Jane Callister: Baroco-pop
through March 4
Royale Projects, Los Angeles
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Somehow both sparse and lush, Jane Callister’s new paintings manifest an array of engaging dualities. The Royale Projects show consists of about a dozen works, half of which are richly hued, half rendered in grey-scale. Within that, each individual work enacts its own binaries on the color wheel and/or the linear x/y axes. One major work (Distortion) acts as a kind of Rosetta Stone for the whole exhibition, straddling all these borders, from the painting/sculpture boundary as it occupies both wall and floor, to the chromatic/greys pas de deux choreography, and just for good measure, it also takes on the eccentric geometry of shaped canvases. It is situated at the threshold between the gallery’s architectural halves, as if to underscore its privileged position as an optical and conceptual fulcrum.
Within each single work, no matter the color story, in this series Callister deploys an approach that yields what appear to be slightly oversize single brushstrokes. These are bunched and arrayed according to rotating polarities with segmented relationships between pigment and directional vectors. Each loop/stroke is like a Mobius strip, its sense of quick gesture intact, as though it’s enlarged or else you are shrunk and can see inside its structure, the skeleton and vascular system of each one blown up for more detailed scrutiny. They have the dense energy of a tight style, but can be read at a distance at an explosive scale. The pigment is not translucent but the imagery seems to be, that the empty atomic space inside each loop reveals the underpainting behind it.
This energy is not only optical and formal, it also speaks to an indirect narrative underpinning that for lack of a better term, the artist considers political. It’s not overtly political in a content or messaging sense, being entirely non-representational. It’s more like the slightly frenetic multiplicity of their compositions is reflective of the cognitive dissonance and emotional agitation that results from the current politics. Even though they are beautiful in a darkly elegant posture, they are ultimately uncomfortable, a little disorienting. Each image in its own way prevents the eye from resting, there is no center, there is no truly solid ground anywhere. Suggestions of ground are ruthlessly halved and flipped sideways; pictorial space is subverted.
Purple and orange, teal and oxblood, emerald and ochre; fifty shades of grey, like X-Rays. Exhibition title Baroco-pop is a clue to the ancestry Callister mines from art history in constructing her approach — Baroque, Rococo, Pop. Evocative of an ornate devotional style, a subsequent descent into the vulgar over-decoration of excess and empire, and a latter-day disposable consumer culture elevated to the classical worshipful embodiments — all of these topsy-turvy value systems proved untenable in art and in society. Perhaps the shifting sands expressed here will prove just as temporary, or perhaps this is the end of an empire, again. Political opinions, like these paintings, remain split.