Be Still My Heart
Artists explore their obsessions at the Lisa Coscino Gallery.
Thursday, February 26, 2004
Artists rarely pursue the making of art solely for money. Rather, artists typically focus on some idea and attempt to give it form because they are compelled to answer an inner voice. Something in an artist’s experience registers as a whisper, but soon is howling in the creative self’s ear, “Look at me!” And the artist does, and the direction the voice comes from is embraced, and the art work is made, and the voice comforts the artist with approval, “That’s it, that’s getting close to it.”
An artist’s volition is a powerful thing, because listening to that voice produces a kind of strength and clarity that overcomes obstacles such as lack of money, lack of time, technical awkwardness, muddled strategies. The artist becomes a miner digging at the vein like a person possessed, or obsessed. The artist makes one work, and then another, then another, until a series of images unfolds, all answering to the voice, attempting to get the voice to say, “That’s it!”
The voice here is merely a metaphor. Perhaps a better image to describe the compulsion is a tightness around the heart that loosens when the artist approaches truth or authenticity. The artist experiences a pang, a feeling that won’t go away. Then the work begins, and as images appear on the canvases, or forms stand on the floor or pedestals, the heart races not because of distress or anxiety, but because of the excitement borne of discovery, of truth telling, of making something out of an idea.
A stroll around the gallery provides a montage of obsessions, those subjects beguiling the artists. There’s a memento mori to a whisky flask, an homage to a classic Ferrari, self-worship, a symbol of female power, an altar to peace, an altar to the Pieta, a painting of shoes, a painting of lush, ripe fruit, succulents, a sculpture that gives memory and loss form, a red glass heart dangling on a thread.
In Philip Rosenthal’s “The Collector,” the artist has employed a grand scheme of personification, with a large bird as a human surrogate who interacts coolly with a female muse/model. The painting is executed in dark, rich colors and sureness of technique that makes an interior scene with bird and nude and art collection seem plausible. The bird, placed boldly in the foreground of a plunging perspective, glares out with hardboiled seriousness like a fowlish Sam Spade, and the woman/object stands before a distant mirror fussing with her appearance. The whole has the feeling of film noir, and one senses that is the artist’s obsession.
A. Hilton’s black-and-white photograph of a flower takes on the gravity of a surrealist’s hysterical object. Titled “Stemmed,” the work is a close-up of the plant form, and examines the sensual curves and twists of petal and stem as it bends in and out of focus. What launches it into an orbit around the mundane is the text pressed into the margins: “While others admired her countenance, I hungered to touch her sessile lamina.” It begs to be seen as more than a plant, and it can be, with the words leading the viewer into a sensual, even sexual, experience.
Artemio Rodriguez controls a corner of the gallery with a peepshow. Behind a black curtain, five masterful woodcuts depict sexual encounters of the closest kind. Done in the style of populist Mexican broadsheets or a Posada’s images of daily life, Rodriguez’s works have a serio-comic touch. There’s always a sense of the tongue-in-cheek, however potent his subject.
David Molesky’s “Polyphemus” painting depicts the Cyclops in a crisp, brushless style that imparts veracity to the mythical god. The full-faced portrait is of a real personality, his single eye gazing out with wounded humanity.
The Obsession show is remarkably complemented by William A. Herberholz’s New Works in Tin, mute testimony to the artist’s obsession with tin toys, objects, boxes and labels from the 1960s on back. Each wall piece is a kind of altar that mixes parts from these various tin things; it’s disconcerting and also enjoyable to recognize familiar objects in the new context. There’s an erector set cover as a focal point for one, a “pure pork sausage” tin container in another, and several Disney characters printed on tin or tin objects themselves.
Herberholz, a Seattle-based artist, uses the odd juxtaposition for visual and thematic punch, a la Joseph Cornell. The pop culture objects and icons work as serious altar/offerings that comment on how spiritual matters are obfuscated by modern life. A study of “Bingo! Electric Jesus” and “Ferris Wheel Jesus” confirms this.
The Object of My Obsession and New Works in Tin continue at the Lisa Coscino Gallery, 216 Grand Ave., Pacific Grove until April 20.