Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Art Infinitum

By Cory Dugan

FEBRUARY 23, 1998:  When one sees the designation “multiple” in connection with fine art, it is usually used to describe works produced in limited editions, most often prints or cast sculptures. “The Art of the Multiple,” currently on display at Marshall Arts, takes a new turn on the term: Instead of the work being produced in multiples, it is produced by multiples – repeated images, forms, or materials composing a single whole.

Repetition as an artistic element has a peculiar power when effectively utilized; its effect can range from emphasis to anesthesia, from irritant to enticement. If one considers various manifestations – say, the music of Reich or Pärt, the fiction of Robbe-Grillet, the sculptures of Andre or Gonzalez-Torres, even Warhol’s soup cans and Marilyns – the experiences include (but aren’t limited to) boredom, discomfort, humor, fascination, and enlightenment, sometimes all within one piece.

At its best, “The Art of the Multiple” is a celebration of the compulsive, of an obsession with gathering and collecting and arranging, a revelry in creating the simple from the complex and vice versa. There is wit, irony, amazing depth, and even remarkable, striking beauty mined from these fields of tedium and redundancy.

Jeremy Earhart exhibits a delicate tenacity in his large drawings, Niche and Cast Out, building an imagery akin to architectural drafting upon the foundation of the landscape. The strength of Earhart’s work lies in delicate pencil lines, meticulously ruled and repeated in hypnotic horizontal pattern, broken by tiny dips or circles defined by pinholes, and accented by subtle washes of color. The drawings are suspended from superfluous contraptions that seem to be mutant clamps, part picture frame and part architectural molding; while these wooden beasts are ingenious and well-crafted, the drawings would be just as effective hung with push-pins. Caught somewhere in the pictorial limbo between mandala and bar graph, these are elegant and intelligent images, abstract site plans that straddle nature and industry and in need of no further embellishment.

John Salvest, Smoke-Free (1998); wood, cigarette butts; 1/2” x 148” x 244”

Earhart’s sculptures are less resolved but still impressive. Evoking commercial packaging and design, vacuum-formed plastic containers – like those found hanging on any Walgreens rack displaying cheap electronics or batteries – are suspended oversize and shelf-like from the wall. Wooden chips are scattered within one; dowels spill out of another. The feel is unsettling – science-fictive and post-industrial, craftsmanship versus mass production – and (dare I say?) millennial.

Also unsettling are Irish artist Catherine Lynch’s untitled prints. These works are less multiple (in the exhibit’s use of the term) than serial – but, as small-edition prints, they are multiples in the traditional sense. Lynch’s chosen image is women’s underwear, from bikini panties to thigh-length foundations, displayed matter-of-factly and superimposed with images from nature – plant forms, exoskeletons, snakeskin. If they are more than a little obvious and flat, they do still offer an amusing play of dark humor and eroticism, department-store advertising contraposed to fetishism.

If art shows can (like theatrical ones) be stolen, the thieves at “Multiple” are Jonesboro artists John Salvest and Les Christensen. It would be tempting to credit the success of their thievery to the sheer size and ambition of their premier pieces – not to mention their potentially record-breaking obsessiveness. But Salvest and Christensen are the epitome of this exhibition’s thesis; it is only fitting that their work is likewise its apogee.

John Salvest is well-known and well-exhibited for his sculptures and installations that incorporate collected flotsam ranging from fingernail clippings to dead insects to business cards. Smoke-Free, his installation at Marshall Arts, consists of 90,000 cigarette butts arranged by color of filter into a brown-and-white approximation of the American flag, the stars replaced by crosses. This paper-and-cotton-and-tobacco fabric, resembling an oversized woven rug, is a rich tapestry of lipstick stains and stale smoke. There is humor here, as well as awe, and even a vague disgust invoked in the viewer, as if confronted by an enormous dirty ashtray, an odd conflicted response of being riveted yet repulsed. The layers of meaning could be read as much thicker than the shallow height of the piece, involving habits, politics, death and freedom, even compulsion itself. Whatever its statement, the sheer scale and ambition of Smoke-Free speaks loudly, overtaking the gallery space, even from the floor.

If any piece in the exhibit can compete on the same level with Salvest’s cigarettes, it is Les Christensen’s beer bottles.

Christensen’s work has a history of exploring the underlying danger in beauty, as well as the seductive beauty in danger; her past works have utilized materials such as broken sheet glass and nails, composed in a sort of lyric geometry. Things Aren’t Always As They Seem is another level, a tour de force, an amazing feat of artistry and engineering and visual poetry. First quick glance affords the image: wings, spread wide, scaled for an archangel, glistening and ephemeral, softly modeled in gentle glass relief across the wall. The second look reveals them to be neither soft nor gentle, to be instead rather cruel and potentially wicked, composed of broken bottles – hundreds of them, clear glass beer bottles, broken at or below the neck, individually mounted lip to wall and jagged edge out. Our classic ideal of beauty is subtly but sadistically subverted, its innocence highly eroticized. Breathtaking.

Salvest and Christensen both offer small pieces in the rear gallery – spare and elegant haikus in contrast to their sprawling epics in the main gallery. Christensen’s Shroud, in the lobby area, is an elegant and unlikely grid of lead squares and ballpoint nibs (methinks mayhaps a chainmail for critics).

Angie Burdette’s installation One Minus One Equals Zero, an easily ignored arrangement of dangling threads and knitted yarn, is out of place, overshadowed and outclassed by its company. Its title is unfortunately appropriate.

As a whole, however, “The Art of the Multiple” is decidedly singular.

Weekly Wire Suggested Links

Page Back Last Issue Current Issue Next Issue Page Forward

Arts & Leisure: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Cover . News . Film . Music . Arts . Books . Comics

Weekly Wire    © 1995-99 DesertNet, LLC . Memphis Flyer . Info Booth . Powered by Dispatch