In the 1970s and 80s modern land art was in its infancy, the steel industry was at its peak, and holograms were stunningly cool. No Paint at Gallery Sonja Roesch features a group of six artists whose art practices stem from this era with surprising relevancy and impeccable curation. No Paint creates a dialogue of art history that is poignant and alluring outside the pervasive conversation of paint and canvas.
Harald Schmitz-Schmelzer’s resin and wood pieces greet you upon entering the gallery. Painterly in the use of materials, German artist Schmelzer submerges pigment in a build up of resin measuring up to ten inches from the wall. Unlike a buildup of paint on canvas, Schmelzer’s technique allows light to move in and out of the resin to create a broader spectrum of color.
Schmelzer also uses exotic woods in his pieces, juxtaposing synthetic resin with a material as old as art making. In his work Abachi three bands of soft blonde wood seem to float within the resin sculpture. The synthesis of plastics, pigment, and wood allows for an appreciation of Schmelzer’s material vocabulary.
Turning the corner toward the left wall is Aldo Chaparro’s Steel. Chaparro, a native of Peru who works in Mexico City, has bent the thin sheet of steel by hand. Chaparro’s material manipulation is also a documented performance that results in loud bangs and screeches as metal buckles under his weight. The end result looks like an industrial version of a crumpled up receipt or grocery list.
Chaparro’s work is the most visceral piece in the show. As light gently refracts off the surface the viewer is reminded of the brute force necessary to bend it. Even though this sculpture looks like a discarded piece of foil or paper it also feels strangely substantial and static. Steel is the end result of an energy transfer that signifies the artist’s hand in creating the art object.
Next to Chaparro’s work hang three distinctly different sculptures by Regine Schumann. Each piece has the word Flügelschlag, which translates to “the beat of wings”, an apt title for three crescents in succession.
Made of fluorescent acrylic glass the edges of the piece have a distinct neon glow that seems to emanate from an unseen light source. As you approach each work from the side they seem transparent but standing directly in front of them suddenly they become opaque. Schumann’s interactive pieces question the nature of color and light with whimsical exactness.
Mario Reis’ canvases arranged in two large grids along the back wall of the gallery are unlike any other pieces in the show. The first grid is awash with a ruddy umber tone while the second is covered in a pumice green. Each set of canvases was tethered down and submerged in two rivers: Castle Rock River in Canada and the Canadian River in Texas.
On these literal landscape paintings, the sediment from each river creates a distinct coloration and pattern that is then fixed to the canvas. Reis’ work acts as a compelling foil against the hard lines, bright colors, and shine of the rest of the exhibition. The velveteen feel of these pieces brings out their strength in a room of slick surfaces.
Propped against the wall is a cerulean blue ladder by Hills Snyder made of acrylic sheet nailed onto a birch wooden structure. Known for his vast repertoire in sculpture, performance, and music this work is one of Snyder’s most subtle and straightforward.
Snyder’s Ambassador teeters between functionality and uselessness in a way that calls into question the object itself. Seemingly unnecessary rivets are found throughout the front face of the ladder securing the acrylic sheet onto the structure. The piece looks as if it was constructed out of plastic ship hull sheets or the sides of a giant toy airplane. Simultaneously quixotic and stoic, Snyder’s work plays on viewer’s expectations and questions the nature of necessity.
Flanking most of the right gallery wall are a collection of seven holograms by August Muth. Undeniably products of a very precise and accomplished technique Muth’s visuals produce a captivating retinal exercise. Unlike Op-art painting, Muth’s holograms feel more akin to Turrell than Bridget Riley or Josef Albers.
Muth’s Halos #35 is the most astonishingly strange of all the pieces, bands of color seem to float inside your iris while others recede back in space ad infinitum. Muth’s Solar is one of the simplest in composition yet most successful. Solar’s centered circle shifts from a glowing yellow to an acidic green as if you are staring at the sun while floating through space. Although some of the pieces were obviously straightforward in conception, Muth’s process reminds onlookers of the strangeness of sight.
What is most intriguing about No Paint is not paint – or the lack thereof – but perspective. Reis’ literal landscapes and Chaparro’s performative sculpture invoke our relationship to how these pieces came into being revealing a new perspective of their process. The retinal gymnastics of Schumann, Schmelzer, and Muth’s works remind us of our visual perception of reality and what lies beyond it.
Although the techniques and materials in No Paint may be relatively new to art history, the exhibition poses engaging conversations about color, form, light, and expands the definition of painting.
Debra Barrera is a local artist and writer.
Aldo Chaparro, August Muth, Mario Reis, Harald Schmitz-Schmelzer, Regine Schumann, and Hills Snyder
Gallery Sonja Roesch
May 4–June 29