Portland's art scene is full of schism's and divides (often generational) but
two artists from two completely different universes Eric
(a 1990's standout) and Alex
(a 2012 PNCA grad) happen to be exhibiting 7 blocks from one
another. To add some urgency, this is the last weekend for their shows.
As working artists, Stotik and Mackin Dolan's universes (circles of fellow artists, collectors, curators and critics) likely never intersect but what
they each share is a hermetic zeal for their obsessions. Both are deep
alchemists combining visual minutiae that seem to exist
as as a kind of global existential unconscious.
Eric Stotik, Untitled LR233 (bird, octopus, horn), 2013 (detail)
Alex Mackin Dolan's Sun Table
Stotik works with the darkness and secrets which humanity keeps... Dolan
with the existential sunshine of blotting out the world and turning to pursuits
within. The work of both artists don't seem to seek mass appeal and instead traverse
more epicurean paths
That kind of navel gazing is one of the best things about art, the most memorable of it never really speaks to the majority directly. Overall, the persistence of this type of hermeticism is interesting and crucial as art presenting institutions seem to be becoming amusement parks
to circulate as many visitors as possible. In contrast, by choosing their own secretive paths, Stotik
and Mackin Dolan willfully create things that have more intimate audiences that
are intrinsically obscure.
Untitled LR236 - Continuous Series In Situ
The more accomplished of the two artists is Stotik but as a mid career player in Portland's
Art scene and 2011
recipient of RACC's visual art fellowship
it stands to reason.
With that fellowship came a sizable 20k award, which allowed Stotik to concentrate
on the largest work of his career, a 40 foot long mural called Untitled LR236
- Continuous Series In Situ. This undertaking, on display at the Laura Russo Gallery is notable because Stotik is mostly known
as a miniaturist. His work is even in the collection of Werner Kramarsky... an aficionado
of the small but powerful if there ever was one. The question it raises though
is this just a project undertaken to mark the occasion... an existential what
I did with my summer vacation report? Happily the answer is a resounding no.
Instead of some errand of vanity, the mural is perhaps is a gateway into more
cinematic rather than intimate work. It was originally designed to be on the
outside of a cylinder so it woould not have a beginning or end and hopefully some
day it will be shown in that way? Till then, it has a more finite presentation and reading
from a cool left to a hot middle and once again cool toned far right. The piece constitutes a catalog of human nightmares.
Untitled LR236 - Continuous Series In Situ (detail)
One of the most arresting moments at the far left is stoic woman with deep
care lines etched in her otherwise impassive face. She seemingly holds a cigarette
in her right hand but upon closer inspection reveals itself as a broken arrow
through the heart. She is bleeding, yet does not register the wound with any action... one senses
this will go on forever. At other moments of the piece the silhouette of a spitfire
shares airspace with bats in flight which end in a roosting crow... an allusion
to Goya's most famous illusion The sleep of reason produces its monsters. Though
this doesn't have the same impact or focus this visual device is more of a conveyance
from one nightmare to the next.
Untitled LR236 - Continuous Series In Situ (detail)
In the hot red center panel there is a scene where workers try to put out some
sort of inferno, likely an oil or natural gas rig... while a human body is pierced
strapped and attended to by nightmares only Torquemada could be at ease with.
Stotik often creates these worlds of limitless suffering devoid of pain and
pleasure. Perhaps that is Stotik's true subject here...
the ritualization of humanity sans pleasure and pain? Or perhaps it is the private hermetic process
of being an individual in brutal world where humans are by far the most dangerous
thing another human can face?
Untitled LR236 - Continuous Series In Situ (detail)
One can find support for this interpretation in the portion where one rider
on horseback faces the viewer seemingly posing for a vacation photo as a line
of cavalry soldiers trudge through a battlefield strewn with bodies (both man and animal). It is the
deadpan existential humor akin to Albert Camus' The Plague and Stotik's ever present metal plated machines, boilers etc juxtaposed between
organic forms engaged in some sort of symbiotic engine of suffering and treatment
makes it compelling and purposefully inconclusive. Overall I do enjoy the fact that
it is a drawn a little coarser than his smaller works, which are always tour
de forces of astounding detail.
