Black, White and Color I
By April Rapier
Black, White and Color I: Six New York Photographers, January 11- February 9, 1985, at Diverse Works, 214 Travis Street, Houston.
In the curator's statement, Charles Gallagher, executive director of Diverse Works, Inc., says: "Black, White and Color I, the series, is a survey encompassing five major American cities. Each exhibition seeks to spotlight artists whose work visually produces and records personal expression. This is ... a chronicle of the present ways in which the medium is being manipulated, both technically and conceptually." The problem with this idea is that, while the medium is being manipulated conceptually and technically, the offerings suffer from being derivative of established manipulations and therefore rarely break free-Diverse Works is lo be applauded for surpassing the traditional gallery approach; it is all the more difficult to understand why the notion that visual pro duction and recording of personal expression, a fairly general concept in art, is being touted. The work as a whole is rather mainstream.
Allen Ludwig, by his own admission, works m a very traditional (and technically superior) fashion. Going from piece to piece, it is almost impossible not to be guided more by the precedent for the particular technique being used than by the work itself. It is not necessary to cite sources, for surely the art ists are aware of their influences; more often than not. the influences overshadow the movement of the pieces. In sum, the images as a body form a dispassionate homage applied to no end,
Mr. Ludwig has included two groups of pictures, his Base Metals series and a platinum/palladium collaboration with Gwen Akin. In the Bose Metals pictures, he calls upon Marcel Duchamp as a conceptual influence. The relationship between the reality of the crushed metals and the renovated (hand-painted), photographed metamorphosis is responsible for the weight of the piece. Layers of metals in various states of deterioration, some tinged with a graffiti quality, oddly compel, although quietly. "Heart Like a Wheel Out-take" is pop in genre (without the attendant colors).
Some titles are strictly descriptive, others whimsical and poetic As with the platinum/palladium collaboration pictures, technique is paramount, although the large size, rather than enhancing the images, renders them less special. Other pieces include multiple Polaroids forming singsong patterns of color and shape. Pop art asserts itself again in the repetition, with alternating colors, of the number 50 and a soft drink can, motifs the pieces are constructed around. -Mr. Ludwig's collaboration with Gwen Akin involves the use of a large format camera, a documentary shooting style, beautiful lighting, painstakingly lovely printing technique, and gruesome (for the most part) subject matter. He refers to a bowl of dismembered pig snouts and endless other dead animals and animal parts as "various common objects which are banal, well worn photographic cliches, or even ugly." This description is downright blithe given the macabre nature of the subjects. Granted, there is the random Visegrip spoon-and-fork still life, or tray of nails, but mutilated specimens dominate; the inherent shock value is hard to overcome. Vet they are gorgeous beyond the subject matter. Reconciliation of the at traction/repulsion is a battle perhaps not worth the effort.
Susan Shaw's extremely close, wildly hallucinogenic portraits create Topographic landscapes from the face, without necessarily referring, to the face itself. She splashes colored light onto sections of the face to create shadow and paradox. The intimacy should seem invasive, but doesn't. Nor is it revelatory. The minimal expression given and noted serves as a barrier to the viewer's emotional involvement: the faces do not belong to people of this world. Their reality is implied and the slightest of gestures important. The strange angles and tightness strip away any reference to real life-Shaw likens these arrested moments to Kabuki Theatre: "Photography is theatrical — a natural stage with frame as proscenium."
Alan Kikuchhi-Yngojo's Metaphoto series begins with Polaroids of hands or torsos, and are then covered obsessively and sometimes violently with tiny things — computer tape, pieces of wood, confetti, pin pricks. They are trans formed into fetishistic altarpieces, resembling tattoos, armor, jewelled decorations, bones broken through skin. Mr. Kikuchi-Yngojo wants each of his pieces "to function both as an image and an object;" he likes "the idea o' making a photograph, then making something else out if it." He seems to fully understand his imagery, which adds to its value and hypnotic fascination.
Geno Rodriguez's 30x30 "silver dye bleach process" (Cibachrome) photographs offer a concept that is overstated and incommunicable: even the evidence of allegory never reaches beyond reference. Models stare at the viewer menacingly, extolling evil myths; one walks away from their artifice in self-defense. Mr. Ludwig, in a discussion of the exhibit, states that Rodriguez's "color is handled in a painterly manner while still adhering to the graphic truth of the photographic medium."
Rodriguez believes that "pure color should be dissociated from naturalistic form." He applies un earthly colors to the skin of his "Gods and Goddesses" and uses fragments of larger figural forms to further abstract his imagery from the literal" (Ludwig). Although Ludwig believes that these characters are freed as icons "from conventional associations and appeal directly [o the imagination.' it is more likely that they make a brief appearance in the psyche, only to be dismissed as too embarrassingly improbable to incite a flight of fancy. "St, Peter the Fisher" is an exception.
A gold hand holds a fish, covering most of it; the paint has begun to flake. Its seductive understatement allows the viewer the pleasure of his own conclusions.
Hiromitsu Morimoto creates a stunning fusion of photography, drawing, light, and air in his very formal, discreetly suggestive studies. A silver photographic emulsion is applied to fine drawing paper; after the image is printed, graphite is rubbed into areas to heighten contrast. The result is flat and shimmery; the roughest of materials take on the smoothness of age. Because, tonally, they use mostly whites and light greys, tiny areas of black, used sparingly, take on great importance, as does part of a leg or a section of torso bending into draped, flowing cloth.
Jim Leach has explored many tricks of the trade, most often involving motion and light: the results are printed using the gum bichromate process. The particular combinations, including the male nude, are confused and confusing, and the muddy colors he chooses (pigments are mixed with light-sensitive emulsion) oppressive.