“Osmosis” Blinded me with Science
~ Stephen Slaughter
Biology Osmosis: A process by which molecules of a solvent tend to pass through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated solution into a more concentrated one, thus equalizing the concentrations on each side of the membrane.
Physics The Pauli Exclusion Principle: The quantum mechanical principle that no two identical electrons may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously.
Quantum Leap: An abrupt transition of an electron, atom, or molecule from one quantum state to another, with the absorption or emission of a quantum.
Semantics Gallery in Brighton is celebrating 20 years of presenting art from the weird to the wonderful, and last Saturday, January 4th, both converge in a two-man show entitled Osmosis. Artists Ben Percer and Maxwell Redder, both graduates from University of Cincinnati’s School of Art, came together to present a body of work that defy, in a sense, the definition of the exhibition; “Osmosis”, in that the cumulation of the work is not so much about achieving stasis as it is existing in varying degrees of orbit about differing spheres. Ben Percer’s work, like subatomic particles, belies exact location. Oscillating between geometric abstraction and abstract expressionism, Percer’s paintings negotiate both through a tactic that juxtaposes, through masking, a field of one order through a field or figure of another, then embellishes the composition with a third element of geometric, organic or process produced forms. Percer’s painting “Processing” is a clear example of this procedure. A layer is painted and masked out with vertical striations, then a second layer is applied and masked out with horizontals, then what can be considered the canvas’ final stratum is introduced and the masks are pulled revealing a subtlety shifting psychedelic grid, to which he then paints a figure that resembles either intestine or graffiti on top. It’s not wholly clear if the painting is about the production of affect or emotion, or if the dialogue between strata is a comment on making or organization. What’s evident is the convergence of two modalities, one geometric and one freeform, and how each helps delineate or obfuscate the other. Most of Percer’s work in the gallery fits these description except for the one painting that, if not for the tag, I would have imagined was hung, surreptitiously, by a third artist. “Finding Center,” a purely graphic, purely geometric painting that plays lightheartedly with line, tone and symmetry, is reminiscent of art deco graphics. Two chevron fields move from opposite ends of the canvas towards the center to veil a series of radiating lines, emanating from a point, and a series of horizontal lines, which resemble a horizon. The composition and color palette produce both a spatial and illusory effect that makes for challenging experiences when one stares or squints at the image for an extended period of time. Similar to the Bengay dots in Roy Lichtenstein’s work, the painting was a visceral experience; familiar and new, flat and spatial, ordered and vibrant. Maxwell Redder’s work, on the other hand, is like a chain reaction, a tale of technique, with a series of series that depict the ability of a line to produce figure, a figure to define form and a form to imply space. Redder’s “One Line Drawing” series are investigations into how a single uninterrupted line’s use of hierarchy and tone can produce a unique and spontaneous graphic language through the repetition and evolution of like figures. With Redder’s “Life of Spun Coin,” a drawing in the series, it’s clear that his intention is to create variation through the repeated motion of inscribing the same looping figure as his hand moves across the page. Lines, thick and thin, produce clusters, dense and sparse from repeated figures, stretched and compact, along a spine, which serves as the drawings datum, allowing each iteration to be read against the whole. In Redder’s “Waterfall” Series, the artist depicts coherent figural language of lines, tones and volumes modified to describe a
human body suspended in free fall. As if the culminating figural language described in the “One Line Drawing” series were tasked to delineate a body frozen in space, this series uses a language to interrupt the figure of the body in juxtaposition to an abstracted directional force used to reinforce the tension between gravity and figure’s pose. Concluding the series of series is the “Sculpture Drawing” set which pushes figuration to the point of normative perspective drawing with all its conventions: ground plane, horizon line, depth of field and shadows. These drawings blur the distinction between the description of an object sitting on the ground in space, and the pictorial composition of a series of figures connected by a line, relative to a frame. “Sculpture Drawing 10” is exemplary in its imprecise use of lines to represent shadow, its precise use of line and shade to delineate form, texture and phenomenal effect and its careful attention to the voids the forms produce as a means of addressing the frame and composition. The drawing uses the conventions of perspective to suggest that it is more about representation than pure figuration, while its composition suggests the opposite. Redder’s collective agenda, deduced through his prolific output of four fully formed projects, seems to be a play or critique of drawing both in process and description. Each series looks at the potential inherent within each mode of description to efficiently convey meaning or transcend the limits of expectation. His drawings are a deconstruction of drawing and how and what they can describe.
Osmosis, a biological term used to describe the process of an organism achieving equilibrium within its environment, is not, the most appropriate term to convey the relationship between the work of Ben Percer and Maxwell Redder. I would argue, as in quantum physics, that these two artists’ work exists in orbits around the gallery neither simultaneous nor sympathetic to one another existence. One paints using a process that combines two diametrically opposing technique to produce a body of work that grapples with similar issues of order vs. disorder, save for one painting that’s a fully realized representation of one of the two concerns. And the other focuses primarily on how linear graphic description, or drawing, can challenge preconceived limitations of what drawing can produce, and does so by offering four different yet related arguments. Both artists are talented with distinct voices and clear agendas, both artists’ work succeed in communicating a set of interests and ideas that justify the work and their individual approaches. Together, the work doesn’t so much complement nor compete, as it conspires to challenge contemporary curatorial agendas behind how painting and drawing may coexist in the same space at the same time. Semantics first show in the year of their 20th anniversary is a provocative and demanding exhibition of unlike agents of a particular perspective of representation. It’s both thrilling and challenging and a credit to the continued relevancy of this landmark institution. Well done.