Fresh Starts at the Art Car Museum

The earliest pieces from Perry House’s most recent series "The Aftermaths" take the typical cloud of brooding fragmentary forms and let them settle to the bottom of the canvas, like an untended aquarium, and it’s some of his best work ever.
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Of course you can’t avoid relating these works to the defining disaster of 9/11, and there’s a lot there in the paintings to help it along- twisted girders and fragments pointing upwards like ground zero.   But House’s wreckage symbolizes a more generalized decline: mortality, failed relationships, the world running down, whatever.

The paintings combine the cool alienation of surrealism with meaty, Popeye-style cartooning. Jumbled heaps of rubble, fragmentary broken brick walls, shingled roofs and bent black wires like exposed re-bar look like a Thomas Hart Benton depression-era cityscape after the twister. We’re left assessing the damage with a sadness overlaid with cynical amusement that’s essentially optimistic. It’s over, and we’re still standing.
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House is prolific, cranking out painting after painting, year after year, but he can still surprise you. He’s an interesting anomaly: his paintings straddled gestural abstraction and cornball figuration years ago when abstract painting was a religion, making House a heretic. Today, House’s abstract illusionism is still disreputable, but embraced by younger artists precisely for that iconoclastic edge.  It’s ridiculous: each painterly shape has a rudimentary highlight or a shadow, endowing it with a greasy three-dimensionality, as if it was made of plasticene.  Vertigo fostered by impossible perspective adds to the sense of loss and dislocation.

The video of Jim Hatchett’s pseudo-religious car-painting ritual was painful. The white-haired and bearded artist was anointed with paint, then knelt with clasped hands to pray before the altar that was his canvas: a vintage VW bug. He then slathered that beautiful machine with the same flaccid cotton-candy goo that fills a dozen large canvases around the room, but muddier. By coincidence, the first painting I came to was titled "Turgid Mess." What more can I add?
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By contrast, Ibsen Espada’s car was his best piece. Relieved of the necessity for making any positive statement, his decorative patterning made a spiffy paint job for the hood of a vintage T-bird. His other canvasses bore mechanical, decorative patterns of painted slashes and drips that might make good Hawaiian shirts, but lack a sense of purpose as paintings.

 

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also by Bill Davenport

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