Aporia Exhibition Statement
Aporia refers to the expression of doubt or to an unsolvable conflict or inherent contradiction. It’s utilized primarily as a literary device, in which a situation is posed to the reader or audience inviting them to consider, from the point of view of the protagonist, the confounding nature of his or her dilemma. Socrates and Plato both employed aporia in their rhetoric. The most famous example in world literature is by Shakespeare in Hamlet’s oft quoted soliloquy “To be or not to be: that is the question.” Another great example is the last several lines in the Samuel Beckett novel The Unnamable, voiced by an unknown narrator who says “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” For the purpose of this exhibit, I have selected seven artists I deeply admire and whose work poses unanswerable questions and contradictory elements in visual form.
Peter Burns paints phantasmagorical landscapes that are suffused with an intoxicating mix of beauty and danger. The tiny scale of the humans who populate these visionary scenes, compared to the immensity of their surroundings, intensifies our sense of awe and wonder and simultaneously our concern for their survival. In some paintings the presence of otherworldly beings and danger at the hands of other humans adds to the sense of an uncertain outcome.
Employing veils of subtle washes nearly all in the same tonal range, Frankie Gardiner paints ethereal beings that hover on the edge of insubstantiality, seeming to pose Hamlet’s “to be/not to be” question directly to the viewer as a visual metaphor. Figures, human and animal, appear to emerge from unifying fields of color. As if capable of slowing time, Gardiner’s work engenders a sense of stillness and contemplation, a desire to linger and savor the moment.
Brenda Goodman’s raw, visceral and profoundly eloquent paintings embody strength and vulnerability as inextricably entwined. In her series of Song Paintings one gets the sense that strength emerges through giving voice (I think of song as a sacred form of voice) to the unspeakable, the unnamable and the unknowable, represented in these paintings as in contrast to the impulse to retreat into silence. A number of other works from roughly the same time period bring to bear more abstract yet highly symbolic elements. They portray figures precariously perched on tightrope-like lines, pulling, carrying, or in the path of large boulder-like shapes, trying to move with or against gravity. These painting have a purgatorial feel and an association, at least to me, of the process of creation as a Sisyphean task.
Though comprised of highly abstracted and simplified shapes which toggle between two and three dimensionality, Kerry Law’s recent series of untitled paintings clearly reference gravestones. Yet the heaviness we usually associate with death and the stone monuments which mark burial sites is challenged in them on a formal level by the transmission of opposing qualities. These paintings glow from within with a subtle internal light and emit a profound sense of calmness and comfort in the harmony and balance of their compositions. It’s as if these paintings take us beyond our fixed and familiar associations to grief and loss to a deeper experience that is beyond our conceptual framework.
Danny Licul refers to his series of Sock Puppet Presentation paintings as “archetypal explorations of forming personalities.” His subjects are children, created from his imagination as well as from observation or referential material, each with an already distinctive way of being in the world. They invite us to experience the contradictory and complex emotions depicted on their faces and in their body language as they stand alone in the front of the classroom presenting handmade puppets to an audience of their teacher and fellow students. This tension is emphasized on a formal level in Licul’s use of bold brushwork, soft washes and electrified colors. The children in Licul’s paintings seem to mirror the conflict, which often persists into adulthood, between the desire for acceptance and the fear of rejection.
The first thing about Denise’s Sfraga’s work that strikes the viewer’s eye is the pitch perfect integration of vibrant and subtle color variations paired with the strength and elegance of her biomorphic compositions. The eye lingers in pleasure on these elements until a figurative implication intrudes. Her shapes suggest eyes, mouths, teeth and hearts burst open. They have a botanical feel which is initially soothing. But then, like a fly wandering into a Venus flytrap, one is suddenly in the stickiness of human concerns. Titles such Death Rattle, Hearts a Busting, Shame, Bite Back and Bad Seed confirm that these works have a depth far beyond their formal beauty.
John Smiddy’s mysterious Merman paintings embody multiple contradictory elements. Neither wholly fish nor human, part land, part sea creatures, one wants to ask how they came into being. Where do they feel at home? Are they an evolving species or an endangered one? Smiddy places some as solitary beings in nearly abstract settings and others in the natural world. Some seem isolated in the lushness of their painterly world and others appear to be engaged with their environment. In one of his beautifully rendered recent works, Merman: Painting, Smoking and Cranking the Dead, there is the feeling that this incarnation of Merman has a full throttle sense of direction and purpose.