John Pomara, Scott Barber, and Ted Kincaid
Barry Whistler Gallery
By Matthew Bourbon, ART LIES
Visual art does not emerge from a void. Instead, it is bound by its own history and the temper of its time. In fact, now more then ever, art is riddled with cultural references—cues one must recognize in order to register the full measure of an artist’s intent. Such references can be arcane and idiosyncratic à la Matthew Barney, or retrograde and comical like George Condo. Unfortunately, the reliance on external sources as a means to contextualize artwork can quickly devolve into a kind of symbol-laden hipster handbook. (Think of the logo paintings of Michael Bevilacqua, where cultural references act as a kind of territorial pissing, drastically marking value via pop icons and product brands.) In such instances, emphasis is placed on the procedure of naming sources as if the procedure itself is the endgame.
Simply aligning one’s art with a certain theory or type of imagery does not justify an artistic endeavor. Still, the fact that contemporary painting responds to other domains—such as architecture, fashion, video games or film—is vital and clearly ubiquitous. Even reactionary art that tries to distance itself from the cultural maelstrom of topical images and ideas by relying on the “pure” imagination of the maker is, more often than not, simply trafficking in another area of reference. Without exception, art is generated within the context of cultural and visual paradigms—some familiar and some obscure. It does not matter if the work in question adopts mythical references to a bygone time or reflects the popular iconography of our digital age; what is really of concern is whether a work of art makes use of such relationships to foster an unusual point of view or clarity of vision.
In the latest exhibition at Barry Whistler Gallery, one is faced with three artists who make a decided point of using technology to create their art. Thankfully, for Scott Barber, Ted Kincaid and John Pomara, the secondary worlds found in microscopes, video games and other computer technology are only the entrance to experiencing their work. For these artists, technology is the hook used to seduce us into their particular visions. It is also significant that each artist adopts operational strategies aimed at attaining a certain mediated look. I don’t mean this to imply the superficial fashioning of a mechanical surface. Rather, the manner in which these artists reference the digital landscape is such that we are unable to ignore the influence of their adopted language. And though this could register as a limitation, it ultimately comes across as the exhibit’s strength. In fact, despite the captivating, high gloss appeal of each artist’s work, the total effect seems to be one not of shallowness but sophistication. These works are surprisingly meditative, especially given that they are filtered through forms that are commonly thought of as distant and even potentially inhuman.
Perhaps the most obvious bearer of this digital impetus is a fuzzy skyscape by Ted Kincaid. In this photograph, his sole inclusion in the exhibition, Kincaid dramatically manipulates a panorama of clouds to float above a fictive land. Overly pristine clouds blur and stretch into bulbous shapes, casting shadows below. It’s as if the clouds are spinning inside some video game centrifuge, or perhaps the image is meant to imply the movement of the viewer. Maybe our bodies are hurling through space, and this is the moment when our perception of the world fractures into a blurred haze.
Either way, such contradictory interpretations are possible because of Kincaid’s acute balancing of natural depiction and abstract elasticity. It’s as if the image he’s crafted is adjusting itself between stasis and flux. When examining this fanciful vista, I also couldn’t help but recall the cloud cities of filmmakers Hayao Miyazaki and George Lucas. Still, Kincaid’s world is distinct and full enough to outshine the giddiness of technological magic and the kinship the work shares with its popularized forerunners.
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In our media-inundated world, the fact that artists react to external visual sources is natural and, in some cases, essential. What really matters in a dialogue with the ideas, languages and visions of our age is how one transfigures the elements of the cultural landscape into something viable on its own terms. Each of these artists travels a long way in developing work that articulates just such a vision. In this handsome exhibition, all the work is fine-tuned and tailored in a manner that breeds simplicity through procedural rigor. It is this underlying rigor that makes the work more than just portraits of blips, blobs and clouds.