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Art

Winter's Tale

East Meets West In Vibrant, Intelligent Cultural-Crossing Two-Person Show

WORLDS APART: (ABOVE) Davis' "The Lady And The Yellow Knight"; (BELOW) Jordan's "Arterial Trans."

By Deborah McLeod | Posted 2/7/2007

Winter: Jarrett Min Davis/ Courtney Jordan

At the Creative Alliance at the Patterson through Feb. 17

A few weeks back a pure white, irregularly shaped, scored, and tabbed card might have arrived in your mailbox. Its face announced "winter" in both English and Korean characters.

Perhaps you attempted to fold it into its premeditated shape, and possibly even succeeded. One disadvantage to assembling the flattened puzzle was that it was difficult to imagine its formal outcome. Neither a rectangular packing box, nor even a Chinese takeout carton, the unfamiliar configuration ultimately folded into a complex polygon. The final product, it turns out, is the pixel building block by which the Creative Alliance's current show by Jarrett Min Davis with Courtney Jordan assumes its solid state.

Davis and Jordan--partners in life as well as art--folded hundreds of these irascible units to create an untitled installation centerpiece that might unify their unlike undertakings. According to a conversation with the Korean-born Davis, the shape is derived from his native country's festival lanterns, usually abandoned in great piles on the streets at an event's finale.

But in the gallery, the opaque white lanterns tend to expand upon their origins, shape-shifting into emerging crystal formations like ice or salt or quartz accretions. If imagined as a large view of a small subject, they can appear atomic and lively; if imagined as a small view of a large subject, they propose an eerie, tessellated terrain like Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway.

Davis reproduces the same white shapes in his paintings in two dimensions as strange foreground terrain. They aggregate to form a foundation/barrier for some brash panoramas about the collisions of Eastern and Western cultures. What occurs beyond their low wall is a confusing entanglement of past and present.

In Davis' most recent paintings--accomplished during his current Creative Alliance residency--favorite Korean pop musicians gesticulate in a middle ground, somewhat removed from viewers by the piled polygons. As the central dynamic characters, they are often balanced by an American female counterpart.

Behind, in intersecting chaos, America's Civil War might be re-enacted, or giant fowl--migratory cranes, peacocks, an invading rooster--hover above or engage in the fracas. Much of Davis' action occurs in a valley setting dwarfed by Korea's manifest mountain topography. In various scenarios, which are quintessentially operatic, Piranesi-like architecture spans the landscape, crumbling into ruin. Or a tiny distant nuclear missile is made ready for testing. In another the Tower of Babel looms large.

Through Davis' layering and cluttering of disparate events the tick of time in these images is an incessant and accelerated affair. Sunny blue skies may be befouled with streams of dark smoke. But always, always, in the midst of the multicultural doomsday misbehavior, Davis inserts vividly polychromed Confucian Sowon towers, optimistically decorated with motifs of good fortune and peace.

Although Jarrett Min Davis blends his many narrative elements in garish, unanticipated concoctions, the lantern polygons are what have the most potent unconventional quality. As extinguished paper lanterns; as ice, salt, or quartz crystals; as mathematical logic; or as cast-aside tradition, the piles of geometric shapes in his paintings' foregrounds provoke unquenchable metaphors. It is a surpassing visual device. The wonderful older paintings, involving migratory birds and architecture, in the rear of the gallery only serve to enforce this new imagery's porous effect. These earlier works possess a preponderance of eggs that the polygons would replace.

Courtney Jordan quietly offers work from the far end of the image-making spectrum. Her etchings, monoprints, ink on mylar, and one gouache painting are as vacated, restrained, and methodically perfect as Davis' works are dramatically lurid and occupied. Jordan concentrates on the structure of infrastructure with nearly infinitesimal lines, studies of the mechanics of industrial elevators, or the Brooklyn Bridge's architecture. Jordan's rational mind and obsessively trained hand, her Metropolis scenery inspirations, and American Industrial Age references are an effective rejoinder to Davis' rowdy East-West pop interests. Betrothed through tessellated pixel blocks, winter snow crystals, or polygonal festival lanterns, these two highly differentiated artists make an interesting couple.

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