Dedicated to covering the visual arts community in Connecticut.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Art at Hull's at One Whitney

Hull's One Whitney
1 Whitney Ave.., New Haven, (203) 907-0320
Pilgrim's Progress

I just caught Pilgrim's Progress, a three-person show at Hull's at One Whitney, on its last day. The show featured works by painters John Keefer and Riley Brewster and pen-and-ink artist Jason Noushin.

I've written about John Keefer before. Most of the paintings he was showing at Hull's were based on news photographs and other images from the Iraq War. (This was material that was also engaging him back in 2006 when I visited his home studio during City-Wide Open Studios.) There were five untitled variations on a picture of uniformed men bearing a flag-draped coffin. Some of these were in black and white. A couple of these paintings were in color and painted as though replicating a photographic negative. In the classical style, Keefer works over a grid. He allows his paintings to remain "unfinished," though, the skeletal artifice there for all to see.

In a way, he is exploiting this terrible imagery. But it's not for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. By leaving the works looking unfinished, the viewer is forced to see them anew. On the one hand, the Abu Ghraib paintings are beautiful, painterly. But at the same time that the viewer can appreciate them on that level, one is also confronted with the cruelty of the situation: a man's twisted nude torso, shackled to a metal prison bed frame, his head humiliatingly covered by a pair of underwear.

Noushin's pen-and-ink portraits were drawn on antique paper (pre-1850, chosen for its higher concentration of cotton fibers). There were two diptychsd referencing historical instances of miscarriages of American justice—the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. "Docked in the Hague" depicts the Bosnian Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic flanked by his jailers. Noushin's draftsmanship is sharp, modeling and shading with a spidery network of energetically scratched lines. The eyes of the individuals in his drawings peer directly out at the viewer (with the exception of Ethel Rosenberg, who diffidently looks off to one side). This gaze fixes the visual transaction in the present—Sacco and Vanzetti confront us from the past with a look of immediacy. The discoloration of the paper that Noushin uses also signifies the past as does its dated printing and text. (Charts of export information for the United States from 1825 undergirds "Docked in the Hague.")

Brewster's work was by far the most enigmatic in the show. As in the works of Keefer and Noushin, some of Brewster's works betray an underlying grid. This is noticeable in "Untitled #5." Barbara Hawes, Hull's Senior Design Consultant and curator of the space, refers to Brewster's work as "Zen-like." Using watercolor and ink, Brewster has stained the Indonesian bark paper he is using. The paper is warped, permeated with mottled earth tone color. Each also feature minimally applied heavy black marks suggestive of Asian writing. While most were colored—or discolored—with washed-out green or brown (complementing the discoloration of the paper used by Noushin), "Untitled #5" was bluish in hue. It glistened and sparkled as though there was glitter in the paint. What was striking about Brewster's works was that they speak of choice and chance at the same time.


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