Monthly Archives: February 2012

Matthew Clifford Green, Excitable Boy

Lawrimore Project, Seattle, WA

by Rebecca Steele

Matthew Clifford Green’s exhibition, Excitable Boy, at Lawrimore Project in Seattle, consists of a series of six paintings paired with six photographs of the canvas’ backs, four fluorescent tubes installed on the gallery ceiling, and a brochure printed inside with the statement a rose is a rose is a rose ad infinitum. The paintings are installed leaning in black recessed areas of the walls. The photographs, the same dimensions as the paintings, are hung eye-level on a wall across from their corresponding canvas. Each piece is a set, the painting and its photographic documentation.

This new iteration of Lawrimore Project is a condensed version of the original gallery, an intimate space that suits this body of work well, but surprising if you have experienced the gallery’s previous expansive piece of real estate. The space has no windows and the ceilings are higher than the walls are wide, lending the gallery the atmosphere of a vault. The intimacy and starkness of the space allow the work clarity in regards to implied connections between the face and the back.

Matthew Clifford Green, "Excitable Boy," courtesy the artist and Lawrimore Project, photo by Rebecca Steele

The six paintings are salacious and geographic in their use of material. The paint sits atop the canvas in thick terrains of red, green, yellow, and brown: color as sticky waves marbled by white. Staccato, rhythmic peaks bring to mind stiff icing, play-doh, a chewy, late-night handling of the medium. The works were built using force rather than stroke, crude face-off over representation, pondering, or even gentle abstraction. The palette is gruff and animated though its handling is sincere and certainly enthusiastic. The paintings could be a series of roses, out of focus and mashed together—a representation of a flower by looking to the florist’s floor. The canvas, in essence, is the final brush, and the system of this work is one built upon pairs. One painting smashed against another to create the stiff waves and conicals of paint, using the physicality of the painting to make it a stamp, or a crude monoprint.

If the paintings are defined by such adjectives as brawny, indulgent, or crepuscular, then the photographs are simple minimal spaces where the light of the gallery, the wall underneath a painting, and the sounds of the street coalesce to a hum, or even a sigh. The photographs lack the vibrato and punch of the painted work, and therein lies the cunning thrill of the exhibit. The photographs are so sharp in their detail of the canvas, and shadows of the stretcher bars that it is initially difficult to indentify them as photographs; the photograph as tromp l’oeil of the painting. This is fantastic. The paint seeps through the back of the canvases, wipes and stains reading as deteriorated markings, some hot new symbology or wicked words.

The photographs float on the walls aided by the temperature of the light, the humming white walls, the height, the ratios. The representation of the canvas-back is an iridescent grey nearing silver, the stretcher bars as oddly painted frames. Teams of systems and reversals begin to work back and forth within the sets. The paintings hang in pairs, the thing and its document, front and back simultaneously: partners, mirrors, or reversals.

Matthew Clifford Green, "Excitable Boy," courtesy the artist and Lawrimore Project, photo by Rebecca Steele

To discuss this work in terms of painting would be misleading. The paintings alone are confusing. Florid dead ends, they lean midway down the wall in blacked out alcoves to propose the afterthought of the excitable moment. The product of so much material needs its singing document to gain traction. In respect to the exhibit’s installation the photographs formally mounted on a wall are such a tight and interesting series the casual angle of the painted pieces reads as pure strategy, it works yet is simultaneously laden with a heavy and intentional vibe.

And here the exhibition’s text begs an analytic return—are we to wonder what is in a name again and again? Helpful hint, insistent bully, frowning bystander? What is in a name, or a painting for that matter: a joke, a long farewell, an eviction notice? A painting as its own question and answer so neatly, purposefully, maybe even thoughtfully delivered with transcript of some future progeny, a painting as its own beginning and end, it is its own brush and also its copy and documentation, which in some manner can be considered its end. This work hovers on white wings, nearly angelic. Green has not forgotten his more calamitous jokes or “fuck you”s of previous pieces, but the margins have narrowed and what is said is only what needs to be. The joke isn’t on the audience, but on his painting, and as such is one of the more refreshing ideas I have seen lately. The exhibition establishes meaning not through the success or failure of a painting, but on the insistence of exchange between the front and back of things.

Oh, I did put the Warren Zevon reference to the artist, and his response suggested the title represented the energy that surrounded the making of the work rather than any particular interest, serious or otherwise, in the musician as artist or inspiration.

Rebecca Steele is a West Coast based artist, writer, freelance photographer, avid historiographer, and occasional critic. Steele is super excited about collaboration, couch surfing, and sun.



by Daniel J Glendening

Hypercorrection, at Recess, brings together the somewhat disparate work of four artists under a thematic umbrella ostensibly concerned with notions of self-correction and self-identity. In its traditional usage, the term hypercorrection refers to, in language and grammar, a case of syntax or diction in which a grammatical rule is applied in an in appropriate case, out of a desire for propriety. In a sense, it’s overcompensation, turning into (or out of?) the skid so severely that the car swerves wildly out of control.

As a whole, the exhibition feels a little off balance, with the work of each artist (Sokhun Keo, Paul Clay, Krystal South, and Ross Young) installed somewhat independently, with Clay’s Bear Crosses Territory and South’s The Medium is the iMessage in the Recess collective’s main gallery, Young’s Grid 3 (Mold Grid) hanging like a mechanical Spanish moss in the stairwell, and Keo’s Tomorrow’s Artifacts occupying the first floor entry way. Dispersed through the building, the work of each artist functions as an independent installation, and while this allows the work to function as waypoints on the path towards the main gallery, it also minimizes the extent to which the works are able to directly communicate and reflect upon one another.

