Existence rather than likeness is the focus of “Protagonist,” on view at Chroma Projects Art Laboratory through March 24. The show features the work of a diverse group of artists—Bolanle Adeboye, Matt Kleberg, Akemi Ohira, Sarah Owens, Carrie Miller Payne, Nym Pedersen, Sharon Shapiro, and Richard Weaver—whose images employ metaphor, allegory, and the creative application of medium to communicate the human figure.
I appreciate the enigmatic world Akemi Ohira describes, using self-portraiture and imaginative iconography to convey her personal experience. Her choices (lava lamps and balloon animals) are funny and poignant. Ohira is a printmaker and the care and labor involved in that medium spills over into these diminutive panels, which seem to contain so much within their tiny borders.
Matt Kleberg has been playing around with portraiture for some time, figuring out ways to keep the genre fresh and relevant. He likes to get up really close to his subject’s face, but he also employs strategies that create a layer between subject and viewer. By inverting the portrait of a man, for instance, he achieves distance. “I want there to be a veil or hindrance to keep you from fully knowing or seeing the subject,” he said. Kleberg is also the subject of a concurrent solo show at McGuffey Art Center, “Canciones de Mi Padre,” which deals with his rather interesting personal history. His family owns and works a large ranch in Texas, which has been in their possession for seven generations.
Sharon Shapiro combines portraiture with images from old magazines to create intriguing figurative hybrids. In “Pulling The Wool” the protagonist is fractured, a recurring theme in her work that suggests states of flux. Shapiro uses collage deftly to produce a wonderful Missoni-like pattern that balances her elegant drawing.
Richard Weaver’s sculptures of a man and a woman command attention. Weaver is a very talented painter and sculptor who works in a traditional manner, producing beautiful portraits that evoke Thomas Eakins. Though classically rendered, the sculptures at Chroma (that were conceived as part of a larger group) are constructed of unconventional materials (Styrofoam and steel pipes) that look like something you might find at a building site.
“Growing out of chance meetings between different materials,” Nym Pedersen’s collages, made from found material and paint, are fierce little works. Twisted faces suggest the viscera and movement of Francis Bacon, overlaid in many cases with the thick impasto of Chaim Soutine. The show encompasses at least a decade of Pedersen’s work and I like where he’s headed: the tightness of the earlier pieces, is giving way to a freer, looser approach in such later works as “Qaddafi’s Last Stand,” and “Colors.” Art is a joyful enterprise for Pedersen, who like Picasso embraces his inner child: “The whole point of making art for me is internal peace and happiness,” he said.
Sarah Owens’ ethereal and poetic work is well suited for the dramatic setting of Chroma’s “black box,” where the lighting is subdued and the walls seem to echo the complex surfaces she creates. Using a mostly monochromatic palette, Owens offers a rich visual feast. For the framework of a couple of the paintings, she uses oval serving trays, applying plaster onto them. It’s a clever choice, as the trays’ lips provide a built-in frame. I particularly liked “Oval Tray 1,” which featured a Nefertiti lookalike and “Submerged Figure,” which boasted a gorgeous surface.
A late addition to Chroma’s lineup, Isaac Levenbrown’s mini-show entitled “The Waiting Room” is a discourse on mortality. The work features searing images of children, who despite being victimized by famine, disease, or violence still maintain their dignity. With their electric colors and large scale, the work is powerful. Levenbrown has been battling cancer and in his many hours spent in hospital waiting rooms has turned his attention to “the essential elements of humanity: life and death, love and courage; the big picture issues faced by every little person on the planet.”—Sarah Sargent