Spencer Van der Zee at Malton Gallery

As part of their new series highlighting emerging local artists, this month the Malton Gallery is featuring work by musician Spencer Van der Zee. A collection of pen and ink drawings, Van der Zee has assembled an interesting exhibition that affirms its status as, and admiration for, outsider art.

While possessing no formal education in the medium, stylistically, Van der Zee has absorbed all of the conventions associated with the look of the outsider. The drawings on display include juxtaposed images, scrawling lines, doodles, snippets of text, blobs of color, ethereal narratives, and highly rendered scenes that jostle for attention on the surfaces of the support.

In this current show Van der Zee’s strongest works assimilate not only the aesthetic sensibilities of outsider art, but of quality art making in general. In The Other World is Mine (2009/10), the largest and best of the works on view, Van der Zee creates a visual environment rich with contrasts. The aforementioned tightly rendered pen and ink scenes (often astoundingly minute and detailed) are relieved by airy, open expanses of surface and color. Van der Zee’s sense of composition, whether intuitive or not, is self-possessed and thoughtfully applied. Color is used to describe both form and atmosphere and the asymmetrical composition employed is surprisingly sophisticated. Much of the same can be said about Lumberjacks Curse (2009/10), a smaller, more compact arrangement that announces a native talent for the standards of two dimensional art.

As mature as several of Van der Zee’s works are, there are signs scattered throughout the show that as a visual artist he is still finding his footing. Salty Green (2009/10) another of his larger works, addresses its surface awkwardly, with all of its visual weight pressed into the lower left hand corner. As the integrity of picture plane breaks down, the eye has a tendency to slip off the edge of the piece. Van der Zee’s taught drawings, which serve his best pieces so well, can also be pushed too far, and result in images that appear overworked and over emphasized.

Though the term has always been problematic, “outsider art” has of late evolved into a catch phrase that encompasses folk, naive, intuitive, and brut forms of craft that come complete with their own aesthetic values and clever marketing strategies. In an era hyper-saturated with the mass reproduction of pictures, anyone possessed with the sense of sight constantly digests a steady stream of composed images; as a result few can stake a legitimate claim to the moniker of “outsider”. So while Spencer Van der Zee may lack the formal training of an academic institution, he is far from unschooled in the fundamentals of visual design. Inside or out, Van der Zee’s work has a peculiar quality that points to a promising future as one of this city’s newest young visual artists.

-Alan D Pocaro

Spencer Van der Zee’s New Work on view August 15th –September 15th at the Malton Gallery.
3804 Edwards Road, Cincinnati, OH 45209-1917. (513) 321-8614 www.idealresearchpaper.com

Pictured Above: The Other World is Mine (detail), Micron, Ink, Spray Paint, Collage, and Marker on Paper. Courtesy of the Artist

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