Dean Byington’s The Theory of Machines
By Genie Davis
Through June 30th
With Dean Byington’s first solo show at the Kohn Gallery, The Theory of Machines, viewers will enter a dystopian world that’s as detailed and absorbing as it is somehow disturbingly familiar. This is an artist’s take on our current world, what could be the world of the Terminator; it is both sci-fi and real.
The Bay-area artist’s work here reveals his interest in 18th and 19th century prints and book illustrations, using thoroughly modern techniques of digital and photomechanical processes. To some extent the very title of the show, which includes the titular work, reflects this technology. He’s working in a style that references old engravings and etchings, using silk screening and painting, reworking; creating something intricate and layered, a dense landscape of the soul imprinted on linen.
Byington touches on political themes such as terrorism and climate change in his work, but even without these references, the works can be thoroughly observed and enjoyed for their visual intricacy. Harkening back to childhood memories of movie lot sets, there is a magical quality to them, a hyper-realism born of the back-lot. The artist’s own back story includes parents involved in the Manhattan Project. Byington’s work here, as complex and precise as it is, less mirrors specific events than is a fusion of a variety of influences both personal and global. There is a real cinematic scope to his work, both in terms of its vastness –many are large scale works – and his sweeping subjects. We view not just a face, a place, or a specific time, but often the passage of time itself, the history of a place, the past, and the potential future; we see with an almost God’s-eye view the world as it is, was, or shall be.
Created in black and white, Byington’s works here are just as vivid as if they were in technicolor. They weave stories of landscapes and technology, mute testimony – there is no human habitation here – to man’s ability to change nature, and what that means. Take “Bingham Canyon Mine,” in which a landscape decimated by mining becomes a city that could’ve come from another planet. Or the title piece, which features dominating images of abandoned engines. The engines have placed upon them a platform or a stage, with other images displayed upon it.
In “Black Sun,” we see strip mines in the foreground with a vast bridge spanning the desolation. In the background are beautiful mountains, seemingly as-yet untouched. Both daunting and surreal, “Reconstruction” gives the viewer an unsettling look in to a city made primarily of scaffolding, with dark doorways, spaces, tunnels inside the heart of these structures. In contrast, the futuristic cityscape of “Minarets” is more utopian, its natural background landscape seemingly unsullied. With each piece, viewers must take the time to fully engage with the intimate construct of the work, entering Byington’s world.
This is work that will resonate upon viewing, this perfectly rendered view of the world – and man’s – imperfections.
Kohn Gallery is located at 1227 North Highland Ave. The exhibition runs through June 30th.