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So he returned to the books and clippings he’d accumulated in his photojournalism days, looking for a subject that would give his works presence and drama. He became captivated with a photograph of a house being consumed by lava, and that led him to images of fire and explosions. “I noticed how the effects of fire in a landscape were similar to those in Impressionist painting,” he says. “In Monet’s paintings of the Rouen Cathedral, the light is eroding the stone edifice. When there is a fire, the erosion of solid structures is both visual and physical.”
The subject of the paintings, he says now, is not fire per se but force: not just the image but the sensation of a momentous occurrence. “Force is a challenging and wonderful topic for painting,” he says. “It emphasizes the incredible capacity of oil paint to describe and present movement and light.” The paintings are large, beautifully rendered and unapologetically ambitious. “I want my artworks to be invested with intensity and grandeur,” he says, “to carry with them the dynamic sensations of the events they depict.”
Eric Medine, Otis
Whether it be a reflection of the times, the selection pool, or our particular curatorial temperament, this year’s exhibition contains surprisingly few small-scale works, and few that involve very elaborate technology.
One salient exception on both counts is a suite of plaster and polymer resin sculptures by Eric Medine, made using three-dimensional design software and a Z-Max Rapid Prototyper. The objects themselves are a few inches in diameter and installed so that they’re flush with the wall, receding inward. They resemble tiny architectural models but are actually three-dimensional renderings of maps derived from Google searches. The places they document, however, are elusive. “Rather than an inquiry into the map of a known place,” Medine says, “these search requests ask Google to return to a state of mind or a poetical construct.”
The requests, which serve as titles for the works, range from existential to comical: “Place That Is Most Corrupt,” “Place With No History,” “Place That Is Not for Sale,” “Place That Succeeds Where All Others Have Failed,” “Place Where the Dead Outnumber the Living,” “Place Where Everyone Gets Laid,” “Place Where the Good Drugs Are At,” “Place Where They Put Their Hands in the Air Like They Just Don’t Care.”
A peculiar fusion of sculpture, poetry, technology, philosophy and science fiction, the works pack an elaborate conceptual framework into a tight and formally elegant little package.
Christopher Michlig, Art Center
Given all the many ways in which video art is capable of going wrong, particularly in the hands of eager young neophytes with free access to equipment and plenty of time on their hands, the emergence of a work as simply and perfectly right as Christopher Michlig’s La Brea is cause for celebration. Michlig includes a flurry of academic citations in his statement on the work, but don’t let that fool you; it’s actually wonderfully straightforward: just a close-up shot of a bubbling fissure at La Brea Tar Pits, paired with “an electric-guitar soundtrack of a partially muted E chord being strummed in unison with the bursting tar bubbles.” The image is mesmerizing, and the accompaniment priceless.
Michlig describes the work as “a metaphoric evocation of the revolutionary.” We’ll buy that. But even without the conceptual dressing, it’s pretty darn cool to watch.
Chris Oatey, Otis
Chris Oatey’s stark, stylized ink drawings explore the icon of the mushroom cloud, drawing it out of its cultural context temporarily in an attempt to explore its visual mechanics. “There is a sublime nature to photographs of mushroom clouds,” he says. “They have become iconic representations in their scale and shape. This work attempts to separate the viewer from the spectacle of the photograph while begging closer inspection as to how it was constructed.”
The drawings are small and spare, each with a single cloud composed of thousands of tiny black circles. Detached from their weighty historical significance, they become just strange and beautiful shapes — which, of course, points back to why they have become such powerful icons.
Oatey’s digital prints of altered satellite images are very different stylistically — compositionally dense, brightly colored and dynamic — but also involve objects drawn out of their recognizable contexts and abstracted in order to indulge and revel in their aesthetic potential.
Tracy Powell, UCLA
The influence of Catherine Opie on the young photographers of UCLA is visible most notably in a conscientious attention to place. Tracy Powell, one of the most accomplished of those photographers, describes her own project in abstract terms — as an exploration of “the sublime space between where nature begins and civilization ends” — but it is the quality of this attention that distinguishes the work, anchoring her poetic instinct in concrete terms: in the subtle reflections on the surface of water, the entanglement of trees and sky, and the geometry of local architecture.