Thursday, January 31, 2008

Violence and Tranquility: Tony Shore at C. Grimaldis Gallery

Tony Shore, "Tracy Adkins Park," acrylic on velvet

By Zac Willis

I want to discuss the work of Tony Shore. His current show is at C. Grimaldis Gallery in Baltimore, MD and is entitled Violence & Tranquility. The work is partly based off things Shore has seen in his lifetime, a secondary component of the work being still life paintings of fish and other miscellaneous items. The work itself is impressive; it is not necessarily the content by itself but the materials that are used to make the work and how they can be used to contrast what the subject matter is in the work.

Upon first glance, it looks like pastel or paint on black paper, but after closer inspection I realized that it is paint on black velvet. Once I had figured out what the materials were, I was able to start looking into the paintings to question the reasons for the velvet. Why the black velvet for the background color? Why street violence with velvet that I or someone else might associate with wealth, or perhaps associate it with painting done in the 70’s? I kept finding myself coming back to these specific questions as I looked at the work. Why the velvet? How does that take these paintings and elevate them or lower them in terms of content and style? For me, the velvet elevates them above linen or canvas. I am drawn into that texture that velvet can give you. These paintings would be totally different if they were just painted black canvas versus the velvet. The surface on which the paint sits gives them depth and life. This is enhanced by the velvet. But let us not forget the question I am struggling to answer; what is the main role of the velvet? I am sure that there is a reason, or a least I hope there is a reason other than just wanting to use velvet for a body of work. The content and the way they are painted tells me that velvet was used deliberately and for a specific reason and this is why I keep coming back to this work. I can list my own reasons why Shore would use velvet but it is probably not why Shore used it.

I will give Shore some credit- the paintings are very appealing. When they hang on the wall they command your attention. There is nothing else to do but stare at them and get lost in the use of light and color. But that is what makes them so successful and bad at the same time. Shore draws the viewer in with his use of light and colors in such a way that you forget what you are seeing, so you find the paintings too amazing; however, this is the moment I feel the paintings start to fail. They have successfully pulled the viewer in, but they are so seductive that while I was engaged with them I forgot what I was looking at, scenes of violence and dead fish. I had to take myself out of it a couple of times because I was getting into the colors and lighting so much, but when I stopped myself, I switched gears and started to look at content only, and I saw what I hope the work is really about, the violence and death associated to the streets in Baltimore. If I look at work from this perspective only I really start to generate questions. If these were things he saw in his lifetime was he a participant in the acts or was he the one being beaten? Is Shore tying to raise awareness of these acts that I assume are still going on in the city today? If so, is generating paintings that are very seductive and elegant and then showing them to a limited and select group of people the best means to do this?

The work is good, but is it good enough to be able to keep being made? I am not sure if Shore has done works before on velvet, scenes of street violence, fish heads or similar content. Where do you take the work from here? He seems to be getting notoriety for this particular body of work. I just hope that he, like so many artists, does not fall into the trap of making work the same way over and over again. It would be a shame to see the velvet used over and over again to the point where it has lost the power of what makes Violence & Tranquility so commanding.

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