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Fresh Mud Pies Sitting On the Windowsill: Four artists exhibit at Samson
Work by Gage Delprete.

BOSTON, MASS.- Contemporarily viable artistic practice contends with the truth and purity of artistic expression, as well as the unquestionable greatness of the established, as they are no longer accepted uncritically as the typically reverent historical precedent. The skepticism informed by the deconstruction advocated in postmodern academia, posits art as a cultural production dominated by faulty subjectivity, and therefore, a subject that becomes the focus of current and retrospective analysis and destabilization. It is integral to contemporary practice to grapple with the precedents set by icons validated by the art historical canon. This relationship informs the necessity of complicating “truths” or ideological virtues asserted by these canonical figures as supposedly pure and objective. These historical ties are found at their strongest in the practices of painting and sculpture, inextricable from their expansive history. It is this history which contemporarily active work taints through a self-reflexive use of medium, atypical constructions, and a wholehearted embrace of the subjective, thus creating space for these mediums within the dialogue of contemporary art.

It is in this relationship to the history of modernist painting and surrounding cultural history that connections are found with the work of Gage Delprete. In his confrontation of mid-century declarations in painting, so too are the supposed historical, cultural, and ideological truths asserted by concurrent post-War American productions challenged. His pictures oscillate between painterly abstractions and figuration, finding their precedents in giants of high modernism. However, in these painterly allusions, Delprete invokes a history of modernist painting to disrupt any perceived truths or certainties extracted from within painting or the world outside. Through a process of painterly obscuration bordering on erasure, Delprete problematizes any readings of inherent meaning or truth within painting, symbols, or cultural icons, serving to undermine historical idealizations. In Sup, Delprete first paints a portrait of Superman in a receding landscape, recalling an academic history of portraiture. However, the visage of the hero, the torso, and the surrounding landscape are all painted over to reduce clarities of form. It is a material addition that results in the negation of truths associated with the cultural icons and the history of art making, thus situating his work within deconstructive practices of postmodern painting.

The sculptures and performance of Greg Lookerse function similarly in their relationship to certainties of structure, material, and tradition. His work addresses the impermanence and fallibility of material, as well as established traditions and theory, through atypical sculptural and performance based structures. Lookerse works actively with relevant histories of religion, ritual, art making, and theory, bringing them to the contemporary artistic sphere through acts of questioning that serve to remove certainties of structure, ritual practice, dominant theory, and the cultural and historical significance of particular mediums. With Black Box, Lookerse makes tactile allusions to painting through his paint-like mixture of charcoal and honey, while complicating its historical use through the instability of the uncommon mixture. So too does the work literally deconstruct precedents set by art history and theory as it is assembled with pages torn from Roland Barthe’s Camera Lucida. The work makes a jab at theory’s inseparability from contemporary art making (an occurrence that rose to prominence during the height of modernism) by constructing the piece from a physically mangled work of theory. In Lookerse’s appropriation of literature, theory, and ritual, as well as traditional artistic forms and mediums, he necessarily treads the postmodern line between reverence and irreverence.

Antone Könst embraces the divisive line in contemporary art drawn between new media and more traditional painterly practice. His work oscillates between somewhat clumsy and gestural drawing and painting and the printed digital image. Both sorts of image making are given validity, and in turn, each serves to reinforce the common elements of the other. Drawing, painting, and other traditional image making are given a dramatic immediacy through the speed of application, the industrial materials employed, and the pairing with digitally printed imagery. Both drawing and iphone photography are personal and relatively immediate forms of expression that make direct reference to the subjective experience of the artist. In this immediacy, his work subverts more traditional notions of painting as a practice of elitist erudition and prolonged deliberation when concerning the making of marks. Such tendencies can be observed in SLMN, a ham handed gesture of a personally relevant sculpture is superimposed on top of an inkjet print of photo from the artist’s phone. However, Könst work still remains open to painterly values and the canon of art history, while poking slight fun at it and negotiating such tradition with contemporary artistic practice and the immediacy of new modes of production.

A critical dialogue between modernism and the contemporary exists within the work of Marisa Manso. She confronts the legacy of modernist abstraction of high seriousness and lofty emotional aspirations, allowing her paintings to play. They invoke a humorous tactility (Puke Painting) and deconstructive abstraction through the use of hand woven textiles, gleefully laid paint, and functioning electrical components. The shaping of her stretchers simultaneously confronts a traditional understanding of art making. Manso builds her paintings from the initial drawing formed by the atypical shaping of her wooden stretchers. The drawing then continues from the physical construction of the stretcher, onto the picture plane, and then outside of the picture plane itself through an implementation of electrical fixtures. The effect of light and color sought after in more traditional painting practices are investigated, but it is the physical production of light and color caused by electric light sources, that allow Manso to continue to draw outside the limits of stretcher bars without the use of more conventional and inert media. In, Neither Pure Cause, Nor Pure Effect, Manso destabilizes fixed notions of the roles and methods of drawing in producing a finished artwork by beginning her drawing underneath the stretched canvas and bringing it to its limits outside of the edge of the canvas. Consequently, Manso’s work forges new paths for painting (a medium whose death has been heralded throughout the past half century), altering basic definitions of the medium and associated acts, allowing her work to open pathways through which painting may progress without losing its viability.

These works give contemporary validity to artistic mediums imbued with historical significance. In the postmodern era of art production, adherence to more traditional modes of art making may come under fire from those who unabashedly embrace only the most contemporary, announcing the death or stasis of painting in its inseparability from problematic histories. However, this work exhibits a revamping of established artistic media from within, creating self-referential and self-critical paintings and sculptures that address contemporary issues within painting and sculpture and generating new channels through which these mediums can progress. -- Levi Easterbrooks

Gage Delprete was born in 1986 in Lowell, MA and is based in Boston, MA. He received his MFA from Tufts University in conjunction with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in 2014. Greg Lookerse was born in 1987 in Redlands, CA and is based in Boston. He received his MFA from Tufts University in conjunction with the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in 2014. Antone Könst was born in 1987 in New Haven, CT and is based in Brooklyn, NY. He received his MFA from the Yale University School of Art in 2014. Marisa Manso was born in 1986 in Coronado, CA and is currently in the MFA program at the Yale University School of Art. Levi Easterbrooks was born in 1993 in Marblehead, Massachusetts. He currently lives and studies in Montreal, Québec at McGill University where he majors in History and Art History.

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