Stotik even leaves small but always surprising portions unfinished as if to
reveal his need to keep this a work in process. It worked for Picasso's Les
Demoiselles d'Avignon, which was also left unfinished. The difference here is Stotik
is a master of uncanny nightmares, suggesting that humanity might be defined
better by its fears and calloused attitudes than by hope, a senitment seemingly on
holiday in this his largest work.
In many ways I still prefer the smaller works in this show like Untitled LR234 (tree with
snake), Untitled LR233 (bird, octopus, horn) or Untitled LR232 (men, pit, furniture)
where the arcane scene feels like a complete non sequitur
. In each of those
images we can't be certain if this is a just a kind of cryptic semiotic secret
handshake illustrated for us or the scene from a larger tableau we are not invited
to view? This reminds me of the work of Allasandro Magnasco, one of the most
enigmatic of artists before modern art opened the door to idiomatic rather than
directly allegorical subject matter. In particular, that sense of withheld invitation
is strongest in Untitled LR232 (men, pit, furniture) while the other two works
are chimerical signs often melding animal, myth and metal.
Quetzalcoatl LR237 (detail) 2013
Still I sense that this is a pivotal show for Stotik as a work like Quetzalcoatl LR237
exemplifies. The work is the about the size of the one of the individual panels of the
mural sized piece so still much larger than your typical Stotik. It is a difficult piece filled with ritualized and bruised
interaction where the whole gruesome scene seems to be a kind of torturous rube
Goldberg of equilibrium between man and mechanism. It has all of the grotesque of Hans Bellmer's bondage and
Jean Tinguely's self destructing machines. The work is the dark fruit of ripened
nightmares and its more human sized scale suggests a new boldness for Portland's
darkest 2d magus.
Alex Mackin Dolan's Cycle Sun Limit at PICA's The Works for TBA Festival
The younger and definitely less bleak of the two artists reviewed here is Alex
Mackin Dolan... though his work, fueled by very geeky fires may actually be
more willfully occult in the way it turns its back on the world.
His exhibition for TBA, Cycle, Sun, Limit
in its intense fetish of the arid
prison that is the art world's white box gallery is similarly obsessed with
semiotics though it comes with a clear invitation to join the art in its splendid
The rather antiseptic exhibition consists mostly of banal tables of the soul
sucking office furniture variety, a few wall works and a floor tableau. Overall,
the whole arrangement, drenched in artist as curator ennui is a dead ringer
for a caricature of European grant driven or festival art. The exhibition fetishes
its otherness to varied degrees of success. Also, because this is for Pica's Time Based Art festival, the anti-art
as Art in-code sentiment just reads as a double feint as well as
a completely earnest invitation to join the benign cult by playing the Tamsk
Earth Table (detail with Tamsk games)
Playing Tamsk certainly does qualifies as a way to while away the existential
hours and pay attention to the interesting geometry of the game while ignoring
the rest of the room lit with harsh white florescent fixtures. It is also an
update to Duchamp's non-retirement from art where he presented himself mostly
as a man playing chess. The show is full of ready-mades but also uses design
to co-opt several sub cultures by turning them into leisure time stations at
the various desks.
For example the Patience Table, comprised of a computer screen with solitaire
and an artfully placed Wii controller (hacked of course) reiterates the theme...
whatever Mackin Dolan selects is art. Alright. Sure. Fine. ...and perhaps nothing
more. Thus, the investment of the viewer only finds payoff in noting the obsession
here, it isn't supposed to be accessible. Just like Duchamp and 1990's Japanese
Otaku art, the perpetuation of obsessions will presumably validate this work
in the long haul.
