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The Excavator, The Semiotician, and The Alchemist

Mark Eisendrath's "Rojo"

By J. Bowers | Posted 2/1/2006

The Excavator, The Semiotician, and The Alchemist

At Gallery Imperato through Feb. 24

Gallery Imperato’s The Excavator, the Semiotician, and the Alchemist—featuring works by painter Sasha Blanton, mixed-media artist Erin Cluley, and sculptor/painter Mark Eisendrath—is an elegant, diverse exhibit showcasing unusual approaches to traditional materials.

Wielding marble-colored oils on massive canvases and panels to create anatomically impressive, shadowy nudes, Blanton draws inspiration from classical sculpture. His faceless figures crouch and curl within hazy, square fields of gray, twisted elbows and legs often butting up against or spilling off the paintings’ edges. Blanton takes full advantage of oil’s textural possibilities, slicing through layers of paint to add to the images’ antique feel. Experienced en masse, Blanton’s unique compositions feel almost sculptural, reminiscent of plaster body casts scientists form to excavate Pompeii. Like those three-dimensional figures, created by pouring wet plaster into fissures found in layers of hardened ash, Blanton’s works have a funereal air about them, particularly in titles such as “In Memoriam” and “Catastrophe II,” where hair-thin outlines of human bodies appear to disappear into the ether, ephemeral and strange.

Eisendrath’s framed mixed-media works prove much harder to classify. Using a self-designed technique, the Rhode Island School of Design graduate coats paper with various chemical substances, then sets each work alight, allowing fire to dictate the bright, freewheeling colors, gritty textures, and raw-edged shapes that dominate his abstract works. Some pieces, such as the delicate, shoestring-thin “Strength and Fragility,” use single pieces of paper. Others—most notably the triptych “RoJo,” “Yeah, Bro (#2),” and “I used to name all my paintings after women”—find Eisendrath slicing charred, chemical-treated paper into squares and collaging the pieces into more controlled formal shapes. Different still, his tabletop sculptures, including the spherical “Babycakes” and “Blackwork Hallow,” combine wood with carefully applied stitches of steel, rusty copper fragments, and other found objects. A sense of happy accident runs through all of Eisendrath’s work, but he exhibits tremendous range, creating distinct, equally accomplished styles in each medium.

The odd artist out in this trio is Baltimore-based painter Erin Cluley, who works with a rich burgundy-based color palette and repetitive geometric patterns inspired by Moorish architecture and botanical science. Cluley’s handmade-paper surfaces add an interesting textural element to her thin watercolorlike coats of oil paint, overlaid with patterns in gold and silver leaf. For the most part, though, her nonobjective compositions lack focus, particularly in larger works such as “Ten Lovely Prayers” and “Veiled Meditation,” where the formal patterns, at odds with their swirling roseate backgrounds, feel tacked-on or extraneous to the work as a whole. It is easy to see why she was included in this show, though—a sense of experimentation unites these three artists’ wildly different styles, making for an inspiring envelope-pushing of a show.

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