Photographs take a turn for the painterly in two Seattle gallery exhibits.
The boundary between photography and other artistic media is muddied to strangely felicitous effect in two exhibits at Seattle galleries this month.
In “Synchronicity,” Sherry Karver’s latest show at Lisa Harris Gallery, the Bay Area artist starts out with digital color photographs of people moving through public spaces in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and, in one case, Seattle. She then manipulates these in a collagelike manner on her computer, making the images black-and-white while she’s at it. Her third step is to “colorize” her prints with oil paints applied in very thin glazes. In an additional twist, a number of these hybrid photographed/painted figures contain the stories of their lives (as guessed by Karver) within the outline of their moving bodies. The finishing touch is a layer of resin that renders the pieces’ surfaces reflective enough to include the viewer as part of the composition.
This complex process is put to a simultaneously powerful and playful purpose, as Karver highlights the way our lives, in most instances, slip obliviously past one another rather than collide or connect.
Most of her figures have a solid feel to them, but some are ghostly. A woman in a colorful print dress in “Essence of Time” appears as a dim, gray echo of herself in “Essence of Time II,” while a balloon-carrying woman in a pink summer dress in “Essence of Time II” becomes a transparent apparition in “Essence of Time.”
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Karver has great fun with the textual element as she cooks up capsule accounts of the men and women she depicts, ranging from an unemployed stock trader adjusting to his downfall to a young woman raised on a Nevada ranch who “can rope a cow … but can’t seem to catch a man.”
While Karver’s “brief lives” can be tart, there’s real empathy in them, too, notably in “Bus Stop” (background shot in Seattle, people photographed elsewhere), which depicts a latte-sipping divorcée who “doesn’t want to move backwards, and is a bit afraid to go forward, but refuses to be stuck in the middle.”
The perspective in all these pieces is deliberately wonky, conveying how tenuously these souls chart their courses across their sometimes blurred backgrounds. There’s a pulsing narrative energy here, and a complexity of composition that can be savored both from afar and up close.
Over at CoCA’s gallery in Shilshole, in a group show titled “Altered Photo,” artist Edward McHugh does something similar with his wax-defused pigment prints. In one, a battleship stands out with HD-crispness against a maritime background in soft focus, while in another, a man tending a fire appears to be a spotlit photographic insert in an old Impressionist landscape painting.
“Brushing wax onto the surface of the prints,” the artist writes, “further enforces the uncertainty of what the picture really is, when it may have been made, and whether the scene is real or contrived.”
The effect is both enchanting and unsettling.
German artist Alexander Vieth and Israeli artist Sarai Givaty administer stronger punches to the gut in their work. Vieth’s sepia photographs of looming pylons, a wave-swamped cityscape and a trio of Christ figures placed against an industrial backdrop have an eerie, apocalyptic air to them.
Givaty’s spin on X-rayed luggage hits a raw nerve with its take on security threats and law-enforcement invasiveness. Inside the suitcase in “Hi Shok,” for instance, a crouched female nude and a small arsenal of weapons are seen in the lurid hues of a color-film negative.
John Schuh’s urban-landscape collages are just as edgy and zesty. His “Vortex” captures freeway speed, swerve and near-collision to perfection.
On the local front, Seattle artist Rebecka Woodward’s assemblages from glossy magazine pages come off as clever but not impressive. But the multi-impression dye prints of Ray Schutte, also from Seattle, are strong, spare stuff. In “Lichen V,” a slanting bar of crinkly green (the “lichen” of the title in extreme close-up) is set against a mottled pink-gray backdrop. In “Chakra,” and “Mono No Aware,” Schutte imposes colorful computer-generated frames (circular for “Chakra,” rectangular for “Mono”) suggested by the shapes in nature — leaves, rocks, a tree branch — that are his subject matter.
Both shows, at their best, reach beyond mere digital manipulation to multidisciplinary possibility, with bracing results.
Michael Upchurch: firstname.lastname@example.org