Tomory Dodge at Cherry and Martin
By Lorraine Heitzman
Through January 16th
Tomory Dodge has opened with a strong hand in his first show at Cherry and Martin after his former gallery, Acme, abruptly closed their doors in June. The Culver City gallery was quick to sign up an artist they had admired for years and the four paintings on display at 2732 (Cherry and Martin’s annex) clearly demonstrates why. Using brightly colored shapes set amidst fields of distinctive brushwork and patterns, Dodge paints with both a sense of humor and confidence. These large abstractions reveal an artist whose playful approach to painting results in seriously good work.
Dodge pieces together discordant elements as if he were stitching together a crazy quilt. Besides skillfully manipulating forms, lines, colors and textures, he also pieces together stylistic qualities. He integrates pattern and decoration, cubism and abstract expressionism with apparent ease, incorporating a little of each while finding his own rhythm and distinctive language.
In Portrait of an Ant he shifts our attention between figure and ground in subtle ways, but the vertical, striated motif recedes for the most part like the backing upon which a quilt is constructed. Unlike traditional quilts that have the backing, the middle layer, and the top decorative layer, Dodge manipulates his layers (and the viewers) by essentially flattening out space and toying with the illusion of foreground and background. The patterns of stripes and polka dots suggest fabric or wallpaper but Dodge wields his paintbrush loosely so the effect is very painterly and textural. Some passages bring de Koonig to mind with their fleshy pinks and active strokes while others conjure the slapdash-pop-collage qualities of Rauschenberg. Portrait of an Ant pulls us in towards the details then quickly reminds us that the painting is not in the details, but in the arrangement itself.
Standing in close proximity to each canvas immerses the viewer into the active, painted surfaces. It can be a little overwhelming at close range because the image can be difficult to discern. That experience provides an interesting tension between looking at the surface and the details versus taking in the painting in its entirety. It is only by stepping back, that one is able to understand the painting as a whole. Viewing the work either in print or online makes it easier to assimilate the entire image perhaps but the viewer misses out on the pleasures from the immersive experience and the shifting perceptions.
In Night Sky, Dodge bombards us with an overload of stars and constellations in brilliant blues jostling for attention with rectangles and triangles. They are all set against a dark background that suggests the night, but the contrast also serves to amp up the energetic relationships between each element. The result is a beautiful, almost pointillistic painting that captures the thrilling experience of witnessing the mystery of a star-filled night.
Unexplainable Cat and Family Portrait complete the show, with the later subtly evoking figures and the former including a cat-like apparition. Family Portrait almost fully obscures the subjects, but once aware of the title, their torsos come into focus. The same modus operandi is at work in Unexplainable Cat. Perhaps Dodge’s MO is more than a standard technique but a metaphor for his intent. The objects in his paintings may waver between visibility and obscurity, but his desire to playfully harmonize his vision of the world is absolutely clear.