FRANCESCA GABBIANI at Patrick Painter
The number of serious artists who have used paper as the medium, and cutting as the technique, has multiplied in the last decade. Last year the group show "Cut: Makings of Removal" was at the Vincent Price Art Museum at East L. A. College. This spring another group show "Under the Knife," was up at the Armory Center for the Arts, and it featured some amazing work by Francesca Gabbiani, including an elegant pop-up book featuring scenes from a poetic narrative.
The new pieces by Gabbiani at Patrick Painter are large and pop with color. They are made with hand-cut construction paper, the shapes carefully layered over one another to achieve depth and contour. Many of these works are in the form of a wreath, with a riot of flora and fauna forming the rim, and a black center (perhaps the dark mirror that faces us all). They have a fairy tale quality, as in Faces where the rim is crammed with dragonflies, toadstools, at least one spider and a mouse. The eye wheels around, trying to pick out the creatures. In Stoned, we find a more psychedelic incarnation: snakes are entwined among spiky marijuana leaves; centipedes and snails crawl about in these works.
Gabbiani displays a gothic sensibility, suggesting both an ominous sentimentality. It's a hallucinatory web, especially evident in Dream Warfare. That work is dominated on the left by two perched owls, both in unnatural colors, and a cluttered swag on the lower right — made up of what looks like a locket containing a picture of a hand strumming a guitar, all nesting on a bed of sea coral and other watery creatures.
STEVEN BANKHEAD at Circus Gallery
Fourteen large and uniformly-sized canvases line the gallery. The warm off-white of Steven Bankhead's unprimed surfaces are sprayed matte black in radial shards and angular cracks that image the fractured void of broken panes of glass. Black paint streaks, pools, and gashes the canvases, saturating several to the point of being virtual monochromes. Irregularly shaped fields of rich darkness convey the depths of recessed holes, on the one hand, and, on the other, flat abstract patterns whose stark contrast is stained around the edges with bleeding half-tones. Bankhead's newest suite of paintings cleverly locates an unsteady common ground between forms of abstraction and emblems of violence.
The shattered window imagery on which these works are based, stylizes the rage of riots into calm, well-crafted pieces. In this sense, they relate to the cut-up punk aesthetic which Bankhead characteristically dons, previously in graphite renderings of collaged compositions. While impressive as objects with sumptuous surfaces, these paintings pose the question of what may be lost when direct street action and punk defiance retires into calcified style or handsome abstraction washed down with a sip of wine.
JOSHUA LEVINE at Tarryn Teresa Gallery
Straddling the line between fine art and extreme kitsch, Joshua Levine's newest body of work proves too zany and weirdly seductive categorized as simply brash and outlandish. The fact they are highly crafted, fetishistic objects only contributes to their overall appeal.
Working within the framework of traditional forms, Levine's strange hybridized animals appear structurally plausible as in the work Trophy Head (12Ocular6AuditoryGoldenLonghorn) (2009), where a traditional sacred Indian symbol is turned on its ear, quite literally, displaying a multiplicity of ears sprouting out from its head along with the "all-seeing, all-knowing Eye." In Levine's world, these creatures could be found strolling along a back street in Brentwood.
Still works like Trophy Head (Striped Snouted- Cycloptic) (2009) directly reference other mythological creatures such as the Cyclops, the marauding one-eyed giant. While these works do not appear to break any new artistic ground, they are charming, witty and amazingly crafted.
DANIEL DAVIDSON at Sloan Fine Art
Daniel Davidson, Mirror ( Diane Arbus Twins)
Previously one half of the dynamic painting duo Beattie & Davidson, Daniel Davidson has been making work as a solo artist since 1998. In addition to his considerable output as a painter, his most ingenious work so far was his performance-based sculpture Picture Booth (2006), in which Davidson sketched portraits for sitters while hidden behind a screen in a cardboard recreation of a photo booth, complete with lights, a curtain and a soundtrack. Created with help from ADA Gallery in Richmond, Virginia, where it was shown in 2006, it also made appearances at the 2006 Scope art fair in Miami and at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn in 2007.
For Davidson's exhibition at Sloan Fine Art, "Double Stuff," titled after the Oreo cookie with twice the amount of cream filling, 32 framed drawings are hung symmetrically on a single wall. His method places them apart from any other well-rendered graphite works. Drawing one half of the image with watercolor pencil on paper and then spraying it with water, Davidson folds the paper and buffs it, creating an identical copy on the opposite side. Having mastered this technique, he creates a seamless duplicate that doesn't involve touch-ups or further manipulation. Using photographic references and several pop culture icons, such as Kermit the Frog and the TIE fighters from Star Wars, the work has a broad appeal. His art historical works are particularly strong, including Mirror (Diane Arbus Twins) (2009), which is based on the famously creepy photograph, but in this case the girls are truly identical, adding more food for thought.
Paula Nadelstern at The American Folk Art Museum
The American Folk Art Museum may be something of a misnomer: As Louis Armstrong once said, "All music is folk music, I ain't never heard no horse sing a song." Nevertheless, it remains (tautological moniker aside) one of the best places in New York to see art, and Paula Nadelstern's show of quilts is no exception. The "Kaleidoscope Quilts," as the show is titled, comprises hundreds of patterned bits of fabric cut into tiny triangles and painstakingly sewn together in compositions, mostly, of radial symmetry that imitate, quite impressively, the compositional systems of actual kaleidoscopes.
The way that each little piece of fabric repeats in the composition and then complements the adjacent forms in concentric interlacing patterns is astonishing. The presence here of several actual kaleidoscopes almost undermines this effect — as if such spectacular complexity could be attained serendipitously — but actually does the reverse. By calling attention to how precise and deliberate her choices are — and how materials and craft, no less than virtuosic patterning — are her among her chief concerns, the kaleidoscopes provide an apt foil for works that are, in fact, much more than the sum of their parts.
SANDOW BIRK at Catharine Clark Gallery
Lawrence of Arabia concludes with an ironic anti-climax: it's the cynical British generals and French diplomats, not the sidelined idealistic hero, who win; oil-consuming Midwesterners miss this point, though oil-producing Middle Easterners do not — nor do they forget, as recent events have proven. America's current unpleasantness with the Islamic world is economic and political, not theological, as the ideologues disingenuously assert.
Appealing to our sanity and humanity are Sandow Birk's "American Qur'an" paintings. Birk protested the invasion of Iraq a few years ago with a series of woodcuts; here he takes on the daunting task of "illuminating" Islam's holy book as medieval Christian artists embellished theirs. Birk inks in the English-translated text of each of the 114 suras, or scriptures, one per 16"x24" painting, employing the materials (inks and water-based paints on paper), even lighting and oblique perspective that traditional Muslim artists used. True to his LA roots, he uses a graffiti lettering style and depicts ordinary Americans doing ordinary things — commuting, working, attending weddings and funerals, eating, playing, shopping, politicking, quarreling, gossiping — along with some less ordinary things related to the war. The Qur'an's sonorous poetry and the American Our Town imagery make for poignant, beautiful works of art infused with wisdom and hope. The project, begun in 2004, will eventually comprise 300 works. As Sura 44 says: "We have made this message easy to understand, in your own tongue, so that you may take it to heart."