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Saturday 09.28.13

« Friday Links | Main | Jorge Pardo talk and dedication today »

Different worlds, Eric Stotik and Alex Mackin Dolan

Portland's art scene is full of schism's and divides (often generational) but two artists from two completely different universes Eric Stotik (a 1990's standout) and Alex Mackin Dolan (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 designed 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.

Eric Stotik's 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.

Stotik arrow_sm.jpg
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 isolation.

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 board game.

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 like sushi.

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. Beckett’s words, “Nothing to be done,” would not be out of place here.

Patience Table

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 it is 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.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on September 28, 2013 at 10:50 | Comments (0)


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