A Fine Mess
Natural Painting at [AC]2
By Steven Robert Allen
Mike Certo, the owner of [AC]2, advised me to wear old, beaten-up shoes. "The paint might not be dry," he said ominously, "and it's pretty much impossible not to step in it." Thankfully, all my shoes are old and beaten-up, so this wouldn't be a problem.
Blake Gibson is a performance artist in the truest sense of the term: He creates visual art while other people watch. He recently presented a performance piece at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe. During last year's Albuquerque Contemporary show at the Albuquerque Museum, Gibson presented a video of one of his performances on a monitor embedded in a pile of paint-splattered lumber.
In his new show at [AC]2, he's opted to take the performance out of his art. This time out, Gibson finished creating his art before his show even opened. The results are quite frankly appalling, but I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way. This show has some of the same kind of appeal you might get from an art house horror flick. You're going to get freaked out, no doubt about it, but sometimes a good freak out is just what the doctor ordered.
When you walk into the gallery, you immediately feel like you're trespassing on a crime scene. This show should be wrapped in yellow police tape. The entire space is covered in white plastic sheets, secured to the floor and walls with bits of duct tape. The atmosphere seems violent, almost sinister, as if someone lined up a bunch of cartoon characters against the wall then hacked them to pieces with a chain saw, splattering technicolor goo all over the place. Yeah, it's disturbing. Acrylic paint has congealed everywhere like blood in a thousand different flavors. Bits of lumber, also splattered with paint, litter the gallery as if some mysterious structure has just been blown to smithereens with a bundle of good ol' fashioned Chuck Jones TNT.
We're invited to walk straight into the middle of this unholy massacre. By the time I got there, a natural path had already formed in a rough circle through the room. Along this path, the multi-colored acrylic globs had smeared into a greenish earth tone. The show has the feel of an environment in a state of flux, maybe even decomposition. If I waited around long enough, I felt certain the whole scene—lumber, paint, everything—would eventually dissolve back into that greenish primordial muck.
It's as if some mad painter had just finished a flurry of work but taken the actual art with him, leaving only a fine mess behind for his mother to clean up. Gibson seems to be playing with notions of order and chaos. Along the two least blighted walls, he's hung a series of photographic images of painted body parts displayed at eye level in uniform black frames. These reasonable pieces provide a counterweight to the studied irrationality dominating most of the gallery. There's some comfort in this. These images are composed. They're the product of a deliberate artistic vision.
Unlike the spontaneous disaster occupying the rest of the gallery, these framed pieces are readily identified as art in the traditional sense. Yet even Gibson's photographs present some element of mystery. Nipples and hair protrude from the paint, but most of these multi-hued parts are impossible to identify.
Natural Painting isn't quite natural, but Gibson has definitely created a fascinating experiment in anti-art. There's something cathartic about this show. While viewing Gibson's atrocity, I felt like someone was flipping me off. For some strange reason, I'm not quite sure why, this made me smile.
Natural Painting, an exhibit featuring work by Blake Gibson, runs through March 27 at [AC]2 (301 Mountain NE). 842-8016, www.ac2gallery.org.
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