Bill Dambrova’s solo exhibition, “Poke a Hole in the World,” at Mesa Contemporary Art (MCA) Museum is a love letter to the act of painting. Dambrova’s vision shows how the medium can provide access to understanding human experience from a personal, biological, and cosmological point of view. The genuine impact of this well-choreographed exhibition is that it adopts all three perspectives simultaneously.
A painting like “The Gods Love to Travel in Disguise” could refer to Terrance McKenna, who wrote about how DMT was the God molecule. Or it could reference a cacophony of different sources from shamanistic practices, to rituals of evocation, as well as the assumption of archetypal forms in broader psycho-spiritual context. A tiger head image sits atop a series of internal organ-like forms placed next to vibratory geometries – all of which appear to be enlivened by chi, aether, or the vortexes of chakras.
By contrast, “Touch Me to Begin” is a monumental work that mixes the image of a cartoon frog (reminiscent of Atari’s “Frogger”) with organic shapes that unfold in a mandala-like sequence. Moments of constancy and repetition are contrasted with wild variations in size, shape and color – all of which give this piece a dynamic sense of inner tension. The title refers to a relationship with the body as much as technology, where social media and smart devices constantly tap our dopamine reserves.
“The First Visitation is Free,” could refer to otherworldly experiences as much as it does to the concept of a loss leader in marketing. The power of this work relies on the use of heavy outlines, rich blacks, dark maroons and subtle blues, butted up against spiky pink shapes punctuated with flecks of high-key lavender. Throughout the composition, we feel the play of arterial forms colliding with graphic shapes, all of which appear entangled in a theater of bio-semiotic signs.
The title “Birth of a Star” could reference the generative forces of the universe or the ethos of today’s art market. It also functions as the leitmotif of Dambrova’s compositions, where starbursts appear in a variety of contexts – bursting forms, unfolding over time – the expansion of consciousness through experience, the dawning awareness of how energy comprises everything around us. Even though the central figure of this work is a form that feels like an alien starfish, the contrast between these two motifs serves as a double-coated reference to how the macrocosm is reflected in the microcosm, by way of starburst and starfish.
A smaller piece “Fear of a Chorizo Planet,” also references the multiform worlds of perception. These different realms of experience define and divide us – from the sub-atomic to the atomic, from the cellular to the organal, from the whole organism to the organization of the body socius, and from the universe to concepts of the metaverse.
In contrast to other works in the show, “Panspermia” displays a gestural sense of paint handling, one that depicts the kinds of circulatory mechanisms and permeable membranes of the body – an abstract system that we rarely think about when functioning well. Circular designs and beaded forms, in the context of abstract painting history, play an important role in how Dambrova reveals his process. This title references a philosophical concept from the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras, referring to how life migrates through space and time, as well as practices of alchemical change.
Standing at eight feet tall by twenty-one feet long, the triptych “Day Trip in Central Park” is one of the largest works to be displayed in a major museum in Phoenix in years. It anchors the show by highlighting how the mundane is always implicated in a greater sense of plenitude, how layered realities are what really comprise the great chain of being. The longer we linger in front of the painting, it feels as if George Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” had been shot through with portals that reveal how multi- dimensional realities commingle, up to and including the point when they become mathematically untenable, incoherent, and wildly chaotic.
Finally, “I Come From Space Through a Hole in the Sky,” sums up one of the most stunning series of paintings seen locally in many moons. It is no understatement to say that when we view this exhibition, it feels like we are soaring among the stars, dancing with the demi-gods in an otherworldly, out-of-body experience. While the show might be titled “Poke a Hole in the World,” Dambrova’s art really asks us to poke a hole in the hidden spaces of our corporeal existence.