Disconnected body parts, airplane fuselages fused with human torsos, fantastical machines with spatula attachments and a giant roll of duct tape all dance across a backdrop that could be from Star Wars' Cloud City. Such are the delicately rendered aspects that cascade across the space between the two panels of Rollin Beamish's wildly imaginative painting installation "We Can Do It! We Have the Prostheses!" Even the backs of pieces, projecting off the walls, have been painted fluorescent orange to give off an electric glow.
This ambitious and highly successful piece sets the mark for Beauty/the Sublime/Intensity, an exhibition at Gallery Project, curated by Adrian Hatfield. The show explores the three interconnected themes through work by a diverse group of artists.
With ultra-clean lines on white panel, Christopher Crowder creates his own equally bizarre yet all-too-human dreamscape in a way that might make underground comic artist R. Crumb jealous. Lip-locked lovers stretch across the horizontal, misshapen and grotesque, like Klimt's "Kiss" on crack. The scene is both visually and conceptually cyclical bullets deconstruct the figures and swirl back together as building blocks. Crowder's attention to the reality of this unreality includes an inspired alien script that's as meticulously crafted as the drawing.
On a superficial level, it might seem odd to compare Evan Larson's sculpture a complex system of mechanical pulleys to Beamish and Crowder's work. But the self-contained realities that they create through illustration, Larson achieves through ingenious construction and metaphor.
Bill Hafer's large painting creates optical intensity through the interaction of simply rendered, loosely painted bands of color. He draws the viewer in with bright primary colors, yet in the dynamic he's orchestrated between colors, we're almost forced to turn our heads from optical distress. Chris Hyndman's small star-shaped forms achieve a similar optical experience and act as perfect accompaniment.
Eliciting beauty through an investigation of materials, Kevin Ewing furls faux fur upon itself into an almost human form that rises upright from the floor (its title "Wurum" refers to a "spirit figure"). The piece invites touch, suggesting warmth and elegance, thus conjuring up feelings of attraction. In a similar vein, Nichole Tschampel fashions a small, white Christmas tree-like sculpture in Polar fleece and sequins the color of snow, the material of warmth and the glitter of the season both indoors and out.
Julie Dummermuth's "Spill 1 and 2," essentially a bubbling mass of melted silver Christmas ornaments and other assorted gewgaws, is like chocolates melted in a car window, with reflective surfaces to attract our eyes like a bower bird seeking shiny, pretty things. Sitting formidably nearby, Matt Blake's and Enis Sefersah's white painted steel sculpture is all facets and hard edges, like a great crystal torn from the earth. Its solid presence and jeweled geometry demands one take notice.
As seen in a former exhibit at Windsor's gallery Artcite Inc., Clinton Snider transforms discarded household items into objects of beauty by dipping them in latex paint from the pastel palette of Martha Stewart. It's a delightful reversal, as the various items (including a paint roller, underpants and a roll of tape) are displayed like ornaments on a tree. This arrangement is particularly strong such things as a mail slot, heat vent and electrical socket are fastened to the wall as they might ordinarily be, before turning into art objects.
Kristin Beaver's figurative work is certainly beautiful, but her attention to composition and color provide for a satisfying and engaging abstract optical experience removed from the handling of her subjects.
With a large painting of layered resin encapsulating the entire range and theme of the exhibition, curator Hatfield takes the viewer below the depths of the ocean, just as Rollin Beamish offered up the sky in his installation. Hatfield's piece is a wash of deep blue and green that filters and reflects light through its multiple translucent layers as if underwater. At various layers within the piece, he's composed detailed drawings of denizens of the deep, bubbles and plant-like forms made from cut-paper. It's altogether a somewhat representational illusion of the ocean, but more so manifesting the raw feeling of the deep. He further elevates this glossy, intensely colored piece to the status of beautiful object by draping it in a red velvet curtain.
Art has the power to lift us beyond our everyday experience. Given the technological marvels of our time, when even T-shirts can be visual feasts, the task of the artist to achieve the beautiful, the intense and the sublime requires constant reinvention. Hatfield and all the artists he assembled here succeed admirably in offering the viewer a powerful visual experience.
Through March 26 at the Gallery Project, 215 S. Fourth Ave. in Ann Arbor; 734-997-7012. While you're there, check out Brent Fogt's basement installation "Cellar Dreams," a lit candle and 18,600 feet of wicking.Nick Sousanis is arts editor of thedetroiter.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org