The people’s landscape–Steven Baris and Kim Beck at Pentimenti

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New work from Steven Baris, a perennially interesting artist, is also up

at Pentimenti. In his pair of exhibits, Baris has gotten experimental and

looser. In the small Project Room, Baris’ Ruse of Transparency series

explores the force fields exerted by massive urban buildings, which he

expresses via building shapes on thick plexiglas slabs that rest their top

edge against the wall. The plexiglas is reclaimed from building and

demolition sites. Behind each building image is the shadow it casts, painted

directly on the wall, and glowing from behind. Some of the buildings are

expressed as solid polygons. Some are loose webs of undulating, griddy

lines that suggest girders and other architectural features, as well as the

watery reflections mirrored in skyscraper walls of glass. Steven Baris, from

the Ruse of Transparency series, oil and acrylic on plexiglas, 2008 These

pieces have an aura about them, a juicy beauty that captivates at the same

time that it explores the intrusive presence of the glassy urban

behemoths. Steven Baris installation shot detail of his exhibit, Urban

Compression. Baris’ exhibit also has other work in the front large gallery

space–several works from the Urban Compression series of large oil and

acrylic on canvas paintings and several from the Whole New Distance

series of small, circular oil and acrylic paintings on plexiglas. Steven Baris,

Urban Compression E1, 48 x 56 inches, oil, acrylic on canvas, 2008 The

large canvases are covered overall with buildings abstracted into flat

polygons shaped to suggest how we view buildings from different angles.

Behind the layers of polygons is a layer of linear markings suggesting

eclipsed building structures and again, the force fields that the buildings

exert on the city around them. The loose ghostly shadows and lines are a

departure for Baris, whose previous body of work at Pentimenti was almost

wholly based on floating lozenges of color suggesting spatial relationships.

The layers of buildings, and the layer of background marks and shadows,

suggest that you, the viewer, are the third dimension, with a fifth

dimension of unpredictability. (The fourth is the material of the painting

itself–the canvas and the paint). While I did not love these quite as much

as the plexiglas pieces in the Project Room, they held my interest. Steven

Baris, Whole New Distance A7, 10 inches dia., oil, acrylic on plexiglas On

the other hand, I deeply loved Baris’ Whole New Distance paintings–small

round bubbles of plaid-painted plexiglas. These are comic, with shiny,

raised blobs of pop-colored paint sometime falling off the edge, sometimes

creating the only focus. The blob shapes raise these pieces above the plaid

decorativeness, and make me think of older work by Thomas

Nozkowski, whose abstract forms recall the iconography of the comics

and whose colors recall bygone eras of home decoration. Baris pares the

abstracted shapes down to icons. Steven Baris Some of them are just

round, suggesting clown noses or googly eyes. But some of them suggest

cloud forms and bubbles colliding and blue skies–the wild distances of

nature domesticated by the plaid fields behind them. In all cases, Baris

reminds you he is challenging the way we perceive space–and color–nearly

always in the context of the man-made.

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