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Nick Lepard, "Architect man," 2010, oil on canvas, 66" x 54". Image courtesy of Diane Farris Gallery.
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"Terror Bred His Sardonicism that Weasel Sees Him as Food"
Wil Murray, "Terror Bred His Sardonicism that Weasel Sees Him as Food," 2008 acrylic and foam on board, 54" x 48". Image courtesy of Diane Farris Gallery.
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Fiona Ackerman, "Mr. Miriani," 2010, Acrylic on canvas, 30" x 30". Image courtesy of Diane Farris Gallery.
PUSHING THE EDGE
Diane Farris Gallery
September 2 to October 2, 2010
By Helena Wadsley
Painting is a well-mapped terrain; we have reached an era where it seems as if everything within the medium has been done, from all styles of representation to abstraction and back again. In this climate, painters strive to create their own visual languages. Pushing the Edge, the title of a three-person painting exhibition at the Diane Farris Gallery, suggests that the works of Fiona Ackerman, Nick Lepard and Wil Murray take painting into unexplored territories. Delving into the work and the artists' intentions however, I found that they were enamoured with the structures of painting, namely portraiture and landscape, using these as a means to create paintings that are less about representation and more about the manipulation of paint while remaining within its boundaries.
Wil Murray's work pushes the possibilities of paint the furthest. He pours it onto glass, lets it sit and then peels off the thick skins, before draping these “paint skins” in layers over a support of large chunks of spray foam insulation on wood (e.g. Terror Bred His Sardonicism That Weasel Sees Him As Food.) His narrative titles provide vivid pictures themselves, comprised of obscure references to cartoons and commercials. While they don't explain the paintings, the titles allow an entry point into Murray's way of thinking.
Fiona Ackerman builds the painted surface through layering - a process that is both additive and reductive. White paint is used to cover areas that would otherwise have been dense and energetic. She describes her process as a free fall, and while her marks are non-referential, she prefers to see the works as metaphorical landscapes; eventually, she says, she has to find the horizon. This may be the reason why her paintings look airy; the white or pale gray forms a frame around the cluster of mostly organic lines and shapes and may loosely refer to sky. If she didn't find the horizon, or if it involved a lengthier search, the layers might remain visible, achieving an even richer, more alluring painting. While her mark-making is compelling in such works asMr. Mariani for example, where she uses juicily fat brushstrokes and lively scribbles reminiscent of Cy Twombly, it doesn't push the edge.
Nick Lepard's portraiture serves a similar purpose to Ackerman's landscape; it is a framework within which to play with paint. Not interested in the individuality of the portrait, he uses the form of the human head to explore brushwork and colour. The portraits are composed of multiple faces; his use of collaged photographs is evident in the cubist-like fracturing of the image. Lepard revels in brushwork, in the fact that a stroke can exist as a broad lick of paint and as the subtle turn of a cheek. Unfortunately, his colours are subdued by the saturated hues of the works by Ackerman and Murray, and would be more striking if seen on their own.
Of the three, Murray's visual language is the most original, but in contemplating the work of Ackerman and Lepard, I come to the conclusion that it is easier to decipher a new language when it has roots in an established one. Cartography need not be about mapping new paths; it can be about re-tracing and re-interpreting well-loved terrain.