Surface as Signifier at UD Crane

Robert Straight, Surface as Signifier

Robert Straight, P-485, acrylic, knitted string, paper, plywood, 2012, Surface as Signifier at UD Crane

Curated by: Peg Curtin and Bruce Garrity

“Mellifluous, porous, undulating and otherwise, surfaces serve as visual signifiers. Surface as Signifier examines conceptually abstract works that are slick, transparent, thick, thin, and heavily layered. Process, evidence of touch — or lack of touch — contributes to and shapes the content of this work. Collectively, these contrasting vernaculars point to an open sensibility that continues to limn new narratives in abstract painting.”

OK, DoN is late posting this story, Surface as Signifier has already moved on after exhibitions at Camden County College and UD Crane. The art show cycle changes so fast but DoNArTNeWs captured images from the landmark exhibition that challenges and explores preconceptions of art, abstraction, expressionism and surface through visual signification.

The book Mythologies by Roland Barthes is a series of essays that examines modern myths created by contemporary value systems where signs are elevated to the level of myth through signification. The semiotics of contemporary art material and application to surfaces is the gist of the exhibition. You might think of it as mixed media but the theme is deeper with hidden meanings and narrative.

Leslie Wayne, Surface as Signifier

Leslie Wayne, One Big Love, oil on wood  Surface as Signifier at UD Crane

A series of paintings by Leslie Wayne called One Big Love exemplifies the concept. Each painting is action packed with layers of paint applied to wood then scraped into clumps revealing hints to the activity behind the work and a story about the search for satisfaction in art making. The signification of removing paint resonates easily with artists who struggle to reach a level of completeness in a painting but anyone who has tried to remove paint from an old door also experiences the signs and symbols of the work done by the previous painter. There is satisfaction in renewing the old but the uncovered signs are remembered maybe as lessons, warnings or stories.

“I think of my paintings as visual manifestations of physical forces, which are meant to inspire a sensation that is analogous to being in the natural world. By eliminating traditional narrative as a mediator, I can capture the compression of time and history through abstraction and metaphor.” – Leslie Wayne website.

Donna Czapiga, Surface as Signifier

Donna Czapiga, Wake, oil, enamel on birch panel, 2013, Surface as Signifier at UD Crane

One of Donna Czapiga‘s paintings was used in the advertising and press releases for Surface as Signifier. The group of paintings had a strong photographic quality as if the black and white abstracts were over exposed negatives. Photography is a contemporary art form that influenced the Impressionists with images slipping out of the picture plane. Utilizing the myth making capability of photography signifies her paintings with a sense of atmospheric realism. Challenging the realness of an image describes the cultural phenomenon of abstraction with a sense of the strangeness and confusion of modernism.

Robert Straight, Surface as Signifier

Robert StraightP499, acrylic, laser cut paper on wood, Surface as Signifier at UD Crane

“My main interest is in creating work that isn’t based on existing visual images. My approach is to invent my own world that uses the influences of many things in our contemporary world. Math related concepts such as prime numbers, geometry, fractals, string theory, and algorithms are useful to me. Science both physical and biological is informative. A layer of earth as seen by a geologist opens possibilities. Webs, nets, knots, patterns, clusters, and islands are sometimes a consideration in my pictorial work. I’m interested in the way that an image on a large scale may be extraordinarily complex but may be transformed on a micro scale into something very simple. Strategies, process, layers, and structure are concerns when I’m constructing a painting. Every painting is an individual that demands new ways of thinking and a specific process in its construction.” –  Robert Straight artist statement.

Douglas Witmer, Surface as Signifier

Douglas Witmer, Fruitville, mixed media on found wood, Surface as Signifier at UD Crane

Douglas Witmer‘s Fruitville is a collection of found pieces of wood that are enhanced with color and texture. The artist explained during the artist panel discussion that he used objects that were left overs, scraps and cast offs that he found around his studio. The small paintings are grouped together, each piece reliant on the others to create the signification of art onto what some might call trash. There is a poignance to the paintings because of the contemporary disregard for frugality and wastefulness.

“A painting is not a statement. It is the evidence of painting.” –  Douglas Witmer …not a statement.

Robert Straight, Surface as Signifier

Robert Straight, P-484, acrylic, cheese cloth, laser cut paper, plywood, 2012, Surface as Signifier at UD Crane

Margery Amdur, Surface as Signifier

Margery Amdur, Amass #5, cosmetic sponges coated with pastel pigment, Surface as Signifier at UD Crane

Margery Amdur‘s mixed media collage/sculptures use a material that is significant to those who wear makeup. Hundreds of sponge makeup applicators burst with color, form and imaginative reuse of common materials. The concept of cosmetic makeup is so engrained in contemporary culture through the media and the notion of idealized beauty that we don’t think about the waste of time, effort and product to conceal imagined imperfections. The myth of perfection is explored in the Amass series, each artwork more strident and bold than the next like a lineup of super-models, already beautiful, covered with gunk and goo to appear prettier.

“I am a mark maker-on and off the canvas, and I don’t restrict myself to any one material. I like to live in that very fluid space between painting, sculpture, and printmaking, and the idea of an obsessively ritualized process is still very prominent in the work.” Margery Amdur artist statement.

Nicole Donnelly, Surface as Signifier

Nicole Donnelly, Solid States: Vapor, Ice, Water, handmade kozo paper with encaustic, Surface as Signifier at UD Crane

Nicole DonnellySolid States: Vapor, Ice, Water, looks like fabric stained with paint, the triptych hangs like tapestries of silk. But it’s actually huge sheets of handmade paper with the subtle color merged through the surface creating an artwork with that wonderful ability to change from one concept to another before your eyes. The surface of the paper becomes the signifier, the action becomes the sign and the sign becomes the myth. Tapestries belong in palaces; one’s home is their palace. By appropriating the myth of luxurious living the artist signifies the ordinary with the significance of the ideal of a better life.

Surface as Signifier explains and expands the concept of contemporary art with challenging ideas, materials and motifs. Surface and texture are used in modern society to convey deeper meaning to common actions and activities like the glossiness of a magazine cover, the softness of silk, the realness of photography or the dreams of escapism through art. Hopefully, Surface as Signifier, will surface again soon in another space and time.

Margery Amdur
Donna Czapiga
Nicole Donnelly
James Erikson
Jim Lee
Anne Seidman
Robert Straight
Leslie Wayne
Douglas Witmer

Written and photographed by DoN Brewer except where noted.

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