Fresh Paint
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Paxton and Cherry at gescheidle
Apparently I was wrong, and there were no other openings over in West Loop Gate, just the one at gescheidle, which made it a little odd, like I was intruding on a private party to which I was actually invited.

Michael K. Paxton is a superb draftsman who in the past has concentrated on images from his native West Virginia (snake handlers, coal miners, people who do physical labor). Recently he has become interested in large structures, pieces of machinery, buildings, etc., some of which were shown previously at Byron Roche.

Here at gescheidle, the walls of the large room were covered with huge (did I say huge? I'll say it again. H U G E.) drawings, mostly in vine charcoal, a little compressed charcoal, the largest 76 by 150 inches on multiple sheets of paper pinned to the wall and unfixed. They depict places of destruction or violence, details blown up from newspaper clippings, sometimes just the sliver of a photo from Israel or Baghdad or Chicago. Some are very dense, like "Lockup," where there's barely any white space left. Others, including my favorite ("Mexican Bullfight") are quite minimal, with barely any charcoal on the surface. All have a heroic, expansive, romantic quality as reflected in the generally silly titles of each piece. (The show itself is called "The Perfume of Shadows," which sounds like it should be a quotation from somewhere, but I can't find it in my Bartlett's).

They are incredibly fragile. You can't imagine the anxiety I felt as the crowd brushed past two of them hung in the narrow hallway leading to the small gallery where Cherry's work was hung. Another hour of wine-drinking and they'd be toast, I was thinking.

(Which leads me to wonder how and where do you hang these things permanently, assuming they survive the month-long exhibit, or do you put each panel back in the box and store it away? Art about destruction that is destroyed before your very eyes is a bit been-there/done-that, and I don't think it's what these drawings are about. Needless to say, anyone buying one will likely also have the resources to frame it properly, but still.... Go see them now, while they're still fresh and the charcoal hasn't fallen off the surface yet.)

Speaking of Matthew (M. Ivan) Cherry's work... yes, he also had paintings at the exhibit. They're pretty good, but I was a bit disappointed. Shown are 3 series, "Sportin' Klein Post-Prime," "Boney," and "Juggle." The first 2 are variations on self-portraits, a genre that Matthew has been working on for years and years and years and years at this point. His previous show had few (if any), concentrating on paintings of his children (which I understand gained a certain controversy in this particular political environment).

The 6 paintings making up the "Sportin" series are called Geezer, Hoser, Poser, Teaser, Tweezer, and Pleaser, and each modest-sized painting depicts Cherry in a standing pose, naked, all hairy legs and unattractive torso, except for different styles of underwear (one, however, is with none at all). They were really good, I thought, painted surface lush and detailed.

On the wall facing them were arrayed 18 small 8 x 8 inch square self-portraits, just his face and enough of chest and shoulders to show a single word on the t-shirt of each one, like "dirty," "grumpy," etc. etc. I'm not sure if he had the word in mind as he was painting or if he looked at the painting after the fact and decided which word to inscribe on the shirt (I should have asked him, but we got to talking of other things).

I really didn't care for these. Maybe it was the lighting, but many of them showed a less-than careful surface, some with a bad halo around the figure that I'm not sure was intended. They also have a commodity-like nature (he can always paint more, pretty much exactly like the others) that I'm sure is a good thing for a gallery, but I'm not sure they're actually art any more and I'm not sure they show growth in the artist.

The final series, "Juggle," is possibly the best, and in some ways may shed light on Matthew's current obsession with reproducing himself. These are 5 paintings of wife Amy, each done in his lush and detailed style, depicting her in a nursing bra, one breast exposed, each painting posed against a hotly colored background, with titles Hot Mama, Sassy, Sexy, Spicy, Sweet. I know they have a large family and a new baby as well. Something is clearly going on here.

On the whole, a good show. Paxton's work especially seemed comfortable on the walls of the new gallery space. I heard more than one person remark that they wanted to live there. Though, thinking about this reaction, why would we want to live with drawings depicting violent destruction? Maybe more edge is needed.

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