|SLAG & RX is pleased to announce "Coming Close," a two-artist exhibition curated by Seph Rodney. The exhibition will showcase works by Chellis Baird and Megan Dyer.|
Curatorial Statement by Seph Rodney
Curating a two-person exhibition is a delicate operation. Its difficulty consists in placing in visual conversation the work of two artists whose styles need to be different enough so as to generate productive friction. Yet, they can’t be so unlike that they seem to be speaking entirely different languages (brought together under the aegis of an overly constrained curatorial rationalization). They should share a lingua franca though their dialects differ. With the right combination the bodies of work may even complement each other.
A couple years ago when Megan Dyer reached out to me via social media to tell me about her exhibition at ATM gallery, I went to see it, trying to keep myself open to the possibility of being surprised, maybe even delighted. I was impressed with how energetic and sweepingly lyrical her painting was and is. Upon arranging a studio visit with her I was amazed to find that these non-objective compositions made up of graphite, pigmented water, and paper are actually studies of real people. In Dyer’s own words: “These works are portraits. I use the language of abstraction, but the works are representational.”
After selecting a person whose life strikes her as exceptional, Dyer begins a rigorous research process out of which she generates a timeline that includes the key events of her subject’s life. Dyer then turns that vertically arranged timeline into concentric circles that provide the backdrop for each portrait. Using water infused with acrylic binders and raw pigments, she chooses colors based on important biographical events. Dyer channels the energy of the subject attempting to find their true nature within a system of “Water Archetypes” she has invented. More than this, the artist who describes herself as a climate activist and water protector, is very intentional about the materials she uses. Graphite is a crystalline form of carbon which is the most abundant element in life forms on the planet; water, a life force that covers most of the Earth also makes up the majority of the human body; paper is made from trees with which our species has a crucial and interdependent relationship. With these paintings Megan Dyer seeks to mindfully place herself close to her subjects, in almost intimate contact while acknowledging that like them, her work will one day also pass away, and when it does, it should be reintegrated into the ground from which it was drawn.
Chellis Baird, alternatively, uses her abstract paintings to excite our faculties of and desires for touch. I recently saw her “The Touch of Red” series online at the suggestion of a mutual colleague and friend. Most of these works have a glossy surface that is even more richly inviting in person, and perplexing this visual lavishness is their muscular striation. These paintings comprised of fabric, plaster, acrylic, wood, and wire pull and strain at the conditions of their own being; they overwhelm the surface to become more than just reliefs — assemblage that the canvases’ borders cannot contain. And isn’t this a mirror of the human story, to struggle with our basic, corporeal circumstances, to contend against the most animal parts of our animal natures so that we might exceed them or transcend them?
The work also conveys the warmth of an embrace, the deep satisfaction of being held. More, Baird describes the work as being inflected by her ritual of applying red lipstick (her favored color), wanting to replicate the sensuousness of that caress which also makes the wearer’s lips temptingly lush. The viewer might also strain against the proper and customary prohibition against touching these paintings, though their surfaces kindle the desire to handle and feel their textures.
In other paintings mottled and convoluted surfaces are inspired by Baird’s experience of both a performer and a fan of modern dance: seeing how the rhythm of long and languid movement might be punctuated by more subtle gestures that seem to wink in and out of existence. They suggest something about how we move through the world, tethered to each other over time by threads of common experience that might become so intermingled we cannot fathom how to unknot ourselves.
Both of these artists come close to the very human experience of seeing, touching, and knowing each other — really coming into awareness of the other at varying levels of intimacy. Chellis Baird and Megan Dyer make approximations of the personal and propositions about our future encounters. As their voices converge here in enthusiastic exchange, the visitor listening closely might just be able to make out their own name.