center wreckage, perhaps signifying seriousness. Or perhaps simply New York.
In the front gallery, Steve Montgomery's Damaged Mimesis installation of large, dark and heavy-looking ceramics provides a stark contrast. No teapots here, Montgomery's stuff is industrial, a series of imaginary machines that appear in stages of erosion and decay. For instance, Static Fuel, which resembles some sort of turbo-charged threshing machine, is based on a fictional engine that ran on static electricity. Similarly, Divergent C recalls a fantasy refinery apparatus sundered by a hurricane. Both have pitted and eroded surfaces that strikingly resemble rusty steel.
But the real masterpiece may be Re-Entrance, a massive pair of doors like a bank vault on a Pharoanic scale. Its eroded facade reveals innards of cogs and wheels, intricate relics of a defunct security apparatus, and it really does look like something pulled from the WTC wreckage. Montgomery summons forth the futuristic fantasies of the industrial past and makes them meticulously real.
- The very definition of the 'emerging artist,' Daniel Finnigan keeps the viewer guessing with a luminosity that infuses such works as The Combined Strength of Water.