Abstract art has always been polarizing. For some, its lack of direct representational qualities is a deficit, while others see brilliance in its ambiguity. Add in factors like intention and technique, and both of those stances seem limited. Abstraction in the Singular, at Phoenix’s Bentley Gallery, curated by Dr. Grant Vetter, makes an outstanding case against maintaining a limited purview of abstract works.
Vetter’s show is so thoughtful it hurts. It’s as if it was geared only toward tearing down staid, dismissive perceptions about abstract art. That could easily be part of Vetter’s intention, but despite any initial mission, the outcome is spectacular. More than 40 sizable paintings, predominately oils, by more than 25 artists (local and national) are threaded by their collective abstract nature, but each work is a force unto itself, using the others to form an impenetrable union yet strong enough to stand alone. If you ever wanted to have a conversation about abstract art, here’s a great opportunity. Whatever you end up thinking and feeling, there’s a lot to discuss.
Bentley’s owner and namesake, Bentley Calverley, shares that take, so much so that she offered Vetter a rare curatorial opportunity at her long-established gallery. “Dr. Vetter was the perfect choice as our first guest curator,” she said. “He has a different viewpoint than I, so collaborating on this exhibition seemed like a wonderful opportunity that would enhance all involved. The presentation of such diverse schools of abstraction is a reminder that art is ever evolving, and the different styles force us to reassess our definition of abstract art.”
Kent Familton’s Double Dip uses just a few colors and shapes to exemplify the twinship in curves and corners, and the subtle fluidity that can exist amid the two. John Mills’ Formal Foibles is a solid, intriguing piece that reads like the aftereffects of an ebullient brain explosion. A few bold paint colors and some graphite work are contained partially, and undramatically, by fine lines that create a flower-like result. The adage that we look for order in chaos comes to mind with this piece. There are points in the painting that offer potential codification, but overall the chaotic nature and the way it’s presented provide the real magic.
The angular constitution of California artist Joe Lloyd’s Spur is given depth through both shaded and brightened areas. Rather than just enhancing the electric colors that are prevalent, these touches bring all the angles to the forefront. A deconstruction of shapes, the work allows a mesmerizing look at the coexistence of these planes. It’s like getting a sneak peek at how every line competes for space.
Calverley also appreciates the mix of area-based and out-of-town artists. “The artists Dr. Vetter curated into the exhibition may not be well known in Arizona, although they have been on the L.A. art scene for many years. Some local artists are also included whose work some people may recognize, but to others, it is an initial introduction.”
Talking about bright colors in this exhibition is impossible without bringing locally based painter Bill Dambrova’s BiOde into the mix. Not just popping with a captivating light, his palette is so rich that it goes past a visual appeal to speak to the other senses. His take on the internal human anatomy brings so much beauty to something that is generally spoken about in more technical terms. That one and his Coughing Up a Tongue are majestic, motion-filled rides for the eyes, taking them on a weird and wonderful biological tour.
Maysha Mohamedi’s Christmas Beetle Pleasure Dome is a perfect example of when less truly is more. Using just a few colors and a significantly minimal amount of paint compared to her large canvas surface, Mohamedi shows off an innate ability to take up space in the most non-invasive way. A few motion-filled strokes and shapes give the piece a melancholic sensibility.
Maintaining cohesion in large group shows can certainly create a challenge for the curator. Calverley herself called it a “formidable task,” and goes on to say that “in this case I am delighted with the result.” Vetter’s attentive approach is undeniable and a part of what gives this exhibition the sincerity it exudes.
Abstraction in the Singular
Through April 15
Christopher Kuhn, Acapulco Gold, 2016, oil and acrylic on linen, 55h x 67.25w
Bill Dambrova, BiOde, 2016, oil and acrylic on canvas, 96h x 84w
Travis Rice, Dismantled, 2016, acrylic, vinyl, pumice on canvas, 88h x 66w
Mark Polio, CB.5, 2015, oil and charcoal on linen, 44h x 88w x 14d