A Bargain-Basement Hyperhodgepodge
By Tom Wachunas
”I have nothing to say/ and I am saying it/ and that is poetry/ as I need it.” - John Cage, from "Lecture on Nothing" (1949)
EXHIBIT: THEATRE OF THE MIND – work by John Bruce Alexander and Robert Gallik / at Little Art Gallery, located in North Canton Public Library / THROUGH OCT. 2, 2016 / 185 N. Main St., North Canton, OH /330.499.4712 Ex. 312
A goofy gallimauphry? A silly salmagundi? A pithy pastiche? This gathering of works by John Bruce Alexander and Robert Gallik is a curious mélange of objects and images offered at surprisingly affordable prices (ranging from $10 to $175). Many of the pieces do seem to have a casual, almost throw-away sensibility, making the gallery feel a bit like a flea market, or the artists’ inventory clearance sale.
In his bio/statement, Gallik tells us, “The subject matter for my work has been form: shapes, color, balance, tension or texture structured in space…” Clear enough, keeping in mind that those elements are embraced by all sculptors to one degree or another regardless of “subject matter.” But then Gallik adds this: “…What they mean or symbolize, I don’t know. Maybe they’re only props on this stage we call life.”
So discerning the artist’s deeper motivations and conceptual intentions is left to us, the viewers. We are in effect invited to write the script, as it were, wherein Gallik’s “props” are more like animated characters that cavort about in a narrative of whimsical or surreal riddles. “Sometimes it surprises me,” Gallick writes, “what bubbles up from the subconscious…”
There’s certainly a raw, child-like spontaneity - and even an art brut spirit - to the way Gallik has constructed his array of common or found materials, giving them the aura of cartoonish folk art. Yet they’re also sophisticated in an odd sort of way, often bringing to mind, in 3D form, the delightfully quirky stylizations of Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), who once described himself as “a writer who draws.” In 1978, the eminent critic, Harold Rosenberg, wrote this of Steinberg’s art in an essay for the Whitney Museum of American Art, though I think the observation is apropos enough to Gallik’s aesthetic elements as well: “…a parade of fictitious personages, geometric shapes, items of household equipment, personified furniture, each staged in a fiction of what is – or in a dream of being something else.”
In his lengthy bio/statement, John Bruce Alexander goes a step further (or would “backward” be more accurate?) than Gallik’s when addressing the nature of his art. “I am not sure what art is or is supposed to be,” he writes, adding, “I may be doing it by accident or maybe not. Your view of what I have done is exactly what it is. All that I make are a form of self-portrait.” Yikes. Are we to read this disarming if not ironic admission as sincere self-deprecation, or that Alexander doesn’t know what he’s doing? Or is it to imply that what he has made might be something other than “art”? Maybe I’m making more of his words than they merit. In any case, I’ll stick with that cute old bit of abductive (abducktive?) reasoning and note that if it quacks like a duck, swims like a duck… You get the picture.
Alexander’s pictures, then, essentially take three forms here. Arguably the least successful are his reverse- color images on clear acrylic sheets (i.e., images made by applying material – mostly paint, I think - to the back of the clear sheet). It’s a technique that diminishes the tactile sense of the artist’s hand so that the pieces all have the same glossy poster look. That in itself isn’t as problematic as Alexander’s inconsistent design sensibilities. They aren’t dynamic compositions as such, but rather simplistic juxtapositions of non-descript shapes and marks, as well as representational images, floated on ambiguous planes of color. With the exception of the few that are mounted away from the wall to allow for some interesting shadow play, such as “Banshee,” there’s something a little lifeless about this formulaic methodology.
Another series of small black–and-white works on canvas are considerably more engaging. Most of these have a vaguely photo-documentary feel, depicting a kind of street theatre with a sociopolitical agenda, and include figures against brick walls with block-letter graffiti messages such as “Mother Should I Trust The Government?”
Alexander’s most visually exciting pieces – even to the point of dizzying - are his color collage panels. These are stunning if only from the perspective of considering the insanely laborious exactitude needed to cut out and paste myriad tiny images and texts. At first blush these pieces might seem like random senselessness. But a decidedly smart move was the inclusion of the magnifying glasses mounted in various spots on the gallery walls to assure ease of closer scrutiny. Thus engaged, you can better identify the thematic/conceptual threads that hold them together.
So take your time exploring these shiny surfaces, like so many vibrant lakes, teeming with…life. Enjoy the swim. Quack quack.
PHOTOS, from top: Installation view, with Robert Gallik’s Button-eye Jack with Bird Nest in Beard in left foreground / Fowl Play on the Banks of the Tuscarawas River, by Robert Gallik / The Happy Prince or A Child’s Worst Nightmare, by Robert Gallik / Banshee, by John Bruce Alexander / Mother Government, by John Bruce Alexander / Left and Right Brain Sections, by John Bruce Alexander