Sometimes an exhibition is just a placeholder in an artist's career until they
find some real revelation... a bit like playing Tamsk or Solitaire until something
more attention getting inevitable slips into view. I don't mean this as an indictment...
it is a pretty common geeky strategy (playing Dungeons and Dragons
or perpetrating Cosplay or taking up Curling does plug one into a community)
and exploiting the semiotic symbols of that subculture is a valid art genre.
It is also pretty crowded with recent MFA's. Still, my sense is Mackin Dolan
will turn this into something more and we do catch glimpses of his immaculate
design touch here and there. The guy slices up geeky design-ish things and presents them
At another station The Hanjie Players Desk plays host to a backpack packed
neatly with hanjie puzzles and a sweater as a kind of anthropological display
of yet another gamer's subculture. As with most of Mackin Dolan's displays,
neutral light grays and flat white unify the aesthetics and the artist's very
subtle hand here. It is a pretty straight forward application of two zen aesthetic
principles; Shibui (beauty through simplicity) and Kanso (lack of clutter).
Using a lot of white is one of the easiest and most overused ways to unify an
exhibition but I believe Mackin Dolan is quite aware of this abuse and adding
to the heap of such shows consciously. Still, such strategies can be a crutch.
Sun Table (detail)
Where Mackin really makes some headway is his fetish of the new age motif of
the sun and moon. It's often cheesy symbology as commingling of opposites (a
pagan Yin and Yang), compromise and enlightenment has become so comprehensively
recognized that perhaps nobody can comprehend it. Mackin is a bit of an anthropologist,
so by presenting this symbol, which carries the promise of some enlightenment...
he slyly uses new age woo woo as a placeholder in this waiting for Godot style
production. Becketts words, Nothing to be done, would not
be out of place here.
The sun motif tabletop design and laser etched glasses (also with the sun design)
are a really nice touch and very easy to overlook. I'm not certain the three wall works (Garden walk, Peace Walk and Cancer Walk) are necessary but it keeps up the
theme of self selecting groups. The expressionist painting
filter applied to the wall pieces does keep up the clean banality theme going.
Lastly, the somewhat scuffed up gray floors of the room should have been given
a new coat of paint to complete the clean/isolated/banal gestalt. Mackin Dolan has used
that strategy several times before and deviation from it does distract a bit
because it leaves the caricature of the white box with some cracks. Mackin Dolan's use of Ikea's Linnmon/Adils tables, though in keeping with his methodology also limits his ability to tailor the exhibition as well. It doesnt help that some of his Appendix compatriots have used the same style tables in their shows as well.
Overall, Cycle Sun Limit is another transitional show. I caught the artist's earlier exhibition
at Appendix last year when he was still in art school and this is comparatively more focused. Still his work (thankfully) is not fully
developed yet as he is a bit of a pornographer for the Dwell Magazine crowd. As the
first visual artist to be awarded a Park Avenue Armory Residency in New York
others see his promise as well but this is no time to feel self satisfied. Mackin
Dolan is one of perhaps 25 noteworthy artists in Portland who have been bending
the power of design to their own purposes over the past decade or so but he
needs to distill the overall effect of his exhibitions more before he reaches
his full potential. A hint of this maturity did come through in his very
short lived exhibition at PSU's Autzen Gallery
and perhaps it is PICA's
willingness to present willful and honest immaturity that is also apparent. Not every show
is a statement so much as an evolution and what I like here is the way the various
stations exist as islands of their own optimism.
What I find so interesting about this conjunction of Stotik and Mackin Dolan
shows in Portland's Alphabet District is the way each artist has turned their
back to the world (maybe it turned its back on them first) and carved out one
filled with their own pecadillos and obsessions. This is what art often does,
distill aspects of the world into engines of curiosity. Being curious about
such things is a virtue and today is your last day to check out this conjunction
of planets that don't normally come that close in orbit to one another.