An Opulent Revival
Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Los Angeles
Through June 4, 2022
Written by Genie Davis
Max Colby: Revival, through June 4th at the Shoshana Wayne Gallery, is a mixed media explosion of color and materials, dimensional rainbows of sculptural works.
The show features two separate series, with perhaps the standout being “They Consume Each Other,” an instillation of 42 sculptures seated on ornamental glass plinths. Exuberant in palette and bursting with flowers, feathers, and beads, individually they would be involving, over-the-top but lovely works. Compiled, they are an extravaganza of textures and shades, reminiscent in their own way of the fragile extravagance of Fabergé eggs.
The display is reverential, as the pieces are positioned as if on an altar of sorts. While many of the materials used are not those usually considered a part of a fine art exhibition, her montage-like use in clustered decadence elevates them. Unsurprisingly, they are highly textile, richly textured, and go beyond the conventional sculptural form. Some are egg shaped, some shaped like fat pickles or dildos.
In a separate gallery, the “Shrouds” series is darker in tone, if not necessarily in aesthetics. The work in both series references body image as well as worldly values, prejudices, and presumptions.
Some pieces are large, some are smaller, but all are collages of fabric, embroidery, and reclaimed materials woven on or overlaid upon quilts. There is joy and sorrow here, with some pieces seeming to represent tributes to the departed, a theme that connects with the title and the artist’s interest in ritual objects that include the funereal.
As with “They Consume Each Other,” Colby’s work in “Shrouds” embraces and accepts the inevitable impermanence of life itself, and with that impermanence, the futility of stratified class, wealth, power, and the enforcement of traditional gender roles. In fact, the artist rallies against all that darkness with her opulent, lush work.
Each work is like an overgrowth, in a way similar to how fallen logs or dead tree stumps are overtaken by flower and fauna following spring rain. Jeweled bugs might crawl among a cushion of dead leaves, even as weeds and wildflowers spring to life on this “quilted” base.
To some extent, the work in “Shrouds” also reflects a defiance of the pandemic, a rising above the acceptance of inevitable loss and loneliness, offering a way to wear sad garments and turn them inside out, coloring them with vivid, chaotic splendor.
“Shroud #1” is a vast work, 114” by 78” by 12”, a found crazy quilt from 1910 as its base. Fabric, flowers, streamers, garlands, plastics, beads, sequins, threads, fruits, banners, costume jewelry, and even Douglas fir, are all layered, creating a gorgeous work whose heart appears as a dark, black, uneven opening being encroached upon and reborn as something far brighter and more layered. In fact, the dripping green of the fir, which tops the work, seems dominant; reminiscent of Spanish Moss, fecund, a fertility draping and overtaking.
Smaller, with a hot pink as the most dominant color, Colby’s “Shroud #5” is based on a 1900-circa quilt, embellished with trim and fabric flowers, garlands, beads, sequins, thread, more costume jewelry buttons, and pine. This 31″ x 26″ x 5″ work seems to have sprung into bloom, like a field of farmed flowers run wild.
In its over-abundance, each of these works cascade and explode like fireworks burning through the dark of a night sky. They are insistent, calling for a powerful rebellion and rebirth in the face of everything from assigned roles and the futility of many earthly strivings, rules, and restrictions to the extinguishing of life itself, and a fight to retain a more jubilant and less corporeal self. It is not a whim that the exhibition in full is titled Revival – to view it revives the spirit, and to create it certainly must have felt a powerful invocation of fierce, subversive, societally unacceptable beauty. Restrictions and rules, like death and destruction, are a curse. Colby cathartically subverts it.