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Michael Rocque Collins: Ritual of Memory at G Gallery

There's something nice about going into a gallery just before the opening and smelling fresh oil paint. I'm also a fan of G gallery's plywood walls, on which I hear opinion is sharply divided. The beauty of those walls is that it would be so easy to paint them white. Their continuing wild 'n' wooly wood-grain is a holdout against the entropic slide into the white cube.

Collins' paintings themselves are filled with frenetic dabs and smears of paint, lush and toothsome. They smell great. It's the imagery that the problem. Moody mythological scenes, altars and skulls, obscure ritual structures oozing honey-colored glaze. My favorite is #5, Scorpion Dream. A stone slab lies in a pebbly desert. Iron bars support a weighty rough stone with a pained human face carved thereon. Waving tails and pincers, scorpions gather to worship. It's damned silly, but painted with a facility and seriousness that ruins the joke. The problem is that the artist apparently mistakes this gothic tripe for a revelatory, or at least metaphoric vision, when all he's doing is illustrating a symbolic scene with an illegible meaning.

In his smaller pieces, Collins does something I've never seen done in serious art (which this undoubtedly is), though it has precedents in the netherworld of "canvasized" portraits and Thomas Kinkade's "master highlights". Collins paints over photographs to give the pieces a painterly texture. What makes it odd is that the photographs are pictures of his own paintings, a little smaller than life size. It's difficult to tell which dabs are real, and which are photographs. Why? Does it save time? Is it a form of monoprint? Does Collins make multiples this way?  They're not as good as his all-paint paintings, but the nonchalant merging of techniques in an artist so clearly in love with old-fashioned painterly painting shows spunk.

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