Tim Roda is a recent MFA graduate of the UW, but his first solo exhibition at the Greg Kucera Gallery in August demonstrated that he is a fully formed talent. His disturbing and fascinating photographs are staged tableaux featuring himself, his wife, and his son enacting psychologically fraught scenarios.
Like altars built of wire, scrap metal, and broken glass, Roda's work hammers ungraceful material into something like beauty. His elaborate installations, bristling with symbolic detritus, are meticulously constructed. Each element--mirrors, sawhorses, toys, pulleys--has symbolic weight. Roda's sense of composition draws from Old Masters' paintings without directly referencing them.
Roda's use of his own family invites comparisons to artists like Sally Mann, but his work is much more complicated and less formal. He has said that he is inspired by the work of Norman Rockwell, that purveyor of wholesomeness, and I don't believe Roda is being perverse in that assertion. Like Rockwell, he is most interested in scenarios that distill relationships down to near-mythic moments. The darkness of Roda's material is only a more honest response to everything that has happened in the culture since Rockwell's time (anything less would be read as camp). By taking elements of domestic strife and sinister childhood memories that we are supposedly numb to through overexposure (another sexual abuse story, another dysfunctional family) and stylizing them, Roda's work returns a sense of shock and discomfort to our most jaded notions. NATE LIPPENS
"I rarely make things normal size," Elizabeth Jameson says in Cynthia Rose's work-in-progress documentary about her art. Jameson's work, which can currently be seen in the group show Ruffle: Decadent Vexation at the Kirkland Arts Center, is preoccupied with form and shape. This would seem appropriate for any artist. But hers is not simply a matter of proportion and scale. Jameson works with bodies--covered bodies. Costumes are the springboard for her concerns with fear and control and the manifestations of fear and control in our appearances--the ways by which we obscure, shield, and transform ourselves to create the illusion of safety and protection.
Her charcoal and pastel drawings depict masked and anonymous figures outfitted with gloves, goggles, clunky shoes--figures bundled up in sweaters with sleeves that connect, ridiculous dresses festooned with pillows and sacks and, on one skirt, a miniature staircase. They are dream-like architecture, bringing to mind Pat Oleszko's jokey costumes and sketches for the late avant-garde guerrilla designer/performer Leigh Bowery drawn by André Breton. They have a current of dread and paranoia that undercuts any whimsy, looking somewhere between cotillion formal and Abu Ghraib.
Jameson's 2002 show at the Henry Art Gallery entitled Splendorform featured old and new work, juxtaposed appealingly, and sometimes startlingly, with undergarments she selected from the Henry's collection of historical costumes. The corsets, crinolines, and rocket bras could be read as a kind of feminist critique, but when seen alongside Jameson's absurdist work they took on a rather sinister tone--like segmented insect parts or strictly tended topiary. NATE LIPPENS
In the large openness of Suyama Space, Brian Murphy's current exhibit Facing still commands the room--gently. The work consists of six long scroll-like panels facing one another. Measuring 9 feet high and 15 feet wide and hanging from the gallery ceiling, they are impressively large, yet delicate. The opposing panels bear self-portraits cropped at the mouth, with eyes raised, looking up, as one might appraise a fresco or the sky.
Murphy's paintings are of common, everyday moments heightened, not by dramatic scope, but by the delicacy of their colors. Murphy paints himself as a cloud, ephemeral and fleeting. It's the opposite impulse from most autobiographical art. He uses himself because he is the material at hand. His art is not coruscating self-examination nor is Murphy a kind of symbolic stand-in. It is, of course, self-reflection--the mirror, the face, the representations facing each other--but it's less about this specific self than about self-consciousness, in every sense of the term.
The watercolors are billowy representations, and it will be interesting to see how working in oils impacts his work. Murphy already uses a palette similar to Lucien Freud's infamous fleshy man/mountain portraits. He may discover himself and his self-consciousness to be not just a floating cloud, a drifting body, but an earthier, weightier matter. Of course, that is when things will get complicated and interesting. NATE LIPPENS