Small worlds on view: Magnitude 7 at Manifest Gallery

June 21st, 2013  |  Published in June 2013

Small worlds on view: Magnitude 7 at Manifest Gallery

by Marla Sweitzer

No larger than seven inches in any dimension, scale unifies the works that fill the space at Manifest Gallery. While these small works in Magnitude 7, on exhibit through June 28, are likely easier and more affordable for artists to make, the challenge remains for the small works to stand out.

The 32 works by 27 artists by no means overwhelm or crowd the space, even with a wide range of media, styles and artistic intents. With no artist statements present, the viewer is left with the title and work itself. Focus is narrowed in the nature of the smaller works, requiring the viewer to give attention to the pieces individually. Careful observation of these works also requires a closeness that leaves little room for two viewers. Decidedly placed in groupings in conversation with one another, the placement of works in the space influences how one engages beyond the individual works.

Jeremy Plunkett. Ghost. Oil on panel. 2012.

Smallness often lends itself to a narrowed singular subject: a shell, a fortune cookie, a portrait, a figure. Jeremy Plunkett’s Ghost is an amorphous piece of solid white fabric, with subtle color shifts and folds. The marks are intricate and precise, accentuated by the high color contrast between black background and object. Plunkett, who is one of two incoming Manifest Artists in Residence for the coming year, illuminates the fabric while creating a rich and haunting form.

In the other gallery space, William DeBernardi’s Mussel Shell and Robin Hextrum’s Fortune Cookie interact with one another on the same wall, small objects singled out. Within these oil paintings, emphasis is on the shape of the shadow created by light illuminating the object. The inner sliver of red within the fortune cookie echoes the blueish grey curve of the shadow within the shell.

Michael Aurbach. Third Eye: Blind Transcendentalist. Media. 2011.

On the opposite wall, objects with utilitarian purpose are manipulated and redesigned into functionless forms. In Third Eye: Blind Transcendentalist Michael Aurbach reconstructs a modern pair of eyeglasses into a well-crafted aesthetic object. One fogged modern looking lens sits vertically on the flipped over frame of a pair of glasses, which rests on a sleek black surface. Jessica Tolbert’s manipulated tableware push also plays on this theme, taking an antique spoon and stretching its handle outwards into a circular shape. These objects are playful in their intelligent redesign.

The human form is another reoccurring subject throughout Magnitude 7. Particularly worthy of mention is The Boy and the Skull by Inkeri Harri. In this sculpture, a young boy rests on his legs, leaning over a skull that he lightly clasps with one hand. The skull’s teeth are subtly carved, its hollowed caverns intricate. Other subtle details include the delicately rendered toes and ears of the boy. The viewing experience lends itself to quiet introspection of the fragile and pure ivory colored form, with little distraction. It is a timeless work, the young boy questioning mortality, like that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet contemplating Yorick’s skull.

Inkeri Harri. The Boy and the Skull. Sculpture. 2013.

In conversation with the young boy is Dora Natella’s Journey within #2, a terra cotta seated woman, who sits on a black pedestal in the center of the same room. The focus here is the female body, subtly hatched and rendered by Natella. The woman’s posture is hunched over and lit from above, creating areas of shadow and light. Hair pulled back and her body in an almost dancer like seated position, there is an inferred reference to Degas’ sculptures of ballerinas.

The male form interacts with plant life in Natural Selection and Untitled, collages by Alice Coulter. From afar, these works are illustrative floral arrangements. Yet echoing the shape of the plant stem is the male form, barely clothed in off-white colored underwear. In Natural Selection, the body stretches its length along the stem of the flower, as if trying to free itself from the ties that bind his hands together. The figure’s body in Untitled is limp, head leaning backwards, torso strained, and shins cut and bloody. The figures merge with the plants, though visual tension is created through the seemingly crucified forms.

Several perceptual painters narrow their focus to the human face. Donald Beal’s Small Eye is portraiture on a micro scale. Peering at the viewer, the eye acts as a viewfinder – a sliver of the face. Subtle color choices pop out: the green eye, the blue dot near the eye’s outer edge, the reddish colors present in the skin. Was this eye cropped from another work, perhaps the most successful part? Or was the work created in this scale? The viewer is simply left with the eye, with no knowledge of the artist’s intent. In the context of the show, smallness doesn’t need to be justified beyond its visual impact.

Along the same wall as Beal’s eye, Tyler Graffam’s two portraits merge with and are taken over by paint. The main difference between these works is the shape of the panel and the contrasting warm versus cool schemes. The male’s face in Username: Ont looks off to the right in the space of the circular panel, dominated by cool blues. The portrait in Username: Blaze is frontal, though his eyes look downwards. The square painting is composed of rosy reds, pinks and black. The titles of the works suggest that their identity is linked to another role, perhaps a character online or video game. It is left to the viewer to create a story.

Manipulated creations, where the artist reconstructs an already existing artifact, are also present in Magnitude 7. Carole P. Kunstadt’s woven photogravure postcards of various cityscapes from 1917 are propped on a shelf, some flat, others leaning up against the wall. These keepsakes have been removed from their brown packing, which is also on the shelf. A relic in their own right, the postcards have been reconstructed into gridded puzzles, cut into strips, the rows slightly shifted to create a slightly distorted image – though on the whole, still recognizable.

Presten Buchtel. The Artist. Mixed media on postcard. 2007.

Above the shelf on the wall, Presten Buchtel also reconstructs the postcard in The Artist. In the image, a tightrope walker carefully traverses over a crowd that watches from below. A cathedral is the walker’s destination point, the figure looming over the architectural wonder. Butchel punctures the surface of the image, punching rows of textured holes into the postcard. Taking the manipulation further, Butchel adds two three-dimensional filled brown bags to the image, tied to the end of the tightrope walker’s pole by a rope. These bags add a playful challenge to the already brave feat, testing the waters of what an artist can do with a simple image.

Small scale often designates the preliminary study for a larger work. Magnitude 7 proclaims that these small works can hold their own as finished art. Perhaps some of these works were preparatory studies for another work, or extracted from a successful part of a larger piece. Whatever the individual artist’s intent may be, Magnitude 7 illustrates that small works have the potential to be small worlds, worthy of careful observation.

A free public Curatorial Talk led by Manifest’s Associate Curator Tim Parsley will be held Sunday June 23 at 3pm.

Marla Sweitzer is a painter living in Covington, Kentucky.

Comments are closed.