By Michael Eilers
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Many people find the world of abstract art frustrating and obscure. The paint splatters of Jackson Pollock, the blocks and strips of color created by Rothko, and even the angular Cubist works of Picasso seem purposely designed to defeat any interpretation.
The viewer who looks for realistic detail or imagery will be disappointed and even irritated by abstract art, while the artists who create abstract work may find themselves painting for a select audience of other artists. One key to breaking this stalemate is an understanding of the "dislocation" present in most modern art. In figurative artwork such as portraits or landscapes, the subject is in front of the viewer, easily approached. Abstract works, however, tend to "dislocate" the subject, forcing it into the realm of imagination. The mind of the viewer becomes the canvas, the location where the "artwork" takes place.
A collection of works in the 830 Gallery by three fine-arts graduate students provides excellent examples of this dislocation. The show, entitled "Uncertain Ontology" features paintings by Mat Cotten, S. Zimmerman, and Kelly Morris. Containing many familiar objects wrapped in an unfamiliar world of bizarre colors and radical distortions, these paintings lead the viewer to reexamine and reinterpret these objects and their meanings.
The large, colorful paintings of Mat Cotten feature everyday objects such as bottles, flashlights and guitars literally scattered around the canvas. "Brother Lee Lunge" depicts a man in military uniform surrounded by a chaos of beer bottles, guns, cars, nude women and scrawled words sketched and carved into the thick paint. The man's severed limbs also swirl in the maelstrom. His dismemberment at the hands of the stereotypical possessions of a traditional male suggests a person who is a prisoner of his societal and sexual role, instead of the master of it.
S. Zimmerman has chosen the human face as a symbolic object, and dozens of faces populate each canvas. Often rendered with a few deceptively simple brushstrokes, these abstracted visages depict a wide range of emotions. Instead of simply illuminating detail, color is used to portray emotion and enhance intangible sensations such as fear and dread. The vague, blurred quality of the faces allows the viewer's imagination room to "complete" the piece, perhaps substituting the faces of loved ones for the hollow-eyed masks haunting each painting.
The complex oil paintings of Kelly Morris take a series of most common objects, human bodies, and abstracts them in an unsettling manner, literally performing dissections upon the canvas. Layers of transparent oils add a glossy, visceral sheen to the paintings, giving them a startling depth.
"Untitled" features a male torso with transparent skin, revealing shadowy yet eerie, accurate internal details. Connected to a ghostly fetus by a line labeled "umbilical," the torso rests on a background of words descriptive of the traditional role of fatherhood, such as "family man," "provider" and "9 to 5 worker." Lines also connect the man to the body of a large dog, radiating from one mind to the other. The words "fuck that shit" underline the piece, suggesting a male rejecting the responsibilities of fatherhood in favor of a dog's carefree life, a comment on both the roles of fathers and the morality of those who choose to reject that role.
By abstracting everyday objects, these artists turn the mundane into the symbolic, uncovering buried meanings and making subtle relationships explicit. Confronted with these myriad images, the viewer must puzzle out the hidden meanings with a combination of instinct and imagination Ä the final composition takes place in the mind's eye.
The 830 Gallery is located in the Art Building within the UA Fine Arts Complex. "Uncertain Ontology" will be showing until March 31. Call 621-1251 for details.
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