For some, getting started is the hardest part. The first sentence, the first brush stroke, the first chord often proves the most intimidating, but momentum ripples into waves of creativity after those initial committal steps. Inspiration may help with getting started, but motivation must be found to keep facing those first steps with every new project. Finding inspiration and motivation are central themes of Crush, a three artist exhibit at the Laura Rathe Fine Art gallery in Houston. The show features three artists, each from a different generation and practice, that demonstrate a tenacity and drive to continue the cycle of creativity. The show features works of soft “light” by Udo Nöger, large steel sculptures by Matt Devine, and explosive abstract paintings by Ian Rayer-Smith. While each artist couldn’t be more different in their work and process, this exhibit finds a commonality between the artists in their use of simple shapes — circles and crescents — that unifies the show and reinforces its overarching themes of inspiration and motivation.
Udo Nöger’s In Time V hangs in the entry of the gallery and helps set the tone of inspiration around the creative cycle. A giant circle of white takes up most of the canvas, with a darker ring of gray outlining it to add depth. Pencil-thin lines form additional circles closer to the middle of the canvas, much like the rings of Saturn. Nöger strives to capture light, using white paint to reflect back to audiences. His process involves layering multiple canvases and the use of mineral oil to achieve this portrayal of light. The title of the piece, In Time V, and the circle motif suggest the notion of infinity, that light carries on forever. There’s a beautiful optimism and sense of hope in Nöger’s work, as he masterfully depicts light in a way that’s meant to reflect back on viewers. Another one of Nöger’s pieces, of a similar title, In Time IV, depicts two large rings slightly overlapping, intersected by a horizon. The placement of the horizon and the rings bring to mind an eclipse, and the title connects this piece with the other “In Time…” paintings. While circles and rings vary in meaning across religion and culture, in this exhibit, they suggest a sense of unity and the cyclical nature of life in a hopeful manner.
Matt Devine works outside of Portland, Oregon and uses industrial machines to create curved strips of steel for his artworks. While his more recognizable pieces are carefully stacked structures of elongated crescent shapes, one of his newer works is Blue Monday. This artwork, made of steel covered in a bright blue powdercoat, hangs on the wall and is composed of ribbons of thin blue strips forming a square, much the same size as a canvas would be. Compared to his other formidable sculptures that often take up space, there’s a delicate and almost whimsical quality to Blue Monday. The blue ribbons call to mind memories of unwound cassette tapes, rivers of water, or ribbon. These forms seem to wind endlessly, impossible to find the beginning and the end, much like a circle. Spaced loosely enough to evoke a sense of chaos, the composition and color feel calming, pulling the viewer in rather than overwhelming them. Through his use of old, unchanged equipment in creating his sculptures, Devine invites viewers to consider life away from the chaos of society, and perhaps even yearn for a simpler time. Challenged with maintaining a busy practice, Devine exemplifies a drive to continuously revisit the creative cycle and stay motivated.
While Nöger’s and Devine’s works initially greet gallery goers with their circles and curved shapes, Sydney Yeager’s Near Tierra Amarilla functions as a kind of transition to the next section of the exhibit. The bright yellow crescents connect the forms seen in the front of the gallery with the works by Rayer-Smith, and the primary shade of yellow compliments the bright blue and red of Devine’s sculptures. This segue visually transports viewers to see Rayer-Smith’s other paintings in the exhibition.
Ian Rayer-Smith’s abstract, expressionistic paintings exude whimsy and etherealism while still feeling grounded in nature. The artist discovered his talent for painting at the age of 36, and his work at times calls to mind that of Cy Twombly, with its maximalist color choices and abstraction that sometimes mimics clouds or water. Although working in abstraction, Rayer-Smith employs Renaissance composition, to the point that one could almost imagine his depictions of color as characters in a Michaelangelo painting.
One of his newest works, Wild and Unthinkable Finds depicts a mostly white, light background. Color intensity and saturation function as practical effects to deepen the canvas. On the right side of the painting, a large cloud shape of blue and other dark paint acts as the hero taking up the most space with complete saturation. Meanwhile, the supporting cast gathers to the left side of the painting in a variety of colors. The loose shapes of color on both sides merge in the lower center of the canvas, giving the illusion of a crescent shape. A single stroke of dark paint interrupts the very center of the painting, adding another crescent. Rayer-Smith’s paintings offer an escape to an ethereal realm of vibrant colors and light, where one might encounter the wild and unthinkable.
One of the most delightful details of this exhibit is the shared motifs between the three artists and their use of the color blue. Despite their differences, these artists’ works come together in a remarkable way that unifies them through themes of inspiration and motivation. Taken together, the repetition of the circle and crescent shapes evoke unity, wholeness, and cyclicality. Creativity is a cycle of taking the first step and continuing the work until complete — then starting again with the next project. Staying inspired and motivated through this process is something that Nöger, Devine, and Rayer-Smith undoubtedly crush.
Crush is on view at the Laura Rathe Fine Art gallery in Houston through September 26, 2022.