NAC in SOHO: Colby Bird

Colby Bird @ Fitzroy

Peering behind the frame

Pull back the curtain, peek around the side, look at what’s behind the picture—what you expected?—well, no; who hangs a photograph on a coat hook with a brass drawer pull? Colby Bird does. He also hinges them together and screws shiny doorknobs onto the backsides of others. In fact, photos that hang flat on the wall are in the minority here. You might say Colby’s photographs are on their way to becoming sculpture.

            The content of Colby’s photos remind me that the act of looking is itself always a process of becoming, never finished, always restarting, always recreating—endless metamorphosis really. In the opening image—nearest to the entry, so also the closing, to be fair—Colby enlarged a color negative  and centered it on an expanse of blackness. What we see is a hand that is either drawing back white drapes to reveal a view of a swimming pool, or closing them to conceal it.

too much glass-glare for a head-on shot

For me this piece became a stage setter from which motifs forked immediately. On the opposite wall a gorgeous still life verily celebrates a bright yellow box of Kodak Ready Load sheet film—precious stuff now that it’s a thing of the past—atop a towel-draped table. Two large photos of windows—one in full sunlight, one viewed in the reflection of a mirror at night—stand freely on the floor.

Where this travels to—the realm of Eros—is perhaps predictable, given the potential of the gaze to be a penetrating force. Colby gives us a side-by-side pairing of surf on sand, but what do I see: a crotch. And just to the left: another window’s view of two seaside bikini-clad beauties toweling off, framed, naturally, by vines and flowers. Bright as it may be, this section resolves on a dark note. It looks like a depiction of a void, a dull shine in lightless space, birth canal, maybe? No. I think it’s actually a blurry colander; that kitchen tool used to rinse dirt and grime—those unwanted elements of the outdoors—from the food we bring inside.

Down on my knees, looking at the backside of the void, with bikini babes in the background

And yes, yes, these apples and oranges that sit among the stairway’s balusters, directing one’s gaze foot-ward even as one descends into the subterranean level of the gallery; they are part of the exhibition too. I can’t help myself from personifying the sculptures down here into stage actors. Is it the lighting? Yes, partially, in certain instances the shadows seem to be as much a part of the work as any tangible element. Also the linear arrangement; they look as if they’re about to take a bow?

I get up close and it looks like these pieces are made of the struts, arms, and legs of chairs. All but one seems to be completed by a piece of fruit, a fertility metaphor perhaps? Maybe. The fruit would seem to offer a new view on to the theme of metamorphosis. Renewed is better. Like the artwork upstairs, its potential transformations may only be suggested—no tree is going to grow from these apples—they nevertheless blossom before the mind’s eye.

From the stairwell, a good fifteen to twenty paces away

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NAC in Soho

Tony Cox, William Lamson, Ken Tisa, & Steven Thompson @ Kate Werble Gallery

An exhibition that gives a good naked experience overall.

Tony Cox

Tony Cox's mixed media work at about 12 paces

Tony Cox’s mixed media pieces look good naked. They have an enigmatic and ritualistic character, like artifacts of some magic cult you never knew existed. There is a strong element of craft in Tony’s work, evidence of the artist’s hand and his time can easily be identified in the dense needlework. Sewing is Tony’s main thing; he either stitches patterns into canvas or sews objects onto his canvas. The objects are mundane—bobby pins, earrings, chopsticks, beads, cushion covers—but they incur a somewhat fetishistic force on the canvas. Tony’s overall composition tends toward symmetry, but like the hand woven rugs of Native Americans, it’s pleasantly imperfect.

Close enough to kiss the surface

Ken Tisa

            Ken Tisa’s watercolor paintings are amazing in the nude!

Ken Tiza painting at six paces

At arm's distance from Ken's painting

Mesmerizing, swirling,hypnotic—his compositions could be portraying the schematics of bird’s nest or colliding air currents or vortexes of any kind. They immediately call to mind this idea of vision that James Elkins put forward in The Object Stares Back wherein everything you look at looks back at you, no matter what that things’ eyes are doing (if that thing even has eyes). If you could see all the lines of vision it would look like a complex web or a cat’s cradle. Ken Tisa’s washy paintings perfectly illustrate the concept. In one, a grid pattern hovers below the surface of countless finely articulated lines twirling into whorls as if flowing from one eddy into another. Like Tony’s pieces, Ken’s watercolors could be meditational objects. They embody the act of concentration through repetition, of finding the inner fluidity of solid things.

Steven Thompson

With my back to the wall, and a piece by Tony Cox in the deep space.

Steven’s Thompson’s sculpture looks great naked, there is just so much to discover in it! The core of the structure is an illusion: a mass of wood is nailed, cut, and painted to look like an outcropping of rock. Four tables (also wood) extend out from the rock, giving the circular sculpture clear quadrants. The tables and the faux rock are all balanced by dozens of shims, which gives the weighty work an air of improvisation, like when a waiter sticks a coaster under the leg of a wobbly table and it’s suddenly dead even.

Two steps back from one of four table tops in Leason's sculpture

The objects Steven situates on the four tables could be specimens from the collection of an alchemist—iridescent shells, fossilized coral, a human skull, quartz crystals, an ostrich egg, chunks of amber, cork, parts of a tobacco pipe, magnets, and on and on. Like the sprawling installations of Sarah Sze you want to inspect everything, and the longer you look the more you find. Steven has carved words and sometimes just letters into a few of the objects. In the cork he carved “death plaid,” and in a little white rock, the word “Koh.” Was this a reference to the performance artist, Terence Koh, or—perhaps more plausibly—to the inorganic compound Potassium Hydroxide, a colorless solid whose chemical formula is “KOH?”

William Lamson 

William Lamson’s video piece is enjoyable naked. In it a person in a white outfit strives to keep a large glowing balloon air born. It’s night, so all is dark, and the glowing balloon is the sole source of illumination. The action appears to have been staged in a field; the figure and the balloon recede into space until eventually they disappear behind what must be a decline in the landscape. The soundtrack, which gives the whole exhibition an audio component, is all crickets and cicadas. This is an imminently soothing video; as I watched the balloon and figure grow smaller and fainter while the insects played their steady song I felt like I was slipping into hypnosis.