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Visions of Excess

Information Overload Trumps Demur Artfulness in Group Show

Randi Reiss-McCormack's "Pirouette 1 - Spinning."

By Bret McCabe | Posted 8/20/2008

From across the room all you can make out is the vague outline of a face. The rest is a nonsense web of all-over-the-page doodles. As you move closer, though, this noise of lines begins to form shapes, as if rack-focusing a fuzzy background sharp. Up close the intricate drawings that fill the page begin to compete for the eye--a sunglassed face smiling into a cell phone, a woman frowning, a mouth curled into the oblong "o" of a surprise. And only when you read the title of Michael Iampieri's "Everybody in THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER, May 24, 2004" does the single sheet of layered information start to make any sort of illogical sense.

As curated by artist and the Maryland Institute College of Art associate dean of continuing studies Peter Dubeau, Maryland Art Place's Hidden and Revealed is ostensibly about the creative process in six artists--Iampieri, Dean Kessmann, Kevin Kepple, Michelle La Perrière, Randi Reiss-McCormack, and Hadieh Shafie--who layer imagery and ideas in their works. It's an attempt to look at the visual editing process, an opportunity to consider what gets hidden and revealed in the process. It's a fairly wonky organizing theme, and the works in the show offer a slightly different argument: More is more.

La Perrière's hand-worked monoprints arguable best speak to Dubeau's organizing idea. Each of the 15 single prints here--a suite of images titled "From River Suite for Vincent Alain la Perrière and Remy Colette La Perrière Abarbanel: 15 Prayers"--captures a ghost of an image. Installed as a three-by-five array, the suite offers a cycle of leitmotifs--a pair of birds, spherical long-stemmed fruit that could be cherries, a fish, a headless ballerina torso--in similar compositions, although each individual print never drives toward fully realistic representation of said objects. It's a piece with a personal backstory--see the artist's mini-biographies at the gallery--but divorced from such precious emotional investment, the images, individually and as a set, feel incomplete. In fact, your mind tries to overlay them atop each other as if layered transparencies in an old encyclopedia illustration, seeking to determine if seen as a solitary image they deliver on the hinted shapes and nebulous outline promises of the individual prints.

You want to do the same thing to Kessmann's untitled archival pigment prints. This series of 10 prints offers another set of similar imagery, but what it obscures in its fragmentation is even more elusive. The individual prints themselves are scant abstractions. The dark negative space is a mottled graphite color, like a fading tattoo clashing against the X-ray white; some feature snatches of handwritten lettering: a scribbled "ceiling high," an "8" that lays down to nap and becomes an infinity sign. These images' germinating seeds--Kessmann's memories of imagery found below the surface of a wall from building a house--are insinuated in the works themselves, giving the series the impression of architectural plans whose greater structure you can't fathom because all you can see are these small details. It's an impression that's reinforced by the installation--each image is a tight small vertical rectangle, but they're cropped by white mat board inside their frames. And after spending a few minutes with the images you want to find out what's hiding beneath all that mat white space and put the puzzle together to see the literal big picture.

Reiss-McCormack also denies a complete image in her three obviously kitsch mixed-media paintings. Her circular paintings--Spirograph swirls of pastels and children's book imagery housed inside hand-sewn/-stuffed frames--baffle more than anything. They're unrepentantly tacky--they feel like a homemade puffy-paint sweatshirt version of baroque Palace of Versailles frescoes--and yet that derisive shudder that first runs down the spine when seeing them never produces actual vomit in the mouth, and they slowly begin to cast some obtuse spell over you. No idea why such brash paintings become so seductive, but they slowly do--even though you probably haven't seen some of these color combinations since mid-1970s window treatments.

Kepple's glue paints don't fare as well. His four viscous paintings here turn a glue media into these painstakingly produced geometric shapes that he then colors with varnish (add, rinse, repeat). The process creates these highly textured canvas surfaces that begin to feel stilted and sedate--except in "Furnace II," where his oblong repeating shapes and the burnt vermillion-ish varnish becomes this incendiary composition that simultaneously recalls blood cells and a cinematic explosion. It's a saturation of color and compositional elements that succinctly captures what works best here: the overload of information.

And Iampieri and Shafie dive into that overload best here. Iampieri's six drawings--like the above, all tracings from magazine imagery--and Shafie's three paper and ink constructions all find something confounding to consider by cramming as much as they can into their two-dimensional planes. Iampieri's transformations are the more literal--he takes the serial experience of visual information in a magazine and shoves it all into the single time and place of one frame--and the more beguiling: It's hard not to consider the garishly heady "Latin Inches, October 2004" and not smile a little. Shafie's works are the more disarming. Handwritten paper scrolls are bundled into a clumsily pixelated composition in "14350," while in "Overlap" and the overwhelming "205812," a single Farsi word--"love" according to her mini bio--becomes the solitary gestural element, repeated ad nauseam until something beautiful emerges from the excess.

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