Saturday, September 15, 2012

Eclectic modernism at Childhood’s End

Blake Flynn at Childhood's End
reviewed by Alec Clayton
for the Weekly Volcano, Sept. 13, 2012
Madonna of the Lilies by Blake Flynn

I usually know what I think of the art I see, and I can express my opinions fairly clearly. After all, that’s kind of my job. But some art leaves me scratching my head. Such is the work of Blake Flynn at Childhood’s End Gallery. Is it profound and inventive or is it just gimmicky and slick? I can’t make up my mind.

And where does this guy come from? According to his website he’s had exhibitions in New York and Kansas and Colorado. His show at Childhood’s End is apparently his first in this part of the country. I had never heard of him before I got the invitation to this show, and frankly, I was not at all impressed with the image on the invitation, a painting titled “Madonna of the Peppers.” I had no intention of reviewing the show but then I happened to drive by and briefly sighted some of his paintings through the gallery window, and they looked pretty darn impressive. And then I Googled him and found an intriguing mix of photo-realist eclectic surrealistic paintings. He calls them Magic Surrealism.

Flynn appropriates images, ideas and visual trickery from a myriad of sources — from Renaissance and Medieval paintings to Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo and MC Escher, and even those sidewalk chalk artists everybody loves but nobody knows who do all the tricky perspective stuff where it looks like people are going down into a hole in the sidewalk.

He also does a lot of very coy nudes. Beautiful woman skillfully painted with all the lady parts carefully covered. A fig leaf by any other name is still a fig leaf. The most beautiful of these is “Madonna of the Lilies,” which shows a woman right out of Gauguin’s Tahiti surrounded and covered by huge lilies.
 The modeling on the figures is flawless, and his colors are crisp and bright.
Ascend/Descend No. 2 by Blake Flynn

Ascend/Descend No. 3 by Blake Flynn

In this show he has four versions of a painting called “Ascend/Descend,” each of which shows an archway and a staircase in brilliant red and yellow tones, and in each there is something on the wall, a heart in some and a portrait of Frida Kahlo in another. These are probably the strongest images in the show, but they would be better without the Frida and the hearts, which are just gimmicky.

There’s also a painting called “Cog” that looks like a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times.”

Some of his work — especially on his website — are marvelously inventive, but overall I think there’s not much art beneath the gimmickry.

Also showing are a selection of crow paintings and drawings by Judith Smith — the two black and white pastels are particularly powerful — and a continuation of Tom Anderson’s show from August.

[Childhood’s End Gallery, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, through Sept. 30, 222 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia, 360.943.3724]

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