Friday, May 24, 2013
Davis's paintings are made of flat planes of subdued color parsed by a few wise but wizened lines seeking to hold the viewer's body in place through insistently symmetrical balance.
Van Buren's sculptures (for which he is better known than his drawings on display in ''trifecta'') are like complicated flowers of heated and folded plastic -- painted and garnished with sea shells or similar organic gestures. They seethe with color, life and a twisting, natural complexity. His ink on vellum drawings continue his baroque inclinations even when furtively paired down to five strokes rendering a cartoonish face.
At first glance, Greenleaf's drawings (for that's what they are, whether paint on raw canvas or charcoal on paper) are approachable and clear. His dark and confident strokes build seemingly simple forms through just a few bold gestures -- beckoning you to slow down and follow the gracefully unfurling forms. They draw you in with welcoming assurance: These are the marks of an artist who is not going to waste your time with false promises or simple tricks.
Greenleaf's ''2009-D017'' is a charcoal drawing on white paper floated in a white-washed ash frame with five thick lines and a swooping curve that all connect to make a seemingly compact figure in the center of the sheet. Yet, the longer you look, the more this piece flips open and out and twists with a pleasantly regular pulse.
I can see why Aucocisco's Andres Versosa chose to put Davis's work next to Greenleaf's: Both are spare and reductive, and they use just a few lines to engage the viewer in spatial terms. Yet they could hardly be more different.
Seeing Greenleaf's work is like watching an origami master -- he makes sculptural, intellectual and architectural things happen in rhythmic time with a few brilliant gestures. Davis's work, on the other hand, essentially orders you to stand at attention directly in front of the painting. What some might see as inflexibility, others will experience as a welcome bit of clarity in a mode that so rarely speaks with this type of physical force. Davis's paintings are clearly engaged with a type of ''I and Thou'' relationship that establishes an awareness of the viewer's body in relation to the painting. From there, the viewer can take it where he will of his own accord.
The ease with which Davis presents art geared toward mystical experience is impressive: the symmetry of your body so simply mirrored by the sides of a parapet with only infinite space beyond it, or two organic fronds that map your body with a conceptual rather than architecturally based bilateral symmetry. My favorite of Davis's paintings in ''trifecta'' looks like a pair of stylized red goat horns on a solid black ground. It might sound bizarre, but the point is self-awareness rather than some legible symbol: The thing to be recognized, in fact, is you.
In his parapet paintings, Davis puts you either above or below a waterline. The ''above'' works are no less exhilarating than the ''below'' works are oppressive. While the late Mark Rothko is similarly persuasive in terms of where you stand, Rothko, at least, never put you in jail. Davis absolutely deserves credit for creating such power -- it is a rare display to be sure -- but while some will love it, my guess is that most will find it empty or cold.
Van Buren proves he can make excellent drawings with the six abstractions from the ''Fundy'' series. They are dense and technically delicious. But his set of ''Headhunter'' drawings confuses economy with simplicity by surrendering his marks to cartoonish legibility. Gorgeous though his inky brush may be, these drawings too often feel like the bacon and egg smiley faces served to kids on Sunday morning.
It's tough to tell if Van Buren's and Davis's work make Greenleaf's look better or if his makes theirs look worse, but whether you notice flaws in the show or the triumphant return of Ken Greenleaf the artist, ''trifecta'' is a heady and challenging exhibition.
Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at
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