Keith Tilford's paintings are swallowing up the charming little cafe of Joe Bar. There are so many of them—32, but it may as well be 320—and they all picture the same roiling black-and-white world, that at a certain point, this alternative world is the world in there. It's an installation, really, not a show of paintings. And what is this world like? You could not live there.
The paintings are all black on white or white on black, acrylic paint on acrylic slab, applied with acrylic sticks rather than paintbrushes. The sticks have jagged edges where they've been broken, and those edges leave their marks in the form of aggressive, obsessive stripes that nevertheless stay inside the tight columnlike shapes bounded by the hard plastic edges of the "brushes." The title of the show, Dislocations, describes the continuous action inside the paintings, which are depictions of hurtling shapes. Everything is blowing apart or coming together again, no way to tell which.
Tilford is a delightfully nerdy Seattle artist and writer. His last art series, seen at James Harris Gallery in 2006, was pencil drawings of crowds made up of such small, pixelating marks (some resembling tiny letters of the alphabet) that the crowds looked atomized, as if they'd been hit by nuclear disaster but their ashes simply hadn't fallen to the ground yet. Tilford, fashionably at the time, used downloaded internet imagery for those, and the current series again feels right in time with the crystallographies of, say, Ann Lislegaard's sci-fi-based videos (seen at the Henry in 2009), or Joseph Park's prizmism paintings, or Thuy-Van Vu's portraits of scrap wood piles jutting out in every direction, or an installation like Free Dissociation at SOIL in 2007—a series of morphing and disintegrating images of local construction sites by Thom Heileson and Wyndel Hunt. Dislocation, or a hunger for location, appears again and again, like a symptom. It's interesting that Tilford's paintings appear in the same season as the release of the book Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum, the very idea of which is reassuring—that there could be a center to the internet at all. Blum tracks the undersea cables, the glass fibers, the command centers (in Seattle, the internet is located in the Westin building).
Tilford's shimmering, fracturing mirages are impressive for their material ingenuity and their conceptual relatability, sure. But their true power is in their sheer visual intrigue sustained across a range of paintings that should feel repetitive but never do. Somebody ought to buy the entire lot, seal them in an airless chamber, and make visitors wear space suits to view them.