Smears and Splatters
Descontrolado at the Visiones Gallery
By Steven Robert Allen
In a way, abstract expressionism is the perfect vehicle for venting adolescent aggression. Back in its heyday in the '50s, it was a highly masculine, testosterone-poisoned movement fueled by a handful of more or less disturbed visionaries. Jackson Pollack's giant drip paintings convey almost pure turbulent emotion. Many of Willem de Kooning's best-known paintings feel and look openly savage. In other words, abstract expressionism, at its root, is almost a visual equivalent to speed metal.
That's why the exhibit currently showing over at Visiones Gallery is so intriguing. In his own work, Albuquerque-based artist Gary Eugene Jefferson mixes elements of abstract expressionism with more academic artistic traditions. He recently headed up a workshop for promising young artists that resulted in this show.
Jefferson is an inventive artist whose paintings have been exhibited from Denmark to Italy, from Los Angeles to New York. His work often combines the messy violent smears and splatters typical of abstract expressionism with carefully detailed figurative images of such typical artsy still-life fare as teapots, flower vases, Absolut Vodka bottles and fruit. His two pieces included in this show, though, don't have any figurative elements—they only consist of smears and splatters. To tell you the truth, to my eyes they don't stand out in any obvious way from the student work in the show.
That said, this exhibit looks pretty much like you would expect an exhibit of paintings from a talented group of teens to look. It's a fun show, but these artists are clearly at the beginning of their development. Of course, this isn't meant as discouragement. Any one of these artists could cultivate his or her skills into something truly new and visionary. This exhibit really is a great start.
My single favorite piece in the show is probably José López' "Wild Forest Pontiac," which also gets the prize for the best title in the show. A bluish lotus-like shape floats in the bottom left corner of the canvas beside a purple snake. Throughout the painting, López combines violent brush motions with more deliberate elements. The main element is an angular light and dark blue contraption taking up the center of the canvas. All in all, this is an appealing, balanced composition.
López' artist statement is written entirely in Spanish. From what I can gather, despite my embarrassing lack of understanding of that language, this angular shape is designed to call up associations of both the Pontiac logo and the arrowheads used by indigenous people.
Most of the rest of the work in this exhibit is at least interesting. It's fun to observe what these kids have come up with, then read their statements to see what techniques and ideas they gleaned from the experience.
My Spanish dictionary assures me that the title of the show, Descontrolado, means uncontrolled, and actually much of the show looks and feels uncontrolled. Of course, the best of abstract expressionist paintings from the masters of the movement don't really have that quality. They're typically composed using a careful manipulation of chaos.
Still, there's something to be said for giving up a little control, especially when you're young and still willing to take risks to find your own visual language as an artist. In the case of this exhibit, a little lack of restraint is a good thing.
Descontrolado, an exhibit featuring work by Gary Eugene Jefferson and his Working Classroom artist apprentices, curated by Gloria Emerson, runs through May 27 at Visiones Gallery (212 Gold SW). Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment. 242-9267.
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