Review of Michael Blair and Angel Fernandez’ “New Work” at Cohn Drennan Contemporary (2013)

Over the years a few things happen when you write about local art, the most basic of which is that you become familiar with local work (and occasionally with the artists who make it). Another development might be having multiple opportunities to revisit and review the work of the same artists, seeing how they evolve and change with time. And perhaps one of the more intriguing prospects rests with seeing certain artists paired together, particularly if those pairings combine artists that don’t know each other, yet their respective work seems enhanced when shown together. Michael Blair and Angel Fernandez: New Work at Cohn Drennan Contemporary hits on all these points.

Michael Blair’s paintings continue to arrive playful and confident. He exercises a wide-ranging palette and multiple modes of mark making and application. You’ll see paint thinly scraped, thickly brushed, linearly dashed, as well as swathed, invasive, retreating, overlapping, merged and sometimes alone: a child color dancing. You’ll find soft pastels working alongside colors vivid and rich.

He, like many artists, remains interested in communication, in saying something with shapes and colors and marks that you simply can’t say with words (though using designations like “communication” or “language” might be inaccurate, the pliable use of “saying” or “expressing” may be able to bear the pursuit). His desire to contemplate consciousness prior to language — regardless if the phenomenon of human consciousness as such can actually be distinguishable from the phenomenon of language — continues to successfully undergird his exploration and play. Perhaps the uncategorized chaos of a universe and an existence without language just might best be rendered as colors, shapes, lines and treatments all wordlessly singing together without apparent laws or reasons…

There are so many paintings in this show (no doubt to fill the quite spacious gallery) it’s difficult to single out a handful about which to talk. This does not mean that some of the paintings appear more successful or complete than others, rather it’s that there are so many doing genuinely titillating things that they — and you — might best be served by approaching them altogether (and seeing if you favor this or that handful over the rest). They also seem well served by the company they keep, hanging alongside Angel Fernandez’s whimsically suggestive sculptures.

In this show, Fernandez’s sculptures appear in two varieties: larger steel works with a slight eroticism or a definite dentine touch (yes, teeth), and his smaller, more suggestive — if elliptically androgynous or perhaps hermaphroditic — painted polystyrene works. The largest steel sculpture, Cerberus Number 2, shares the suggestive nature of the smaller works, seeming to be a reorganization or re-imagining of the testes, simply and immodestly adorned in a bit of red fabric. Another steel work, Meander, is less directly sexual and more angular and arachnid, a bodiless limb of multiple joints. And there’s a tooth, an affixed, though moveable, tooth. The effect of the tooth, in the context of the other sculptures, seems a biting organ for copulation. It’s funny and odd.

(It should be noted that, while Blair’s paintings are largely unaffected, Fernandez’s larger steel sculptures would be better served by traditional gallery or museum flooring — concrete or wood — instead of the tile currently comprising the capacious and otherwise lovely gallery space.)

Fernandez’s smaller works seem like sexual organs as autonomous entities without gender specificity. Labia, testes, clitorises, penises, and folds and lips and creases — they’re monochromatic, independent, hermaphroditic appendages paradoxically suggesting genderlessness. Don’t get the wrong idea, none of it’s sexy: it’s a blithe eroticism, more aimed at inducing a smile than arousal.

Alongside one another, Blair and Fernandez are complimentary. Both are playful, but Blair’s paintings are truly instances of free play and childlike release. Fernandez’s works, on the other hand, seem pointed toward another mode of release. And such juxtaposition shares and differs on enough fronts — from the formal to the conceptual — to more than justify the pairing. Besides the historical compatibility of sculpture and painting, there’s the prickly coupling of adolescence with eroticism: scandalous when explicit, amusing when intimated.

Andy Amato is a Dallas-based artist, writer and teacher


(This review originally appeared in Arts+Culture Magazine)

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