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The Inventive Works of Paul Troy and Dave Massey Stand Out In Group Show

NOW, THAT WOULD LOOK NICE OVER THE COUCH: In photographs such as "Kelly Drive, Schuylkill River," Dave Massey reinvigorates the stock architectural shot.

By J. Bowers | Posted 8/24/2005

With Your Eyes Closed?

At Sub-Basement Artist Studios through Aug. 26

Digital prints and modern furniture sound like strange bedfellows, but Savannah, Ga.-based sculptor/photographer Paul Troy makes it work in Sub-Basement Artist Studios’ latest ensemble show, With Your Eyes Closed?

The show also features work by photographers Dave Massey, Rich Eskin, and Mike Diamond, but bringing Troy on board was a particularly savvy choice—otherwise, the pit in the middle of the gallery, a sculptor’s dream, would have languished as dead space. Troy’s prolific, multiformat output could have made the other three artists’ work feel superfluous, but it is immediately obvious that his true talents lie in furniture design. His color-saturated, blatantly digitally manipulated images—such as “Escape,” a disproportionately massive orange butterfly transposed over scrub trees, and the aptly named “Wallpaper,” which juxtaposes a woman’s face with a reddish-brown tree line—tend to come off like desktop wallpaper.

Luckily, Troy trumps his photography with his innovative furniture, which simultaneously references and re-imagines the work of everyone from Charles and Ray Eames to Le Corbusier, drawing more than a little inspiration from Metropolis and other art-deco icons, and showcasing Troy’s willingness to experiment with various materials. Combining sinuous feminine lines, triangular drawer pulls, and countless mirrors, his walnut and lace “Display Chest” is crowned with an angular finial that gives the piece a modern edge. More concerned with form than function, “Clam Lamp” is a ’70s-esque white lotus uplight, carved out of medium-density fiber and lined with pale pink paint that helps the lamp cast a soothing glow.

Troy’s furniture is stunning enough on its own, but Sub-Basement goes the extra mile by showcasing functional pieces in nonfunctional ways, forcing you to explore the concept of furniture as sculpture. “Float,” the honey-colored maple and glass table that convinced curator Jeffrey Kent to include furniture in the show, is stationed on the edge of the gallery’s upper level, permitting viewing from above and below. “Warts and All,” a crotch walnut and cherry elliptical coffee table seemingly based on Eames’ iconic surfboard-like design, is presented atop four white pedestals, raised to eye level so that you can get a good look at its intricately lathed legs. And strangest of all, the wide-winged “Designer Chair, Cheesecake” is suspended upside-down from the ceiling above a mirror at the front of the gallery, immediately informing you that the pieces, though functional, are meant to be seen with a designer’s eye.

Along the perimeter of the gallery, Dave Massey’s urban photography and mixed-media work more than makes up for Troy’s photographic shortcomings, and provides an interesting riposte to the architectural influences in Troy’s furniture. Massey consistently reinvents the stereotypical, dorm-room poster notion of the “city skyline,” placing his lens at interesting angles and working during the proverbial “golden hour” to catch the best light. “Manhattan Skyline” is a wonderfully innovative update of a tired theme. Shot from a low angle, the image contrasts the rough angles of brick apartment buildings with the hard, clean edges of modern skyscrapers—eschewing Big Apple magic for gritty reality.

Massey is just as fascinated by Baltimore’s architecture—a large print of “Mount Vernon Methodist Church” shoots the building from a slightly askew perspective as natural light bathes the stonework with bluish, orange, and red tones. “Preston Apartments” presents an apartment building as a hulking red hive of windows, broken here and there by window AC units and hastily knotted white curtains. Massey is equally adept at capturing more rural architecture, such as “Kelly Drive, Schuylkill River,” an oddly hypnotic print of a mossy bridge reflected in a river—and, at 40-by-60-inches, it’s large enough to lose your eyes in. “Warehouse District, New Orleans, LA” uses a similarly massive format to explore the angles that create parking garages, factories, rowhomes, and luxury hotels, some half-swallowed by fog. Taken from a rooftop, the entire scene is anchored by a palm frond in the lower right corner, just blurry enough to suggest the presence of wind.

And Massey doesn’t stop there. His “Camera Concept Series” triptych turns his focus onto his equipment with a collage of words, drawings, and sigil-like symbols on cotton rag. Phrases such as “all meaning is a social construct” and “originality is dead” dance with backward-printed algebra equations and drawings of the artist’s Yashica Mat 124 camera, and the end result is just as impressive as his photography.

With heavy hitters such as Massey and Troy around, you might find yourself feeling almost sorry for also-rans Rich Eskin, who specializes in accomplished, yet tame natural scenes and floral closeups, and National Photo owner/shutterbug Mike Diamond, who offers a few interestingly textured/colorized pigment ink-jet prints of a rehearsing rock band. Their work, like Troy’s photography, just takes up space in Sub-Basement’s cavernous environment.

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