When I previewed Calico Brooklyn’s show titled Born Again, featuring the works of Thomas Buildmore, Allison Maletz, and Charles Wilkin, it was easy to find the theme of reuse and reinvention in collage artist Wilkin’s enlarged pigment stained postcard prints and Buildmore’s drippy spraypaint floral still lifes, but Maletz’s sound installation called Utility Purgatory, outfitted with a telephone and surrounded by her watercolor mold paintings was harder to discern. That is, unless we consider the post-Mayan apocalyptic experience referenced by Curator Scott Chasse, which he described as “very similar to the pre-Mayan apocalypse, only we are able to celebrate the afterlife in real-time.”
When I asked Chasse what inspired Born Again he said, “I understand that appropriation and reuse of images, ideas, materials, etc is nothing new, but I think that looking at the works by these three artists as a form of “rebirth” gives a fresh, slightly different way of experiencing what is being presented.”
Sitting on a rotary phone on hold with the telephone company for so long that mold grows on the walls would leave anyone dreaming of the apocalypse, or at least the reinvention of customer service tactics.
Maletz explained that, “these services exist in theory to improve our lives, yet are rendered useless as all the various “please hold” messages loop endlessly, leaving the audience completely impotent.” But Maletz doesn’t take “hold” for an answer and presents this experience in a new way with “a new meaning, so that we might all step back as outsiders looking in, to observe and perhaps even enjoy this well known and frustrating experience.” She went on to say that she made “the Mold Paintings specifically to go with Utility Purgatory. At their core, both works are about what can grow out of neglect.”
This idea of neglect, or allowing oneself to become stale creatively is what Born Again attempts to break free from. Maletz explained that, “as artists, we are always trying to reinvent ourselves, so that our work does not become boring to us, or our audiences.”
For Buildmore, who is “completely bored with the state of contemporary painting,” the artistic process is therapeutic; he looks at his work as “a self taught coping mechanism – when [he] starts feeling down and out, [he] uses it.”
For Wilkin, “it’s certainly not a progression or desire to move away from collage,” rather he has, “found that having several bodies of work really allow [him] to explore narratives much deeper and from a variety of perspectives.”
While I listened to Maletz’s piece, the British voices and Bob Marley tunes actually tricked me into believing I was actually on hold, and the experience became surprisingly soothing after a while. Meanwhile I had a grand view of Buildmore’s and Wilkin’s pieces on the opposite wall.
Buildmore’s floral still lifes are striking in his vivid color choice and spray paint technique, which seems to obscure and melt away the subject matter. Is this a reflection of Buildmore’s view of still life painting?
He explained, “I always hated still lifes and equated them with weirdo high school art teachers and trashy bottom dollar starving artist sales at the mall. My initial idea was to try and paint a really boring painting with spray paint rather than something traditional that a “real” painter would use.”
When asked how this work follows the Born Again theme, Buildmore explained that, “pretty much everything that comes out of me is some sort of recycled Frankenstein. I thought of the older work as a kind of visual mash up and this newer stuff more like cover songs.”
Flanking Calico’s walls are Wilkin’s very alluring nature postcard prints. At first, they seem, more obviously than Buildmore’s floral still lifes, to portray the element of obscureness; each piece is intentionally covered with a specifically placed orange pigment stain. But Wilkin isn’t trying to hide anything, but instead creating a union between the elements that becomes something more.
He said, “much of the significance associated with the stains is a direct result of the process itself. There is little manipulation from me once the pigment is applied to the postcard and the two almost intuitively interact, developing their own message independent from me… I’m really nothing more than an catalyst.”
Still the paintings feel cryptic. In “Untitled (Owl),” an already mysterious animal’s eye is peering at the viewer through a thin application of the pigment. Are we the outsider’s looking in? Or is it the opposite? In “Untitled (Fawn), a mythical forest creature appears to be looking at the orange orb with more interest than the pond before it. And, in “Untitled (Highest Point)” we have reached the top of the mountain, but our view of the peak in the distant is hidden. When asked about his choice of nature scenes, Wilkin explains that “our intrinsic and underlying love for nature is so clear in the imagery often found on postcards, which become incredibly mysterious once stained.”
On how Born Again plays into Wilkin’s work, he said that, “The past so often lives in the present, usually going unnoticed or willfully forgotten. Which is probably why I’m fascinated with the things people throw out … These fragments of peoples lives, specifically in this case vintage postcards, seem so unresolved and I feel compelled to find an answer or connection. This new body of image stains I’m showing weaves many of these perspectives into new stories and alternate realities.”
We survived the Mayan apocalypse, now what? Born Again not only suggests how art itself can be recontextualized, but how artists seek new experiences through their work to perhaps reinvent their own identity, but more so to survive impending creative doom.
The closing reception for Born Again is this Friday, March 1st, 2013 at Calico Brooklyn (67 West St, #206)