Monday, April 23, 2007

Oliver Vernon, Macro/Micro

Irvine Contemporary

April 14-May 19, 2007

by Lauren Rice

Before even looking at the press release, our resident genius, Geoffrey Aldridge, asked me which artists Oliver Vernon was influenced by. When I could not adequately answer, he exclaimed, “This guy’s work looks like Matthew Ritchie and Julie Mehretu.” You go, smarty-pants, because before I could even explore Oliver Vernon’s assessed fixation with the work of the aforementioned artists, Irvine Contemporary’s press release identified his influences by stating, “His work represents a bold and confident fusion of many trajectories in contemporary painting never before combined in one coherent vision: post-pop surrealism and visionary art, high-tech science fiction, figural abstraction, street and graffiti art, and the multi-layered, complex visualizations of Matthew Ritchie, Julie Mehretu, Fred Tomaselli and Ryan McGinness.”

After doing my research, I realized that Vernon’s work most resembles the work of British-born Matthew Ritchie. Literally, Ritchie’s The Living Will, 2004 could have been inserted into Vernon’s show without anybody noticing. This is by far my biggest complaint with Vernon’s recent body of work. While Vernon’s graphic/calligraphic aesthetic is clearly affiliated with the work of all of the artists listed in the press release as well as additional art historical examples, Ritchie’s influence on Vernon is far too overpowering. Furthermore, I also felt that Ritchie, Tomaselli and McGinness’ decision to often break away from canvas painting into installation was perhaps something that Vernon could have been more influenced by. Vernon’s sand castle sculpture in the center of the gallery did not add to or explore concepts presented in his two-dimensional works, but seemed to be the start of a completely unrelated idea. Although architectural elements existed in his paintings, I could not quite figure out why he chose to build a sand castle instead of a form that more closely related to his paintings. Perhaps this dissimilarity was heightened by the homogeneity of the painted works.

All of Vernon’s paintings seemed to be details of a larger situation, like small glimpses of a missing whole. While I feel that this is relevant considering the artist’s interest in the organic facets of the body in relation to outer space, I would have liked to see a few pieces that were either more contained by the canvas or that stretched beyond the canvas. Vernon made a few attempts at painting on irregular rectangular shapes, however, I feel this challenge could be explored further.

Initially, I was drawn to Vernon’s work. The repetition of modules, calligraphic-like designs, and even maps in the paintings did have a relationship to science fiction and technology that seemed to add to the history of abstract painting. On this same note, I also liked that from a distance the work could have been digitally generated, but upon moving closer I was aware of the artist’s hand, his struggle in the painting. However, I was also aware that the artist could benefit from a palette expansion/exploration. I felt that the same greens, light blues and neutral tans were used in almost every painting.

In light of my criticism, I feel that in my own work, which often deals with the blurring of interior dwellings and exterior landscapes, could benefit from relying more on the disconnect between the interior and exterior. If Vernon is really interested in the idea of macro and micro, perhaps he could also disconnect the two and explore each idea in a separate painting. Or, even exploring the two ideas in the same painting without allowing them to merge could be interesting. Overall, I just feel that not enough exploration had been put into the work. It seemed to rely to heavily on an aesthetic that is currently en vogue and was not done as well as the other artist participating in this particular aesthetic.

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