Helen Rebekah Garber: Thaumaturgy
Ichiro Irie: Garmonbozia Sagrada
David DiMichele: Real and Unreal
extended through January 13
DENK Gallery, Los Angeles
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Creation, destruction, renewal; threat, protection, materialism; reality, illusion, and all manner of Utopias (including the ironic) are the order of the day with three concurrent solo shows on view at DENK. The artists don’t work together, but this curated trio is just a salient coincidence; in all of the best possible ways, these installations highlight and augment certain resonant facets in each artist’s practice creating crosscurrents that elevate the whole. In their titles and tenets, each artist demonstrates an affinity for counterfactualism and mysticism, mining formative personal and cultural experiences and proceeding from there with an edgy idealism. Across thickly carved impasto painting, precise and operatic ink drawings, textural grayscale putty-paintings, and dioramic photography, there’s a lot more in common here than meets the eye — but there’s also a lot that does.
David DiMichele’s Real and Unreal is a series of large-scale pigment print photographs depicting architectural spaces where strange, even eerie, scenes unfold and/or some degree of destruction and ruination have ensued. While they possess the crisp surrealism of, say, digitally manipulated images, they are in fact photographs of model-scale maquettes, dioramas where the “surrealism” unfolds in real space — and thus they also demonstrate the perceptible quality of realism that attends a conventional photographic document. They not only engender a narrative impulse in the viewer — especially the beguiling demolished interiors — but also prompt a low-key cognitive dissonance as the brain does its work of sorting out, as the title suggests, the real from the unreal. Compelling images that also politely inquire as to the truthiness of photographs and the potential obsolescence of reality itself.
Known for the large scale, hyper-detailed ink drawings of ephemeral images — especially junkyards and other monuments to destruction and decay — a selection of such works here exist in dialog with the aesthetic and content of several of DiMichele’s images. In both cases, an emotionally charged response and an inevitable impulse to feel connectivity between ruins and mortality, scrap-yards and graveyards, coexists with a stylistic mode of edgy beauty and detailed attention that elevates the debased and derelict.
In a brand new body of work also included here, Ichiro Irie creates a suite of single-image compositions, featuring reductive symbols in reference to specific films that shaped his personality and his generation’s zeitgeist. Rendered like impasto paintings, but made from hand-sculpted putty, the works in the Imposter series are both ambiguous and super-specific. In these “imposters,” a pun on impostors, we see references to Stanley Kubrick’s ode to über-violence A Clockwork Orange (the phallic escargot “Alex”), Ridley Scott’s original Blade Runner (the origami unicorn “Gaff”), Spike Lee’s 1989 racially charged classic Do the Right Thing (the Love/Hate rings of “Radio Raheem”), David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (the blue ribbon in “Frank”) as well as the Lynch Fire Walk With Me universe’s Twin Peaks movie (the “Garmonbozia” part of the show’s title). The way Irie uses the putty reads like heavily applied and manipulated paint, and that speaks to the third exhibition, deeply scored schematic impasto paintings by Helen Rebekah Garber. But Irie’s nostalgia for cinematically idealized versions of dystopia also give way to what Garber is up to not only formally and materially, but also in her conscious engagement with utopian alternatives in popular and political culture.
Garber has already long been on a path for which she channels the schematic architecture and ritual decorative motifs of old-time global spiritual traditions, especially the geometry-based abstraction of the Arabic and Eastern visual traditions. These had also attracted 19th- and 20th-century European avant-garde spiritualists like Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Malevich, who sensed a resonance between abstraction and spiritual ritual magic. Garber also specifically calls out Hilma Af Klint, a Swedish artist and mystic, and Emma Kunz, an artist and healer known for her sacred geometries, as direct influences on her practice. For these new works however, Garber articulates a fairly radical and absolutely deliberate move away from meditative abstractions and toward a narrative cosmology of female-identifying figures, demigoddesses, priestesses, sentinels, and mothers in Edenic, verdant settings and fertile, organic altars.
Garber’s iconography is sort of pan-Persian, with elements of Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian, Aryan, Ottoman, Hindu, Islamic, and other examples of the earliest religious expressions on record. Her architectonic impasto, saturated and radiant palette, deeply scored brush and line-work combines to a visual effect that equally evokes stone carving and stained glass. With every ounce of their beings, the dozen or so large-scale works announce and establish a powerfully felt atmosphere of luxurious, peaceful, transcendent existence — a specific proposition for a better world — matriarchal, animistic, organic, sustainable, safe, and sexy.