Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Adventures of Volitia: Paradise, Again

Adventures of Volitia: Paradise, Again, at the Palmer Gallery, is the first U.S. showing of the present installment of artist Melissa Mark's ongoing series. The exhibit comprises several mounted pencil drawings and a large pencil and ink drawing on the walls of the gallery itself.  According to the artist's statement of purpose, Volitia is "a remnant of abstraction, a detachable Pollock drip" who gained consciousness and is now "part Superman, part Eve—creation come to life."

This description of Volitia was certainly intriguing enough. It's well-known that Jackson Pollock's paint-drip paintings were meant to be an expression of American masculinity and optimism (if you take Art 106, you'll learn that those paintings were used by the CIA as propaganda!). How could an artist imbue an abstract work with personality, much less a masculine act with feminine traits? Is it the copious amount of neon pink in Marks's drawings? The fact that Volitia is a round, tomato-like creature who zooms around a landscape made of rocks, flowers, and blue, phallic tubers? And just what is Volitia anyway? At the opening, Marks said that Volitia was the aforementioned tomato (although she looks more like a lotus root to me), but couldn't she be all of the lines in the drawing? Or maybe even the artist's own will to put her story, an abstract idea, down on paper?

Marks's installation walks the fine line between abstraction and narrative. In many ways, it reminded me of the Whitney Museum exhibit Charles Burchfield: Heatwaves in a Swamp. The first part of this exhibit showed some abstract images Burchfield had made of different emotions (Despair, Happiness, Sadness, etc.) Burchfield made use of this visual vocabulary throughout his life, from his stylized early landscapes to his hyper realistic paintings of industrial America. With Adventures of Volitia, I can see a similar process: Marks uses the same small lexicon of pen strokes to build up an entire world. It's one of the most intelligent (and beautiful) contemporary art shows I've seen both at Vassar and the outside world. 

Adventures of Volitia: Paradise, Again is on view in the Palmer Gallery (next to the Retreat) until November 5th.

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