We train our eyes on Snowblind, a show of new painting at SPACE. | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

We train our eyes on Snowblind, a show of new painting at SPACE.

click to enlarge Disorienting habitats: "Tunnel Hold" (2007), by Corey Antis
Disorienting habitats: "Tunnel Hold" (2007), by Corey Antis
Snowblind, a group show at SPACE gallery, provides little in the way of introductory statements that might help audiences understand the exhibit. It is a painting show, so at the very least, viewers will know where the art is. But Snowblind, curated by Thad Kellstadt, offers some distinct and varied approaches to the discipline. Five artists occupy the space in three groups, presenting (at least) three interesting and conflicting stances on image-making.

Snowblind takes its evocative title from one of Corey Antis' larger paintings on view here. Antis, who is based in Philadelphia, builds forms from vacant spaces, creating arrangements of color and texture that oscillate between environment and object. Conflicts of perspective and melting boundaries between colors create disorienting habitats, such as in "Ambush," where a muted pink construction all but dissolves in a tan sea. His architecture never makes it to the edges of the paper or panel, leaving his spaces suspended and uninhabitable, observable from a cool emotional distance. The precision and efficiency of Antis' decisions is striking, and his work is mesmerizing in its delicate details and structural precision.

Where Antis employs extraction and reduction to arrive at his contemplative images, the collaborative work of Gordon, Herren and Tonies unabashedly embraces the confusion of a cacophonous visual field. "Change of Address" is an ambitious sequence of 29 mid-sized paintings created through mail collaboration. Organized in six clusters, the works are built in discrete layers of widely varied and often divergent imagery. The wood panels have been painted, burned, sprayed, stuck, sanded and carved into irregular shapes. Individual work by each of the three artists hangs nearby, offering some clues as to who did what in the collaborative works.

Local artist Josh Tonies exhibits a handful of experiments with landscape, in which sites of transition (such as airplane landing strips) and disaster (i.e., floods) are processed through spatial distortions and color shifts. Using acrylic and various image-transfer processes, he layers information in disorienting but legible ways that tie his work, formally, to that of Antis. Chad Gordon's images of scenic natural landscapes and wood-burning kits, meanwhile, are created by methodically burning pen-tip-sized marks into unprimed wood panel, slowly building half-tone-like patterns that eventually resolve into images. And Chris Herren layers acrylic, enamel and resin on shaped wood panels to depict birds emerging from striking bars of color combinations. Herren's works boldly mesh optical experimentation and representational painting, fusing cool formalism with suggestions of narrative.

Surprisingly, given SPACE's cavernous dimensions, the three artists' solo works suffer from their density of presentation. And alongside the vast expanse of "Change of Address," the individual work feels somewhat like a bookend. However, the layout does offer reference points for dissecting the collaborative process. By recognizing the style of mark-making, viewers can read the various decisions as a kind of text, making the experience of understanding the paintings literally time-based. This process is fascinating and worthwhile, arguably more so than the discordant finished surfaces themselves, which seem burdened with the weight of too many freedoms and not enough limitations.

Some panels of "Change of Address," however, do approach more purposeful conclusions, such as the first cluster, which depicts a fragmented, highway-like landscape view. Here the imagery and the shape of the panels complement rather than contradict, allowing the images themselves to speak confidently instead of dissipating in some netherworld between surface and object.

Elsewhere, only a few feet across the gallery but in another visual universe, Heidi Anderson presents 15 images of an hermetic mythology. Using water-based paints on paper, Anderson creates a kind of campfire hallucination. Human and hybrid-animal heads form totems decorated with bird feathers and tree branches. Her color spectrum is pastel-like and she executes her images as a series of washes that occasionally become sumptuous gradations of color and form.

"Fight or Flight" is a small painting of a totem of four heads: a small human on top, then a bear, a human and a weird owl-like form. They are flanked by purple and pink branches, sprouting clumsy flowers that drip in pristine iconic drops. Smaller figures enter her compositions, suggesting fairies and complicating scale relationships. The emotional presence of her paintings is both whimsical and foreboding, articulated with marks that are alternately precise and lackadaisical. It's difficult to tell whether her world is welcoming or sealed shut; the symmetrical arrangements of branches and central compositions seem like shields protecting the inhabitants from intrusion.

Snowblind, unfortunately, is noticeably devoid of the phenomonal curatorial vision that Kellstadt channeled in his prior SPACE show, HOME/AWAY, with its excitement and overdrive. For that show, Kellstadt transformed the gallery into a bustling city of aesthetic and conceptual connections. In the absence of such momentum, SPACE feels more like a poorly planned suburb, with interesting inhabitants but scant sense of connection or community. Even some simple wall text would help unearth the motivations for bringing together these artists. Still, the work in Snowblind is unquestionably strong and provocative, even if it lacks the elegance of a cohesive movement.

Snowblind continues through Sept. 22. SPACE, 812 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-325-7723

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