Discomposure at Richard Telles Gallery
By Genie Davis
Just closed at the Richard Telles Gallery is Discomposure, a strange and mysterious group exhibition featuring the work of Carroll Dunham, Victor Estrada, Elizabeth Murray, and Sterling Ruby.
What the artists share is the exhibition’s titular sense of being discomposed, an anxious state that leads to a kind of creative mutation, taking the representative and distorting it; using traditional materials and expanding upon them, revising them and turning them into something more intense as if viewed in an altered, heightened state of reality. While the techniques are completely different from that of the texturally and visually opulent work of the Excessivism movement, the over-the-top interpretations of representative reality reminded this viewer of the concept – to go above and beyond what is deemed “necessary” to create art.
What seems necessary here is to translate each artist’s own personal anxiety and his or her world-view into something of an extravaganza, something that singes as well as soars, something puzzling and over-the-top.
Carroll Dunham’s work is, in its own way, excessive here. His drawings of women, distorted and date signed, reveal genitalia that is swollen and enlarged. Somehow the act of dating these works makes them more surreal – as if the prosaic continues while the world spins out of control. His pencil drawings reveal oversized buttocks and enlarged vaginal openings. The untitled works in some ways also remind viewers of fertility goddesses; modernized versions of Pre-Columbian figures. Dunham’s Untitled, 2012, a work in watercolor, crayon, and pencil on paper is a howling cry for help and succor,
The late Elizabeth Murray gives viewers a more cartoon-like body; geometric, bold and colorful, frenetic and seemingly vibrating with motion. Her charcoal and pastel work on collaged paper, Whozat #1 (Drawing for Whazzat #1 Print) is a wonderfully enigmatic puzzle, something to be both deciphered and enjoyed. There is a raw jubilance at work here. If Murray is known for the surreal edge to her abstract works, then artist Victor Estrada goes more than one definitive step further with his textured surrealistic works in this exhibition. Note the exaggerated shapes and layers on his alien-like, seemingly melting images in Self-Transcendence / Candyland. The work in oil on canvas on panel has a wood- like, earthy quality. Wandering without Knowing / Figure in an American Landscape, is equally compellin. A flatter, swirling work, this large-scale acrylic on canvas uses a similar palette and strange and mysterious creatures as its subject.
Sterling Ruby’s ceramic sculpture Facial has the look of color infused volcanic lava, some clear, some rough and opaque. These are twisted limbs, plant and animal, something fused and both innately lush and frightening. What is it about the fusion of the smooth with the rough that seems so fraught and fragile?
Working with ideas that in part riff on cartoon images, as well as with the foundations of abstract art, these artists’ works are each of them unnerving, startling, at times humorous, and indeed, discomposing. Look twice, and you still may not understand a work intellectually, but emotionally, each piece packs a wallop of disconcerting and fascinating artistic angst.