BY Gary Duehr in Reviews | 06 JUN 01
Featured in
Issue 60

Beneath the Surface


BY Gary Duehr in Reviews | 06 JUN 01

Everything wanted to be something else in this exhibition of work by three artists. Debra Weisberg's sculptures comprise mounds of white-painted hydrostone and foam that seamlessly bulge out from the walls, and whose centres are ripped open by splinters of broken glass. Titled Fascia I, II and III (2001) they look like special effects from an action movie in which the room is about to explode. Some of the handfuls of jagged shards at chest or eye-level are especially threatening. This is dangerous, stick-in-your-eye art, yet there's a restraint to Weisberg's vocabulary that's oddly soothing. She limits her palette to white acrylic paint and clear glass occasionally tinged with green. Her forms are pebbly or chunky variations of geological fissures. What matters is her line: how the knife-like slivers of glass overlap and collide; how a thick, crusty aperture makes a dark asterisk; how fault lines radiate out from a central point. This is sculpture that wants to be drawing, intelligent elegance that verges on violence.

Each of Weisberg's three constructions has two components, one high and one low, like a duet of baritone and soprano. In the lower half of Fascia III cracks have appeared on the crest from an amorphous bubble, allowing tips of glass to saw their way through. In the top half, near the ceiling, glass pokes out from a couple of holes like a grace note. A kind of mountain versus a mole hill, the difference is almost comical. In contrast, Fascia I consists of a single, sinuous S-shape that's interrupted mid-flow? more of an indentation than a rupture. You might imagine the others as a frozen moment of a cartoon-like explosion, but this one suggests a hidden hand scratching its way out, etching the wall with a glassy blade.

It's intriguing how Weisberg's sculptures play with your sense of time. They appear to capture an action as it's happening, yet there's an awareness in the back of your mind of how much physical effort it must have taken for the artist to construct these works. Somehow these two reference points bounce off an implied geologic time, as if the gallery is a vast landscape being shaped over millennia.

Michael Beatty's wall drawing Restless Geometry (2000) reads as a schematic for sculpture. Against a ground of blackboard paint, computer-generated spores - webbed with the 3D grids of their origin - float in a large chalky haze. These spiky blobs are interspersed with small, stencilled leaf shapes, imprinted with pure pigment in either manganese blue or cadmium yellow. They glow like eerie satellites. In fact, the blackness of space is what comes to mind, with the smudged surface retreating or advancing depending on which plane of representation you focus on. The whole drawing is restless, like a stereoscopic image that never jibes, an ethereal vision of a sci-fi future that's half erased, half blueprinted, but beginning to create its own field
of gravity in any case.

The landscape paintings by Frances Barth were the least adventurous in the show. Her long, narrow panoramas, delineated by wedges of sienna or swimming-pool blue, bisected by scratches of white or black, wanted to be sketches of the Southwest desert, perhaps aerial views of arid two-laners and smoky mesas, but their cool formalism wraps back in on itself. They're flat and stay flat.