Keo’s work, Tomorrow’s Artifacts, includes a stack of printed take-aways and two sculptural works. The black and white take-aways, each 8.5”x11,” read “HOW TO DANCE THE SARAVAN AUTHENTICALLY,” and depict six steps, explicated with an illustrated figure looking, a little, like Keo himself. Upon closer examination, this saravan dance, commonly associated with Cambodian Rom kbach music, is mashed up with the “YMCA” dance, an East/West, traditional-disco hybrid. Keo’s sculptures are situated on the floor of the entryway, the first an arrangement of ceramic shards, fragments of broken plates printed with a woman’s face, the second featuring a large colorful placemat or paper prayer rug, featuring an ornate paisley pattern and borders with text, in an Asian-fast-food font, reading “Take Out.” Atop this print are two halves of a ceramic teacup, each half set atop a small round mirror, the reflection rendering the cup holographically whole. Keo’s work offers up something of a puzzle with missing pieces. The woman depicted on the plates is somewhat enigmatic and unidentified, though, in combination with the mirrored cup piece there seems to be a sort of trauma enacted here, a violent loss only tentatively filled in the reflected teacup.

Paul Clay, "Bear Crosses Territory."

There is some amount of exchange between the works of South and Clay, occupying, as they are, a single room together. Clay’s Bear Crosses Territory is a standout piece, a deft blend of humor and existential angst in a glitzy package. The work is a fairly simple computer game, depicting (through two side-by-side digital projections, somewhat distractingly overlapping and imperfectly aligned) a shaggy, acid-flashback, brightly hued bear, lumbering across an expansive landscape. The game is controlled via the exhibition audience through two large buttons, the first button, when pressed, activates the bear’s slow march. The second, while pressed, sends a stream of vomit out of the bear’s mouth, looking like a flood of chunky, semi-coagulated blood, splashing and staining the landscape floor. The bear marches slowly through a simply rendered desert, beachfront resort, and, apparently, a dance club.

It’s a darkly humorous meditation on existential suffering. Through an oblique lens, this blood-spewing bear, prodded onward my the whims of external and omnipotent onlookers, marches on and on, never really arriving anywhere, never taking pleasure in its surroundings. This shaggy, damaged, cartoonish bear is alone in a vast and unrelenting landscape, dying a long and protracted death, to no apparent purpose or end.

In a grouping under the title The Medium is the iMessage, South presents three works combining Apple iPads with Marshall McLuhan’s canonical texts Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, from 1964, and The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, composed in collaboration with Quentin Fiore and published in 1967. A portion of McLuhan’s philosophy positions technology (any and all technologies, including, but not limited to, the printed word, radio broadcast, television broadcast, the automobile, the internet, the hot air-balloon, the iPad) as a social-transformer, and as an extension of human-ness. In an extremely reductive interpretation, McLuhan positions technologies as prosthetic appendages, extensions of the body, which transform the way in which a person or persons interact with the world at large. We are already cyborgs, as Donna Haraway described in her 1985 work, “A Cyborg Manifesto.”

South’s The Medium is the iMessage is comprised of a sculptural combine, a video projection, and two framed images leaning against the corner of the gallery. The sculpture is composed of a copy of McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage (I think) clamped, open, to a white iPad box, with large black C-clamps. The video depicts yellow-toned, flickering overlays of a book (presumably, also, The Medium is the Massage), its pages being turned, and iPads or iPhones. The image is high contrast, reducing the imagery to stark black and yellowy-white, abstracting the image overlays. Aesthetically, the video projection resides somewhere between a 1960s loft-party psychedelic light-show and a jittery intro title-sequence for a Showtime techno-thriller. South’s third work, the pair of framed digital prints standing on the floor, leaning against the wall in the corner of the gallery, each depict an iPad displaying text from a book page. The text is entirely obscured by black redaction bars, save for a heading at the top of the page, reading “Literature,” a page number, 25, and one isolated sentence: “By itself a given sentence is neither a fact nor a fiction; it is made so by others, later on.” The page displayed comes from Bruno Latour’s 1987 work, Science in Action. The source of the text does, in a sense, connect directly to the apparatus of the iPad, but without knowledge of the source material the piece still functions.

Krystal South, from "The Medium is the iMessage," detail.

South’s work, here, seems to be concerned to some degree with the role of contemporary technologies on human thought and language. The juxtaposition of McLuhan’s text with the iPad is somewhat flat, as the point of conflict or tension is unclear – through McLuhan’s text, the prosthesis of the iPad is not far removed from that of the printed text. South’s redacted iPads, though, touch on something else outside of Latour’s text: when Apple or Amazon can reach into your iPad or Kindle at any time and alter, edit, or censor your digital text, say, for example, your bought-and-paid-for digital copy of Orwell’s 1984, maybe something is wrong, somewhere in the system.

What Hypercorrection ultimately conjures is a sense of angst and trauma. Clay’s suffering bear, South’s techno-anxiety, Keo’s shattered plates and illusory, holographic other half.

Keo’s figure, in How to Dance the Saravan Authentically, is simply an outline of a body, hollow and faceless.