Matthew and the Sleeper
Sadly, of one of the best contemporary art exhibitions of 2008, Corey
Arnold's wry and accurately titled FISH-WORK
at Charles A.Hartman Fine Art
ended during the blizzard last weekend. If you missed it PORT will try to
make up the difference. Sure, we have seen Arnold's work in occasional group shows but this
collection of images is particularly strong...and sometimes devastingly fresh.
FISH-WORK installation view
We should also make note because the Portland based Arnold, with representation
at LA's Richard Heller Gallery and minor cult status fame from the "most
real" of reality television shows
is going to go far. Why? Mostly because
his work transcends and outflanks our uncertain times through even more tenuous
images that expose the depths of human perseverance that go beyond
mere irony, jokes and even fear. Truth in uncertainty is something all sailors
Today, the weather might be extreme (by mild Portland standards) but the tough
conditions in these photos give some rare and valuable comparative scale to
the world's pressing economic and existential problems. It's all the more poignant
as the context comes through the extremely hazardous lens of extreme crab
fishing. Sure, times are going get tougher in 2009 but if these fishermen are
any indication, the human spirit is up to the challenge, surviving
out of habit.
The theme is well illustrated by the first two photos in the show, Opilio
and Icy Bow
. Opilio Morning
's roiling seas, steeply
pitched ship deck and matter of fact work scene speaks volumes about the human
spirit's persistence amid massive uncertainty and forces way beyond human control.
In this image, the ship is quite literally "the workplace", which
is tossed by a truly hazardous business "environment".
The image also stands as totemic evidence of human activity, and as stoic photographic
proof of survival through routine. It sure beats those cheesy office posters
with words like "adversity" and "teamwork" next to some
natural scene. Instead, as hard won stories from the edge, Corey Arnold's photographs
are proof that specific experience beats blanket sloganeering every time.
is somewhat more in the stoic and romantic mode, with its crusted
ship's bow acting like some sort of existential arrow into the unknown. It is
a quieter more sublime image in the mode of Caspar David Friedrich or something
more abstract like Richard Diebenkorn.
Like all shows at Charles Hartman, this show is beautifully hung and each image
supports and reinforces the other but it's the photographer's intense "toughness"
and stark sense of grim humor that elevates each image in what could be seen
as an almost ecclesiastical state of transcendence. That's right, much of this
work more legitimately resembles the saints, martyrs and vanities' of old master
painting than the highly manicured staging's of Gregory Crewdson
work looks oh so 2003 compared the truly stoic oceanic sieges depicted here.
Instead, images like Matthew and the Sleeper
, Opilio Bed
clearly define the grim humor of this show. Simultaneously
goofy, work weary and stoic the gallows humor here draws stark but incredibly
thin lines between the living and the dead. This reminds the viewer that Arnold
isn't merely just some tag along photographer
crab fishing has been an
integral part of his life for a long time and it is heartening to see contemporary
art produced with such traction from intense real world experience.
In other words, Arnold may have gone to grad school but it is hardly the most
defining experience of his life or art practice. Honestly, I could see Richard
Serra (arch duke of the old garde tough artists of yore) appreciating this work.
Other works like The Wave
and Gulf Crossing
, have an almost El Greco sense of scary teal
verticality, reminding me of Thor
l's incredible journey in Kon Tiki, or Melville's Moby Dick
the book that has profoundly shaped my (and most other literate Americans consciousness's).
and Gulf Crossing
both left me wondering if the sea is
the new West
or maybe it was always the only true west. (apologies to
Bering Sea Birthday
Or maybe happiness comes from choosing one's struggle... such as my favorite image
in the show, Bering Sea Birthday
. In it a lone figure upon a canted deck
and tossing seas swings a rod at the piñata
and it all seems utterly
more gratifying than obsessively trying to harpoon a white whale.
This is work that is both of and transcendent of its times and this Portland-based
photographer may be the best shooter I've come across since Justine
. Arnold is a legitimately daring art world offering, and how often do we see that?
Good to see this show get some coverage. I saw this work at Heller and was excited to learn he lives in Portland. Arnold has a great eye for dramatic composition and subtle humor.
Aside from being in the line of duty, this exhibition was really lacking in terms of quality images. There seemed to be something that fell short in every image in this exhibition, except for the exceptional Gulf Crossing which was both large format and crisp. Overall, one cannot be sure how long Arnold has been using a camera, perhaps digital here. I saw the show the first week it opened with high expectations, having heard the high praise, but what I saw was so different from the wonderful supplemental materials which are far greater than the actual work. Posing with dead fish is what seamen do, it seemed a bit silly in several of the images here, awkward, and not in an arty sort of way, like his fellow Portlander Holly Andres does so well (though her work is lit with a sense of perfection, and printed with storybook unreal color and high definition). If Arnold's work is documentary, then be that, but it seems to wiggle in an incredibly awkward place that only tends to vacilate thinly. The environments are exciting, but the end result is just rather eh, not at all like described here. The book is lovely, as is the show card, but don't climb a snowy peak for this one. And if you are interested in similar terrain try out a real Seaman's work - Camille Seaman to be specific (ref. http://www.camilleseaman.com).