Tuesday, February 16, 2016

James Lindsay and Lance Austin Olsen: Observations I Feel Underqualified To Make, But Am Making Nevertheless. By Christine Clark

James Lindsay

 The first thing James says after the introductions, is that he feels claustrophobic in the gallery with all the art.  Then he takes me over to the bureau he’s brought into the gallery as a part of his contribution.  It is an antique with two drawers and two doors in the front.  They are empty. The top though is covered in a collection of glass vessels, ivory beads, a wooden tea cup, a buddha, pencils and other things.  It is the dust mottled on the glass that he is most urgent in pointing out.  He did not think of the analogy present in dust (ashes to ashes, dust to dust) before bringing the collection to the gallery, but he was very careful not to disturb that dust.  He wanted it intact.

He marvels too at seeing this home collection reconstructed so perfectly in the gallery.  It’s shocking to see a portion of his home, his life, his long life of collecting so completely out of it’s familiar context. Uncanny is the word he uses. It’s difficult at first to understand exactly why this installation needs to be included in this two-man show of paintings and drawings, other than to suggest, that these objects are an integral part of his home life and studio, and objects can be powerfully symbolic of times, places and people, of a life pieced together through long years of experience. Memories, maybe, but also being objects they don’t really change much, other than to collect dust.

His paintings are all in one long line interrupted only by the bureau and a seascape painting hanging on the wall directly above it.  The colours and the lines initially provoking a fun-house response, they remind me of Sandra Meig’s paintings.  Lots of pastel-like colouring, strange quirky painted lines in white, lots of arbitrary divisions in space. But then with him standing beside me, his fragile influence, I see that in spite of the flatness of the paint, the imagery is somehow moving quietly to the back, far away from the surface to a place untouchable, perhaps unknowable. They make me feel sad and also protective.

At the beginning of the line, before the bureau and the landscape, are two paintings.  These are the first two in the series, and the work as it is displayed is largely chronological and moving from left to right.  The first two were found paintings, both signed by some unknown person named Kim.  Spray-bomb paintings and not great either, but apparently a powerful source of inspiration for James because in re-working these two paintings with little touches here and there, never eradicating the original, but adding structure and colour, he was able to begin painting again after a long hiatus. He calls this creative opportunism.

Lance Austin Olsen

Lance is another ball of wax. He bounces, the energy high, decisive. He starts off explaining about famous painters in history and about how as a painter you have to go straight through those guys, he mentions Picasso for instance. You have to go straight through them while at the same time maintaining your own self.  He says you do your work and you die, no one can control that. He says that seeing old work hanging in the gallery, and old work for him was made six months ago, he wonders what he was doing back then.  He says painting is not thinking, it’s closer to dancing or to walking.  You don’t think about where to put your feet, you just walk.

He’s also amazed at seeing his work out of context as it were.  To see just a few selected paintings or drawings representing an enormous output is perhaps somewhat confusing. He seems uncertain whether this is good or bad. If he had the space to show all of his work at once, would they look too much alike?

In all of Lance’s work at the gallery, six paintings and several large drawings on mylar, there are large black shapes dominating what can only be described as the supporting marks. The supporting marks are the layers of softer shapes and colours, smaller brush strokes and pencil marks. On top of all this are these solid black shapes bulging out and away from the gallery walls in way that is vivid, full frontal and bold. 

In an earlier review by Philip Willey it was mentioned that, “Both Lindsay and Olsen are approaching the end of their respective journeys of discovery. There’s nothing morbid or gloomy about this show but there is an invisible presence. Both artists must think about death occasionally”. Consequently it is the topic of death that we start and stop on several times. James refers to the bold black shapes in Lance’s paintings as omens or growths, as death, and it’s hard to disagree, but Lance just laughs, loudly, and says that Bill Porteous gave him a gallon of black gesso and he’s trying to use it all up.

Because his studio is small, Lance has only room to work three large sheets of paper at a time.  He paints with acrylic on paper always because paper is easy to store. Whatever three paintings he has in progress may evolve to form a single painting, other times they are related but separate. The papers are always the same size.  They come packaged and pre-cut. He says that whatever he has he likes. He does not fight his materials and he does not fight constraints.

His drawings on mylar are intense, loaded with frenetic black marks. The mylar comes off a roll and he cuts it quickly and haphazardly so that the edges are blurred and wavy. Two-handed drawings, he demonstrates, holding both fists up in the air and moving them very quickly in stabbing-like patterns.  He says that the drawings were made during a period when his wife was busy home-schooling their grandkids.  So, each lesson took one hour and during that hour, Lance went to his studio and scribbled like fury until the end of the lesson.  End of lesson, end of drawing.  End of lessons, end of series. There were 25 lessons, 25 drawings.

James’ paintings were all made in 2014, the last in the series finished after he suffered a stroke in August of that year. They begin with the re-worked found paintings, the first of which features a cameo style portrait of a lady, the second he refers to as space junk, and from there he begins the move from representational to very abstract. These abstract paintings are his alone. After a couple of intermediary pieces, the first a Baconesque image of a foreshortened nude and a lightbulb and the next featuring bubble-like shapes and tulips, the paintings seem to settle into a repetitive motif of colour, shape and line. Repetitive, maybe meditative. Definitely narrative. A story of change told not in words, but in oil paint.

Each of these paintings starts with two or three painted vertical lines, which lines produce the shapes that he calls pillars. This is the beginning. The pillars are filled with many flat areas of colour, there are a lot greens, some purples and blues, orange and brown. Sometimes these coloured areas are covered in lines, suggestive of architecture or an industrial landscape but there is that pulsing quality that speaks to biology as well.  Something alive perhaps but somehow most truly suggestive of motion, of something large moving very slowly, inexorably, turning inwards.  There is no overpainting.  These paintings are very raw and this is honest storytelling. 

hide in plain sight 
James Lindsay - Lance Austin Olsen
Deluge Contemporary Art
January 29 to February 27, 2016 

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