On a recent Friday evening, the guests at Carl Solway Gallery turned their eyes from the art on the walls to watch the artist, Christopher Tanner, dressed in drag with a blonde wig and full-length black sequin number, as he regaled them with Depression-era songs by lyricist Yip Harburg, including "Over the Rainbow" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime." This was an eccentric highlight of the opening reception for the dual exhibition at Solway Gallery, Off the Yellow Brick Cliff: Paintings, Drawings & Collages by Tanner and Accumulations & Constructions: Recent Work by Katy Stone.
The combination of the two artists is an unlikely but surprisingly complementary pairing. They live on opposite coasts, come from different backgrounds and work in disparate styles yet share the boldness and distinctiveness of their individual artistic styles. In addition, neither artist fits neatly into any mold. Stone is a painter who avoids using canvas as a surface, and Tanner uses non-art materials and exists in limbo between fine artist and performance artist.
I spoke to them both the day before the exhibition opening. With her labor-intensive installation process nearly complete, Stone took a break to talk about her work. She is a Seattle-based artist who uses Duralar, an archival brand of acetate, as her canvas.
Using acrylic paint and a bamboo brush, Stone captures gesture and motion. Her palette is bright yet restrained, as many of her works are made up of a single color. Layering painted sheets of Duralar and lifting them off the wall, either with pegs and pins or by suspending them from above, she adds a sculptural dimension to her work and introduces shadow as an important element. This effect of light has such importance that "cast shadows" are listed among the media of every work in the exhibition.
Of her art, Stone said, "I like to make work that evokes action, because it's all about gesture. There's this physical, felt motion of something falling. Metaphorically and symbolically it's about outpouring, gushing, these over-the-top motions."
An apt example is "White Falls (Serpentine)." Beginning just below the ceiling and spilling across the floor beneath, this stark white waterfall and the red, twisted form within it dominate the room. It is set away from the gallery walls, and a sheet of frosted Duralar serves as backdrop. "Little Universes" is visible on the wall behind it and is made up of blood-red paint splatters. They are at once beautiful and grotesque, evoking the macro and the micro, universes and single cells.
Stone draws inspiration from many sources, and she avoids overly simplistic classifications of her work by choosing titles with some ambiguity. Thus her series of falls are not waterfalls and are not necessarily done in blue. According to Stone, "I love the idea of mutability and multiplicity in the work."
In contrast to Stone's light, often-translucent works, much of Tanner's art is heavily built up, incorporating a dizzying array of materials. In photographs his work loses much of its luster and can seem almost decorative, but in person it shimmers and the complexity of his compositions becomes evident. Within any given work, his materials can include costume jewelry, Native American beadwork, embroidered patches, beaded appliquÃ©s, plaited hair, mirrored disks and painted shells -- all embedded in a glittery colored sand background.
Many incorporate text inscribed on metal discs, which contain a bevy of cultural and personal references from films to song lyrics, American Idol to Mr. T, Doris Day to Colonel Mustard, Miles Davis to The Jack of Tarts. The final reference was a musical that Tanner staged earlier this year at La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York City. Tanner's works are oblique autobiographies, brimming with his inspirations, fascinations and even revulsions. He refers to them as journeys: "The journey of the misfit, looking for his place; that's always what I have done."
The lines and forms in his compositions spiral, twist and double back, winding around circles across multiple panels of large-scale works. "The Inaugural Ball of the Empress Ritha, Exulted Queen of the Flying Beetles" is one example of this style. It is more than 7 square feet and is primarily vivid yellow and neon orange. Like Stone, Tanner uses a limited palette at times. This restraint prevents his work from crossing the line from bold to tawdry.
Accumulations & Constructions: Recent Work and Off the Yellow Brick Cliff: Paintings, Drawings & Collages certainly succeed on their own, but the contrast and comparison between them add compelling aspects to the dual exhibitions.
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