Tuesday, October 30, 2012

MIKE METZ, HEWITSON KONG (Jeff DeGolier and Gabert Farrar), & SUSAN SMITH

Opening November 10th, 2012, 7-9 PM
Bull and Ram
1717 Troutman St. Suite #226
Ridgewood, Queens, NY
November 11-November 25, 1-6pm

Mike Metz, Hewitson Kong, and Susan Smith are fixated on form. These artists mime the industrial geometry of New York City’s built environment. All engage with the foundational elements of the cityscape; all create works of geometric abstraction, and all ponder the capacity of representing form as homage to form itself.


Mike Metz’s works are as physically solid as they are conceptually fluid. A sculptor living and working in Red Hook, Metz’s work has a fittingly industrial quality. Using architectural materials, such as steel and cement, Metz admits to some of his objects taking on tool-like appearances. Despite his interest in sculptural solidity, Metz works with semiotic transmogrification: the object that appears to be a gun looks like an elephant head from another angle. His visual and verbal meanings are flexible, multitudinous, and a bit playful. Nothing is quite definite. Even when he uses text, literally set in stone, the objects Metz sculpts are dynamic; they have the power to morph.


Jeff DeGolier and Gabert Farrar form the furniture-making duo, Hewitson Kong. The two collaborate on furniture that resembles sculpture, or vice versa. One piece, a metal chair, appears to be a series of empty, intersecting triangles, when seen from the side. It would almost seem foldable, aside from the weight of its material. Although lacking any form of cushioning, the chair forms a kind of metal lazy-boy. Perhaps this is less about function, and more of a Platonic meditation on chairness. Regardless, Hewitson Kong’s works have a formal simplicity--all clean lines and negative space.


At once a forager and a fine artist, Susan Smith creates from detritus. Smith transforms architectural remains, often deemed trash, into sculpture-esque paintings that incorporate and respond to her found materials. The result is the creation of a harmonious whole of our seemingly disparate, incompatible elements. Her work stems from a tradition of bricolage in modern art, and from the sentiment of modernist female writer Gertrude Stein, who sums up Smith’s creative process with the words, “and then there is using everything.”

Smith got her start site-drawing the remnants of buildings at urban demolition sites in the 1970s. She was struck by standing interior walls, and the information stored on them. Her drawings effectively rediscovered the architect’s intent for the internal features of the buildings. It was theses drawings, and the objects she found among the ruins, that had a permanent influence on her architectural aesthetic.

To this day, Smith begins by scouring the city. She goes on walks, retrieving bits of plastic, metal, wood, and plasterboard—whatever appeals to her. It is this “chance element” that continues to excite her. Back in her sun-drenched SoHo studio, a preserved relic from its 70s heyday, Smith unites object to canvas. Although her found objects are often presented untouched, occasionally she will need to reinforce a fragment of plasterboard, or cut down a piece of wood, using her self-taught carpentry skills. Smith then paints on canvas glued down to a rectangular wooden strainer. Juxtaposing colors, textures, and shapes, Smith likes to “see how they react.”

Rather than showcase the found objects as ‘ready-mades,’ she assimilates them into her paintings, adding a raw three-dimensionality to her clean compositions. Hence, in theory and practice, Smith employs abstraction. By absorbing the objects into her paintings, she disassociates them from their site specific histories. Smith recontextualizes her found materials, allowing viewers to understand the objects as something other than what they were--as art.

Likewise, her painted panels are more like an integrated addition, than a distinct response to the object. Often it is difficult to discern the found object from the painted canvas. It is only upon close inspection that subtle differences in texture and color are apparent. Her use of color, often earth tones, metallics, and the occasional bright yellow, red, or blue, never strays too far from the found object’s color palate. In “Three Reds” from 1991, Smith’s oil on canvas panels are contiguous to the found metal, in color, size, and proximity. In “Red-Violet Plasterboard, Red-Orange Wood” 2009, Smith’s appropriation of found plasterboard and wood merges with the painted panel, until the elements are assimilated, almost
seamless. There is a synthesis: the painting and found material become a single entity.

Although an interest in geometric precision is apparent, she is not concerned with flawless simulation of the found object (in fact, it is as though an interest in flaws is what draws her to this discarded matter). Smith consistently displays the materiality and grit of the object; she never fully conceals its former lives (see the leftover lines and numbers scribbled in colored marker on the edges of “Inside Out” 1999). These “happy accidents,” as Smith calls them, are traces of New York social history. Even estranged from their functional origins, she permits the found objects to preserve their legacy; the memory of their larger structure and past inhabitants. “Because otherwise, what is it?” says Smith. “It just becomes another surface to work on. [The object] has its own way of existing, and why would I paint on that?”

Her motivations are seemingly transparent: Smith recycles used materials. “It is what it is,” Smith claims modestly. She titles her paintings in kind. A work from 2006, “Gold and White Formica,” is just that--composed of found formica and plastic, with an adjacent oil on canvas panel. Smith has no implicit political polemic, or social commentary on the city’s continual gentrification. Even so, her objective assertion of the surface could be read as a memorial to eras past. Further, Smith’s works ignite a historic discourse between urban waste and the gallery wall, art and non-art, troubling the cleanliness of her painterly minimalism with scraps off the city streets.

- Eve Marie Blazo

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