Thursday, March 10, 2016

Systems of Place

An intriguing two-artist installation at SPSCC

Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 10, 2016

"Subject No. 4," linocut by Florin Hanegan, photo courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
The more time I spent in the gallery at South Puget Sound Community College looking at art by Chad Erpelding and Florin Hanegan, the more fascinating the work became. And despite being totally different in subject matter, style, and media, I began to see striking similarities between Hanegan’s life-size linocuts of people and of trees and Erpelding’s layered maps from his Sister Cities project. Both are detail-oriented and obsessive; both create densely-packed images.

Hanegan’s portraits are powerful graphic images in stark black and white. Each man, woman or child fills a sheet of paper approximately seven feet tall. Each faces forward and looks directly at the viewer. They are dark images like full-figured mugshots. They appear to be working-class people and college-age students. None are glamorous, and none are wearing makeup or fashionable clothes. 

They are, in other words, you and me with nothing to hide. 

The shading is mostly done with stippled marks as in gritty and harshly lighted photographs. Most of them have dot patterns in the background, tiny black dots with even smaller white dots in the center, densely packed in a regular grid pattern that completely fills the background. One of the linocuts is a portrait of a young man whose shirt is filled with white dots on a black field as a reverse or negative mirror image of the background pattern.
I suspect many viewers will see similarities to some of Andy Warhol’s grittier portraits of people and objects. I’m thinking more of some of his film and photo projects with expressionless faces staring directing and unflinchingly into the viewers’ eyes and his electric chair series for the starkness of the imagery. They may also remind people of  portraits by Chuck Close. Interestingly, they are numbered, not named, so that they are simultaneously specific and generic: everywoman/everyman.
Also by Hanegan are linocuts of trees with densely tangled limbs and the same kind of dark and gritty look as the portraits.

Chad Erpelding, Sister Cities series, Olympia and Kato, mixed media and epoxy. Photo courtesy South Puget Sound Community College
Erpelding’s Sister City installation on the back wall of the gallery consists of 54 small pictures of maps layered within 10 levels of epoxy resin, each five-by-seven inches and arranged in a square, with six in one direction and nine in the other, dominating a large section of the back wall. Each square is a map of a section of two sister cities — for example, Olympia and Kato, Japan; and Seattle and Kobe — with overlapping streets, bridges, houses and bodies of water. The images are taken from Google maps that are meticulously cut with an exacto knife and layered within the resin so the viewer can see layer after layer after layer as if each is mounted on a separate sheet of clear glass.
According to statements made by the artist, he has no interest in the aesthetic appeal of his work but is interested only in the careful research and presentation of facts, and yet this installation is aesthetically attractive as a single piece as seen from a distance across the gallery space and as 54 information-filled images of specific places, each with its own history and unique appearance.
Whether seen as conceptual works or a formalist compositions, these pieces by Hanegan and Erpelding are fascinating to consider.

Often in my reviews I have encouraged readers to take time to carefully study the shows. Seldom has that advice been so critical, because these pieces are all about the details —and about the concepts.

South Puget Sound Community College, Kenneth J Minnaert Center for the Arts Gallery, Monday-Friday, noon-4 p.m. through March 25, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia, 360.596.5527.]

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