OF GRAPHIC EXPRESSIONS AND SUBTLETIES
By Marty Fugate
-- Visual art can tease your thoughts or seduce you with prettiness.
Or it can bypass all that and go straight to your neurological
hard-wiring. A flash of red- your
inner caveman thinks "Fire Bad".
The slash of a sudden shape - your inner
caveman thinks "Big rock- not bump head!" and you look.
Along with the dirty words and photographs
that kids shouldn't look at, visual art that presses your perceptual
buttons is called "graphic". This is not the same thing as graphic
art, but the two tend to be confused.
Art with graphic power is inextricably
linked to the evolution of printing - an unbroken chain of
illustrations, prints and posters. In the West, it goes back to
Durer's awesome woodcuts: primal images of devils, knights, and the
apocalypse's four horsemen that burn into your brain. In the East, it
goes back to the ukiyo-e prints of Japan and prints in China before
This printed art is usually powerful art.
What's the connection? Powerful images are usually more reproducible.
Reproducible images tend to be more powerful. (That's the reason Durer
created woodcuts in the first place - it was the printing technology
of the time.)
The good is that this has led to the
creation of much powerful imagery over the years. The bad news: Art
with graphic power has had a hard time pulling itself away from the
world of printing and standing on its own. Even outside of books, such
art tends to look like illustration.
But there are artists who can't work any
outer way. Every now and then there is a resurgence of their work. The
60's and 70's saw the popularization of Pop Art and an explosion of
graphic poster imagery. More recently, our area got a taste of this
kind of expression when the "CoExistence" traveling exhibit of
billboard-sized prints advocating tolerance hit town.
And this gallery (Elizabeth Rice Fine
Art) is always filled with examples.
Jeffery A. Cornwell plays with the
brain's ability to recognize boundries and objects at the threshold of
perception. Think in terms of riding into a strange town: the exact
second that you notice a church spire or see the edge of the ocean.
So: "The Thin Blue Line" offers just a hint of a blue horizon line to
tell you the land is ending; "The Point Is..." makes its point with
just a smidgen of steeple popping up at the canvas's lower corner.
Sonia Delaunay's "Goauche" seems
simple and childlike at first glance. But there's a hypnotic intracacy
to it. The composition of simple shapes and primary colors seems to
spin and move with a life of its own like some graphic perpetual
Sam Francis' "Trietto IV" is a
blast of organic color- shape and writhing color resolving into
definite forms like the structures of some gigantic micro-organism.
Valentin Popov's "Angel on One
Shoulder..." is like some Eastern European totem pole of overlayed
scenes-czars, village elders, some offical reading a proclamation-
suggesting both personal and private history.
James Rosenqist's "Stars & Stripes
at teh Speed of Light" is a color lithograph of Old Glory spiraling in
and around and through itself like a wormhole opening up into another
universe. It's a marvelous mtaphor for American possibility and
beautiful to look at, rich and saturated with color. (The original of
the print hangs in the American Embassy in Colombia. The work was
commossioned by a group called the Friends of Art & Preservation of
United States Embassies. Rosenquist created the piece without
compensation. sales from the limited edition prints go to support
art-as-ambassador ends of that organization.)
Swiss artist Jean Weinabum has a
series of striking color fields. "Blue Wonderful"- and a wonderful
shade of blue it is- offers four panels of raised spirals like the
tiny earthworks of some miniature. maze creating civilization.
"Singing" offers a series of peach-colored semi-circles dancing around
arcs of black and splashes of blue and purple. The song could be a
song of color or a hint that what you're looking at are the highly
abstracted mouths and tongues of opera stars. That's not the point.
The rich, sensual color and play of form, is.
Surrealist Max Ernst offers a
devilish simplicity with "Tout en un plus deux". It's a swiriling
series of spirals and zigzags, part calligraphy, part stylized human
figure, part doodle. All very simple- but you just try doing something
equally as good on your own.
John Knapp employs calligraphic
techniques from the Japanese tradition. His repetively titled
"Utsukushii XII" and "Utsukushii XIII" show wonderfully spontaneous
kanji characters in block panels against irregular backgrounds.
("Utsukushii" means truth and beauty felt in the heart, in Japanese.
Knapp evidently is in love with teh phrase.) The inverted "V" of his
"Kurosan", from his dark mountain series, is no letter. But it's as
simple and primal a reduction of a mountain that it might as well be:
a new glyph symbolizing mountain in some universal ideographic
The work you see here spans the graphic
possibilities of visual language. It's attention getting and
immediately accessible. You look at it and almost instantly get it.
But don't let that accessibility fool you. It's more like an open
door...Once you enter, there are all the subtleties you could ever